The group stage is where the brave are rewarded. It is also where you can take risks and still make it through unscathed. As other fantasy managers slowly figure out who makes the core of their teams, the early adopters will be setting the pace. Are you game?
Thibaut Courtois (€6m, Real Madrid vs RB Leipzig)
The ever-dependable Belgian gets the nod over his fellow premium-priced goalkeepers due to his impeccable saves-per-game ratio, plus Real Madrid’s customary clean sheets. In his next three UCL matches he faces RB Leipzig followed by a double-header against Shakhtar Donetsk. Both these teams can blow hot and cold, but I expect Madrid’s pedigree to carry the squad over the line comfortably.
Jan Oblak (€5.5m, Leverkusen vs Atletico)
Atletico Madrid’s defense-first mentality, coupled with the fact that Atletico faces Leverkusen —second-bottom in the Bundesliga — makes Oblak a prime pick for a probable clean sheet. He would also be a comparatively safe pick against Club Brugge and hence up till MD-6, due to the mirroring of fixtures.
João Cancelo (€6.5m, Man City vs Dortmund)
Though he is a defender by trade, the #7 jersey is apt for Joao Cancelo. He is nearly always in the opponent’s half, where he is dribbling, crossing and creating. He doesn’t even fear letting loose a belter or two. What we see is his two assists from last time out, but he also amassed nine points from ball recoveries and the clean sheet. He’s a must-have.
Sergio Ramos (€5m, Maccabi Haifa vs Paris)
Ramos is part of the glitzy PSG team that faces Group H minnows Maccabi Haifa. Possession should be dominated by the Parisians, hence ball recoveries would be a critical scoring metric for their defenders, on top of the expected clean sheet.
Reinildo (€4.5m, Leverkusen vs Atletico)
Building on last season’s image of Reinildo as a ball-recovery merchant, he is now a mainstay in Atletico’s defense and is a bargain at this price. Just as with Oblak, a clean sheet against Leverkusen seems guaranteed.
Giovanni Di Lorenzo (€5m, Rangers vs Napoli)
The base of Napoli’s high-octane brand of football, as exhibited to the world against Liverpool, wastes no time in winning the ball back. Napoli did not keep a clean sheet, but Lorenzo owners didn’t mind too much due to his mind-boggling 12 ball recoveries.
Wesley Fofana (€5m, Chelsea vs Salzburg)
“Lorenzo got 12 ball recoveries? Hold my beer.”
Chelsea’s opponent Salzburg prefers quick breaks to controlled possession, which could give Chelsea’s back line more than a few opportunities to win balls back.
Nuno Tavares (€4m, Marseilles vs Frankfurt)
Similar to struggling Leverkusen, Eintracht Frankfurt is still searching for a previous Europa-league-winning form, struggling in 11th in the Bundesliga. Frankfurt has a total of just two shots on target in the last two games. This means that a clean sheet by Marseille is very possible. Oddly enough, Nuno Tavares, a fullback, is Marseille’s second-highest scorer this season.
Piotr Zieliński (€7m, Rangers vs Napoli)
Liverpool fans, look away. This man wreaked havoc with the ‘Pool back line, bagging two goals plus an assist. He also has three goals plus four assists in Napoli’s seven games played so far. Can Rangers stop Zielinkski’s Napoli? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Vinicius Jr. (€10m, Real Madrid vs RB Leipzig)
Vinicius Jr is tasked with leading Real Madrid’s attack against RB Leipzig, with strike partner Benzema mysteriously sitting out for a spell on the sidelines. He is Madrid’s top scorer with five in seven. He will be looking to build on that in the Champions League. Leipzig meanwhile will look to bounce back and play more adventurously under new coach Rose, leaving spaces that Vinicius can exploit.
Kevin De Bruyne (€10.5m, Man City vs Dortmund)
He is the most expensive of City’s midfielders but is also the most immune to Pep Roulette. The world-class play-maker is finally partnered with a world-class finisher, already creating five goals in eight games in all competitions. Dortmund and the subsequent double-header against Copenhagen are attractive fixtures to get some bang for your buck.
Kelvin de bruyne with this assist . pic.twitter.com/9BeDkHk3rw— TÃ LÖÑ ❤️ ❣️ (@Talon5895) September 6, 2022
Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (€5.5m, Rangers vs Napoli) – Four goals plus two assists in seven games, and should’ve gotten at least two more goals against Liverpool.
Mohammed Kudus (€5m, Liverpool vs Ajax) – Toying with Rangers’ defense, his strength and ball control gave him a 14-point haul with a goal and an assist.
Ángel Correa (€7.5m, Leverkusen vs Atletico) – Usually comes in during the second half and ends the game as a super-sub. Injects pace and energy which could reward nicely against a hapless Leverkusen side.
André-Frank Zambo Anguissa (€7m, Rangers vs Napoli) – If you haven’t filled up your Napoli quota yet, this is your last call! He has the strength to bully defenders, the finesse to spin 360s casually, and the precision to beat Alisson at his near post.
Erling Haaland (€11m, Manchester City vs Dortmund)
The Norwegian goal-machine is on a mission – to become the top scorer in the best football competition there is, the Champions League. The 22-year-old has 25 goals in 20 Champions League games, stats unheard of even in the prime Messi-Ronaldo era. He has 10 goals in 6 games in the EPL, 2 in the match-day against Sevilla, and he will be licking his lips to open his account against former employer Borussia Dortmund.
Kylian Mbappé (€11m, Maccabi Haifa vs Paris)
The other torchbearer of the post-Messi-Ronaldo era along with Haaland, Kylian Mbappe will want to one-up his rival and pour in the goals against Maccabi Haifa. Though Neymar is outperforming him domestically, Mbappe seems to shine brightest on the biggest stage.
Neymar (€10m, Maccabi Haifa vs Paris) – Seems to suddenly have the Balon D’or on his mind. Ten (10) goals and seven (7) assists in 9 games. Yes, you read that right.
Edin Džeko (€7.5m, Viktoria Plzeň vs Inter) – Is making the most of the game-time he gets in Lukaku’s absence. Threatened to score against Bayern on multiple occasions.
Antoine Griezmann (€9m, Leverkusen vs Atletico) – Due to odd contractual obligations, his playing time is limited and he comes on for only the last 30 or so minutes every match. Only half an hour to prove your worth? No pressure there for Griezmann.
90+1' - Mario Hermoso puts Atletico ahead— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) September 7, 2022
90+6' - Mateus Uribe equalises from the spot
90+11' - Antoine Griezmann nets winner
What a finish to Atletico Madrid vs Porto #BBCFootball #UCL pic.twitter.com/7FalgjrT7K
NMA’s UCL Content & Mini-League
If you haven’t already, don't miss out on DTuron’s guide to fantasy UCL strategy, written by last season’s global winner. MiQ sizes up the matchday in his MD-2 Preview article and will be hosting the pre-deadline chat as well. And look out for Dhivakhar’s Rate My Team article publishing tomorrow.
Finally, please join me, and DTuron and thousands of others in NMA’s UCL mini-league, and be sure to follow www.nevermanagealone.com for ongoing comprehensive coverage of fantasy Champions League (and EPL and World Cup too!)
What do you think of these picks? Do any fill the holes you discovered in MD-1? How many holes is that, and who failed you? If you’re looking beyond the player picks, then please tell us who has caught your eye — Log in to share your ideas and questions in the comments.