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UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg Player Picks

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The UEFA Champions League is back after a long hiatus. The Knockout Phase kicks off with the first-leg matches scheduled across the next two weeks. We look at some key team building strategies and the best player prospects for our fantasy league teams.

Paul Pogba - Manchester United - Premier League
A reinvigorated Paul Pogba will carry Manchester United’s UCL hopes versus PSG in the Round of 16 First Leg.
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

What a difference a couple months can make in the world of football.

As the UEFA Champions League Knockout Round kicks off, it almost seems like a seismic shift has occurred in the football landscape — indeed none moreso than in the case of Manchester United.

It seems like just yesterday that Manchester United were a listless, spent force laboring under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho. When the Champions League Draw was announced, the impending match-up against PSG looked like a foregone conclusion.

However, the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has reinvigorated the team, and fans have witnessed a full 180 degree turnaround in the team’s fortunes. Coupled with a long term injury to PSG’s Brazilian superstar Neymar, the outcome of this tie is suddenly anyone’s guess.

Elsewhere there are some potential classics on offer. A strong Tottenham out will welcome the young guns of Borussia Dortmund in a tie that promises to be an action packed shootout. Atletico Madrid tackle Juventus, a tie that pits two of Europe’s defensive stalwarts against each other. Finally Liverpool versus Bayern Munich appears to be the must see match-up of the Round of 16, and will not be short on quality and drama.

In Fantasy terms, managers now have a clean slate to build their teams for the Round of 16 and ahead. In addition, many will now need to decide when to utilize their available booster chips — if they haven’t been used already. Much to digest ahead of Tuesday!

Here are the fixtures for the Round of 16 First Leg:

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Tuesday 12th February

  • Manchester United vs Paris Saint-Germain
  • Roma vs Porto

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Wednesday 13th February

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Tuesday 19th February

  • Liverpool vs Bayern Munich
  • Lyon vs Barcelona

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Wednesday 20th February

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Strategy & Tactics

Here are some of the factors to consider when building (and managing) your Fantasy League teams for the UCL Round of 16:

Lay a Solid Foundation: As the rounds progress and teams are eliminated, you will have fewer transfers to replace ousted players without taking point hits. It’s important to build your team around a core of players likely to go far in the competition so that you won’t have huge knockout holes to fill in your teams.

Play the Fixtures: At this stage of the competition, lopsided fixtures are harder to come by. Invest heavily on teams having easy draws; they will likely provide more attacking returns, especially if there is a trouncing. Lean towards defenders from strong teams in home fixtures to benefit from the “fortress effect”.

Hunt Differentials: With a smaller player pool to pick from, and with scarce lopsided match-ups herding us toward some obvious advancing players, differentials will be harder to come by, and fantasy teams will start to look the same. Keep a keen eye on clubs’ domestic form to uncover the diamonds in the rough — unheralded players that have become starters or found a rich vein of form will set you apart from the competition — but beware of “cup-tied” players who moved during the transfer window; they may star domestically but be ineligible to play for their new clubs in the UCL.

Don’t Skimp on Defense: High performing defenders are golden in the tournament knockout stages. The knockout stages’ away-goals rule has a huge impact on how teams approach their ties. First-leg fixtures tend to be a bit more conservative since home teams want to avoid conceding a dreaded away-goal at all costs. This bodes well for defensive assets who can profit from clean sheet points. Goalscoring defenders can be the difference makers — like two players in one slot — at this stage.

Boosters Strategy: If you haven’t already burned your wildcard, it’s time to think about when to use it. Managers are given a clean slate at the start of the Round of 16 and a set of free transfers at the end of each round to revamp their teams so the wildcard may not be as essential. However, it can be deployed at a critical stage when the number of free transfers and available budget become challenging. Similarly, the new Limitless Wildcard chip (if still available) can be a difference maker if deployed well.

The Limitless Wildcard enables a user to create a team without any budget restrictions, affording unlimited transfers for one matchday. You’ll want to target a matchday that shows the potential to return the most points across the game. Given that the number of fixtures halves at every upcoming phase, it may be better to use this booster earlier, when the available player pool is larger, rather than later when the fixtures are always tough. But then again, those late fixtures can be dominated by very expensive players. YMMV.

Consider the Schedule: It’s important to consider the calendar when building your teams. UCL fixtures are staggered across weeks, so there is more certainty in drafting players from teams with imminent games. Once your team is built and locked, you have reliable team news for the matches in the week of the UCL Fantasy deadline. However, players who play in the following week are at the risk of getting injured in their domestic league games.

Budget Enablers: The cream has risen to the top in the UCL knockout rounds, so budget-friendly players are harder to come by. Bargain basement players who are at least guaranteed to start are essential to balance the books and give you more funds to afford the premium assets elsewhere in your teams. As the knockouts progress, consider holding onto one or two dirt-cheap eliminated players (burning the bench) — you likely won’t find your bench an active 4.0 defender anyway when the semifinals come around.

Team Setup / Manager Subs: Make sure to construct your starting team in chronological order according to the fixture schedule (players in earlier fixtures must start first). Doing so gives you the flexibility to utilize your entire squad by the end of the round. Also, don’t forget to set your captain to a player with a game on the very first day of the round and roll the captaincy daily until you get a favorable point haul.

Without further ado, here are my UCL Matchday 6 Player Picks:

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GOALKEEPERS:

Ederson - Manchester City - UEFA Champions League
Ederson is a solid clean-sheet shout for Manchester City’s trip to Schalke in the UCL Round of 16.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Ederson (€5.5m, Schalke vs Manchester City)

Manchester City’s ever confident Brazilian goalkeeper will expect to see little action against an unfancied Schalke outfit. He’s a good shout for a clean sheet, and with his quality distribution maybe even a GK assist!

Marc Andre Ter Stegen (€6.0m, Lyon vs Barcelona)

The German shot stopper is in terrific form and could grab save and clean sheet points away to Lyon.

Robin Olsen (€4.0m, Roma vs Porto)

The Swedish goalkeeper’s accommodating price makes him a must-have selection for our UCL Fantasy teams.

David De Gea (€6.0m, PSG vs Manchester United)

On current form, the Spanish #1 is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, delivering several scintillating performances during Man Utd’s current renaissance. He’ll see plenty of action against visiting PSG, so save-points will be on the cards.

Andre Onana (€4.6m, Ajax vs Real Madrid)

Ajax’s Cameroonian goalkeeper is a favorably priced option who has shown remarkable reflexes and agility during the group stages. He should be a good bet for save-points against visiting Real Madrid — and possibly even a clean sheet against the odds.

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DEFENDERS

Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League
Sergio Ramos will lead Real Madrid’s UCL title defense in the Round of 16.
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Sergio Ramos (€6.4m, Ajax vs Real Madrid)

Real Madrid’s captain is another defender who loves to feature on the highlight (and low-light) reel in the UCL knockout rounds. Real Madrid have been notably porous at the back, but he is a huge set piece threat and also takes penalties — having scored one against Atletico Madrid in their massive weekend league win.

Raphael Guerreiro (€5.6m, Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund)

The tie against Spurs has goals for both teams written all over it. Nevertheless, as the best attacking option in the Dortmund defense, the Portuguese full back can be counted on for point returns.

Gerard Pique (€6.0m, Lyon vs Barcelona)

The UCL group stages seem to always bring the best out of Pique as Barcelona embark on their trophy run. Apart from his obvious clean sheet potential, he has a penchant for delivering on the other end of the pitch.

Matthias De Ligt (€5.0m, Ajax vs Real Madrid)

Europe’s most promising center-back will be in the spotlight as Ajax attempt to dethrone the defending UCL champions. The Dutch stopper will relish the opportunity to stamp his authority on this tie.

Alex Telles (€5.4m, Roma vs Porto)

Porto’s Brazilian fullback is a Fantasy League dream, with penalties and free kicks in his locker. He’s definitely one to consider for this tie against an inconsistent Roma outfit.

Aymeric Laporte (€5.8m, Schalke vs Manchester City)

The French defender is the most nailed-on Manchester City defender, making him the pick of the lot. He has been deployed at left-back in recent weeks, resulting in an increased attacking threat and penalty box involvement.

Lucas Hernandez (€5.4m, Atletico Madrid vs Juventus)

The French full back is the pick of the Atletico Madrid defense, offering security of starts plus attacking intent. The tie against Juventus looks like a possible defensive stalemate, so clean sheets are a big possibility.

Kieran Trippier (€5.2m, Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund)

It’s unlikely that the English wing-back will return a clean sheet in this tie, but with free kicks and corners in his locker, he’s a great shout for attacking point returns.

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Midfielders:

Jadon Sancho - Borussia Dortmund - UEFA Champions League - Round of 16
Jadon Sancho is in white hot form ahead of Borussia Dortmund’s Round of 16 match-up versus Tottenham Hotspur.
Photo by Jörg Schüler/Getty Images

Paul Pogba (€9.0m, PSG vs Manchester United)

The French midfielder’s form since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s arrival in December has been nothing short of breathtaking. Since the new manager’s appointment, Pogba has been involved in more Premier League goals than any other player (9 goals, 5 assists), culminating in 2 goals against Fulham on the weekend. He will surely relish this tie against his countrymen, making him a must-have for our UCL teams.

Leroy Sane (€8.8m, Schalke vs Manchester City)

There’s a huge emotional factor in this tie for Manchester City’s flying wing-man as he faces his former club. I’m backing him for goals and hushed celebrations over two legs.

Mo Salah (€11.0m, Liverpool vs Bayern Munich)

The Egyptian magician will be tormentor-in-chief as Liverpool welcome Bayern Munich to Anfield. It’s a tough tie on paper, but Bayern’s defense has shipped goals all season, making Salah a great midfield option.

Jadon Sancho (€5.0m, Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund)

Dortmund’s young English sensation has turned heads across Europe and should be heavily involved in the action against Spurs. He’s in excellent form, having scored and been involved in all 3 goals in Dortmund’s crazy weekend draw with Hoffenheim. His 5.0 price tag also makes him a key enabler for investment elsewhere in our Fantasy squads.

Heung-Min Son (€7.9m, Tottenham vs Borussia Dortmund)

Harry Kane’s injury has seen the dynamite Korean attacker assume the goal-scoring mantle for Tottenham. He has been equally effective whether deployed on the wing or as the lone striker, so he should profit in this entertaining tie.

Yacine Brahimi (€7.0m, Roma vs Porto)

The Algerian midfielder has been in solid form over the past few weeks, so looks the standout option in Porto’s midfield lineup. At 7.0m, he’s kinder on the pocketbook than many of the game’s premium assets, but he can match them for point returns against an unreliable Roma back line.

Arjen Robben (€8.0m, Liverpool vs Bayern Munich)

There’s probably no other player who has shown an ability to turn it on in the UCL knockout rounds like Robben. If he cuts onto his left foot and pings one into the top corner, no football fan would be surprised.

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Forwards:

Lionel Messi - FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League
Leo Messi is the top ranked striker as Barcelona visit Lyon in the UCL Round of 16.
Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Lionel Messi (€11.6m, Lyon vs Barcelona)

The luxury-priced Argentinian genius will likely be the first name on our Fantasy League team sheets, and he’s an obvious armband candidate. As always, he’ll be at the heart of Barcelona’s best moves and attacking returns.

Kylian Mbappe (€10.0m, PSG vs Manchester United)

With Neymar already out of both legs through injury, PSG also lost Edinson Cavani to injury during their weekend league match. The goal-scoring burden will fall to the shoulders of PSG’s mercurial French striker for the visit to Old Trafford. He’s absolutely electric on the break, so he will be the chief concern for the Manchester United defense.

Cristiano Ronaldo (€11.9m, Atletico Madrid vs Juventus)

The Champions League record-setting goalscorer will look to add to his tally against a fearsome Atletico Madrid defense. This campaign represents an opportunity for Ronaldo to add to his impressive legacy by carrying a third team to UCL glory. He has a penchant for saving his best for when it matters, and he will surely be raring to go.

Marcus Rashford (€6.8m, Manchester United vs PSG)

Another player who has found a new lease on life since the new managerial appointment at Manchester United. His move from the wing to his favored striker position has seen a goal glut for the young English striker. He was rested at the weekend, which means he should be at full strength to lead the line against visiting PSG.

Moussa Marega (€7.8m, Roma vs Porto)

Porto’s burly Malian front man will look to dominate a Roma defense that has been wobbling over the last few weeks. Marega has the power and hold-up ability to get goals and assists across the two upcoming legs.

Karim Benzema (€9.7m, Ajax vs Real Madrid)

Despite Real Madrid’s struggles, the French striker is currently in the best goal-scoring form of his career. His recent goal in the Clasico underlined his credentials, and he currently looks the best attacking option versus the Dutch champions.

Robert Lewandowski (€11.2m, Liverpool vs Bayern Munich)

Bayern’s Polish striker is one of Europe’s most fearsome, and he will spearhead the attack against Liverpool. He currently sits atop the Champions League goal-scoring chart with 8 goals in the group stages.

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Where are you currently in your mini leagues? Do you plan to use any of your chips in the Round of 16? Which players are on your radar for this round of matches? And which matches will you watch as a fan? Please let us know in the comments below!

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