The Champions League is now entering its most exciting phase, the knockout stages. Eight top-class clashes are set to take place in the next two weeks as part of the first leg of the Round of 16. There are many side stories surrounding most of the ties making the last 16 round sound more like an interactive choice-based video game. It all starts with Paris Saint-Germain hosting Real Madrid while Man City visits Sporting CP on Tuesday.
The 16 clubs enter the 1st leg of R16 after a messy schedule that included an international break, the Club World Cup, and the Africa Cup of Nations. MD-7 will span all 1st leg matches which are divided between two calendar weeks with midweek slots on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Just to make fantasy managers pull out even more hair, the teams in the later-week matches get to play in their domestic leagues between the time we pick our players and when they (hopefully) play their UCL matches.
MATCH-DAY 7 FANTASY GUIDE
Thus the Round of 16 is probably the worst for fantasy players. Each transfer deadline is set before the first two-match kickoff on Tuesday. The teams scheduled for the second week may have two domestic league/cup games between the transfer deadline and their UCL ties.
The best strategy for this match-day (and MD-8) is to pick as much as possible from the four matches close to the deadline while keeping in mind which clubs you expect to survive.
At least fantasy managers will be spoiled again with Man City’s lineup reveal before locking in their own transfers for MD-7. The same happened in MD-6 when the citizens lost 1-2 to RB Leipzig. Considering that City’s match is one of the easiest in R16, capitalising on four Citizens is an obvious strategy. Just realize that in MD-8, the schedule is flipped so that early MD-7 teams play late and vice versa.
As announced last summer, this year’s R16 will be the first knockout round to not use away-goals as a tie-breaker. There is no knowing how this will change strategies, but we do not expect any room for heavy rotation by any of the clubs in the first leg. Many of the teams will look to plant a front foot in the quarterfinals as soon as possible.
Clubs with relatively weak opponents could consider a surprise rest for one or two of their key players. These would be Manchester City playing Sporting CP, Bayern Munich playing Salzburg, and title-holders Chelsea hosting Lille. Tread carefully around those teams.
FIXTURES & WINTER TRANSFERS
Sporting CP vs Manchester City
Man City travels to Portugal undefeated since the last outing in UCL against Leipzig in MD-6. The winter transfer window was quiet for Guardiola’s team. He purchased a 22 year old Argentinian center forward and loaned him right back to his original club River Plate for the remainder of the season. Sporting purchased English 23 year old right-winger Marcus Edwards from Portuguese club Guimaraes for €7.67 m. In addition, Algerian international veteran Islam Slimani joined the team to allow star striker Paulinho some rest from time to time.
Manchester City plays against Norwich ahead of the UCL tie hoping to keep the comfortable lead in EPL. Sporting on the other hand lived a stressful night just yesterday drawing 2-2 with Porto in the domestic league. But just then, poor sporting behaviour overcame both teams and the referee ended up showing the red card four times and yes, Porto’s Pepe was one of them.
PSG vs Real Madrid
Side-stories engulf this match like no other; Sergio Ramos plays against his former team (if he recovers from injury), Messi faces his long term rivals Real Madrid, and Keylor Navas is in the same shoes as Ramos. But most importantly, the controversial draw changed Real Madrid opponent’s level drastically. On a more positive note, the romance continues between Kilyan Mbappe and Real Madrid.
There was no major transfer activity in either the French or the Spanish camp. PSG is undefeated in all competitions since their 1-2 loss in UCL MD-5 to Man City. Real Madrid will be playing against Villarreal today on the road in preparation for the European tie in Paris. Karim Benzema has been making the news recently as a major availability doubt for Carlo Ancelotti.
Liverpool played in San Siro in MD-6, defeating AC Milan 2-1. Now the Reds return to the same stadium to face Serie A title-holders Inter Milan. Liverpool is in top form recently even with key players Mo Salah and Sadio Mane at the African Cup of Nations. There the latter’s Senegal defeated the former’s Egypt in the final by penalty shootout. The English club brought in Porto’s Colombian left-winger Luis Diaz for €45.00m. If he is going to deliver strong performances and impress, then Klopp will have a tough time deciding his starting front line.
Robin Gosens joined Inter Milan ranks on loan this winter after missing most of Atalanta’s matches in the group stage. Even though Inter is leading the pack in Italy, a loss to rival AC Milan last week cost them a 4 point lead. Inter visits Napoli today before preparing to host Klopp and Company midweek.
Salzburg vs Bayern Munich
There was no major activity in the winter transfer window by either team. From fantasy point of view, this tie is straightforward regardless of Bayern’s leaky defense this season. Salzburg hosts Bayern Munich after an away 2-1 win over Rapid Wein in the domestic league; the Germans visit Bochum today before traveling to Salzburg.
This is another great match to exploit in fantasy. Bayern is expected to go through to the quarterfinals. Similar to Man City, capitalize on Bayern, buying the maximum number of players hoping they will not destroy Salzburg completely and be rested in the return leg.
Chelsea vs LOSC Lille
Title-holders Chelsea are currently representing Europe in the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. They play Palmeiras (South America representative) today then travel back to London to play at Crystal Palace before hosting Lille at Stamford Bridge.
Lille’s most recent match was against PSG and they suffered a heavy 1-5 defeat at home. They play again today against Montpellier and then against Metz in Ligue 1 before heading to London to play against Thomas Tuchel’s UCL-winning team in the second week of MD-7.
Chelsea welcomes back Kennedy from Flamingo after finishing his loan, which may help Tuchel to compensate for Chilwell’s absence and to support Marcos Alonso. Lille brought in right-winger Edon Zhegrova in place of departed Jonathan Ikoune who joined Fiorentina.
I will be witnessing Chelsea’s performance in the Club World Cup finals match live in the stadium tonight, so make sure to keep an eye on the stands!
Villarreal vs Juventus
Juventus splurged over 100 million Euros this winter on various transfers. Most notable are striker Dusan Vlahovic for €81.60m from Fiorentina and defensive midfielder Denis Zakaria for €8.6m from Borussia Monchengladbach. The former scored his first goal just minutes after his debut. His presence has allowed more space for Paolo Dybala to actually change how Juventus plays under Allegri. Juventus will travel to Bergamo to face Atalanta tomorrow then play city rival Torino before travelling to Villarreal.
Former Tottenham right-back Serge Aurier’s contract ended this winter, and he signed with Villarreal. Another Spurs player Lo Celso joined the yellow submarines on loan this winter. Both players debuted last week from the bench but are yet to have proper impact for the team. Today, Villarreal butts heads with La Liga leadering Real Madrid, followed by Real Betis on the road before hosting Juventus.
Benfica vs Ajax
Following last season’s failure to advance to UCL’s knockout stages, Ajax made no mistake this season, scoring 20 goals to win all six group stage ties and knock out Dortmund in the process. Since then, Ajax has lost one match in nine, conceding only three goals while scoring 34. They will play two domestic matches before travelling to play Benfica on the road. The highlight of their transfer window was the departure of David Neres to Shakhtar Donetsk.
In Portugal, Benfica remains unable to break into the top two spots in the table, which are reserved for Sporting and Porto respectively. The Portuguese outfit seems content with its squad since no major transfers went through during the winter transfer window. Benfica will play two domestic league matches before hosting Dutch giants Ajax.
Atletico Madrid vs Manchester United
Both clubs have struggled on both the domestic and international level so far. One will grab this second chance to find itself this season. Man United will play three matches in ten days (Southampton, Brighton and Leeds) before travelling to Madrid. The club did not move a muscle in the winter transfer window after spending 140m Euros in the summer to purchase Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane.
Atletico has won only one match of the last five in all competitions, bowing out of Copa del Ray in the process. Unlike United, Atletico’s manager is still given the confidence to lead the team until the end of the season. Winning the Spanish league last season may have been interpreted by many as a weak victory after Barcelona’s and Real’s poor form, but the club is home to many talented players and may bounce back at any minute to mount a serious title challenge if anyone at the top shows signs of faltering. Atletico’s activity in the transfer window was minor and aimed to strengthen squad depth. Kieran Trippier’s departure to Newcastle is a highlight in their activity but considering his play time this season, the club should not be affected by it.
MATCHDAY 7 BUILD UP
My fellow UCL expert Sraxan has published Player Picks for MD-7, and Olakunle has posted a Rate My Team article, and you may keep coming back here for tactics chat and questions. And of course, I will be posting the UCL Live Chat article in two parts over the next two Tuesdays. Injuries and suspensions lists will be covered, so be sure to check in. Also follow NMA podcast as I join Paul for the preview discussion over the next few days!
So do you remember any of these international guys after so many weeks away? Are you enjoying your unlimited free transfers before R16? What’s on your mind as you shift gears from league play and dust off the cobwebs from your UCL fantasy team? Do you even remember your password? Please post your team in the comments and ask our experts for advice. Then share your thoughts and questions below!
NMA UCL Fantasy Mini-League
If you played our UCL mini-league last season, or if you played our Euros mini-league over the summer, you should automatically be entered into NMA’s 2021-22 mini-league as soon as you create a team. Head to gaming.uefa.com and get to work!
If you are new to us, then once you create a team you can join our mini-league manually with the following info. Come join us, we’d love to have you!
- Code: 71MQALVG07