Well, here we are. What started almost a month ago and turned into one of the most exciting and entertaining World Cups in living memory now comes to a conclusion this weekend. France and Croatia will square off in the Final, but first an angry Belgium will face a crestfallen England in the third-place match.
Lest you think the consolation game will be a something akin to a funeral, consider this: Historically, the third-place game has been far more entertaining than the Final. Since 1990, the Final has averaged about 1.5 goals per game. Over that same period, the third-place game has never featured fewer than 3 goals, and it averages 4.
Why is this? Well frankly, it’s probably because of the relatively meaningless nature of the game. With defeat posing little material consequence, perhaps teams choose to open up their play. With nothing on the line, maybe they are free to play to score and win for their fans instead of playing not to lose.
Similarly, the exhibition-match nature of this fixture allows managers to blood some of their second-stringers who have been faithfully working hard in training but couldn’t be risked in the lineup with elimination on the line. Now that the pressure is off, the consolation match is seen as an opportunity to get these players a World Cup cap. The result can be fresher legs in weakened lineups that aren’t as tight as the usual S11.
And for this Finals weekend in particular, keep in mind that, excluding opponents’ own-goals, the third-place match will feature the two teams who have scored the most goals in the entire tournament. Let me spell it out for you: That’s the tournament’s two best-on-paper offenses going up against each other in a game that is likely to be open.
That’s why my money says Saturday’s game ends up being more fun than Sunday’s, and it’s why you should not hesitate to make fantasy investments in the consolation game — especially in its attacking players — if you can figure out who those are going to be. Hint: We should see the lineups minutes before our deadlines, so wake up and tune in no matter what time zone you’re in.
Anyway, let’s get to the recommendations...
Hugo Lloris (FRA, £3.5M): Lloris is the Dream Team points leader among the remaining goalkeepers. France and Croatia each have 10 goals-for vs. 4 goals-against. But Lloris has 4 shutouts to Subasic’s two. With the trophy on the line, Lloris is a lock to start, and I fancy his prospects for a clean sheet more than Danijel Subasic’s.
I worry that the consolation game will provide an opportunity for Roberto Martinez and Gareth Southgate to hand starts to their second-choice goalkeepers, so I’m staying away from Jordan Pickford and Thibaut Courtois. With Lloris nailed-on for pretty much the same money, for me the choice for the final round is pretty clear.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (ENG, £2M): Kieran Trippier’s groin injury looks serious. But even if it’s only minor, with the English Premier League kicking off in just 4 weeks it’s hard to imagine Gareth Southgate risking Trippier for the relatively meaningless third-place game. TAA should be the one to fill Trippier’s boots, and the 19 year-old (who can take set pieces) will want to make the most of the opportunity. But whether you decide to bring in TAA or not, be sure to get Trippier out of your lineup.
Vincent Kompany (BEL, £4M): The legendary 32 year-old won’t be here in 2022, so I think Roberto Martinez will give him a start in the third-place game. The more relaxed atmosphere of that game could even see him pop one into England’s net.
Lucas Hernandez, Benjamin Pavard (FRA, £2M): These two are sure starters whose Dream Team returns are in line with those of their more expensive partners in the French back line.
Domagoj Vida (CRO, £2M): The Russian crowds can’t stand his support of Ukraine. I can’t stand his hair. But just £2M gets you the best Dream Team defender in Croatia’s lineup. And I’ve had it with Dejan Lovren’s cynical fouling and poor knockout rounds returns.
Eden Hazard (BEL, £6M): Even though it’ll be the consolation match, Belgium’s talisman should still start. His Dream Team returns against Brazil and France were disappointing, but Belgium feel aggrieved by the manner in which France defeated them, and with the pressure now off, the Belgians may feel like taking out their frustration on a demoralized England.
Kevin De Bruyne (BEL, £6M): He got an assist in Round 1 and netted against Brazil, but we expected so much more from one of the best players in the English Premier League, didn’t we? He could well make amends on Saturday, when the loose nature of the third-place game may allow him more freedom to get forward.
Luka Modric (CRO, £4M): Croatia’s talisman and penalty-taker has more class than any other player who will see the pitch in the Final. Great players rise to the occasion on the biggest stages, and there is no stage bigger than the World Cup Final.
Ivan Perisic (CRO, £3.5M): Prior to the semifinal, his only goal in the tournament was in Round 3 against Iceland. But against the The Three Lions he was a terror, scoring the first goal, assisting the game-winning second, and bouncing another shot off the post. On current form, no Croatian looks more likely to score on Sunday than Perisic.
England’s midfielders typically don’t score well in Dream Team, and the usual starters could fall victim to rotation for the consolation game. France will play for the trophy so they’ll field their strongest team. But, like England, their midfielders are generally not productive in the Dream Team format. I’m therefore not sanguine on midfielders from either of these two sides.
Romelu Lukaku (BEL, £4.5M): He hasn’t done a thing in Dream Team since the blowouts of Panama and Tunisia in the first two rounds of the Group Stage, and his English opponents on Saturday will be well-accustomed to defending against him. That said, the third-place game is exactly the kind of meaningless affair that tends to bring out Lukaku’s best. Plus, he’s two goals behind Harry Kane in the race for the Golden Boot, so Lukuaku will fancy a chance to overtake him, and one would expect Martinez to give it to him. I’m going to take a pass, but I wouldn’t blame you for rolling with him.
Antoine Griezmann (FRA, £6.5M): The #3 Dream Team striker among the remaining teams, Griezmann can both score and create. And he takes PKs.
Kylian Mbappe (FRA, £3.5M): The #2 Dream Team forward among the remaining teams, and £3M cheaper than his strike partner. Go with either. Or both.
Mario Mandzukic (CRO, £3.5M): He seemed to pick up a knock against England, so follow team news. But no one on Croatia’s team has scored more goals than Mandzukic. If he’s fit to start he’ll be a clever differential if you’re looking to make up ground against a rival who has a team stocked with the usual suspects.
Harry Kane (ENG, £6M): Harry, my Harry, why hast thou forsaken me? He’s the #1 overall player in Dream Team, but since the brace against Tunisia and the hatty against Panama, all King Kane has managed is a PK. In fact, half of his 6 goals have come from the spot, and especially lately, he has not looked too threatening from open play. But there will be goals in the third-place game, and Kane will want to be among them in order to protect his Golden Boot lead. Go ahead and bet against him if you want, but I’m not going to.
There are no subs, captains, or chips to worry about in Dream Team. But crafty fantasy managers with transfers available should remember a couple tactics:
Firstly, the deadline for pre-match transfers is kickoff each day. That means that you can wait until the lineups are announced before pouncing. However, you’re limited to 3 transfers per day, so delaying transfers to the last minute could limit application of our second, between-match tactic...
Because the consolation match will be played the day before the Final, you can “Manfredi transfer” Saturday players out and Sunday players in, keeping the points for both! To max out your points potential with whatever transfers you have left, just wait until play has ended on Saturday, and then (before the kickoff deadline!) choose the players you want from the Final and move them in. If you used fewer than 3 transfers earlier in the day, you can use more before midnight. You should also be able to use 3 more after midnight (but before kickoff) for a maximum of six such replacements between games.
Because active players transferring out don’t actually move until midnight, you’ll keep their points for their day and then earn the incoming players’ points on the following day. Using this tactic, you could theoretically play 6 extra players this weekend, provided you have the transfers remaining at the end of Saturday’s game.
Keep in mind that because of Dream Team’s daily transfer limits you will only be able to do six transfers on the weekend, so don’t squirrel away more than that if there are moves you’d like to make or need to make now. On the other hand, if you have remaining transfers on Saturday, be sure to use them. There’s nothing left to save them for at that point, and they’ll allow you to effectively field more than 11 players this weekend. Pretty slick, don’t you think?
What does your final round Dream Team squad look like? Given what I’ve told you about consolation games, are you shying away from this one, or piling into it? How many transfers do you have left, and are you planning a Manfredi transfer gambit? Come on in and tell us about your plans for the final weekend in the comments below.
And of course, after the tournament wraps up, please stay with NMA as we transition back to the blog’s main focus: the English Premier League. We’ll be running blog leagues in multiple fantasy platforms and providing you with all the fantasy management advice you need to finish ahead of your rivals!