The UEFA Champions League 2022-2023 kicks off in just 2 days, and for the first time in 20 years the tournament’s greatest player will be absent. Cristiano Ronaldo will not participate in UCL this season, as he remains a Manchester United player despite a desperate search for an exit door over the summer. The man with the most goals, most assists, most appearances, and most finals wins in the history of the tournament will be frustrated by his inability to pad those stats, and even neutral observers will miss the flair and electricity that CR7 invariably brings to the competition.
The Group Stage takes place in the midst of heavy fixture congestion since it is scheduled to end by the first week of November so that World Cup 2022 can be shoehorned into the European tournament and domestic league schedules. The tempo will be hectic, but are any of us unhappy to have UCL games on offer so frequently?
I hope you are ready for the ride as this will necessarily be a long and information-packed article covering all the groups, each team’s key summer transfers, the players I recommend for your fantasy squad, and even a bonus “rate my team” section! For the player picks, I’ve tried to include differentials who may go under the radars of many fantasy managers.
In addition to this piece, I also highly recommend reading every word of DTuron’s article on how to succeed at fantasy UCL. Why? Because he was last season’s global winner!
Teams & Draw
UCL season 2022-23 features many familiar teams from the major European leagues. EPL title holders Manchester City are once again accompanied by Liverpool, and Chelsea, but with Tottenham replacing Manchester United this time around.
La Liga and UCL title holders Real Madrid represent Spain along with Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla. Unlike last season there will be no fifth Spanish club this time, since Frankfurt was the team to lift the Europa League trophy in 2022.
Frankfurt are joined by the usual Bundesliga top three of Bayern Munich, Dortmund, and RB Leipzig, in addition to Bayer Leverkusen instead of Wolfsburg this season.
Napoli were part of an exciting Serie A title race last season; though their domestic trophy run was unsuccessful they secured a UCL qualification spot behind Serie A winners AC Milan in addition to Inter Milan and Juventus.
France is represented by two clubs; star-studded Paris Saint Germain plus Marseille instead of Lille this season.
From other European countries, there are a few clubs that we have not heard of for a while such as Dinamo Zaghreb and Copenhagen. And perhaps the second-biggest surprise this season after Ronaldo’s absence is that Scotland is represented by two clubs: Rangers and Celtic.
Title holders Real Madrid were awarded a relatively straight forward group including a repeat match up against Shakhtar Donetsk. Bayern Munich and Barcelona were also drawn in the same group but Robert Lewandowski is now on the Catalans side after a summer switch. Another repeated tie is Atletico Madrid vs Porto, this one was a second-place decider last season.
Ajax - Liverpool - Napoli - Rangers
Season 2021-22 finalists Liverpool were drawn in a group of clubs that tend toward an attacking brand of football. Napoli and Ajax are certainly famous for their ‘all out attack’ mentality, but it’s more difficult for me to characterize Rangers considering they were out of UCL for a long time. It is safe to say though that Liverpool should be able to dictate the match tempo and control the ball far longer than Ajax and Napoli. Another common factor between these clubs is their inconsistent form in recent years. On Matchday one, Ajax will host Rangers while Liverpool will travel for their first-leg match against Napoli.
It is most likely that clean sheets will be rare in this group, so if you must select a defender then go for one who offers attacking potential.
Group A Player Picks
Midfield: Mo Salah (LIV-11m), Luis Diaz (LIV-9m), Zielinski (NAP-7m)
Forward: Firmino (LIV-9m), Osimhan (NAP-8m), Brobbey (AJX-5.5m)
Liverpool: Darwin Nunez, Arthur Melo.
Ajax: Steven Bergwijn, Brian Brobbey, Lucas Ocampus, Calvin Bassey
Napoli: Min-jae Kim, Andre Anguissa, Giacomo Raspadori
Rangers: Ben Davies
Atletico Madrid - Leverkusen - Porto - Club Brugge
After two years in a row in difficult groups, Atletico Madrid have drawn a relatively favourable group this time. Bayer Leverkusen return to the fold and are hoping to play on a level that would see the club move towards regular UCL appearances. Porto have the odds in their favour to qualify from this group alongside the Spanish capital club. Club Brugge had an unfortunate draw last season against PSG, Man City and RB Leipzig, and they’ll find this season’s campaign difficult as well. On the first matchday, Club Brugge hosts Leverkusen while Atletico Madrid hosts Porto.
Unlike Group A, most of the clubs in this group adopt a counterattacking style, which makes choosing midfielders or forwards somewhat difficult. On the contrary, clean sheets are more likely here.
Group B Player Picks
Goalkeeper: Jan Oblak (ATM-5.5m), Diogo Costa (POR-5m)
Defender: Reinildo (ATM-4.5m), Zaidu (POR-4.5m)
Atletico Madrid: Nahuel Molina, Axel Witsel, Sergio Reguilon
Bayer Leverkusen: Adam Hlozek, Hudson-Odoi
Porto: David Carmo
Club Brugge: Roman Yaremchuk, Raphael Onyedika
Bayern Munich - Inter Milan - Barcelona - Viktoria Plzen
By the end of the year, Viktoria Plzen will probably announce that the letter C is the club’s official unlucky letter. They return to UCL for the fourth time and it will be against a top club every matchday. Bayern Munich started this season strongly with a modified group of players that did not include Robert Lewandowski at the tip of their spear. However, the Bavarians brought in former Liverpool left winger Sadio Mane, who has flourished in Germany. Lewandowski made the switch to Barcelona and is set to face his old teammates twice in the next couple of months. Last but not least, Inter Milan won the Italian cup last season after a strong showing in UCL and a close second place in Serie A. This group promises a spectacle every matchday and I just cannot wait for it to start! Inter Milan will host the first world-class clash of the group when they take on Bayern Munich on the first matchday, while Barcelona will look to take early advantage when hosting Viktoria Plzen.
This is a very tricky group for fantasy prospects and it is always my instinct to stay away. There will be one recommended player from this group only due to his unstoppable contributions but other than that, I recommend enjoying these matches without investing in fantasy assets.
Group C Player Picks
Midfielder: Joshua Kimmich (BAY-6.5m)
Bayern Munich: Matthijs De Ligt, Sadio Mane, Ryan Gravenberch, Noussair Mazraoui
Inter Milan: Romelu Lukaku, Joaquin Correa, Raoul Bellanova
Barcelona: Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, Jules Kounde, Frank Kessie, Andrea Christensen
Viktoria Plzen: Vaclav Jemelka
Frankfurt - Tottenham - Marseille - Sporting CP
Frankfurt and Spurs may seem like the top candidates to secure easy qualification from Group D but, Sporting CP and Marseille have the ability to turn things upside down. Group C is the group of death without any doubt, however; anything can happen in group D. Domestically, Spurs and Marseille started off their season strongly, returning positive results. On the other hand, Frankfurt and Sporting are struggling. If the start of the season is any indication then, it would be the English and French clubs to move on to the round of 16. Europa League title holders Frankfurt will host Sporting CP on matchday 1 and Spurs will host Ligue 1 runners-up Marseille.
Once again, an unpredictable group is extremely difficult to read but it is safe to assume that Spurs under Conte are no pushovers, so my picks are dominated by Spurs. Nuno Tavares also features, as he is a handy min-priced enabler who can be counted on to start.
Group D Player Picks
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris (TOT-5.5m)
Defender: Ivan Perisic (TOT-6m), Nuno Tavares (MAR-4.0m)
Midfielder: Rodrigo Bentancur (TOT-6m), Dejan Kulusevski (TOT-7.5m)
Forward: Harry Kane (TOT-10.5m)
Frankfurt: Jens Hauge, Lucas Alario, Mario Gotze
Spurs: Ivan Perisic, Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Clement Lenglet
Marseille: Pau Lopez, Jordan Veretout, Chancel Mbemba, Nuno Tavares
Sporting CP: Pedro Porro, Francisco Trincao
AC Milan - Red Bull Salzburg - Dinamo Zaghreb - Chelsea
Group E should offer Milan and Chelsea fairly comfortable paths into the round of 16. But Salzburg has disrupted such plans in recent years making new stars in the process — ever heard of a guy named Erling Haaland? Dinamo Zaghreb club is a UCL frequent-flyer, and similar to Salzburg, they tend to view the tournament as more of an exhibition to display their youth academy products rather than an opportunity to compete for the continental title. AC Milan, the Serie A title holders, had a positive start this season leading up to a deserved victory in the Milan derby over Inter on Saturday. The same cannot be said about Chelsea. The London club continues to suffer since the imposed change in ownership last season. Chelsea and Milan will play the first matchday away against Dinamo Zaghreb and Salzburg respectively.
Chelsea and Milan players can be major differentials in fantasy, but it could be prudent to wait until the second round to purchase their players, when both teams play at home.
Group E Player Picks
Goalkeeper: Mike Maignan (MIL-5.5m)
Defender: Reece James (CHE-6m), M. Cucurella (CHE-5m), Theo Hernandez (MIL-6m)
Midfielder: N’golo Kante (CHE-5.5m), Jorginho (CHE-5.5m), Brahim Diaz (MIL-6.5m), De Ketelaere (MIL-7.5m), Okafor (SAL-7.5m)
Forward: Rafael Leao (MIL-8.5m), Chikeubuike Adamu (SAL-6.5m)
AC Milan: De Ketelaere, Malick Thiaw
Salzburg: Fernando, Strahinja Pavlovic
Dinamo Zaghreb: Bosko Sutalo, Josip Drmic
Chelsea: Wesley Fofana, Marc Cucurella, Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly, Aubameyang
Celtic - Real Madrid - Shakhtar Donetsk - RB Leipzig
Similar to Group E, two teams seemingly have a straightforward road to qualification here: Real Madrid and RB Leipzig should have no trouble securing advancement as early as matchday 4. But Shakhtar Donetsk have become regulars in UCL over the last few years and could cause an upset with just a little bit of luck. La Liga and UCL title holders Real Madrid continue to lead the pack domestically and will be looking for a strong start in UCL to retain their title. Celtic and Shakhtar Donetsk are yet to taste defeat domestically but considering the level of their opponents, perhaps this is no surprise. RB Leipzig on the other hand started the new season the same way they ended the previous one: poorly. They will be hosting Shakhtar Donetsk on matchday 1 while Celtic will play host to Real Madrid.
I would recommend picking up as many as Real Madrid players as possible; three players is the maximum of course.
Group F Player Picks
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (RM-6m)
Defender: Dani Carvajal (RM--5.5m), Ferland Mendy (RM-6m), Benjamin Henrichs (RBL-4.5m)
Midfielder: Vini Junior (RM-10m), Christopher Nkunku (RBL-9m), Federico Valverde (RM-6.5m), David Raum (RBL-4.5m)
Forward: Karim Benzema (RM-11m)
Celtic: Jota (Not Doigo), Carter-Vickers
Real Madrid: Aurelien Tchouameni, Antonio Rudiger
Shakhtar Donetsk: Oleksandr Zubkov
RB Leipzig: Timo Werner, David Raum
Dortmund - Copenhagen - Manchester City - Sevilla
There is little doubt that Man City will be passing through Group G and on to the Round of 16, but it may prove slightly difficult to do so. Dortmund and Sevilla are formidable opponents and both clubs are aware that whoever is able to hurt Man City for points will have the upper hand in securing the second qualification spot. The Citizens had a fairly strong start to the EPL season, with Erling Haaland sliding into Pep’s No. 9 position as if he has been there for years: The big Norwegian has already struck 10 goals this season. Dortmund are also in form domestically, having dropped points just once so far. Copenhagen is consistently inconsistent, alternating wins and losses every domestic GW. Similarly, the Spanish club’s performance is far from decent as they are yet to win a match in La Liga. Sevilla will be hoping to turn the tables when they host Man City in the group opening match midweek. Dortmund will host Copenhagen and aim to take advantage early on.
I would rather like to pick up Haaland as my sole Group G asset and then move on, but considering Sevilla’s recent poor form, it may be wise to add a couple more players from the group.
Group G Player Picks
Goalkeeper: Gregor Kobel (DOR-5m)
Defender: Joao Cancelo (MCI-6.5m), Raphael Guerreiro (DOR-4.5m)
Midfielder: Bernardo Silva (MCI-8.5m), Kevin De Bruyne (MCI-10.5m), Bellingham (DOR-7m)
Forward: Erling Haaland (MCI-11m), Karim Adeyemi (DOR-8m)
Dortmund: Adeyemi, Sebastian Haller, Niklas Sule
Copenhagen: Andreas Cornelius
Man City: Erling Haaland, Kalvin Phillips, Manuel Akanji
Sevilla: Tanguy Nianzou, Isco, Alex Telles, Adnan Januzaj
Paris Saint-Germain - Juventus - Benfica - Maccabi Haifa
In light of Benfica’s performance last season that knocked Barcelona out of UCL, Juventus and PSG’s pathways to the Round of 16 will be neither safe nor easy. Juventus continues to look for stability on a domestic level. PSG and Haifa have their current seasons’ victory streaks tarnished by draws, while Benfica sport a perfect record this season, winning every domestic league match and every Champions League qualifying match they’ve played. The first matchday of UCL will feature PSG vs Juventus in Paris, while Benfica hosts Haifa.
In fantasy, choosing defenders playing Haifa is a strategy that could pay off. It is extremely hard to score against the top three teams in this group so picking up forwards does not work for my UCL Fantasy strategy.
Group F Player Picks
Defender: Grimaldo / Gilberto (BEN-5m), Alex Sandro (JUV-4.5m), Nuno Mendes (PSG-5m), Mukiele (PSG-4.5m), Cuadrado (JUV-5m)
PSG: Fabian Ruiz, Vitinha
Juventus: Bremer, Filip Kostic, Leandro Parades, Angel Di Maria, Paul Pogba
Benfica: David Neres, Enzo Fernandez, Julian Draxler
Haifa: Frantzdy Pierrot
Rate My Team
With all honesty, my fantasy score on Matchday 1 always seems to be my lowest. I blame it on luck, of course, since on paper the team I pick is solid. So this season, unlike in previous years, I will focus on forwards and goalkeepers and then pick the rest of the team from the players I recommended above.
Starting off with a foundation of Benzema, Haaland, Courtois, Cancelo and Kimmich, I spent hours of trial and error using only the players recommended in this article to build the squad below. At this point I can comfortably say that I will be kicking off my UCL fantasy season with this team, but there is always a possibility for a last minute change or two. Let me know what you think!
Reminder: Groups A, B, C and D play on the same day while groups E, F, G and H play on the other day of UCL matchday so make sure to choose a goalkeeper from each set of groups for your UCL squads.
Disclaimers: Some of the mentioned key transfers are loans. I may have missed some of the transfers over the summer which will be considered key in the future but the listed transfers in this article are based on a personal view and assessment of the players.
I was very intrigued to read DTuron’s fantasy UCL strategy, which is also linked at the top of this article. It’s a must-read. And of course, please join me, DTuron, and hundreds of others in NMA’s UCL mini-league, and be sure to follow www.nevermanagealone.com for comprehensive fantasy coverage of the Champions League (and EPL and World Cup too!).
Good luck to you this season; we’ll be with you all the way!
Stats and info referenced in this article sourced from gaming.uefa.com, google.com, en.wikipedia.org, bbc.com, uefa.com, en.as.com, and futbol.si.com.