I’ve been so busy navigating fixture congestion in fantasy EPL these past couple months that the start of the Champions League Round of 16 kind of caught me a bit off guard.
But it’s time to kick into gear. The transfer deadline is less than 24 hours away, so I’ve been scrambling to assemble my squad (relying heavily on articles published by NMA’s UCL gurus MiQ and Prakhar; see them here and here).
Below I’ve outlined my work so far. I hope it suggests an idea or two to you, and that in turn you will point out any weak spots you see in my reasoning.
Back in Matchday 5, I mustered just 43 points — my worst result of the season. Happily, I followed my worst matchday with my best, finishing out the group stage with 97 points in Matchday 6 courtesy of my limitless chip.
Neymar was the star of my show, his hattrick resulting in a massive 18-point return. I only wish I had captained him! But I did place the armband on my second-best performer, Cristiano Romero, who kept a clean sheet and recovered twelve balls on his way to a 10 point haul (which doubled to twenty for me). In fact, after substitutions my only duds were Keylor Navas and Romelu Lukaku.
The result was green arrows in all leagues.
But alas, like Cinderella’s magic carriage turning back into a pumpkin at midnight, the expiration of my limitless chip reverted my team to its poor Matchday 5 lineup. Here is that squad, which is my starting point as I begin to build for the knockout rounds ahead of tomorrow’s transfer deadline.
Right away you’ll see I have some issues to deal with. Sehrou Guirassy, Wilmar Barrios, Hans Vanakan, and Aleksandr Erokhin all play for teams that didn’t even make it through the group stage. Plus Diogo Jota and Hans Hateboer both have injury flags: Jota will miss Matchday 7 with a knee injury sustained against Midtjylland, and Hateboer is dealing with microfractures in his foot that may require surgery.
A bit of a housecleaning is in order then, but fortunately the UCL fantasy game grants managers free unlimited transfers ahead of the Round of 16 (fitting after two months of league injuries and a transfer window!). With €6.6 in my bank, I went to work and emerged with this working draft:
In my opinion, the teams most likely to go deep in the tournament are Bayern Munich, Manchester City, PSG and Juventus. Because this is the last time the game affords us free unlimited transfers without the use of a chip, I want to maximize my representation from these clubs now, so that I don’t have to burn limited transfers to bring in their players later.
Until recently I would have included Liverpool in that group of contenders, but those who follow the English Premier League will know why I am off them for now. Defending champions of their domestic league, they’ve mustered wins in just three of their last twelve matches across all competitions, and they’ve just lost their third consecutive league match for the first time since 2014. Unless/until Jurgen Klopp can find a way to stop the rot, I’m going to defer investment in Reds assets.
From Bayern, my selections are Robert Lewandowski, Kingsley Coman, and Josh Kimmich. Although Lewandowski didn’t put his best foot forward in the group stage, so far this season he has scored 29 goals in 28 appearances across all competitions, including a ridiculous 24 in 19 Bundesliga games. Coman played only four matches during the group stage but registered two clean sheets, two assists and three goals. And Kimmich is classified as a defender but lines up as a central midfielder in one of the world’s most formidable attacking sides. Yes please!
My choices from PSG were simplified somewhat by the recent injury to Neymar, who had formerly been my primary asset from that club. His unavailability means it’ll be Kylian Mbappé instead; at least he’s less expensive than his Brazilian teammate. I’ve also taken Marquinhos and Danilo, whose rates of ball recovery offer a high floor from steady production. In the Round of 16 we are allowed a maximum of four players from each club, so I’ve rounded out my Paris contingent with goalkeeper Keylor Navas. Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment as manager has been a shot in the arm for PSG’s defense, keeping clean sheets in six of nine recent matches across all competitions.
Next is Manchester City. Here I’ve opted for Ilkay Gundogan, who has transformed into EPL Player of the Year material while filling in for the injured Kevin De Bruyne (or Sergio Aguero, take your pick). Gundo is currently carrying a niggle of his own but will hopefully recover in time for this later-week match on 24 February. At any rate, he’ll start on my bench, and subbing him in to replace a dud will be a low-risk proposition even if his status remains a doubt. I also want Ederson, as I feel City are currently fielding one of the world’s tightest defenses. He has kept clean sheets in all but three of his last fifteen league games.
I’ve picked the rest of my squad on the basis of their individual merits. Angelino has been all or nothing, but he plays early and his “all” includes three goals and as many assists in the UCL. Jules Koundé is probably not going to shoot the lights out, but he has accrued 20 points so far and is the least expensive starting defender left in the game. Stefan Savic is another value play who has put up a very respectable 29 points. Casemiro offers attacking threat and has also recovered 42 balls. Juan Cuadrado boasts 3 clean sheets and 5 assists in the competition and has also recovered 23 balls. And last, but certainly not least, is CRon7. One of the greatest UCL knockout stage players in history, he will be looking to build upon his legacy if he can function under the mountain of fantasy captain’s armbands he’ll be wearing.
As far as my captaincy is concerned, the armband will start out on Mbappé. I will then have the option of rolling it to Ronaldo and then Lewandowski based on how those three heavy-hitters perform. Note also that I’ve filled my bench with players who play during the second week, where they can serve to sub out first-week duds.
So for now that’s where I’m at. This squad is relatively fluid though; I’ll stay alert for team news, injury reports, and input from others before hitting “save” for the final time.
Have you been carefully plotting your squad over the past weeks, or are you doing a last-minute scramble like me? Which players do you consider essential? Which UCL studs are you forgoing? Do you see any problems with my squad? Please join us in the comments to lay out your plans, and then rate my team!