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How to Succeed at Fantasy UCL: Strategies, Tips, and Tricks from a World #1

Karim Benzema - Real Madrid - Champions League
Could this season’s global #1 be you?
Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to UCL Fantasy! Last year I managed to narrowly finish global #1. While coming anywhere close to this position requires an overwhelming amount of luck, I also feel I’ve learned some useful strategies/tips that I want to share with any willing readers! Because I was an avid reader of Never Manage Alone last year, I eagerly accepted their offer to use the blog as a medium to reach fellow fantasy managers.

Below are some tips that many experienced players have used, and passed on to other players like myself. I’ve also added some of the tricks I used to help me finish on top of the world last season. I hope both beginners and more experienced players can find something here that helps them get the score they want this year!

Budget/Team Structure

I won’t comment much about how many premiums to draft because there are so many different ways to build a strong team. Especially this year, there are lots of great value mid-range picks, as well as tempting premiums. I imagine your team will have between two and four premiums, probably at least three. They may seem overpriced, but remember that one of them will end up with the captain’s armband doubling his score, and that makes him worthwhile.

The only other thing I’ll say is that NOBODY on your team should be a non-starter. There are plenty of min-price starters at each position (except GK), so either look harder to find someone who will start, or downgrade someone for .5m and slightly boost your bench-fodder to someone who will see pitch time. I guarantee you it is worth it.


When balancing offense vs defense, I prefer to spend my premium cash on forwards/midfielders as opposed to defenders, but this is not a strategy shared by all successful fantasy managers. There are SO many good budget options in defense that it often feels like putting an extra mil in attack is more efficient than pouring it into defense.

Last year in the entire group stage, I never owned more than one defender/keeper at more than 5.0m at a time. This year I’m going even harder on that strategy, so I have only one defender/keeper costing more than 4.5m on my current draft. This strategy may seem especially shocking to those who play FPL where everyone will pour a large portion of their budget into TAA, Robertson, Cancelo, James etc. These players can definitely payout big hauls, and I’m not claiming they should never be on your team, but they aren’t as crucial in UCL as an FPL.

Here’s the difference to why I think they are less essential to your UCL Fantasy squad:

  1. You have far fewer fixtures to plan for. In FPL you may use the same team without a WC and only 1 transfer per week for 20+ straight weeks, but In UCL fantasy your team is sticking around for at most weeks, and there will be repeat fixtures. So where in FPL you need a top-6 team to get consistent good clean sheet odds, in UCL you can ‘snipe’ decent clean sheet odds from teams that aren’t necessarily the strongest but have a couple good fixtures in the stretch you are taking the player.
  2. Ball recoveries, ball recoveries, ball recoveries: Learning how to properly take advantage of ball recoveries is crucial in UCL. And because it is so often overlooked, it gives you an instant edge over other managers when you do make it a priority. Those premium attacking fullbacks can get attacking returns, but they aren’t necessarily the strongest on ball recovery points. This largely narrows the point gap between TAA and the 4.5 CB who earns 2-3 points in ball recoveries every single match, so in my opinion TAA isn’t worth the cash. Read more on this below.

Some budget defenders I like include...

5.0m: Cucurella, Nuno Mendes, *Konate, Araujo...

4.5m: Emerson, Garcia, Otamendi, Reinildo, Sandro, *Ake,...

4.0m: Nuno Tavares, *Marcano/Carmo, Bassey,...

* - If they are likely to start

There are enough of these budget options that I find one barely has to dip one’s feet in the 5.5m+ range, although many may disagree.

Note as well that once the knockout stage has started and we get the budget boost, I no longer have this opinion, and will certainly pick up a few premium defenders.

Fixture Planning

There are many ways to do this, so all I will say is have a plan. Know when you are going to WC. Try to imagine which transfers could be made each week leading up to your wildcard in order to capitalize on mismatched fixtures. For example, I want to take Lewan and Garcia MD-1. But I know I want them out before they face Bayern. I can bring in Mbappe against Haifa, and take a pick at a 4.5 to exchange them.

But I now have to keep in mind that is both of my free transfers used, and so the rest of my team should have decent fixtures for both MD1 and MD2. Considering this makes choosing between comparable players much easier.

Another factor to consider when choosing comparable players is what day each plays on. Especially now that there are only two game-days. The ideal scenario for a single week is 10-11 playing on Tuesday, then 4-5 on Wednesday, so you have more information when choosing to make subs. But of course you have to keep in mind the fixtures will swap the next week. So realistically you want at least 5-6 per day, with preferably more the first day. This probably won’t be a big issue, but it’s something to double check when making transfers. Just make sure you don’t have only four players playing Tuesday and suddenly eleven players you have to send in without the option of subbing out on Wednesday.

Lastly, I will say: USE ALL CHIPS IN THE GROUP STAGE. In the knockout stages, you will be given enough transfers that you shouldn’t need a wildcard, and with the budget boost you won’t get nearly the same value increase from a limitless as in the group stage. Plus, in the group stage there will be many more large mismatched fixtures to exploit with your limitless.

Ball Recoveries

Let’s talk about ball recoveries again, because they are so important when looking at budget picks. Last year Reinildo got 60 pts at 4.5m. The only player under 6.5m to get more points than that was Courtois, who played four more games after Reinildo was eliminated. A huge reason for this was that Reinildo raked in 2-3 points EVERY game from ball recoveries alone.

The value there from a 4.5m is crazy and needs to be utilized, but it can be hard to know how to do that. Since defenders have different playing styles. Being a better defender is NOT always synonymous with having more ball recoveries.

Here’s what I do (beyond looking at last year’s Fantasy UCL stats): Find a stat database (I use and look at budget mid/defence ball recovery stats. Unless your pick has something else going for him, make sure he’s in the upper end of tackles / interceptions or move on to the next option.

Here are some cheap ball-recovery beasts I like...

Reinildo (4.5m), Otamendi (4.5m), Florentino (4.5m), Bassey (4.0m)

I hope everyone was able to take something away from this! In the past I have received so many tips from the UCL fantasy community, as well as from Never Manage Alone that I hope I have been able to give a little back!

Please join me and hundreds of others in NMA’s UCL mini-league, and be sure to follow for comprehensive fantasy coverage of the Champions League (and EPL and World Cup too!).

Godspeed in MD-1 :)

I love to talk UCL Fantasy. Reach me on reddit at u/all_u_can_eat_soup and I will get back to you asap.