The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. But that presents an opportunity to rethink those original ideas, and thankfully results can turn on a dime for the better. Let’s take a look at my Champions League fantasy side as it has morphed over the first half of the group stage, and then you can go ahead and rate my team for MD-4.
Let’s begin by taking a look at my team at the start of the competition. The positions are a bit out of order, but that’s because it’s how my process happened to unfold in picking my MD-1 team oh so long ago:
- GOALKEEPERS: I’m usually not a fan of spending heavily on keepers unless absolutely necessary. Having a pair of keepers playing on different days means that you have two shots at a clean sheet (and/or save points). I looked for, and happily found, two affordable keepers from teams with a good chance of finishing in the top two spots of the group, giving their keepers a decent probability of faring well: Borussia Dortmund’s Gregor Kobel (4.5m) and Villareal’s Geronimo Rulli (4.5m). Subtotal: 9.0m.
- DEFENDERS: There are good two-way defenders in FPL such as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell (or Marcos Alonso), but it’s more rags than riches in that department. That leads most FPL players to put more money in midfield. But so often in the past I’ve been disappointed in Champions League fantasy by spending big money on midfielders who didn’t deliver. Much like the World Cup and Euros, a joy of Champions League fantasy is the wide array of attacking defenders. What I decided to try this season was to focus more on, and pay more for, defenders who would be threats to deliver a goal, assist and/or clean sheet every game (in addition to balls recovered, of course). I settled on four of those: the aforementioned TAA (6.5m), Paris St. Germain’s Achraf Hakimi (6.5m), Atalanta’s Robin Gosens (5.5m) and Wolfsburg’s Ridle Baku (5.5m). Not wanting to go too far, I also bought one budget defender from a team I expected to do well: Ajax’s Noussair Mazraoui (4.5m). Subtotal: 28.5m.
- FORWARDS: Surely we’ve all been burned by expensive forwards; I know I have. There’s nothing worse than paying 11.0m and up for a forward who doesn’t score, leaving you maybe 2 points. But even scoring one goal and giving you only 6 points is a letdown at a premium price (doubly so for a captain when it seems everyone else is getting 13x2 or the like). That said, given his dazzling Champions League track record replete with goals and assists, Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland (11.0m) was impossible to quit. For the other two forwards, I didn’t want to go too expensive, but I was also wary of going too cheap, so instead I looked in the mid-price range. Again I targeted teams which would be expected to advance from their groups, looking at players who had strong recent scoring records and were on penalty kick duty. I settled on Ajax’s Dusan Tadic (8.5m) and his former teammate, Barcelona newcomer Memphis Depay (8.5m). Subtotal: 28.0m.
- MIDFIELDERS: I left midfield for last. Unlike FPL where midfield has recently been worth investing huge chunks of your fantasy budget (for the likes of Liverpool’s Mo Salah, Man City’s Kevin de Bruyne, and Man United’s Bruno Fernandes), it often just doesn’t seem to work out in Champions League. Again I focused on productive players from teams with a good chance of finishing in the top two spots of their groups. Given the amount of money I had left, I decided to go with one premium [Mo Salah (10.5m)], three mid-priced [Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa (7.0m) and Marcos Llorente (6.0m) along with Chelsea’s Jorginho (6.0m)], and one budget [RB Salzburg’s Nicolas Seiwald (4.5m)] midfielder. (Many managers went for Ajax’s Edson Alvarez as their cheap midfielder, but I chose Seiwald instead because we’re limited to three players from each team and I already had Tadic and Mazraoui, and I presciently expected that I may want another attacking Ajax player later.) Subtotal: 34.0m. Left in Bank: 0.5m.
How did the first round go for me and my big new plan? Horribly wrong, of course! I ended up with a measly tally of 55 points, quite possibly my worst MD-1 Champions League return ever. Take a look at my train wreck MD-1 result:
While the performances from MD-1 were uninspired to say the least, thankfully I did not have a glut of injuries or players who unexpectedly did not start. Given two free transfers, first I changed out the injured Haaland for Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, who seemed the obvious premium replacement given his impeccable form combined with the opposition (Dynamo Kyiv) and locale (Munich). Second, given PSG’s tough opponent (Man City), I dropped defender Hakimi in favor of Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich. Thankfully I had 0.5m left over from the first round, and since Lewandowski was slightly pricier than Haaland, it worked out perfectly. More importantly, my two new buys Lewandowski and Kimmich fared well in MD-2, so my team’s output improved to 77 points. (Unfortunately I didn’t captain Mo Salah who led my side with 16 points, but Lewandowski’s 10 weren’t a poor armband pick by any means.)
Again I had two free transfers, and again thankfully I didn’t have big problems with injury or unexpected benchings. I did have one injury to Gosens, and that had me starting to reconsider my two-way defender tactic. My defenders weren’t doing badly by any means, but they also weren’t exactly tearing it up for me. Whatever strategy you have at the start, usually it ends up simply being about finding value wherever you can, and having enough flexibility (and money) to add in the absolute must-haves.
So I decided rather than replacing Gosens with an attacking threat such as Hakimi, instead to go the cheap route and save some coin for later, so I added Hakimi’s PSG teammate Nuno Mendes (4.5m) who had two games coming against RB Leipzig. Other than that, Correa was my only player who was listed as a doubt to start, and given his lack of production over the first two games, he was easy to kick to the curb, replaced by Villareal’s Arnaut Danjuma (6.0m) with two games upcoming against Young Boys. (For both additions, I tip my hat to NMA’s V Dhivakhar as I leaned on his Player Picks.)
That left me 2.0m in the bank. I considered dropping Depay for Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku, but that would have cost me a -4 point hit for a third transfer, so I decided to hold that money in my pocket for later use.
As it turns out, Lukaku got injured in the first half of MD-3, so I got lucky not making that move. Even so, Depay was horrible, Mendes did nothing, and again I failed to get my captain pick right. But thankfully and amazingly, my team’s output improved further again, this time up to 86 points, owing largely to another strong outing from Salah along with a huge return from Jorginho and his two converted PKs.
PLANNING MATCH-DAY 4
My team is trending up, going from 55 to 77 to 86 points, leaving me with 218 points total, for a rank of #284 in the NMA league (out of 1,450+), #675 in the USA (out of 20K+) and #42,476 worldwide (out of 1.25M+). When I started the competition, you will recall that my big strategy was a focus on expensive two-way defenders. Remember that opener making reference to “best laid plans?” As you will see below, my best performer at the position is my singular cheap, supposedly one-way defender!
There is no point looking back now, though. It’s time to focus on the here and now. As usual, there are two free transfers at my disposal. I have 2.0m in the bank to allow for an upgrade (or two). I still have both of my chips, with no real need to use either now. What do I need to change? Who should I drop? Let’s look at my team to see which players are all roses and who instead are stinking up the joint over the first three games:
MF Salah (34 points, 10.6m at current price adjustment)
FW Lewandowski (29 points, 11.7m)
MF Jorginho (25 points, 6.1m)
DF Mazraoui (22 points, 4.7m)
DF Kimmich (20 points, 6.6m)
MF Danjuma (19 points, 6.2m)
FW Tadic (16 points, 8.7m)
MF Seiwald (13 points, 4.6m)
DF Mendes (11 points, 4.7m)
DF Baku (10 points, 5.6m)
GK Kobel (10 points, 4.7m)
MF Llorente (8 points, 6.1m)
GK Rulli (8 points, 4.5m)
FW Depay (6 points, 8.5m)
DF Alexander-Arnold (6 points, 6.5m)
The first transfer seems staggeringly obvious. Depay is simply killing me. It would be one thing if he were cheap, but he’s wasting 8.5m. I knew going into the tournament that, given the financial difficulties which led to the purge of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, this Barcelona was not the Barcelona of last year and recent seasons. However, I still thought Barca would finish second in Group E behind Bayern Munich, and that Depay would be able to justify his mid-tier price tag. I was horribly, horribly wrong. In Barcelona’s first three games — two at home — the Blaugrana have scored a grand total of one goal while Depay has done absolutely nothing. I’m sick and tired of waiting. It’s time to cut my losses. There’s no reason to expect a turnaround. Having just sacked Ronald Koeman, Barcelona are 9th in the La Liga table at the moment, tied for the 7th most goals in the league (fewer than the likes of Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano, along with the more usual suspects).
As for my second drop, TAA looks like terrible value, but he missed a game unexpectedly due to injury, and FPL managers know that the dashing Reds’ wing back usually rewards patience. So in keeping faith with TAA, it really looks to be a choice between Marcos Llorente and Ridle Baku, who have also disappointed. Which of the pair should I drop?
- Llorente unexpectedly didn’t start against Liverpool and has endured a lackluster season so far, with no goals or assists in his 190 Champions League minutes and no goals with only one assist in 696’ across La Liga. However, he was likely on the bench only due to international fatigue, and the reason I picked him in the first place is because he scored 12 goals with 11 assists domestically in Spain last season, along with the fact that Atletico Madrid usually advance to the knockout stage in Champions League and generally give Liverpool problems, leading me to expect that they would fare well in a tough Group B. While they are currently in second place in the group, they are tied on points with third place Porto. Making their case a bit dicey, two of the three remaining matches are away: at Liverpool, v. AC Milan, at Porto.
- Baku likewise has no goals or assists in his 221’ in the competition, and while he does boast a clean sheet, Wolfsburg is coming off an ugly 3-1 defeat at Salzburg. However, unlike Llorente, Baku has actually scored in domestic action thus far, with two goals (and no assists) in 630’ of Bundesliga action. And while the attacking “defender” wasn’t quite as prolific as Llorente last season, Baku wasn’t exactly chopped liver either, scoring 6 goals and adding 8 assists domestically. Wolfsburg is in last place in the wide open Group G but only one point behind second place Sevilla. Aiding the cause, two of the three remaining games are at home: v. Salzburg, at Sevilla, v. Lille.
OPTION A (Drop Depay and Llorente)
In case you can’t tell from the bullet points above, I’m leaning toward dropping Depay and Llorente, while keeping Baku. Doing so leaves me with 16.6m. Starting at forward, looking at the fantasy leaderboard there are so many attractive options: Ajax’s Sebastian Haller (38 points, 8.9m) and Antony (22 points, 7.4m), Salzburg’s Karim Adeyemi (30 points, 7.3m), Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior (20 points, 8.1m), PSG’s Lionel Messi (18 points, 11.1m) and Kylian Mbappe (18 points, 10.6m), and several others could warrant consideration. I’m going to focus on Haller, the most productive, and Adeyemi, an outstanding value. Adeyemi would be the obvious choice if Haller were priced at 11.0 or 11.5, but Heller is also a great value at merely 8.9m.
If I add Haller at forward, that leaves me with 7.7m in midfield. That means I can afford to grab someone such as Club Brugge’s Hans Vanaken (29 points, 7.3m) or Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham (23 points, 7.4m).
if I pick Adeyemi, that leaves me with 9.3m in midfield. That means I can afford Bayern Munich’s Leroy Sane (41 points, 9.1m), RB Leipzig’s Christoper Nkunku (31 points, 7.9m) or Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez (24 points, 9.1m).
I don’t know about you, but for me, Adeyemi and Sane seem like the way to go. Adeyemi is rolling with 10 goals and an assist in 11 Bundlesiga games thus far, so his Champions League productivity is not a fluke. RB Leipzig is in last place in Group A, but that may help Adeyemi’s cause to start the remaining three games, Leipzig has actually scored as many goals as PSG, and I can drop Adeyemi when needed either with a chip late in the group stage or the reset for the knockout phase. And those of us with FPL backgrounds know what Sane can do; he has two goals plus three assists in nine Bundesliga games this season following a six goal, ten assist 2020-21 campaign. Take a look at my Option A team:
OPTION B (Drop Depay and Baku)
Even while I’m leaning toward Option A, it’s worth looking what I can do with my team if I instead keep Llorente while dropping Depay and Baku. You never know, maybe I’ll end up liking that better.
If I drop Depay and Baku, that leaves me with 16.1m. Since defenders are cheaper than midfielders, that would allow me to go the more expensive route at forward, not necessarily just Haller but maybe even Messi or Mbappe if I wanted to. If I added Haller, that would leave me 7.2m for defender, so I could easily afford any defender. If I added Mbappe, that would leave me with 5.5m. If I added Messi, I would have only 5.0m.
At defender, it’s hard to say no to Man City’s Joao Cancelo, who has earned 26 points at a cost of 5.4m. I can afford him with either Haller or Mbappe. Haller has been extremely productive with seven goals plus three assists in Eredivisie play this season, so like Adeyemi, his Champions League exploits are no outlier. Mbappe is the bigger name, but honestly I don’t see the need to pay more for him, especially since Messi and/or Neymar could easily hog any spoils for PSG. The downside is that Ajax have two straight away games at Dortmund and at Besiktas, but given Ajax’s success in the other away game (a 5-1 victory at Sporting) I’m not too worried about that. If I go with Haller, that leaves me plenty in the bank for future use. Take a gander at my Option B team:
[Source Note: The Official UEFA Champions League fantasy and Transfermarkt websites were utilized for pricing, points and statistical information shared above.]
Which of the transfer options do you think I should pick for MD-4? Am I crazy not to prioritize adding in one of superstars Mbappe or Messi above all else? How are your team makeover efforts coming, and what tough choices are you mulling over? Please answer my poll question below and then share your thoughts and ask any questions you have in the comments section!
Which two transfers should I make to my team for MD-4?
This poll is closed
Option A (drop Depay & Llorente, add Adeyemi & Sane)
Option B (drop Depay & Baku, add Haller & Cancelo)
Option C (something else; share the details in the comments!)