In my Matchday 7 Player Picks article, I started off by mentioning the usual caveat that the Round of 16 is when points typically start to dry up. Boy howdy was I wrong... beautifully, beautifully wrong! My team delivered a very strong tally of 106 points in Matchday 7 and then absolutely exploded for a brilliantly joyful 131 points in Matchday 8.
That savvy surge has left me with a total of 745 points, enabling a rise up to the current ranks of:
- #128 worldwide (out of more than 2 million managers)
- #7 in the USA (31,000+ managers)
- #3 in the Never Manage Alone league (2,000+ managers)
Fun fun fun!
What Did I Get Right in Matchdays 7 and 8?
Let’s start by looking at what I got right with my strategy ahead of the Round of 16. Not surprisingly, I got a whole lot correct!
- Benfica being a strong favorite over Brugge; Benfica ended up outscoring Brugge 7-1 on aggregate and my Benfica players generally had strong returns over the two legs: midfielder João Mário (19 points), defender Alejandro Grimaldo (12 pts), keeper Odysseas Vlachodimos (8 pts) and defender Alexander Bah (7 pts in the second leg only for me).
- Real Madrid being a strong favorite over Liverpool; Real Madrid ended up outscoring Liverpool 6-2 on aggregate and my Real Madrid attackers delivered strong returns over the two legs: midfielder Vinicius Jr. (23 points) and forward Karim Benzema (22 points, or 35 including MD-7 captaincy).
- Napoli being a strong favorite over Eintracht Frankfurt; Napoli ended up outscoring Frankfurt 5-0 on aggregate and three of my Napoli players did well over the two legs: defender Giovanni Di Lorenzo (23 points), forward Victor Osimhen (21 points) and keeper Alex Meret (6 points in the second leg only for me).
- Manchester City being a strong favorite over RB Leipzig; Man City ended up outscoring Leipzig 8-1 on aggregate; my only Man City players did well over the two legs: forward Erling Haaland (27 points, or 52 including MD-8 captaincy) and midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (11 points, all coming in the second leg).
- Not only did I do well picking the stars from the favorites, perhaps just as importantly I was rewarded by avoiding usual fantasy favorites from underdogs such as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson and Alisson who performed disappointingly.
- AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur being fairly evenly matched; AC Milan ended up advancing by a very slim 1-0 margin on aggregate.
- Inter Milan and Porto being fairly evenly matched; Inter Milan ended up advancing by a very tight 1-0 margin on aggregate.
- Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich being fairly evenly matched; Bayern Munich ended up advancing by a 3-0 aggregate, which I think flattered the actual Munich performance. (Accordingly, the xG aggregate from InfoGol had Bayern Munich at 2.92 and PSG at 2.02 goals.) If you want to move this to the “What I got wrong” section, you would have a decent argument, but I’m going to say I got it right and leave it here!
- As such, being rewarded for avoiding usual fantasy favorites from evenly matched teams such as Tottenham (Harry Kane, Son Heung-min), PSG (Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma) or Bayern Munich (Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Leroy Sané) who performed disappointingly. (I did pick one Bayern Munich player, Jamal Musiala, merely because I wanted to have at least one player on the first day of MD-7 and MD-8 in order to have the full option to take advantage of all four days of the captaincy in each leg.)
- The captain’s armband; with up to four chances in each Round of 16 leg, it is theoretically easy to get the captaincy pick right, but it can also be tricky with the chance of settling too soon and missing out on a bigger score late. For instance, if I’d picked Mário as my second leg captain instead of Grimaldo, I would have stuck with Mário’s 11 points rather than switching from Grimaldo’s 5 and missed out on 14 extra points from Haaland. But getting 26 points from Benzema in the first leg (13 doubled) and a whopping 50 points from Haaland in the second leg (25 doubled) turned out extremely well; the only way I could have done better is if I had captained Vini Jr. in the first leg (17 points), but I’m certainly not going to complain about missing out on four points.
- Not spending heavily on goalkeepers; while going the budget route with Vlachodimos (both legs), André Onana (first leg) and Meret (second leg), I still earned three clean sheets from my four keeper appearances.
What Did I Get Wrong in Matchdays 7 and 8?
I did not get too much wrong, or I would not have done nearly as well as I did. But things never fully turn out quite exactly as you suspect they will, so I did have a few blind spots:
- Expecting Borussia Dortmund to be a strong favorite over Chelsea; this turned out to be the only real shocker among the eight match-ups for me, as Chelsea ended up advancing by an aggregate of 2-1. Luckily I only picked two Borussia Dortmund players (defenders Nico Schlotterbeck and Raphaël Guerreiro), and thankfully at least they delivered clean sheets in the first leg.
- Missing out on two clean sheets each from the Bayern Munich and AC Milan sets of defense/keepers. I certainly would have done better picking a Bayern Munich defender for my one player on that team rather than Musiala, but facing the usually prolific Paris Saint-Germain attack, I’m certainly not going to second guess myself for taking a pass on the Munich back line. Likewise, with AC Milan and Tottenham both being significantly poorer than usual on the defensive side this season, I can’t really beat myself up for avoiding the AC Milan back. However, fantasy managers who did choose to invest in those two defenses were very well rewarded. Inter Milan also delivered two clean sheets, but I didn’t completely miss out there, picking Onana for the first leg (because I wanted at least one keeper playing at home in each leg).
- Normally dynamic Napoli attacking midfielder Kvicha Kvaratskhelia proved an unexpected weak spot in my line-up, earning only 7 points total between the two legs. He did have plenty of good scoring chances (including a penalty kick in MD-7), but unfortunately failed to convert any of them.
- Zeroes from Kevin De Bruyne (DNP due to illness) and David Alaba (removed early due to injury) in the first leg; thankfully I was able to leave KDB on, and move Alaba to, my bench. I would have been better off going with Riyad Mahrez in the first leg, though that would have hurt me in the second leg when KDB started and played very well. Regarding Alaba, I would have been better served simply going with Bah in the first leg. But hey, there’s no need to nitpick too much, nobody can get everything right!
My Matchday 8 Team
This was my team from the second leg of the Round of 16 which delivered a mouth-watering 131 point return:
My strategy of picking players from favorites thankfully worked out well not only in scoring for the pair of Round of 16 fantasy legs, but also with respect to my positioning heading into the quarterfinals. There was only one surprise result (to me) out of the eight match-ups, leaving me with only two players I definitely need to discard from my team, the two Borussia Dortmund defenders who have been knocked out of the competition. Given five free transfers (and holding €2.9m in the bank), I have plenty of freedom with three extra moves on top of those two defenders when contemplating changes for MD-9. Fingers crossed, at the moment I do not have much in the way of injury concerns or suspensions to worry about; Victor Osimhen seems to be the only one, having missed out on Napoli’s past two league games with a thigh problem.
How Do the Quarterfinal Match-Ups Look?
My strategy remains basically the same now ahead of the quarterfinal stage as it was going into the round of 16. Rather than merely picking the stand-out players from all eight teams, I think it is vital to whittle down the target area by focusing primarily on the top performers from the sides which I think should be favored to win their duels. Who should I keep, who should I drop and who should I look to add in with my transfers?
Benfica v. Inter Milan
Benfica handily dispatched Brugge, whereas Inter Milan barely got by Porto. Benfica are comfortably in first place in Portugal’s Primeira Liga with a league best differential of +52 having both scored the most and conceded the fewest goals. Meanwhile, Inter Milan are in fifth place in Italy’s Serie A with the fourth best differential of +15 having scored the second-most but conceded the fifth-most goals. Portugal is only #7 in UEFA country coefficient (17.642) while Italy is #2 (12.166), but I don’t think that covers up the difference otherwise.
My expectation: Benfica should be the comfortable favorite.
Where that leaves me: I feel pretty good about my four current Benfica players: Mário, Grimaldo, Bah and Vlachodimos. I could consider adding forward Gonçalo Ramos, who has scored 17 goals with 5 assists in league play this season, although he is not the primary penalty kick taker which dampens his appeal a bit. If there is an upgrade to be made at keeper, I would consider that. Bah came off late in the second leg due to injury, but is not currently listed by the platform as being a fitness concern.
Manchester City v. Bayern Munich
Man City are in second place in the English Premier League (somewhat closely behind Arsenal) with a league-best differential of +48, having scored the most and conceded the second-fewest goals. Fairly similarly, Bayern Munich are in first place in the German Bundesliga (barely ahead of Borussia Dortmund) with a by far league-best differential of +48, having both scored the most goals and conceded the fewest. As for tumult, while Man City are currently embroiled in a sticky situation where the team has been charged by the EPL with serious financial crimes, Munich are in their own mess having recently sacked manager Julian Nagelsmann, hiring Thomas Tuchel as his replacement during the international break.
While you could choose, if so inclined, to give Man City extra credit for dispatching Leipzig easily while Bayern Munich comparatively struggled to get by Paris Saint-Germain, PSG was a much more daunting test so that’s a wash for me. England ranks as the #1 country in UEFA coefficient (19.857) whereas Germany is #3 (16.375), which may turn the balance in favor of Man City, but only by the finest margin.
My expectation: This looks like a pretty even match-up.
Where that leaves me: It’s tough to see myself adding any players from this tricky match-up, particularly defenders or keepers since clean sheets will likely be tough to come by. However, would wing defender João Cancelo be worth considering due to his appeal on the offensive end? Maybe, but maybe not, particularly if cost turns out to be a constraint. I feel fairly good about my current Man City (Haaland, KDB) and Munich (Musiala) attackers, but I possibly would consider dropping them in favor of someone with a more favorable match-up. Though could I really drop Haaland after his five-goal output in MD-8? No, probably not, Haaland is as undroppable as it comes regardless of competition.
Real Madrid v. Chelsea
Real Madrid find themselves in second place (well behind Barcelona) in Spain’s La Liga with a second-best differential of +35 having scored the most goals but conceded the third most. Meanwhile, Chelsea are shockingly way back at 11th place in the EPL with a differential of -2, having scored the 13th most goals but conceded the fourth fewest. Chelsea, of course, are going through a tumultuous time having just sacked manager Graham Potter and replaced him for the rest of the season with Frank Lampard, who has shown no real ability as an EPL manager thus far with Chelsea or Everton. Spain is #4 in UEFA coefficient (14.428) compared to #1 for England (19.857) but I don’t think that covers up the difference in everything else. Ultimately, it’s hard to look past the simple fact that Real Madrid just easily dispatched Liverpool, which currently sit three spots ahead of Chelsea in the EPL table.
My expectation: Real Madrid should be the comfortable favorite.
Where that leaves me: I don’t see myself adding any players from Chelsea. It sure would be tough to drop either of my Real Madrid attackers (Benzema and Vini Jr) since they are operating on full cylinder, though I do fear the quality of the Chelsea defense. Then again, Real Madrid tore through a Liverpool back line which has conceded roughly the same number of goals as Chelsea this season in the EPL, but even so I can’t see adding any more players from the Real Madrid attack. However, given Chelsea’s extremely anemic attack, I will certainly entertain the idea of adding in Real Madrid keeper Thibaut Courtois and/or a Real Madrid defender; having been burned already by Alaba, I’d probably turn instead to center half Éder Militão who has scored four goals in La Liga play this season. As much as I normally loathe having expensive keepers, the later it gets in the competition, the more worthwhile that becomes as the top teams (and their pricey backstops) remain.
AC Milan v. Napoli
Both teams being from Serie A sure makes for a simple comparison. Napoli are the dominant first place team, boasting 74 points with a differential of +45 having scored the most and conceded the second-fewest goals. Meanwhile, fourth-place AC Milan have accumulated only 52 points with just a +12 differential, having scored the second most but conceded the 10th most scores. As for recent Champions League results, Napoli dominated Eintracht Frankfurt whereas AC Milan barely escaped a struggling Spurs side. However, one possibly huge caveat could come in the form of the AC Milan’s shocking 4-0 victory at Napoli the first weekend of April when Osimhen missed out with injury. (Napoli did win the September 2022 Serie A reverse fixture at AC Milan, 2-1.)
My expectation: The recent shock result between the two teams has to give a bit of pause, but even so Napoli should be the comfortable favorite.
Where that leaves me: I can’t see myself adding any AC Milan players. With Napoli on the road in the first leg, perhaps assets from the other pair of big favorites (Benfica and Real Madrid) become more attractive. but even so it would not be easy to part with any of my three Napoli star field players (Osimhen, Kvaratshkelia and Di Lorenzo) unless Osimhen’s injury makes his drop a simple decision. I will also consider adding midfielder Piotr Zieliński who suddenly seems to be on penalty kick duty and also has accumulated 3 goals with 8 assists in Serie A games this campaign; to make room for Zielinski, would I drop Musiala or KDB both of whom face tough match-ups against each other? If I want to add Courtois at keeper, I would have to drop Meret since those two play on the same day, so that’s a decision I’ll need to make. If I dropped Meret, I could cover in a sense by adding a Napoli defender such as center half Kim Min-jae who has two goals and assists each in domestic league play this season; as much as I’d love to go with left back Mário Rui who boasts seven assists, it seems too unclear whether Rui or Mathías Olivera will start. With Napoli playing on the second day, I can’t afford to take a risk when there is so much doubt.
My First Draft Team for Matchday 9
These are the five free transfers I am currently planning on making from my Matchday 8 team (leaving €0.5m in the bank):
- DEFENDER: Borussia Dortmund’s Schlotterbeck out, Real Madrid’s Militao in.
- DEFENDER: Borussia Dortmund’s Gueirrero out, Napoli’s Kim Min-jae in.
- KEEPER: Napoli’s Meret out, Real Madrid’s Courtois in.
- MIDFIELDER: Bayern Munich’s Musiala out, Napoli’s Zielinski in. I’m choosing between Musiala and KDB to drop; Musiala has a tough match-up at Man City, while KDB is at home in the first leg, so that’s the tie-breaker.
- FORWARD: Napoli’s Osimhen out, Benfica’s Ramos in. I don’t have to make a fifth move by any means. We’ll see what happens. Maybe someone unexpectedly won’t (or will) start on the first day, and/or perhaps I will be feeling uncertainty on the second day with someone in my team. Basically, I think there are four very strong forward choices — Benzema, Haaland, Osimhen and Ramos — and I have to pick three of them, which means painfully leaving one out. It seems awfully tough to pass on Ramos if he starts as expected on the first day at home against Inter Milan. Assuming that Haaland also starts as expected on the first day, could I bring myself to drop Benzema or Osimhen in favor of Ramos? Neither Osimhen nor Ramos are the likely #1 penalty taker for their teams, so there is no advantage between those two in that respect. But likely #1 penalty taker Benzema starts at home in the first leg while Osimhen starts away. So unless a more pressing change emerges, I will plan on dropping Osimhen for Ramos with my final fifth transfer. (Again, Osimhen’s injury status may make this a simple decision.) And unless a rash of injuries or suspensions occurs in my team during or shortly following the first leg, I can always change back to Osimhen for the second leg if so desired when Napoli will be at home with one of my three free transfers at that point.
Breakdown By Team: Benfica (5), Napoli (4), Real Madrid (4), Man City (2)
By Day: Tuesday (7), Wednesday (8)
By Locale: Home (11), Away (4)
Presumable Primary Penalty Takers: Benzema, Haaland, Zielinski, Mario (4)
Likely Captains: Haaland, Ramos or Mário (Tuesday), Benzema or Vini Jr. (Wednesday)
How do you rate my team for Matchday 9?
This poll is closed
Perfect, keep it as is!
Very good, but could use a bit more tinkering
Decent, but needs some work
Poor, could use a lot of changes
Awful, in need of a complete overhaul
What do you think of my team? Am I primed for a strong Matchday 9, or are there different players I should target with my transfers? Is the strategy of overloading my team with 13 star performers from the three teams I view as the biggest favorites the right way to go, or is that too risky for your taste? Be sure to share your thoughts and any questions you have in the comments!