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2019-20 UEFA Champions League Fantasy Primer

Champions League fantasy is back, so find out what you need to know, then be sure to join the NMA league!

Lionel Messi - UEFA European Club Football Season Kick-Off 2019-20 - UEFA Champions League Draw
Barcelona didn’t win the Champions League title last season, but Lionel Messi had the most fantasy points.
Photo by Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

The recent 2019-20 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 2018-19, but there have been a few interesting changes.


Once you have registered and created your team*, you will want to be sure to join the NMA league

LEAGUE NAME: NeverManageAlone

LEAGUE CODE: 86QD7Y2TGE

* There are more detailed instructions at the end of this article.


For those who are new to the fun, 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 at the start of the competition is €100m. Euros, not dollars, not pounds. Not that it really matters! At the Round of 16, the budget rises up to €105m, which is helpful since players from the better teams tend to be more expensive.

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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 two summers ago: 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 stock your fantasy squad entirely from 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

ROUND OF 16: 4 players per club

QUARTER-FINALS: 5 players per club

SEMI-FINALS: 6 players per club

FINAL: 8 players per club

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TEAM MANAGEMENT

Before each match day deadline (generally five minutes before the kickoff of the first game), 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 who hasn’t played yet, and you can switch out any players (unless red-carded) from your XI and insert yet-to-play players from your bench (in a valid formation). [If your captain or any starter gets a red card, you are unfortunately stuck with him for the remainder of the matchday.] You will sacrifice the bonus points from your former captain if the armband is swapped out, and you will lose the points any other substituted player scored, but you create a chance to earn a higher return from the replacement captain or player(s)! Any changes made need to be saved before next game day deadline.

So the best way to sort 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 earliest game day in which you have players.

The match day deadline is close to 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 early 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 before every game day, substituting players who did not fare well 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 select your keepers from widely separated groups so that you can swap in your second keeper if your first one fares poorly (and that applies somewhat to other positions also). 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: 2 transfers maximum (was 3 last season)

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

BEFORE QUARTER-FINALS, 2ND LEG: 2 transfers maximum (was 3 last season)

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

BEFORE SEMI-FINALS, 2ND LEG: 2 transfers maximum (was 3 last season)

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 diversify rather than focusing too much on players from a limited number of teams... unless of course they dominate! The switch from 3 to 2 transfers maximum at several junctures makes things a bit trickier than before, and will likely put pressure on fantasy managers to use their boosters (see “Boosters” section below) earlier than desired.

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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 €4.0m to a high of €6.0m

DEFENDERS: €4.0m to €7.0m

MIDFIELDERS: €4.5m to €11.0m

FORWARDS: €4.0m to €11.5m

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo & Neymar - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar each cost the maximum.
Photo by Lars Baron - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

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 Messi / 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 affords you 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 from a team that 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 4 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 earns you 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

GOAL SCORED FROM OUTSIDE THE BOX: 1 extra (new this season)

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. In addition to the long range goal bonus mentioned, there is another new category added this season where a player scores 1 point for every three balls recovered, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out; perhaps that will make defensive midfielders actually useful to select?

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 generally disregard 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.) In the past I would also have definitively advised against adding an industrious defensive midfielder, but it is possible that the new “balls recovered” statistic could pay off for them.

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BOOSTERS (a.k.a. CHIPS)

In other formats, they are called chips, here they are known as boosters. Whatever you call them, 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 transfers before one match day. A good time to use it is when your team has been ruined 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 salvage a good squad from the wreckage. You’d love to hold on to it as long as you can, but circumstances will likely dictate when you must 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, because it’s temporary. Like the basic wildcard, it allows you unlimited transfers before 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 really widens the options for when you may want to use it.

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. For instance, it could give your free transfers a chance to catch up with circumstances — be sure to execute your free transfers first to start the repair, then wait for the Cinderella team reverts to that partial repair before you go back to work on it with your latest free transfers.

You will not want to use the limitless wildcard in the final when there’s no opportunity to rotate captains or players 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 Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, and Paris Saint-Germain 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 stars rest on the sidelines.

Other big squads such as Ajax, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, and RB Leipzig 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 that 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 more 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 G, 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 Certain Leagues or Top Domestic Teams?

It will be tempting to target the Premier League teams. After all, last year all four EPL teams made it through to the quarterfinal round, and Liverpool beat Tottenham in the final! Nobody will blame you if you do that, but just remember that the previous time an English team had won it all was Chelsea in 2011-12. Whichever league you rate highest is up to you, but also don’t forget that Spain’s La Liga was responsible for five straight titles between 2013-14 and 2017-18 via Real Madrid and Barcelona.

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 EPL winner Manchester City was knocked out by England’s fourth place Tottenham, as the Premiership’s 2nd place Liverpool eventually took the UCL crown.

Several teams from the major leagues — 1899 Hoffenheim, Inter Milan, Monaco, and Napoli — failed to make it past the group stage last year. Meanwhile, some of the smaller teams from the big leagues (such as Lyon and Schalke 04) or sides from lesser leagues (Ajax and Porto) 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

Everybody loves attackers — and strikers in particular — but you will likely not be able to afford three premium strikers, so you may have to look for value on the cheap from your third forward. You will not want to neglect the midfield position, so feel free to spend on one or two pricey options there.

Forward Lionel Messi was by far the highest-scoring player in the competition with 76 points. But Robert Lewandowski (50) was the only other striker with 50+ points. Three midfielders — Mo Salah (59), Sadio Mane (56), and Raheem Sterling (55) — turned the trick.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane - Liverpool FC Portrait Shoot - UEFA Champions League
Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane would like to remind you not to neglect the midfield position.
Photo by Michael Regan - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Naturally, cost also factors heavily. Forwards 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 cost roughly half as much as midfield and forward, you can really get some serious bang for your buck (or Euro) in the back.

While he may not have done as well as teammate Messi up front, defender Jordi Alba was the 2nd highest scoring player in fantasy with 62 points, while two other defenders chipped in with 50+ points: Trent Alexander-Arnold (59) and Virgil van Dijk (55). Defenders cost less than midfielders or forwards, 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 57 points scored, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen had 50. You may not want to pay top euro for your keeper(s), but you probably won’t want to cheap out completely either.

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Which Players Have Changed Teams?

Many 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 to move:

  • Philippe Coutinho (from Barcelona to Bayern Munich)
  • Danilo (Man City to Juventus)
  • Abdou Diallo (Borussia Dortmund to PSG)
  • Felipe (Porto to Atletico Madrid)
  • Joao Felix (Benfica to Atletico Madrid)
  • Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid to Inter Milan)
  • Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid to Barcelona)
  • Eden Hazard (Chelsea to Real Madrid)
  • Lucas Hernandez (Atletico Madrid to Bayern Munich)
  • Frankie de Jong (Ajax to Barcelona)
  • Ander Herrera (Man United to PSG)
  • Matthias de Ligt (Ajax to Juventus)
  • Romelu Lukaku (Man United to Inter Milan)
  • Konstantinos Manolas (Roma to Napoli)
  • Ferland Mendy (Porto to Real Madrid)
  • Eder Militao (Porto to Real Madrid)
  • Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon to Tottenham)
  • Neto (Valencia to Barcelona)
  • Ivan Perisic (Inter Milan to Bayern Munich)
  • Luca Pellegrini (Roma to Juventus)
  • Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea)
  • Rodri (Atletico Madrid to Man City)
  • Alexis Sanchez (Man United to Inter Milan)
  • Kieran Trippier (Tottenham to Atletico Madrid)

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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 Champions League fantasy site. Then you need to create your UEFA Champions League fantasy team, selecting all 15 players, your captain, a badge and your team name.

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: 86QD7Y2TGE

(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? Will the new scoring additions influence your approach? Please let us know in the comments!

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