After what seems like an eternity, Champions League is finally back! We’re getting into the business end now, with the Round of 16 beckoning. As detailed in MIQ’s Fantasy Preview, each leg is spread over two calendar weeks, with two calendar days in each. That means we get three opportunities to make substitutions and change captains!
We also get to tinker around this time thanks to the unlimited transfers, but after this we will get only five free transfers before the quarterfinals, semis, and final, and only three between the first and second legs of each of those stages.
So unless you’re still holding your wildcard, it’s crucial to get the core of your team right. It’s probably wise not to keep all your eggs in one basket, so have a more even spread across teams, especially where survival could go either way. You want to be able to field a complete team in the later rounds!
Happily, because the pool of players is smaller than it was during the group stage, the rules now allow us to carry four players from the same team rather than just three. To see how my colleague Olakunle has set his team up, check out his Rate My Team article.
Remko Pasveer (Ajax vs Benfica, €5.1m)
Arguably one of the most enjoyable sides to watch, Ajax has had a stellar campaign this season. The Dutch side breezed through the group stage, winning all six matches while scoring 20 goals in the process. What’s overshadowed by the action at the front is how tight the back is defensively. They have conceded only five goals across six UCL matches. Nice, but you probably won’t believe me if I told you they conceded the same number of goals in 22 matches in the domestice league, putting up a goal difference of +61(!) in the process.
Ajax faces Benfica in the Round of 16, an inconsistent side lately, scoring only 14 goals in the last 10 matches, a paltry 1.4 per game. Pasveer’s match is on the last game day, so he would be a good backstop in case your primary keeper fails to keep a clean sheet.
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea vs Lille, €6.4m)
The FIFA goalkeeper of the year is the man who keeps the already strong Chelsea defense leak-proof. Conceding the third-fewest goals in the Premier League proves the fact, and he continued the scintillating form at the Afcon, keeping five clean sheets in seven matches, conceding just two.
Chelsea faces Lille, whose games are more often than not quite low-scoring. Lille sits 10th in Ligue 1, a long way down from last season’s league-winning form. Mendy may seem like a comparatively costlier pick, but he’s been getting 6-pointers all season long and is expected to go deep into the tournament as well, enabling you to spend your free transfers elsewhere.
João Cancelo (Sporting CP vs Man City, €6.5m)
Man City has been operating with the efficiency we’ve come to expect these past few years, both attacking and defending with elan. The Citizens have a Premier League best 13 clean sheets and the fewest goals conceded at 14. Cancelo is the highest-earning defender in UCL Fantasy, and is 3rd highest in FPL to show consistency as well. But he is better known for his attacking contributions, with two goals plus three assists in the five group stage appearances. Yes, he is a defender. Another reason you should have him in your team is that Kyle Walker received a 3-match ban for a totally unnecessary kick on Andre Silva in the dead-rubber match against Leipzig, cementing Cancelo’s place in the starting XI.
Can't get enough of this assist from João Cancelo— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) November 22, 2021
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Inter vs Liverpool, €6.6m)
Liverpool is no slouch either, winning six of six in a tougher than expected group consisting of AC Milan, Atletico, and Porto. The Reds are headed back to the San Siro, although against the other Milan team this time around. Liverpool’s attacking fullbacks form the base of the team’s high press, with overlapping runs supporting the wingers. Trent owns the whole right side of the pitch, both in his and the opponent’s box. Oh, and he isn’t bad at set plays either.
Every free-kick Trent Alexander-Arnold has scored in the Premier League so far ☄️ pic.twitter.com/NR2WtMK8oc— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) November 8, 2021
Lisandro Martinez (Ajax vs Benfica, €5.3m)
A defender from Ajax would be a shrewd investment for reasons already stated above. And among them, Lisandro Martinez’s points return is more consistent (22 of Daley Blind’s 38 have come in only in one outing). A mainstay in the center of Ajax’s unbeatable defense, Martinez also accumulated 40 ball recoveries, the 4th highest among defenders.
Reinildo Mandava (Atletico vs Man United, €5.4m)
Lille’s primary center-back pairing of Reinildo Mandava and Jose Fonte has caught fantasy managers’ attention later than deserved. Their combined 89 ball recoveries (1st and 5th respectively) resulted in Lille having the second-fewest goals conceded (4) in the group stage. Sensing his potential, Mandava was snapped up by Atletico in the winter transfer window and is used primarily as a left-back by Simeone.
Trevoh Chalobah / Malang Sarr (Chelsea vs Lille, €4.5m/€4m)
We simply cannot overlook Chelsea’s defenders this fantasy season. Of them, Christensen (€5.7m) is rumored to have asked for a move away from the club, which may push him down the pecking order. That ensures Rudiger’s (€5.9m) and Thiago Silva’s (€5.6m) spots in the center of defense. But if you can’t accommodate these guys in your team and need to fill your bench, we have two cheaper options who may fetch you a point or two in Chalobah and Sarr. If Tuchel fields a back three, then academy product Trevoh Chalobah might get some minutes under his belt. But lately Tuchel has been preferring a back four, and if this is the case, Malang Sarr might be used at left-back. At only €4m, the money saved here can be used to upgrade other areas of your squad.
Riyad Mahrez (Sporting CP vs Man City, €9.4m)
If you are looking for goal-scoring midfielders, look no further than Man City. There were doubts going into the season without a traditional #9, all of which have been crushed by Pep’s tactical prowess. City scored the third-most goals (18) in the group stage, and that was in the Group of Death. But most fantasy managers’ pet peeve will be the rotation of the team, with nobody’s guess better than the others. Despite this, Mahrez seems to have become Pep’s go-to man on the right-wing in the Champions League. This season alone, Mahrez has notched five goals in six CL games, and he’s on penalty duties too.
Leroy Sané (Salzburg vs Bayern, €9.4m)
Leroy Sane is well and truly back. He has clearly bounced back from his first-season low and is leading the points chart of this season’s UCL Fantasy. He is now a mainstay in Bayern Munich’s starting XI, a team that has scored 70 goals domestically and 22 in the group stage. Sane himself has five (three of which were from outside the box) plus four assists and two player of the match awards. Against a leaky Salzburg side, you’ll be sorry to leave him out.
Mo Salah (Inter vs Liverpool, €10.9m)
The Egyptian is the best player in the world right now, and these lofty claims are backed up by statistics. The Afcon runner-up has lit the Premier League this season, with an amazing 16 goals plus 9 assists in 21 matches so far. The man seems to be on a mission in the Champions League as well, with seven goals in six matches for the 4th highest points overall. He was on the scoresheet in the San Siro against AC Milan, so Inter has a huge task ahead of them.
Corentin Tolisso (Salzburg vs Bayern, €6.9m)
Also part of the free-scoring Bayern side is Corentin Tolisso. He is deputizing for the injured Leon Goretzka and making full use of the opportunity to show the people in the office why he deserves a new contract. He’s active in the midfield, recovers balls, and pops one in from distance now and then. He’s been in good form of late, scoring two belters last month. In Tolisso, you get a differential who is also much cheaper than the rest of the Bayern midfielders.
Watching this Bayern goal on repeat— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 15, 2022
The Müller assist. The Tolisso golazo pic.twitter.com/g26k0zIcWP
Noah Okafor (Salzburg vs Bayern, €5.4m)
Salzburg forward and Karim Adeyemi’s strike partner, Noah Okafor is listed as a midfielder in the game (a cheap one too). He has 12 goals plus six assists in 25 games this season, which is mouth-watering for someone at this price. Salzburg faces Bayern this round, which may seem like a mighty task, but with Neuer, Davies, and Goretzka out, the Germans’ defense has lost structure, conceding seven goals in the last three Bundesliga games. If there is ever a shot at glory for Salzburg, there is no better time than now.
Robert Lewandowski (Salzburg vs Bayern, €12m)
The serial FIFA Best Player is getting the plaudits and global recognition that he rightly deserves. At 46% ownership, almost half of fantasy managers already have him. Not having him is pretty much calling for red arrows. He broke the record for most goals scored in a Bundesliga season last year with an eye-popping 41 strikes in 29 games. Now he’s taking that blistering form into this season, with 37 goals plus 3 assists in 30 matches so far in all competitions, 9 of which came in the six UCL group stage matches. Bayern has crushed its tournament opposition so far, topping the group without breaking a sweat. This is a match between a team with a goal difference of +22 versus another with +2. Bayern is naturally expected to have a deep run, so you might be left embarrassed overlooking Lewandowski here.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Atletico vs Man United, €11.4m)
The Champions League’s all-time top scorer has come home to Man United this season in a bid to lift them back into Europe’s highest level. Scoring six of his club’s eleven goals in the group stage, Ronaldo himself hasn’t failed his mission even if the rest of Man United looks out of sorts around him. These were no ordinary goals; without them, United would’ve finished rock bottom instead of at the top of the group. The 37-year-old is admittedly on a goal drought, not finding the net in 2022 so far. But it is the crunch times in the Champions League where Ronaldo thrives, and he will face familiar opposition in Atletico Madrid. In fact, Atleti is the team Ronaldo has has the most experience against in his club career, facing them 35 times and scoring 25 goals. Atleti wouldn’t particularly be looking forward to this reunion though, with their recent defensive form in absolute shambles. The side that made a name for its defense has conceded nine in the last three games. In the case United does get knocked out, I expect Ronaldo to go out with a bang.
Antony (Ajax vs Benfica, €8m)
Ajax has scored 39 goals in the last 10 games. That may or may not blow your mind, but the Dutch side is definitely blowing the opposition away. Leading the line is Haller, with 28 goals plus eight assists this season. He also turns out to be the UCL top goal-scorer so far, with ten in six games. If you cannot fit him into your budget, then Antony is the next best thing. The electric Brazilian has eleven goals plus eight assists in all competitions. He also netted two and assisted five in the group stage. Ajax faces Benfica, a team that has managed to win only five of its last ten games, which makes this a seemingly one-sided contest. Even if the winger fails to score, he will win your heart.
Magia de Antony para arrancar el sábado✨ pic.twitter.com/8WEyaYPF02— Ajax (@PlanetaAjax) February 12, 2022
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
What shape did you leave your UCL fantasy team in? Have you cleared out the deadwood? Do you also have injuries? Has anyone been traded out from under you? So what strategy are you following with you unlimited free trades before Tuesday’s kickoff? Please log in, tell us your thoughts and ask questions in the comments below. Then come back to NMA for pre-deadline chat, confirmed early lineups, and sharing the action as it unfolds!