Luka Milivojevic has been an interesting fantasy soccer option since arriving in England. During his time at Crystal Palace, he has scored an incredible 14 penalty goals, the most in the league during that span. Obviously, that has been fantastic for fantasy players and Crystal Palace alike, but the latter at least get to benefit from all of his other attributes while, in traditional fantasy, you're caught just crossing your fingers and hoping Andros Townsend or Wilfried Zaha gets chopped down in the box. Fortunately, in the ESPN Fantasy Soccer game, you get to benefit from Milivojevic's incredibly diverse skill-set!
Yes, the goals are impressive, as he's ranked top-25 in that category over the last two seasons, but there's so much more to his game than that. He is a defensive midfielder after all, so judging him by his goal-scoring, penalties or no, is bound to paint an incomplete picture. Instead, let's look at how he does his actual job of breaking up play in the midfield and acting as the base for the attack.
Defensively, there are few better midfielders in the Premier League. At his position, Milivojevic is top-10 in tackles won, interceptions, and blocks, and top-20 in those stats overall this season. There are admittedly players that are stronger in those categories like Idrissa Gueye and Wilfred Ndidi but, when it comes to play style and usage, Milivojevic is far better as a fantasy option having scored at least 50 more points than either of them.
This is largely due to the fact that he is one of the most well-rounded players in the English game. In fact, of our 15 outfield scoring categories, he ranks top-30 in seven of them. From attacking statistics like goals and shots on target, to creative ones like chances created and completed passes, to the aforementioned defensive ones, the Palace man really does it all. This versatility means Milivojevic possesses something that every manager and fantasy manager craves: reliability.
For Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson, it means literally playing every minute in the Premier League this season... for fantasy managers, it means always providing a decent return. In the second midfield tier there are plenty of shoot-the-moon candidates, but if you want guaranteed production, there's no better option than Milivojevic. The last time the Palace man posted a sub-five point performance was in October! Also, while there are flashier names in M2, he's no slouch when it comes to high-scoring weeks either. In fact, during the past 10 weeks, no one in his tier has scored more points than Milivojevic (139.7). In that same period, he has finished as one of the top-three scorers five times, with Gylfi Sigurdsson the only player to even have three such weeks. This feat looks even more impressive when you consider that there are a whopping 20 players in the second midfield tier.
Of course, he scores so many points as the Premier League's penalty king, right? Well, if you took away all goals and assists in the league this season Milivojevic would drop all the way to 17th overall ... just two spots lower than where he currently ranks. So, while he does score goals now and then, this goes to show that his fantasy value does not depend on them. In fact, in weeks during which the 27-year-old does not contribute to a goal, he still averages a very respectable nine points per game. This hasn't always been the case though. Last season, Milivojevic would have finished 32nd overall but, if you applied the same filter, his rank at the end of the season would have been 57th. So, what's happened, and is it sustainable?
The most notable difference on the pitch is how Milivojevic has been utilized this season. Last season, Milivojevic was often the defensive mid in a pairing that included the more naturally creative Yohan Cabaye. However, with the latter gone from the club and no replacement bought by Crystal Palace, more of the attacking impetus has fallen on the shoulders of the Serbian midfielder. Per 90 minutes, Milivojevic is now posting his highest rates in four of our five attacking categories. In fact, in 2018/19 he's already posted equal or higher totals in shots on target (18), assists (1), and chances created (26) than he managed all of last season. Typically when you see this kind of surge in performance, the instinct is to assume the player's numbers will regress to the mean. But since there has been an actual on-pitch change, this improvement could well be sustainable.
At this point, you're probably thinking to yourself that this decision is a fairly easy one. Plug in Milivojevic as your M2 until he's eventually moved up to the first tier ... except there is a catch. Yes, he is an incredibly balanced player, but he also has impressive numbers in our negative statistics. The Palace midfielder led the league in fouls last season (69) and already ranks second this season (39). He has the seventh most yellow cards (-12 points) this season and is one of just 11 players to have missed a penalty (-5 points). If you add all of that up, Milivojevic has left an incredible 56 points on the table. Unfortunately, there's little sign that he will ever cut these negative traits out of his game. Even with these issues, the pros far outweigh the cons.
These problems may keep him from ever becoming a genuine fantasy superstar, but he's a very good player with a high floor and, when on form, a relatively high ceiling as well. When you select Milivojevic you get a fantastically well-rounded fantasy option who boasts one of the best traits a player can have in the ESPN game: He scores plenty of points, even when he's not scoring goals. Oh, and he also scores goals.