With another exciting UEFA Champions League fantasy season in the books, a hearty pat on the back is in order to everyone for playing, with a huge congratulations for those who did brilliantly. A big bravo to $uper $aud who won the NMA league (and finished #42 in the world) with a phenomenal total of 1,065 points! Below is the list of the top 10 finishers in our group of more than 2,000 managers:
I have suffered more than my share of fantasy failures along with sprinkling in several successes now and then. But hey, let’s forget about the busts for the time being! In this instance, I may now joyously add the latest season to my list of personal bests:
- #53 worldwide rank in Yahoo Premier League fantasy for 2013-14
- #2,382 global standing in official FPL (Fantasy Premier League) for 2019-20 (out of 7m+ managers)
- #80 overall finish in UEFA Champions League fantasy for 2022-23 (among 2m+)
So how did I end up performing so well during this campaign? Of course, there was plenty of skill involved, but I would be lying if I said that luck didn’t play a heavy hand of its own. While I kept much of my standard strategy, a huge part was being open to change and mixing in some new approaches.
WHAT I DID DIFFERENTLY THIS SEASON
I did a couple of big things differently this season, and thankfully they both paid off.
Using My Wildcard Chip in the Group Stage
In the past, I played it safe with my chip usage, using the strategy to hold onto my Wildcard chip until I needed it. I always worried that there would be a point when I would suffer with a huge glut of injuries/suspensions/benchings/teams knocked out, I wouldn’t have enough cover from the free transfers and I would need my chip. However, far too often the allotted transfers would prove enough and I wouldn’t need the chip at all, so I’d end up holding it in my pocket until late in the competition and using it just to get rid of it it in the semifinal round. In that case, it was basically wasted.
I have been playing fantasy football for a long time, and Champions League fantasy for several years. And I’m pretty good at it! That said, even the best of us can’t be so full of pride as to keep stubbornly doing things the same way over and over again in instances where it’s foolish to do so. We can be old dogs who actually learn new tricks, can’t we?
It wasn’t until I read a wonderfully helpful guest column ahead of 2022-23 from the previous season’s world #1 DTuron offering the simple, all-caps advice “USE ALL CHIPS IN THE GROUP STAGE” that I came to grips with that fact that I had been missing out on a huge chance at gaining points by holding on to my Wildcard chip too long. I was ready for change. I needed to prioritize going after as many points in the group stage as possible before the points tend to dry up in the knockout rounds. So this season, I decided to try to get off to a big start in MD-1 with my initial team, then use my Wildcard chip in MD-2 with a focus on the next four matchdays, before as usual playing my Limitless chip in MD-6.
Did it work? Yes, and no. Yes, in that I scored 99 points in MD-1, a strong start. No, in that somehow I only scored 61 points in MD-2, a horrible score following use of the chip. But overall yes, since it’s not just about MD-2; using the chip at that time was not only also about MD-1, but also about MD-3, MD-4 and MD-5 when I scored 80, 79 and 82 points, respectively, for pretty solid returns. Ultimately, I reckon that I can safely say I got a better return using the chip in the group stage than I would have gotten from holding onto it until the quarters or semis of the knockout round when I didn’t really need it.
Will I keep this strategy again next season? Yes, absolutely, I have seen the light with respect to using both chips in the group stage, But depending on how the fixtures look, I will be open to using the Wildcard chip in either MD-2 or MD-3.
Prioritizing Cheap Defenders with Ball Hawking Skills
Unlike FPL, Champions League fantasy has awarded points for ball recoveries starting a few years ago. That levels the playing field toward, or even tilts it in the favor of, cheaper defenders who earn a lot of ball recoveries compared to costlier players at the position who offer attacking returns, enabling us to afford more expensive stars at other positions. DTuron pointed out this insightful gem as well in his preseason piece.
However, I actually came around to this way of thinking before reading DTuron’s article, merely due to this season’s particular circumstances in that Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich was moved from defender to midfielder in the game platform, while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson were put in a very tricky group. As such, I saw an extreme dearth of attractive premium defenders compared to prior seasons. In MD-1, four of my defenders cost only 4.5m, and my fifth was 5.0m. Not only did that allow me to afford plenty of attacking stars in MD-1, but two of my cheap defenders actually scored quite well: Borussia Dortmund’s Raphael Gueirrero (13 points) and Ajax’s Devyne Rensch (7 points). Now that I’ve come to appreciate the logic behind this approach, I will look to continue utilizing the strategy in the future as well.
WHAT I DID THE SAME THIS SEASON
I did adopt some new angles this season, but it was far from a departure from strategy for me. Change what doesn’t work, but keep what is effective, right?
Limitless Chip Strategy
For the past several campaigns, I have decided on a Limitless chip strategy and kept with it, because it seems the obvious choice and it usually tends to work out well. I would actually say that it is a way of playing it safe and playing it smart at the same time.
I use my Limitless chip in MD-6, when many teams, particularly the strongest sides, are guaranteed to go through or nearly secure in that respect, which means that a glut of stars — likely many in my fantasy team — will be in serious danger of being rested. On the other side of that coin, several teams have already been knocked out, and their coaches may also want to rest their studs in Champions League play to focus on domestic competition. So MD-6 is always a savvy time to do a makeover, loading up on strong performers from teams who still have something to play for, focusing on those who will be favored to win the final game of that round.
In this case, I dropped a bevy of stars who I feared would be rested from the big teams — Robert Lewandowski, Neymar, Kvicha Kvaratskhelia, Piotr Zielinski, Jamal Musiala, Leon Goretzka, Sergio Ramos, Giovanni Dilorenzo, Andre Onana and others — while bringing in the generally less heralded likes of Rafa Silva, Mehdi Taremi, Christopher Nkunku, Joao Mario, Ivan Perisic, Alejandro Grimaldo, Thibaut Courtois et al., ending up with 107 points, my most prolific return of the group stage. Had I been limited to my allotment of two free transfers, I would have been stuck with loads of 0s and 1s.
Loading Up on Heavy Favorites
There are times when it makes sense to play it safe as mentioned above. But when it’s the right time to take off the restraints, then by all means go for the gusto!
I saw no shortage of advice columns recommending that we should play it safe for the final leg of the semifinals by going with at least two or even three players from each team in case the favorites didn’t make it through. Did I follow that advice? No, not at all! Why not? Because I rated Manchester City and Inter Milan as heavy favorites not only to advance through to the final since they’d done well in the first semifinal leg away, but I also expected them to win the second leg at home.
In different circumstances — if I had felt each game were more of a 50/50 or 60/40 chance — I would absolutely have played it safe. But when I rate two teams as heavy favorites along 75/25 or 80/20 lines, I go all in on those teams. I don’t want to miss out on their stars’ goals, assists and clean sheets. If the worst case scenario happens — in this case, I had estimated both Man City and Inter Milan being eliminated as having about a 2% chance of occurring — so be it. I’m not going to play it safe when there’s a 98% chance of it not happening!
It’s pretty simple, isn’t it? Particularly in the knockout rounds, go with the star players from the teams you think will win. That basic aggressive strategy is what got me my bonanza of points in the Round of 16. While my aggressive approach may not have paid off quite as handsomely in the quarterfinals (yes, surprises do happen, in this case Napoli being upset by AC Milan), I certainly wasn’t going to change my strategy and play it safe in the semifinals unless the circumstances dictated doing so, which they didn’t.
What did I do? I loaded up on the maximum six players each from Man City and Inter Milan, rounding it out with three from Real Madrid and none from AC Milan. As it turned out, Man City and Inter Milan not only advanced, they won the second leg at home as expected. Again, yes upsets happen, but the favorites usually win. (Especially at home.) That’s why they’re the favorites! I would have suffered had I stuck myself with two or three players from AC Milan, as nearly all of them delivered a paltry return. The only mistake I made was actually not going all in on Man City with my starting line-up, leaving Man City defender Manuel Akanji on the bench, as he shockingly scored a goal, adding to his clean sheet and ending up with 13 points!
Again, ahead of the neutral site final, likewise I saw plenty of advice columns saying we should balance it out between Man City and Inter Milan, going with six players from one side and five from the other to play it safe. Would I do that? No, of course not! Inter Milan enjoyed a fantastic tournament run, but I saw Man City as the clear favorite. If Man City been against a heavyweight such as Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid, I may have tried a more balanced approach.
But I was not going to change my strategy — what had worked for me so far up to that point for the most part — and play it safe all of a sudden. I was going all in on Man City, which meant going for eight players from their side. Could that approach have bitten me in the butt? Of course! But if that were the case, so be it. I knew that I would definitely feel a lot better about myself if Inter beat Man City and I’d gone all in on Man City than I would have if Man City had won and I’d played it safe by balancing my team out between their sides.
I went into the final ranked #81 worldwide, and I ended up at #80. I would have moved up more, but unfortunately I dropped defensive midfielder Rodri, instead prioritizing the additions of offensive-minded City midfielders Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva. Of course, I can’t really blame myself for not going with a player who had scored just one goal with no assists in 47 previous Champions League games. My tally was nothing special in the final matchday, but I would have done much worse had I gone with a balanced approach and stuck myself with two fewer City and two more Inter players in the starting line-up, especially if I’d lost one or two clean sheets from my defenders and/or keeper.
HOW I GOT LUCKY THIS SEASON
I am sure that there were plenty of instances where fortune smiled upon me this season, but there was one standout moment when Lady Luck came through in a big way. Spoiler alert: Erling Haaland scored five goals in one game! But it wasn’t just that per se.
The first part, yes, was having Erling Haaland in my team for the second leg of the Round of 16. While I think loads of managers had them in their fantasy teams, it also seemed that a fair chunk did not prioritize him, instead grabbing one or both among superstars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe who I had avoided due to PSG’s tough match-up against Bayern Munich. As it turned out, fortune smiled on me and I made the right call. Messi and Mbappe were completely stifled, while Haaland exploded for a quintet of goals and 25 points!!!
Above that, though, the second part was captaining Haaland. Now that may seem like a no brainer in retrospect, but I definitely got lucky in doing so. On the first day of the second leg, my decision for the captain’s armband was between Benfica’s Alejandro Grimaldo and Joao Mario. I went with Grimaldo, who ended up with 5 points. If I’d gone with Mario who scored 11 points, I would absolutely have kept the armband on him. As it turned out, I was lucky to have made the wrong pick. Because on the second and final day, captaining Haaland earned me 14 more points than I would have gotten from making the right choice on the first day. It wasn’t until I got those 50 points from both having and captaining Haaland that I really shot up into the truly elite ranks around the top 100 worldwide.
MY SCORING BREAKDOWN THIS SEASON
It’s nice to look back at your scoring when you do well. No matter how you do, though, it’s always interesting to see how you performed across the different stages.
Matchday 1: 99 points
MD-2: 61 points (Wildcard chip played)
MD-3: 80 points
MD-4: 79 points
MD-5: 82 points
MD-6: 107 points (Limitless chip played)
My Group Stage Average: 85 points
MD-7 (Round of 16, First Leg): 106 points
MD-8 (Round of 16, Second Leg): 131 points
MD-9 (Quarterfinal, First Leg): 66 points
MD-10 (Quarterfinal, Second Leg): 62 points
MD-11 (Semifinal, First Leg): 67 points
MD-12 (Semifinal, Second Leg): 69 points
MD-13 (Final): 44 points
My Knockout Stage Average: 78 points
As usual, points were more plentiful in the group stage compared to the knockout rounds, as my latter average was seven points lower than that for the former. However, the unusual part about this season was how late in the knockout round it took for the impact to be felt. Normally the points start to dry up once we hit the knockout stage when the 17th through 32nd teams depart and the match-ups get a lot tougher, but in this case the Round of 16 was an absolute bonanza, at least for me! Haaland was at the center of that outburst, scoring five goals in Man City’s second leg 7-0 victory over RB Leipzig, but the first leg exploits of Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr., with each scoring two goals and adding an assist, in Real Madrid’s 5-2 win over Liverpool also played a big part.
My Round of 16 Average: 119 points
My Quarterfinal Round Average: 64 points
My Semifinal/Final Rounds Average: 60 points
The Round of 16 was an enormous outlier, as it definitely inflated my knockout stage average much higher than normal compared to my group stage average. In future seasons, I don’t expect to see this scenario repeat itself too often. As for this season, though, I’ll take it!
I would personally like to thank the rest of the fabulous NMA Champions League team: CreweGuy, MiQ, PPQ, sraxan and V Dhivakhar, along with DTuron for his preseason guest column. I am certain that I could not have enjoyed anywhere near this unexpected level of success this season without them.
How did your Champions League fantasy team do this past campaign? What were the most memorable (and forgettable) moments? Did you try anything new this time around? Are you planning any different approaches next season?