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2018 FIFA World Cup Russia: Dream Team Fantasy Player Picks

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The Dream Team World Cup fantasy format launched recently, so we’ve all had some time to mull over the player prices and positions. Whom should you consider adding to your fantasy teams for the start of the competition?

Lionel Messi - Argentina - 2018 World Cup
Will the most expensive player in the game have you dreaming, or are you tossing and turning in a different direction?
Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

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Hopefully you’re ready and raring to go for some fun Dream Team fantasy World Cup action! If not, be sure to read our primer on the rules, scoring and strategy:

Now let’s go over some Player Picks! During the pre-tournament tinkering period, you’ll want to be sure to consider players at various price points before the deadline restricts further transfers. After all, we can’t afford 11 best-of-the best players from the elite teams, so it’s important to mix in some possible diamonds in the rough that could pay off nicely in the end from a perspective of value. Gotta choose where to maximize bang for minimum bucks... er, pounds!

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GOALKEEPERS

You only get one keeper, so it’s an important pick. You’ll want a sure starter who ideally has a good chance of getting at least one and probably two clean sheets on his way to advancing to the knockout stage — and with a fair shot at surviving beyond that. After all, 20 sounds like a huge number of allotted transfers, but it’s usually the case that you won’t have as many in your pocket at the end as you’d like. Of all the positions, keeper is one where you’re not going to want to burn too many of those changes.

However, if you don’t mind burning one transfer at keeper in the group stage, a savvy strategy would be to pick a keeper with a great game one match-up, then switch to a keeper who had a tough fixture to start but has easy looking tasks for the second and third games (and thus, will be expected to go through). For instance, Spain and Portugal face off in the first game, so David De Gea or Rui Patricio would be ideal to pick up for games two and three; in that case, perhaps you could go with someone like Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (vs. Panama, before coming up against Tunisia and England) or France’s Hugo Lloris (vs. Australia, prior to facing Peru and Denmark) to kick things off.

As far as price goes, if you spend for the most expensive keeper, you’ll feel safe, but that leaves you less money to play with when it comes to the rest of your team. Oh yes, it’s quite a balancing act.

PREMIUM: If you’re looking to pay up and want a keeper for all three group games and beyond, I’d suggest Brazil’s Alisson (£4.5m). I’ve already discussed De Gea, and Germany’s Manuel Neuer (£4.5m) will similarly be favored to win the group and go far in the tournament, but could easily give up a goal or two to Mexico and/or Sweden. Group E is not the easiest group top to bottom, but Brazil will go into each of its three games — Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland — thinking it can get a clean sheet against those defensive-minded teams.

MID-PRICED: There are plenty of good options in the mid-tier price range. Any of Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (£3.5m), France’s Hugo Lloris (£3.5m), Portugal’s Rui Patrico (£3.0m), David Ospina (£3.0m), Jordan Pickford (£3.0m), or Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas (£2.5m) could work well. Courtois is probably the best bet of the bunch, as Belgium looks to have a strong chance to go deep and return a good number of clean sheets.

BUDGET: Here is where you risk a keeper not getting through the group stage, but if you have a good hunch about an under-respected team, that type of bargain could reward you handsomely. If you feel that Switzlerand will get through a tricky Group E, don’t hesitate to go with Jan Sommer (£2.0m). Likewise with Egypt’s even cheaper Essam El Hadary (£1.0m) in Group A. Neither of those defensive-minded teams finishing second would be a surprise. That said, third would not be out of the question, either.

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DEFENDERS

You’re generally looking for players here who can return clean sheets along with some offensive contributions. Of course, if you don’t want to blow your budget on an entire defense of premium studs, mixing in cheaper players who can do one or the other can work well.

PREMIUM: I never think twice about paying up for players such as Brazil’s Marcelo (£4.5m) or Spain’s Jordi Alba (£4.0m) because they can usually be counted on to be complete two-way fantasy points machines. Germany’s Jonas Hector (£4.0) does not quite have the historical pedigree of the aforementioned pair, but he was brilliant in qualifying with two goals and four assists, so recent performance is on his side. However, Joshua Kimmich (£4.0) is an even better pick than his German teammate, as an out-of-position midfielder somewhat along the lines of Philipp Lahm in prior years; Kimmich scored twice and added a whopping 10 assists in qualifying for the high-scoring Germans! Naturally, he’s racked up plenty of highlights with Bayern Munich as well.

MID-PRICED: Germany’s Mats Hummels (£3.5) plays for a top defense and always offers a chance at a set piece header goal. Spain’s Cesar Azpilicueta (£3.5) comes in slightly cheaper than Alba from the other wing back spot, though he may not get forward as much. We have all seen what England’s Kyle Walker (£3.5) can do from both ends with Manchester City and Tottenham before that, and England’s defense was superb in qualifying. Belgium’s Thomas Meunier (£3.0) will be expected to be group winners. Aleksandar Kolarov (£2.5) plays for a decent Serbian defense, but his value could easily come more on the offensive end, having netted twice with two helpers in qualifying. Nigeria looks to be a sexy pick to fare well, and Victor Moses (£2.5) could play to your advantage if he gets forward regularly as an attacking midfielder rather than merely raiding occasionally as a wing defender.

BUDGET: Raphael Guerreiro (£2.0) loves bombing forward from the left with Borussia Dortmund, and he has delivered two goals with five assists across his 23 caps with Portugal, which boasts a tremendous defense. Switzerland’s chances for clean sheets are probably not quite as good as Portugal’s, but Ricardo Rodriguez (£2.0) is a delight to watch on the wing, having scored twice with two assists in qualifying. If you think Mexico will make a deep run, Miguel Layun (£2.0) is your man. Ahmed Hegazi (£1.5) stars for a defensive-minded Egyptian team, and the big central defender can provide the occasional goal.

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MIDFIELDERS

If you harbored worry about top players who are listed as midfielders in some fantasy formats being categorized as forwards instead, ease your minds and fret no more, as that’s not generally the case with Dream Team. There is no shortage of great options at the midfield position.

As mentioned in the primer article, midfielders finished with four of the six top earnings in 2014 Dream Team World Cup fantasy, so don’t be shy about putting your money here.

PREMIUM: Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne are both simply amazing, and both rightfully expensive (£6.0). While KDB had a much better Premier League campaign, I prefer Hazard who was far more explosive in World Cup qualifying with six goals and five assists. By comparison, KDB had no goals with five helpers. Germany’s Thomas Muller (£6.0), interestingly, is classified as a midfielder instead of as a forward, which could be put to your advantage. The Bayern Munich star tallied five goals and seven assists in qualifying, although a bit worryingly, much of his goal scoring came toward the beginning as he tailed off late. You will be tempted to go with Colombia’s James Rodriguez (£5.0) who led the 2014 Brazil event in scoring. Do you think lightning can strike twice? If so, go for it!

MID-PRICED: After racking up eight goals with four assists in qualifying, Denmark’s centerpiece Christian Eriksen (£4.0) is a steal at his price. Similarly, Manchester City and Spain star David Silva (£4.0) is also attractive, having notched five goals and four helpers in qualifying. At a mere £3.5, I am tempted by Chelsea star Willian, who scored four goals plus five assists in qualifying for Brazil; he could easily be this year’s James Rodriguez. However, the problem may be that Brazil is simply too loaded with offensive stars, which could result in Willian revolving in and out of the starting XI. Real Madrid star Isco (£3.5) could do rather nicely after scoring five times with two assists to get Spain to Russia.

BUDGET: Gylfi Sigurdsson (£3.0) had a poor season for Everton, but remains Iceland’s talisman, having scored four goals with four helpers in qualifying. Meanwhile, Xherdan Shaqiri (£3.0) is coming off a breakout 2017-18 with Stoke, and poached one goal and five assists for Switzerland to get to the World Cup. Paulinho (£3.0) is an excellent choice from a powerhouse Brazilian side, especially after compiling six goals with two helpers in the brutal (and long) CONMEBOL qualifying campaign. Importantly, he may prove to be a more secure starter than Willian. Piotr Zielinski (£2.0) of Napoli loves feeding Robert Lewandowski, having accounted for six assists in the recent qualifying campaign, and Poland comes in as the favorite to win its group. Peru is getting its share of underdog love, so if that aligns with your thinking, don’t hesitate to add in Christian Cueva (£2.0) of Sao Paulo who contributed four goals and assists each across 16 qualifying games. And if you pore over the Argentinian press (as NMA colleague Santiago does!), Angel Di Maria and international novice Manuel Lanzini (£2.0) may carve out a vital role on offense alongside a certain Mr. Messi.

[Sadly both for fantasy managers and for West Ham fans, Lanzini ruptured his ACL in training and will be out for a long time.]

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STRIKERS

Forward is where the high-priced superstars roam. It is also where your dreams can be crushed if those supposedly studly strikers fall short of expectations, so tread carefully.

PREMIUM: You’ve got the usual suspects, from Argentina’s Lionel Messi (£8.0), Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo (£7.5), Brazil’s Neymar (£7.5), Uruguay’s Luis Suarez (£6.0) and England’s Harry Kane (£6.0). They’re all fine choices, and most managers are going to want to have at least one, so just go with whomever you love watching score the most. A big part of the fun in fantasy comes from having your favorite star on your team, so I’m not going to try to talk you out of anybody here.

MID-PRICED: That said, there’s an awful lot to like in the mid-tier range. Honestly, for me it’s all about Robert Lewandowski (£5.5), who explosively scored 16 of Poland’s 28 goals in qualifying and has been a consistent net wrecker over the past three seasons with Bayern Munich. The fact that he’s cheaper than Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, et al. only makes me dig him more! Edinson Cavani (£5.0) is a bargain compared to teammate Suarez, and while Cavani tallied far fewer assists than his compatriot in qualifying, “El Matador” boasted twice as many goals. I probably don’t need to tell you anything about Egypt’s offensive nucleus, Mo Salah (£5.0), following his brilliant, record-setting season with Liverpool; of course at the moment he is a slight injury worry, and the Pharaohs are not a lock for getting through the group stage. After netting 11 times in qualifying, Romelu Lukaku (£4.5) leads the line for a strong Belgium team that will have Hazard and KDB occupying plenty of attention from opposing defenders.

BUDGET: If you’re looking to save money at striker, you’re in luck! Andre Silva (£3.5) and Gabriel Jesus (£3.5) may be second bananas for Portugal and Brazil, respectively, but they should both put up numbers not terribly far off those from Ronaldo and Neymar. Timo Werner (£3.0) is priced as an afterthought for Germany, but he seems well-primed for a breakout summer. I actually wouldn’t be shocked to see him pace the co-favorites in scoring... that is, of course, if Joachim Low pegs him as a locked-in starter. If you are a fan of getting behind the home nation, Russia’s Fedor Smolov (£3.0) is looking to make a name for himself on the world’s grandest stage.

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My current team (4-4-2):

Alisson

Marcelo / Alba / Kimmich / Meunier

Hazard / Muller / James Rodriguez / Eriksen

Lewandowski / Gabriel Jesus

I largely stayed away from the Spain/Portugal opener, with only Alba at the moment. I can always add more of those players later if desired, right? In that same vein, might I be troubled in having a pair of Germans; could Mexico prove a tricky foe to start with? Or perhaps I should double down and really put my money where my mouth is by adding in Werner? After all, I could switch to a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3. Hmm, so much to ponder. Let’s see how many of those players actually remain when the World Cup starts... plenty of tinkering surely to come!

Have you ever played Dream Team before, or is this your first time? How are you cobbling your XI together with respect to formation as well as distribution by price point and by national team representation? Is your squad set for the most part, or are things still largely up in the air, awaiting last-minute decisions? Which players others than those listed above are must-haves in your mind? Let us know in the comments!

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