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UEFA Champions League Fantasy: What You Need to Know

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This season of Champions League fantasy features a few changes from the most recent action-packed campaign, so check out our primer on scoring, rules and strategy. And be sure to join the NMA league, too!

Cristiano Ronaldo - Juventus - Serie A and Champions League
He may have gone from Real Madrid to Juventus, but Cristiano Ronaldo remains a Champions League fantasy favorite.
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

The recent 2018-19 UEFA Champions League draw had plenty of excitement, leaving the usual mix of brutal groups of death along with easier expected paths through for the favorites or completely wide open affairs in others.

Of course, after watching the draw, all of our attention focused on the really important thing: Champions League fantasy! Much of it is the same as 2017-18, but there have been some big changes, too. What vital information do you need to know, and then how do you get started?

If you would like to read the official rules/scoring information straight from the source, please visit the UCL Fantasy rules page. I have done my best to put together a primer which also includes a wealth of vital strategic insights below:

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TERMINOLOGY

In trying to avoid possible confusion, there are a few terms that could be misinterpreted as meaning the same thing. However, while they may seem similar, they are actually distinct:

GAME DAY: A single day featuring games (i.e. Tuesday).

MATCH DAY: A set of game days included within a single period of fantasy point accumulation, wherein every single team still alive plays once (i.e. Matchday 1 is the first Tuesday and Wednesday — the first two game days — of the tournament).

ROUND, STAGE or PHASE: A set of match days within an overarching period (i.e. Group Stage, Round of 16, Quarterfinals, Semifinals). For instance, the Group Stage consists of Match Days 1-6. [Note: The final round is simply both a single match day and a single game day since, unlike the World Cup, there is no 3rd place game in Champions League.]

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RULES

ROSTER/BUDGET

Your squad consists of 15 players whom you choose: 2 goalkeepers, 5 defenders, 5 midfielders, and 3 forwards.

Your budget for those players is €100m. Euros, not dollars, not pounds. Not that it really matters!

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TEAM SELECTION

In your roster of 15 players, you have 11 starters and 4 bench players. While you want to spend the bulk of your money on your starters, you should not completely neglect your bench. It is actually more important than in formats such as Official Fantasy Premier League. Instead it’s like the FIFA World Cup fantasy game was last summer: If you’re unhappy with how your starter(s) scored in a given game day, then you can sub in a player or players who have yet to play in the match day.

No matter how much you fancy one specific club team or teams, you cannot entirely stock your fantasy squad with that team(s). As with most things in life, there are limits. The maximum you are allowed per team increases as the rounds progress and the number of available teams decreases:

GROUP STAGE: 3 players per club team maximum

ROUND OF 16: 4 players per club team maximum

QUARTER-FINALS: 5 players per club team maximum

SEMI-FINALS: 6 players per club team maximum

FINAL: 8 players per club team maximum

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TEAM MANAGEMENT

Before every match day deadline, you will need to set your starting XI and bench priority. A variety of formations is possible; each starting line-up must have one goalkeeper along with a minimum of three defenders, two midfielders, and one forward. You also select a captain; this is the player whose points you expect to be the greatest.

After each game day has finished and the points tabulations are complete, you can change your captain to a new player, and you can switch out any players in your XI and insert any players from your bench (in a valid formation). [Note: This does not apply for any players who were sent off with a red card. If your captain or any starter gets a red card, you are unfortunately stuck with him.] You will sacrifice the bonus points from your captain if the armband is swapped out, and you will lose the points any other substituted player scored, but you earn a chance to earn a higher return from the replacement captain or player(s)! Any changes made need to be completed by the new deadline before the next game day.

So the best way to select your line-up strategically before the match day starts is to pick the keeper who plays first along with the 10 field players who play first (in a valid formation), while leaving the players who play last on the bench. Since you can rotate your captain daily, at the start of each match day you will want to select a captain who plays on the first game day you have players featuring.

The match day deadline is the kickoff time of the first game(s), so it can be advantageous to fill your rosters (and of course your XI) with appealing players from those games. This is because you can be sure of stocking up on certain starters and avoiding those there may be any doubt surrounding. The same first game(s) kickoff deadline applies for each subsequent game day with respect to making captain and line-up changes.

If you miss out on making changes to your starting line-up during the match day, the game will make automatic substitutions as possible, but only to players who did not play. So it is a huge advantage for you to be an active manager by substituting players who played but did not fare well out before every game day for those who have not featured yet.

In terms of strategic team selection, that also means that you will want to select players who play on a variety of game days, rather than stacking your team with players who play on a single game day. In particular, you will want both of your keepers to feature in different groups so that you can substitute your second keeper in if your first one fares poorly, while that also applies more broadly to other positions. Depending on the round, multiple groups may play on the same day, so take a look at the schedule before choosing your team.

However, if you do not think you will be able to manage actively, you can simply choose your preferred XI and captain at the outset of the match day, without regard to which game days they play on. In that case, you would be wise to spend as little as possible on your bench players.

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TEAM ROSTER TRANSFERS

There are limits to how many players you can transfer in and out of your 15-man roster for free, depending on the phase of the competition. You can exceed the limits, but you will take a -4 point penalty for each additional transfer. During the group stage, you are allowed to carry one free transfer forward between match days if unused.

BEFORE THE GROUP STAGE: Unlimited

MATCHDAY 1-6 OF THE GROUP STAGE: 2 transfers maximum per match day (not per calendar game day)

BEFORE THE ROUND OF 16: Unlimited

BEFORE ROUND OF 16, 2ND LEG: 3 transfers maximum

BEFORE QUARTER-FINALS, 1ST LEG: 5 transfers maximum

BEFORE QUARTER-FINALS, 2ND LEG: 3 transfers maximum

BEFORE SEMI-FINALS, 1ST LEG: 5 transfers maximum

BEFORE SEMI-FINALS, 2ND LEG: 3 transfers maximum

BEFORE FINAL: 5 transfers maximum

What this all means is that you are not completely doomed if you pick a glut of players from a team or teams who get knocked out. Of course, it still may prove wise to spread things around rather than focusing too much on players from a limited number of teams... unless of course they dominate!

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PLAYER PRICES

The price ranges at the outset are similar for keeper and defenders, as well as for midfielders and strikers, leaving enormous gulfs between the initial premiums paid for offense and defense:

KEEPERS: from a low of €4.0 to a high of €6.0

DEFENDERS: €4.0 to €6.5

MIDFIELDERS: €4.5 to €11.0

FORWARDS: €5.0 to €12.0

Clearly it is easier to assemble a team of premium defenders and keepers than high-priced forwards and midfielders. You may first want to decide how many top-tier defenders/keepers are essential, and then see how many from the Ronaldo / Salah offensive sphere you can fit in as well. It’s not as sexy, but building from the back can be a smart way to proceed. Overall, though, the best strategy often is simply finding good value anywhere and everywhere you can.

As mentioned, the bench is important. You do not want an entire bench full of basement-priced players, since then you sacrifice the rotation advantage. But there is value to having one or two very cheap bench players, since that allows you to afford a strong starting XI. One thing to consider long-term over the tournament is that you may even want to keep (or buy) a super cheap player on your bench whose team gets knocked out, because he might be cheaper than any player on the remaining teams. With bargains becoming more difficult to find as the number of teams diminishes, it could be worth taking a guaranteed dead spot in order to be able to fill out the rest of your roster with quality players.

Player prices are locked until match day 3 of the Group Stage is completed; thereafter, values may rise or fall based on performance. So if there is someone who gets off to a great start and is not on your team, if you want him, it’s a good idea to add him before the inevitable price rise. If you have someone whose cost jumps, your team essentially gains value. On the other hand, if you are holding someone whose value is expected to drop, it is in your best interest to sell him before that price decrease.

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PLAYER SCORING

If you have played official Premier League or FIFA World Cup fantasy — or if you are already familiar with Champions League — the scoring will be well-known. At the base, the scoring system rewards playing time, but above all getting points is about goals, assists, and clean sheets (the latter primarily for defenders/keepers). Selecting a strong captain is a great way to nab extra points as well, and the boosters also come in to play.

Each player gets two points for playing at least 60 minutes in a game, and the captain score doubles, so that’s a good way to start with 24 points off the bat for your team. The way you build on top of that — aside from the captain bonus — is largely from:

GOAL SCORED: 6 points for a defender/keeper, 5 points for midfielder, 4 points for forward

ASSIST: 3 points (for all players)

CLEAN SHEET: 4 points for defender/keeper, 1 point for midfielder (Note: A clean sheet requires not allowing a goal while on the pitch, with a 60-minute playing time minimum.)

There are other categories in which players can earn points, but they tend to be less frequent, such as winning a penalty kick. For a keeper, making saves can add up (one point for every three saves), and saving a PK is a nice return.

Unfortunately, there are also many categories in which points are deducted: conceded penalty, missed PK, yellow card, red card, or own-goal scored. As well, defenders and keepers lose one point for every two goals conceded in a game, so it is imperative to avoid defensive players whose teams you think are likely to get pasted.

Overall, you don’t want bench players, you want starters. Beyond that, you should disregard an industrious defensive midfielder, a hard-working but unproductive forward, or a single-minded defensive player who never makes it past midfield. (Of course, given the budget, you may have to compromise a bit when it comes to your bench players, or even the last players in your XI.)

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final
Olivier Giroud put in a wonderful performance winning the World Cup with France, but did nothing for fantasy managers.

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BOOSTERS (a.k.a. CHIPS)

A major change this year is the addition of boosters. In other formats, they are called chips. Same thing, they are designed to be a fun way to grab even more points. There are two boosters available during the competition. Each may only be used once, and once activated cannot be canceled. So don't hit the button unless you are certain!

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WILDCARD

Those of you who have played other fantasy formats will be familiar with the standard wildcard booster. The wildcard allows a manager to make unlimited free substitutions on one match day. A good time to use it is when your team has been wrecked by injuries, suspensions, poor performance, lack of playing time and knock outs — when it seems that you do not have enough free transfers available to craft a good squad. You’d love to hold on to it as long as you can, but circumstances will likely dictate when you have to pull the trigger. (Save it for a rainy day, and don’t hesitate to use it when it pours.)

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LIMITLESS WILDCARD

Let’s call it the Cinderella booster. Like the basic wildcard, it allows you unlimited transfers for one match day, but this one comes with the added bonus of an unlimited budget. Pick the perfect all-star team with two expensive keepers, five dangerous defenders, five studly midfielders, and three superstar forwards. Caveat: Like Cinderella’s fancy coach that turned back into a pumpkin, once the match day is over, your team reverts to its former self — but what a fun party it will be until the clock strikes midnight!

This is reminiscent of the “free hit” chip in official Fantasy Premier League, but in FPL, generally that is something you want to employ in an uneven week (either a double game week, or a game week where only a handful of teams play). There are no such things in Champions League fantasy, so that makes this new-ish territory.

It would seem to make sense to deploy it when a rash of expensive players are facing easy competition. In that vein, any time during the Group Stage, or perhaps as late as the Round of 16, could be sensible. However, it is certainly possible that using it as late as the quarterfinals or even semifinals could pan out. (You will not want to use it in the final, when you could not take advantage of being able to rotate players in from the expensive bench.) But the competition tends to get tougher as the tournament progresses, which has me thinking that — unlike the wildcard — you will probably regret holding on to the limitless wildcard too long.

Matchday 6 of the group stage could be an optimal time to put it into play. You will have a very good idea of what teams are through to the Round of 16, and which sides are still fighting for a place in the knockout stage. Some of your stars may be forced to rest, and you may want to add in a rash of other players. It comes before a time when you have unlimited transfers, and your team will revert before picking a fresh team, so you would not feel stuck with any of the players you had added in but no longer wanted. There would be the possibility of losing some discounts on players whose prices have risen, but that may prove a minor sacrifice.

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OTHER STRATEGY

I have brought up some useful strategic pointers above when applicable, but there is also plenty of general strategy remaining to discuss.

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Which Teams Had Favorable and Unfavorable Draws for Their Groups?

Omar helpfully shared his perspective on the Champions League draw, focusing largely on which teams should be favored to go comfortably through, and which may encounter trouble. Generally speaking, targeting players from teams expected to dominate their groups is an easy avenue to points. Of course, there are pros and cons to picking players from teams with seemingly easier draws or trickier ones.

Stars from teams such as Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Real Madrid will likely be able to romp in the group stage, picking up plenty of points in the process, particularly early on. However, if they are assured of first place with one or two games to go, rotation could be in order, and you may waste an expensive spot in your line-up when they hit the sidelines.

Other big squads such as Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Juventus and Manchester United look to have a far from guaranteed chance of advancing. On the one hand, you may want to avoid them at the get-go, since they will have several daunting games. However, their stars will be more likely to feature in all six contests, with a higher expectation of still having something at stake throughout the group stage. You may want to mix and match players from teams which have seemingly easy paths among with others from teams that face tougher competition but you have a hunch will do well and get through. Ideally you could start with favored teams from the easier groups, then use your transfers to go over to the strong teams from the tougher groups, but of course often you will have to focus moreso on dropping players who are injured, performing poorly, or unexpectedly not starting, while focusing on picking up players you feel you missed out on, so you may not have that luxury (notwithstanding the boosters).

Otherwise, you can’t fit your entire budget into players from all of the top teams. Getting the second place winner right in some of the tougher groups, and picking the winner correctly in the extremely wide open Group D, could prove extremely profitable. But some players from the smaller teams which don’t get through can also turn up as fantasy assets, particularly if they are cheap and if you utilize them against other small teams. As Omar also pointed out, targeting certain groups for offense or defense can also be a cagey strategy.

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Should You Target Teams that Dominate the Major Domestic Leagues?

While going with last season’s major league winners — or teams that are off to hot starts so far this time around — may seem like an extremely sensible approach, winning a domestic league and doing well in Champions League can be completely different beasts. We saw that divergence last season when Real Madrid took the title, beating Liverpool in the final. Los Blancos finished third in La Liga (17 points behind Barcelona), while the Reds were 4th best in the EPL (25 points back of Manchester City). Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich was knocked out of the semis, while Barcelona, Manchester City and Serie A winner Juventus got nailed in the quarters, and Ligue 1 champ Paris St. Germain fell in the Round of 16.

Several teams from the major leagues — Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Monaco, Napoli and RB Leipzig — failed to make it past the group stage. Meanwhile, some of the smaller teams from the big leagues (such as Roma and Sevilla) or sides from lesser leagues — Basel, Besiktas, Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk — fared well and got into the knockout rounds. Clearly, it is not all about loading up on players from the top tier, big name outfits!

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What Positions Offer the Best and Least Value?

FORWARDS AND MIDFIELDERS

Last season, many of the wing attackers — or simply even offensive-minded midfielders — whom we were accustomed to seeing listed as midfielders in Premier League fantasy were instead designated as forwards in Champions League fantasy (likewise with World Cup fantasy). It wasn’t just the EPL, it also of course applied to players from other leagues such as Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A. As a result, there was a dearth of attractive midfielders and a glut of forwards, so the basic resultant strategy was to load your teams with three pricey strikers and spend little in the midfield.

Aside from the addition of boosters, another big change for 2018-19 is having players such as Liverpool’s Mo Salah and Sadio Mane both available as midfielders rather than as forwards such as in last year’s tournament. So now you can simply pick the best offensive players you want, regardless of position. You will likely no longer be able to afford three premium strikers, so you may have to look for value on the cheap from your third forward. But unlike last season, you will not want to neglect the midfield position, so feel free to spend on one or two pricey options there.

Manchester City v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg
Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah switched from forward to midfield in positional designation.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images,

Looking at the re-jiggered positional assignments, we can see that forward and midfield are much more balanced in terms of point output than they were in last season’s game. However, it still favors forwards. Of the players who returned this season, even taking into account their current positions, strikers had the top two scores in the competition (Cristiano Ronaldo with 90 and Roberto Firmino with 88), while midfield accounted for the third- and fourth- best (Mo Salah with 76 and Sadio Mane with 68). Whereas nine forwards earned 40+ points, only five midfielders did.

Naturally, cost also factors heavily. Forwards still tend to be a bit pricier than midfielders, so you will want to take the relative price into account along with expected scoring when deciding how to balance your cost outlay with respect to position.

DEFENDERS AND GOALKEEPERS

Defenders and keepers tend to be afterthoughts compared to forwards and midfielders in real life, and a similar prejudice follows in fantasy. But you will not want to ignore them, oh no! Since the highest-priced players in defense and keeper are roughly half of those in midfield and forward, you can really get some serious bang for your buck (or Euro) in the back.

The top scoring defenders currently available — Joshua Kimmich and Marcelo with 52 each, followed by Layvin Kurzawa with 51 — fell well short of the best forward and midfield scores. However, there was plenty of depth to plumb. 10 defenders notched 35+ points, versus seven players in midfield. Defenders cost less than midfielders, so that is an advantage that can be mined.

As for goalkeeper, each team has only one of those, so it’s probably not a big surprise that the position tends not to offer as much joy. But it’s not completely barren by any means. Alisson led the way with 49 points scored, joined by two others with 40+. You may not want to pay top dollar for your keeper(s), but you probably won’t want to cheap out completely either.

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Which Players Have Changed Teams?

Several players have switched from one Champions League team to another, so when you look over their profiles from last season, you should take their new locales into account and decide if you think they can do better, or instead will fare worse. Some of the biggest names in that regard include Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid to Juventus), Alisson (Roma to Liverpool), Radja Nainggolan (Roma to Inter Milan), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus to Paris Saint-Germain), Kylian Mbappe (Monaco to PSG), Tomas Lemar (Monaco to Juventus), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk to Manchester United), Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich to Juventus), Jorginho (Napoli to Chelsea), Emre Can (Liverpool to Juventus), and Clement Lenglet (Sevilla to Barcelona).

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What is the Most Important Consideration?

After taking into account all of the rules, scoring and strategy, the #1 thing is to have fun! Go ahead and pick your favorite player(s) from your favorite team(s), even if you think that they may be a bit overpriced from a purely practical standpoint. Change your team around a hundred times before the deadline. Try out a new strategy you're curious about. Pick a captain you have an inexplicable hunch on. Most of us are playing for fun, not for money, and if that’s the case, you don’t have to do everything completely by the book!

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HOW TO JOIN THE NEVER MANAGE ALONE LEAGUE

SIGNING UP FOR UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FANTASY

If you have not already done so, you will want to register at the UEFA site. Then you need to create your Champions League fantasy team, selecting all 15 players, your captain, a badge and your team name.

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JOINING THE NMA LEAGUE

It’s great to play against everybody in the world, but it’s also brilliant fun competing against the whip-smart Never Manage Alone bloggers and our global gathering of savvy community members. So once you have registered and created your team, you will want to be sure to join the NMA league.

LEAGUE NAME: NeverManageAlone

LEAGUE CODE: 71305GBP

(Enter the league name and code, then click on “Join.”)

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We will have plenty more Champions League fantasy coverage this season, including our initial Player Picks post coming soon to help you put together your teams before the Group Stage starts, so be sure to check back with us at Never Manage Alone regularly.

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How are your early attempts at team building going so far? If you are new to the game, do you have any questions? If you are a wiley veteran at the contest, is there any other advice you would like to share? Let us know in the comments!

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