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2018 World Cup Fantasy: Transfers to Make Between Rounds 1 & 2 of the Group Stage

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Whether you are playing McDonald’s FIFA, Dream Team or another World Cup fantasy game, it’s time to ponder what change(s) to make following the first round of the group stage. Unfortunately, the schedule makers went bonkers and didn’t allow much time between group H game 1 and group A game 2, so let’s get on it quickly!

Neymar - Brazil v Switzerland: Group E - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Unfortunately there are no points awarded for drawing the most fouls in 20 years, so Neymar barely registered on the fantasy ledger and loads of managers felt his pain.
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Every team has now played (or is playing) its first game, so you know what that means... it’s time to panic! Yes, go ahead and overreact, that’s human nature. Or if you’ve done brilliantly, go ahead, rest easy, and crow to everybody who can hear you. Rub it in, why don’t you?! However you have fared — well, poorly or somewhere in between — there are changes to be considered, so let’s mull over some possibilities.

Of course, there is plenty of reason to panic. After all, Germany lost, while Argentina and Brazil were held to draws. France, England and Uruguay all barely won thanks to late theatrics. Just what we all expected, right?! It’s wonderful as a fan of the game, but for those who loaded up on the expected stars from the big favorites, there has been much to be desired.

In FIFA’s official McDonald’s fantasy game, you are allowed one free transfer in each round, so go ahead and use it unless your team is immaculate and changing anything would upset its perfect beauty. (If you need to make more changes, you can take a -4 penalty for each additional one.)

The transfer window for the next round can be opened by clicking that round’s number (“MANAGE TEAM”) above your live team display, so don’t delay if you know what move to make. This is also where you reinitialize your captain choice and substitutions — You want to rewind toward early-group players, returning late-group players to reserve.

In the Dream Team platform, you are allowed 20 swaps for the entire competition, so you won’t want to go overboard at the moment, but using one or two (or three or four) now is a good idea if your squad is in need of refreshing.

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PLAYERS YOU WILL WANT TO CONSIDER DROPPING

PLAYERS WHO WERE INJURED

Russia’s Alan Dzagoev has had injury troubles for the past several years, so seeing him exit early was sad, but not too much of a surprise. The team fared very well without him, so even if he recovers, he will likely not regain his starting spot.

Denmark’s Andreas Christensen had a wonderful, dominating game in central defense. Unfortunately, he came out with about 10 minutes left due to injury and is a doubt going forward. This came after teammate and popular midfield enabler William Qvist exited.

You probably don’t have either of these players in your teams, but in case you do, you’ll likely want to dispense with Croatian forward Nikola Kalinic and Australian striker Tom Juric.

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PLAYERS WHO UNFORTUNATELY DID NOT START (OR PLAY AT ALL)

Egypt’s Mo Salah was cleared to play in the first game, but most of us didn’t expect him to start. However, we did expect him at least to come in off the bench for a cameo. He didn’t, which raises concerns that he still won’t be ready to start against Russia despite being passed fit yesterday.

I expected Andre Silva to start as Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike partner. Gonsalo Guedes got the call instead, with Silva coming on for a cameo. The offense did not have any trouble creating joy, so there is no reason to think that the situation will change.

England defenders Gary Cahill and Danny Rose were pegged by some to start against Tunisia, but instead Harry Maguire and Ashley Young got the call. There could be some rotation to come, but it may be a situation best avoided.

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PLAYERS WHO PERFORMED POORLY

This was supposed to be the coming out party for Russian striker Fedor Smolov. Russia scored five goals, but Smolov wasn’t involved in any of them. His replacement, Artem Dzyuba, had a goal and an assist. That’s simply a disaster for managers who owned Smolov, and it’s difficult to have much confidence in him going forward.

If you had anybody from Saudi Arabia, first of all, what were you thinking? Second, drop them. Any of them. All of them. Now. Yesterday. Sadly, the same may be the case with Nigeria, which was surprisingly lifeless against Croatia.

Russia v Saudi Arabia: Group A - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Even this guy is selling all of the Saudi Arabian players from his fantasy team.
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez had an ugly game, missing loads of good chances. Meanwhile, strike partner Edinson Cavani played better, providing several nice opportunities and hitting the post from a set piece, but likewise did nothing in fantasy. You may be OK keeping the faith as they take aim at Saudi Arabia with thoughts of winning potential tie-breakers, but if you wanted to make a switch from either, I wouldn’t blame you.

Despite Spain scoring thrice, David Silva was largely an afterthought, failing to get involved in the scoring. Not many people picked him, but if you did, you’re not feeling good about that differential call, and you’re probably thinking about swapping him out, perhaps even for someone on his own team (see below in the “Add” section).

Germany had a disappointing game all around, but forward Timo Werner was an absolute ghost. It would not be a surprise for Joachim Low to turn to Mario Gomez or Marco Reus. If you paid up for midfielder Thomas Muller, your stomach must be uneasy, and I wouldn’t blame you for looking elsewhere, but I also could see giving him another try.

Midfielder Christian Cueva missed a penalty kick, and you will be tempted to panic on him. Don’t. Peru were the better team against Denmark, as Cueva created about three or four good chances that could easily have resulted in assists. Plus, Cueva isn’t going to miss another PK, because he isn’t going to take another PK.

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PLAYERS WHO HAVE ALREADY FACED THEIR EASIEST COMPETITION

Anybody from Belgium, France, Russia, Serbia and Sweden would seem to fall in this category. I’m not saying that you should necessarily drop all or any of their players, but you’ll want to take that in consideration along with how they started and how you expect them to fare going forward.

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PLAYERS YOU WILL WANT TO CONSIDER ADDING

PLAYERS WHO UNEXPECTEDLY STARRED (AND/OR STARTED)

Argentina scored one goal. Obviously, it wasn’t Messi. Instead, it was a really nice finish from Sergio Aguero. Getting him at a comparative discount, is Kun the Argentine forward to own?

Star striker Paolo Guerrero unexpectedly did not start for Peru, but he should from here on out. Guerrero provided a spark from the bench, getting a couple of good chances that he just couldn’t quite convert. As well, if Peru gets a PK from here on out, Guerrero will be the man, and it’s doubtful that he will sky it over the bar as Cueva did.

Pretty much all the stars from Russia’s brilliant opening victory apply here, particularly midfielder Denis Cheryshev (Dzagoev’s early replacement) who scored a brace, along with Aleksandr Golovin and forward Artem Dzuyba, who each had a goal and an assist. Meanwhile, keeper Igor Akinfeev and the defenders notched an easy clean sheet. However, that is balanced out by the “already faced easiest competition...” part above, so buyer beware.

Affordable Peruvian wing back Luis Advincula was a popular pick with the NMA community, and while he didn’t return much in fantasy, the side only gave up a single goal while Advincula dangerously raided forward with regularity, raising hopes that he will pay off with a clean sheet, goal and/or assist to come.

Spain’s Nacho (a.k.a. Jose Iglesias) had an outstanding game in defense, scoring a goal to make up for his penalty conceded and providing a nice alternative to the more expensive Jordi Alba.

Marvin Plattenhardt cracked the Nationalelf. If you don’t live in Germany or follow the Bundesliga extremely closely, have you heard of him? Whether you have or not, are you interested in a cheap German starting defender? Of course you are! [As noted in the “Comments” section by Santiago, Jonas Hector was out due to illness and should be the starter going forward.]

In midfield, Julian Brandt came on and played brightly for Germany, adding a killer instinct that a...l...m...o...s...t resulted in the tying goal. Brandt may not make the XI going forward, but I’d certainly love to see more of him.

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PLAYERS WHOSE VALUES COULD RISE

Cristiano Ronaldo and the more affordable Diego Costa combined for five goals in the epic 3-3 Portugal / Spain affair (which helped to make for an extremely enjoy able Live Chat in case you missed it). If you have forwards who did absolutely nothing such as Cavani, Messi, and Suarez, you will be tempted to make a change, with Ronaldo and Costa shouting in the front of your mind.

Portugal v Spain: Group B - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Diego Costa was in the center of things for a high-octane Spain offense against Portugal, but hardly anybody had him in fantasy.
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and England’s Harry Kane each notched a brace, though their prices were already pretty dear, so it’s tough to imagine them getting too much higher.

Seeing Aleksandr Kolarov get the goal against Costa Rica was not a surprise. But netting that score along with a clean sheet, that’s the stuff fantasy dreams are made of. Likewise with Sweden’s Andreas Granqvist. Of course, both players are unlikely to get better shots at clean sheets (see “already faced easiest competiton”).

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PLAYERS WHO HAVE ALREADY FACED THEIR TOUGHEST COMPETITION

Uruguay probably will have an easier road after the tough 1-0 win over Egypt. Similarly, Egypt should enjoy things more. One way to look at it: If the Pharaohs almost kept a clean sheet against Uruguay, shouldn’t they be able to seal the deal against Russia and/or Saudi Arabia? That helps the value of keeper Mohamed El-Shenawy and defender Ahmed Hegazi. It may also mean that the not-risked Salah finally emerges. Egypt’s physio has passed Salah as “100% fit” — YMMV.

I already mentioned Ronaldo and Costa, but other players from Spain and Portugal also fall into this category, particularly their keepers and defenders. If you stayed away from David De Gea, Rui Patricio, Jordi Alba, Raphael Guerreiro, et al, due to their rough first fixture, now could be the time to turn to them.

Mexico, as you know, not only faced Germany, but emerged victorious. If you were hesitant about Guillermo Ochoa, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Miguel Layun, Hirving Lozano, Hector Moreno or anybody else on the team, now is well past the time to dismiss those worries.

Germany v Mexico: Group F - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa starred against Germany, making nine saves and recording a clean sheet.
Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Iceland performed brilliantly against Argentina, and will be full of confidence. If you had keeper Hannes Halldorsson or midfielders Johann Gudmundsson or Gylfi Sigurdsson in the back of your mind, go for it.

Of course, the same applies to German players. Instead of getting down on the team (with certain exceptions, of course), go ahead and sprinkle some in if you had avoided Die Mannschaft stars given their tricky opener. Germany largely controlled the game, and easily could have scored a goal or two. Julian Draxler honestly looked like the most dangerous player on offense, and Manuel Neuer and Joshua Kimmich should be able to reward fantasy owners with clean sheets... if they can fix their problems, as they were worryingly vulnerable to the Mexican counterattack.

Similarly to Germany, though perhaps not quite as severely, it’s time for some serious contemplation regarding Brazil’s players after the 1-1 draw against a tough Switzerland side. Philippe Coutinho had a beautiful goal, but unfortunately it was unassisted. If you have Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Willian, and/or Paulinho, I’d advise keeping the faith. After all, they created several good chances and were unlucky not to score more. As for Alisson, Marcelo, Thiago Silva, et al, they would have returned a clean sheet if the referee had properly canceled the Swiss goal for push in the back foul initially, or had chosen to go to VAR to do so retroactively.

Meanwhile, you may have been reluctant to start with Swiss players, given their opening fixture against Brazil. With the Samba Kings in their rear-view mirror, now is the time to think about adding midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, defender Ricardo Rodriguez or keeper Jan Sommer from Switzerland.

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Note: Four teams (Group H) have not played yet (hope nobody goes off injured while you’re sleeping or at work!), due to Tuesday’s schedule rolling over from the end of round one to the start of round two, so be sure to apply the same logic to players from those teams when making changes. If you have any players from Japan, Colombia, Poland or Senegal on your roster, you might want to set an alarm so you can react to late injuries, etc. And don’t forget to rewind your captain choice and substitutions using the same RD-2 page where you can make transfers. You can do that now, so don’t delay!

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Where does the balance lie for your teams? Are you doing so well that you can hold steady? If not, are you able to make reasoned, strategic changes, or do you have so many holes in need of filling that rashness is in order? Let us know in the comments!