The 2017/18 UEFA Champions League is just about ready to go, so let’s set our fantasy teams! What considerations should we mull over and what pool of players should we choose from?
Which Teams Were Awarded the Most Favorable Draws?
Each team will play six games in the group stage. For the top teams, being placed in a favorable group and having four “easy” matches versus getting stuck in a tougher group and having only two “easy” fixtures can make a huge difference. So it’s a good idea to pick players from the sides that are expected to sail through to the next round.
The top team or teams from Group A (Manchester United), Group B (Bayern Munich and Paris-St. Germain), Group D (Barcelona and Juventus), Group E (Sevilla and Liverpool) and Group F (Manchester City), look to have the best chances to make it through without danger.
Which Teams Drew More Difficult Groups?
Meanwhile, the remaining groups have tougher tasks for the entrants, each featuring a trio of tough teams: Group C (Atletico Madrid/Chelsea/Roma); Group G (Monaco/RB Leipzig/Porto); and Group H (Real Madrid/Borussia Dortmund/Tottenham). I’m certainly not saying to stay away from any of those teams entirely, but loading up on them could be dangerous. Even in groups featuring a single highly favored team, there are still minefields to navigate such as between Benfica/CSKA Moscow (Group A after Manchester United) and Napoli/Shakhtar Donetsk (Group F after Manchester City).
You’re probably going to want to avoid Qarabag, Maribor, APOEL Nicosia and Feyenoord, as they look like the punching bags of their groups. But that’s not to say there isn’t value to be found from off the radar teams such as Basel, Celtic, Anderlecht, Sporting Lisbon, Olympiacos, and Besiktas. After all, Celtic and Anderlecht (Group B) and Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos (Group D) each get to play each other when Bayern Munich/PSG and Barcelona/Juventus are beating up on each other, respectively, so you may find some fantasy joy there. Even better, you can look to Spartak Moscow playing Maribor when Liverpool meets Sevilla, and you may consider CSKA Moscow against Basel when Manchester United and Benfica face off.
Who Have Enjoyed Strong Starts to Their Domestic Leagues?
Given that these are the best teams in Europe, many are faring well:
- Premier League titans Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea are separated by one point atop the Premier League after four games. Romelu Lukaku (four goals), Paul Pogba (two goals, two assists), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (five assists), Anthony Martial (two goals, one assist) and Marcus Rashford (two goals, one assist) have paced the Red Devils. Gabriel Jesus (three goals) and Sergio Aguero (two goals, one assist) have led the way for the Citizens. Alvaro Morata (three goals, two assists) and Marcos Alonso (two goals) have starred for the Blues.
- With the dramatic departure of Neymar and the subsequent difficulty securing replacements, Barcelona was supposed to be in turmoil, but it has gotten off to the hottest start in La Liga, winning its three games by a combined score of 9-0 with Lionel Messi responsible for five of the goals. Sevilla has been pretty good, with two wins and a draw; Ganso is its only player with as many as two scores.
- Borussia Dortmund is unbeaten and in first place in the Bundesliga, boasting a +5 goal differential, and refusing to concede in its three games thus far. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the only player with two goals scored, while Christian Pulisic and Nuri Sahin have each chipped in with a goal and an assist.
- Juventus and Napoli have each won their first three games (as has Inter Milan) in Serie A. Paolo Dybala has five goals, and Miralem Panic has contributed three assists for Juve, while Napoli is spreading things around more.
- With five games in the bank, PSG and Monaco are running one-two in Ligue 1 but PSG’s goal differential (+16) is clearly superior to Monaco’s (+6). Neymar is shining in his new Parisian digs with four goals and four assists in four games, but Edinson Cavani’s seven goals and two assists (in five games) are even more lustrous. Monaco is led by Radamel Falcao’s seven goals, but the side is now reeling following a 4-0 drubbing from mid-table Nice.
- Feyenoord is the class of the Eredivisie with four wins in four tries and a sparkling +9 differential. Three players tie for the team lead at two goals apiece.
- Sporting Lisbon, Porto and Benfica are the top three teams in the Portuguese Liga, with little separating them. Benfica’s Jonas has scored six times, while Porto’s Vincent Aboubakar has scored five, and Bruno Fernandes and Bas Dost share Sportling’s top mark at four. Behind goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Porto has yet to concede a goal.
- Besiktas has started well with three wins and a draw, though Galatasaray has Turkish bragging rights at the moment. Ryan Babel is the only Besiktas player with multiple goals.
- Shakhtar Donetsk leads the Ukrainian Premier League, having won seven of its eight games. Marlos has four goals, and Viktor Kovalenko has three.
Which Teams Have Begun Poorly Domestically?
Elsewhere, things have not gone to form:
- With five teams from the Premier League, somebody must not be at the top of the table! Tottenham has been poor in its temporary Wembley home, taking a mere one of six possible points. Undone by an early red card to its most prolific star, Liverpool is coming off a dismal 5-0 drubbing at Manchester City.
- In Spain, usual giants Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid have disappointed, producing only one win and two draws each. Quality of competition is not an issue, as none of the four Spanish teams in the Champions League have faced each other yet. For Real, Karim Benzema has yet to score, and the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo has yet to play. Koke and Angel Correa each have two goals for Atletico.
- RB Leipzig sits in fourth place of the Bundesliga while Bayern Munich lags in the fifth spot, the latter coming off a 2-0 loss to Hoffenheim. Timo Werner and Robert Lewandowski each have three goals for their respective clubs.
- Following an uninspiring 1-0 win at Atalanta and a 3-1 home defeat to Inter Milan, Roma had its third game postponed due to severe weather.
- CSKA Moscow (third place, +3 goal differential) and Spartak Moscow (eighth place, -1 GD) have thoroughly unimpressed through nine games of the Russian Premier League. Spartak’s Quincy Promes (five goals) is the only player with more than a pair of scores for either squad.
- With a poor tally of three wins, two draws and two losses, Basel is mired in third place in Switzerland, behind Young Boys and Zurich. Ricky van Wolfswinkel has notched half a dozen scores.
What Players Scored the Most Fantasy Points Last Season?
You should not be shocked to see that Real Madrid’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo dominated the fantasy team of 2016/17. What may surprise you a bit, however, is that Juventus defender Bruno Alves was second, and goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was fourth. It’s not all about the offensive stars!
As well, even though Real Madrid crushed Juve to win the title, the Italian side accounted for five players on the team, including the entire defense, while Ronaldo was the only player from the Spanish giants to make it. Another interesting note is that a couple of players whose teams are not even in this season’s competition — Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez and Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil — were in the mix.
On top of that, Kylian Mbappe and Dani Alves are both playing for PSG in the Champions League after featuring last season for Monaco and Juventus, respectively. Likewise, Leonardo Bonucci left Juve to AC Milan, which did not make the cut. In case you hadn’t noticed, that means that the defense for Juventus features two new players.
Fantasy Team of 2016/17:
STRIKERS: C. Ronaldo (91, Real Madrid) / L. Messi (70, Barcelona) / R. Lewandoski (56, Bayern Munich)
MIDFIELDERS: R. Mahrez (48, Leicester City) / K. Mbappe (47, Monaco) / M. Ozil (47, Arsenal)
DEFENDERS: D. Alves (75, Juventus) / L. Bonucci (56, Juventus) / A. Sandro (44, Juventus) / G. Chiellini (43, Juventus)
GOALKEEPER: G. Buffon (63, Juventus)
What are the Rules/Scoring/Format for Champions League Fantasy?
The general format and scoring are fairly familiar to those of Premier League fantasy, while the rules are reminiscent of fantasy for EUFA Euros and FIFA World Cup. For the details, read UEFA’s Rules Page.
Player Picks at the Start of the 2017/18 Group Stage
You are allowed a maximum of three players from any single team to start the group stage, and players from the big teams tend to come with expensive prices, so you’ll need to spread funds around to cobble together a strong fantasy side.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, €12.0)
If you are going to spend premium money on one player, Ronaldo has to be the one. Not only does he have the pedigree as the top goal scorer in each of the past FIVE competitions (tying in 2014/15 but otherwise outright), but he’s chomping at the bit, sitting on the sidelines due to suspension in La Liga. On top of that, Real Madrid opens hosting APOEL which screams “blowout!” (Of course, Lionel Messi is never a bad option either!)
Edinson Cavani (Paris St. Germain, €11.0)
If you want PSG action in the French leaders’ opener against Celtic, Cavani may actually be a better play than new teammate Neymar. As mentioned above, he’s scored more goals than the Brazilian superstar in Ligue 1 thus far. But it’s like Ronaldo and Messi at €12.0, if you’re choosing between Cavani and Neymar at €11.0, it’s basically a coin toss; there’s no wrong pick.
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, €10.5)
Munich’s star sniper is always in the mood to score — he has 17 goals in the past two competitions, which is tied for second with Messi behind Ronaldo’s 28. It’s doubtful that Anderlecht or any of the other teams in his group can stop him.
Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United, €10.0)
With four goals in four Premier League games for his new team, Lukaku has a great chance hosting Basel at Old Trafford in the opener and facing a pretty comfortable group beyond that.
Alvaro Morata (Chelsea, €10.0)
After scoring three goals in limited action for Real Madrid in the Champions League last season, Morata has transitioned brilliantly to the Premier League. Chelsea welcomes Qarabag to London to kick off this campaign.
Radamel Falcao (Monaco, €9.5)
Falcao scored five goals in last season’s competition. Monaco travels to newcomer Leipzig for the opener.
Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City, €8.0)
An attractive alternative to the higher-priced Sergio Aguero, as the price difference between the pair of Citizens is actually much more pronounced in Champions League fantasy than in the Official Premier League portal.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, €7.0)
You can’t spend top dollar on all of your players, so Rashford looks like a good budget option playing for a favored team and starts at home versus Basel.
As seen in the team of last season, the strikers outscored the midfielders by a wide margin, and defenders scored in the same ballpark. Perhaps it’s at least in part because wingers such as Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Mario Gotze and Angel Di Maria are listed as strikers instead of midfielders! So you’re probably better off loading up on pricey strikers and going for budget-friendly middies.
Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich, €8.0)
The aging playmaker has enjoyed a truly prolific Champions League history. Hopefully his body will hold up.
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, €7.5)
Having the bright young American in your side thankfully doesn’t cost too much, giving you a real shot at recouping your investment.
Naby Keita (Leipsig, €7.5)
Eight goals and eight assists in the Bundesliga last season. Not too shabby, eh?
Pablo Sarabia (Sevilla, €7.0)
Eight goals and nine assists in La Liga last season.
Blaise Matuidi (Juventus, €6.5)
Popped in with the odd goal or assist for PSG, hopefully he can do the same for Juve.
Jao Moutinho (Monaco, €6.5)
Monaco has had plenty of turnover this season, but Moutinhou has helped hold things together with three assists in the first four games of Ligue 1 action.
Scott Sinclair (Celtic, €6.5)
Celtic won’t be expected to do much, but if and when they score, the well-traveled and rejuvenated winger should be involved.
Raphael Guerreiro (Borussia Dortmund, €6.0)
Unfortunately listed as a midfielder instead of a defender, the wing back contributes enough offensively that he’s still worth a shout.
Dani Alves (Paris St. Germain, €6.5)
Alves always finds a way to get forward and produce offensively in the Champions League, whether with Barcelona or Juventus, and now he looks to keep it going with PSG.
Marcelo (Real Madrid, €6.5)
Another offensive whiz who can deliver clean sheets, too. If you’ve had him in your World Cup fantasy squad for Brazil, you know he’s a lot of fun.
Cesar Azpillicueta (Chelsea, €6.0)
Are you sensing a theme here? Azpi offers plenty of assist potential in addition to those clean sheet bonuses.
Alex Sandro (Juventus, €6.0)
You’ll probably want a Juve defender, and Sandro is cheaper than Chiellini. Otherwise there’s been a lot of turnover in the back as mentioned (and also including the recent addition of Benedikt Howedes), so a secure starting back line is more elusive than usual. Also, Juve starts off against Barcelona, so you may want the Italian side’s defenders on the bench to begin, but they’ll come in handy against Sporting Lisbon and Olympiacos.
Phil Jones (Manchester United, €5.0)
Jones costs less than Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly, Matteo Darmian, Daily Blind, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo, or Chris Smalling. And unlike a slew of those guys, he’s actually been starting regularly for Jose Mourinho’s side in the Premier League.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, €4.0)
The youngster has looked pretty good so far for Liverpool. Having played only in ‘Pool’s first and fourth EPL matches, the hope is that he will be allowed a good run of play. However, even if he doesn’t start you only paid the minimum for the lottery ticket.
Gianluca Buffon (Juventus, €6.5)
Judging from his output last season, clearly Buffon is the keeper worth top Euro. However, Juve opens against Barcelona, so if you want him now you will probably need a decent second option.
David De Gea (Manchester United, €6.0)
The Spanish shot stopper has a nice chance at plenty of clean sheets in the group stage.
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea, €6.0)
Pretty much guaranteed a clean sheet in the opener against Qarabag, though he may not get a single save.
Iker Casillas (Porto, €5.5)
If you want to save some money, Casillas has the proven track record in big competitions. After plenty of turmoil in Real Madrid, he has certainly gotten his groove back in Portugal. As mentioned above, Porto has not conceded a single goal in its five domestic league games so far, and his first fixture is at home against expected Group G bottom dweller Besiktas. However, Monaco and RB Leipzig promise a step up in competition later.
Simon Mignolet (Liverpool, €5.0)
The cheapest likely starter from the Premier League, Liverpool has a pretty friendly group. Unfortunately though, the Reds begin by playing top competition in Sevilla. (Loris Karius is also the same price if Jurgen Klopp throws a monkey wrench into things.)
Rui Patricio (Sporting Lisbon, €5.0)
Has a nice first game match-up with Olympiacos, so if you’re looking for someone to start before going back to a better keeper with a tougher fixture (such as Buffon as mentioned), Patricio is a good shout.
Alphonse Areola (PSG, €4.5)
Kevin Trapp is priced at €6.0 and has not played any domestic league games. Areola costs only €4.5, has played all five Ligue 1 games (in which PSG has conceded only thrice) and plays for one of the clear favorites to advance through Group B. Maybe the EUFA robots know something that doesn’t seem to be clearly evident, but if not, you shouldn’t mind being able to take advantage of the curious situation.
How do I Join the NMA League?
Good question! If you haven’t already done so, go ahead, sign up for UEFA Champions League fantasy and join the NMA group using the following link.
League Invite: Never Manage Alone
C. Ronaldo / R. Lewandowski (C) / E. Cavani
C. Pulisic / R. Guerreiro / Casemiro
D. Alves / Marcelo / P. Jones / L. Hernandez
A. Areola / R. Ghezzal / T. Alexander-Arnold / A. Farias
(NOTE: I’m starting with Lewandowski as captain since he plays on Tuesday, allowing the option to move the armband to Ronaldo on Wednesday if Lewandowski doesn’t do well.)
How are your squads shaping up? Where are you putting your money? Which players are you considering for your teams? Who else would you recommend? Let us know in the comments below!