The Champions League is now entering its most exciting phase — the knockout stages. Eight top-class matches will take place over the next two weeks: the first leg of the Round of 16. The group-stage winners and runners-up enter after grinding out more than a month of domestic league and cup competitions.
Taking place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, MD-7 spans two calendar weeks. This means that teams meeting in the later calendar week must first endure a full week of domestic action between our fantasy transfer deadline and their UCL matches. Consequently, players who are fit and healthy when we buy them could be sidelined by injury, illness, another player’s return to fitness... and vice versa by the time their UCL matches roll around.
MATCH-DAY 7 FANTASY GUIDE
The best strategy for this match-day (and for MD-8’s two weeks of reverse fixtures) is to lean heavily into the four first-week fixtures while also considering which clubs seem the most likely to survive.
All fantasy managers have been allowed to make as many transfers as they like for free until the kick off time of the first match this Tuesday. We are extremely lucky in MD-7 as the deadline match-ups are Man City at Copenhagen and Real Madrid at RB Leipzig. This will take a huge load off fantasy managers’ speculations on players of two major contenders.
Wednesday of the first half of MD-7 features PSG hosting Real Sociedad and Lazio hosting Bayern. With four major clubs in the first week, fantasy teams will have a lot of duplication.
Note: In MD-8 (leg-2), not only will home/away of each match-up be flipped, but Tuesday / Wednesday timing within each calendar week will be flipped also. However... the 1st-week teams will still be 1st-week teams, and the 2nd-week teams will again play after a whole extra domestic week between deadline and fixtures. This doubles the reasons to lean heavily into the 1st-week fixtures now.
This is the third season since the away-goals rule change, meaning that an aggregate draw will result in extra time in the second leg regardless of when and where goals are scored. Consequently, we don’t expect much rotation by any club in the first leg. All look to plant one foot in the quarterfinals round as soon as possible.
Clubs with relatively weak opponents or with strong opponents in domestic matches right before or after an MD-7 fixture could consider a surprise rest for one or two key players, but as with KDB playing only the 2nd-half of his most recent domestic match, UCL is likely the priority.
FIXTURES & WINTER TRANSFERS
FC Copenhagen vs Manchester City - Tuesday 13-Feb
Man City won group G with six victories from a straightforward group that included RB Leipzig, Young Boys and Crvena Zvezda. There were no major signings for the title holders in the winter transfer window (Here is NMA’s coverage of the EPL winter transfer window). Man City is currently second in EPL, only two points behind Liverpool but with a match in hand. The Citizens defeated struggling Everton in EPL GW-24 on Saturday ahead of their trip to Denmark’s capital.
Copenhagen survived group A with 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses, ending Man United’s European football journey and sending Galatasaray down the food chain into the Europa League. In January, the Danes signed 24 year-old attacking midfielder Magnus Mattsson from Eredivisie club Nijmegen for €4.25m. They also signed goalkeeper Runar Runarsson from Arsenal on a free transfer and center-back Scott Mckenna from Nottingham Forest on loan.
Copenhagen is currently third in the Danish Superliga, three points behind league-leading FC Midtjylland. I am speculating, but the Superliga has been on pause since early December and will resume in mid-February to avoid several weather postponements in winter. This means that the club is beyond well-rested, and that can be a double edged sword.
RB Leipzig vs Real Madrid - Tuesday 13-Feb
RB Leipzig qualified as the runner-up from group G with 4 wins and 2 losses. The German club notably loaned Timo Werner to Tottenham and signed Eljif Elmas from Napoli for €24.0m. Emil Forsberg left for MLS club New York for €3.0m.
RB Leipzig is currently fifth in Bundesliga, 16 behind #1 Bayer Leverkusen. The club needs to improve to have a UCL spot next season. Leipzig will play against Augsburg on Saturday ahead of hosting Real Madrid midweek.
Real Madrid made it look easy in the group stage, sweeping all matches to win group C (with Napoli, Braga and Union Berlin). The Spanish royal club made zero transfers in the winter break. The title race between Real Madrid and Girona (and sometimes Barcelona) since the start of the season has been enjoyable. Real Madrid is currently the top of the table, 2 points ahead of Girona whom they host on Saturday before traveling to Germany.
Paris Saint-Germain vs Real Sociedad - Wednesday 14-Feb
PSG survived the group of death to qualify as a runner-up with 2 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses, ending Newcastle’s European journey and relegating AC Milan to Europa League. PSG was active in the winter transfer window, but only on the youth level, maintaining the same key senior players. The Parisians are on top of Ligue-1 without direct competition, 8 points ahead of Nice. They host Lille on Saturday before welcoming their Spanish opponents.
Real Sociedad qualified from a tough group as winners with 3 wins and 3 draws. As a result, last season’s dark horse Benfica suffered the drop to Europa League. Sociedad brought in forward Sheraldo Becker from Union Berlin and borrowed Javi Galan from Atletico Madrid.
The club suffered several draw traps in January, sinking to 7th in La Liga, 11 points behind the UCL qualifying spots. The Spaniards host Osasuna on Saturday ahead of their travels to Paris.
Lazio vs Bayern Munich
Lazio made it out of the group stage as runner-up of group E, knocking out Feyenoord and Celtic with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. Lazio did not sign any players in the winter transfer market. Domestically, Lazio is one of six clubs within five points of each other fighting for the last UCL spot in Serie-A, visiting Cagliari on Saturday before hosting Bayern in Rome midweek.
Bayern Munich made the theoretically tough group A look too easy with five wins and a draw. Bayern spent €30.0m to sign Galatasaray right-back Sacha Boey in January and borrowed left-winger Bryan Zaragoza from Granada and Eric Dier from Tottenham.
Bayern continues to chase Leverkusen in Bundesliga, trailing by two points. Similar to La Liga, this domestic game week is a showdown in the title race.
Inter Milan vs Atletico Madrid - Tuesday 20-Feb
This high profile match is difficult to predict. Host Inter qualified as runner-up of group D with three wins and three draws. Inter spent €7.0m to sign Club Brugge midfielder Tajon Buchnan this winter. Inter is leading the pack in Serie-A with a four-point lead plus a match in hand. Inzaghi’s club plays Roma this weekend and Salernitana next weekend ahead of this UCL clash.
After two poor group stage performances, Atletico Madrid won group E this season with 4 wins and 2 draws. Atletico occupies a UCL spot in La Liga, 10 points behind #1 Real Madrid. Simeone’s boys play wounded Sevilla this Saturday and host Las Palmas next weekend before traveling to Milan.
PSV Eindhoven vs Dortmund
PSV’s 2 wins, 3 draws and 1 loss in group B were enough to secure second place, ending Sevilla’s European journey this season and demoting Lens to Europa League semi-glory. There were no notable transfers in for the Dutch club. PSV is comfortably leading Eredivisie by 10-points, scheduled to play Volendam this Saturday and Heracles next weekend before hosting Dortmund.
Dortmund successfully navigated group F against PSG, Milan and Newcastle to win it with 3 victories, 2 draws and 1 loss. Dortmund welcomed back Jadon Sancho on loan from Man United and brought in young Ian Maatsen from Chelsea, while Giovanni Reyna was loaned out to Nottingham Forest.
Dortmund currently sits 4th in Bundesliga, 12 points behind #1 Leverkusen after defeating Freiburg 3-0 on Friday. Dortmund plays Wolfsburg domestically next weekend before traveling to the Netherlands.
Porto vs Arsenal
Arsenal is a vertical tiki-taka team while Porto is a fluid counterattacking team, so each team is a good match for the other. We can expect a thrilling encounter if players perform their best.
FC Porto qualified as group H runner-up on direct results against Barcelona as both accumulated 12 points. Porto invested €12.0m to sign Brazilian center-back Otavio from Famalicao. Porto is currently third in Liga Portugal, six points behind #1 Benfica. Porto visits Arouca on Monday and hosts Estrela da Amadora next weekend before welcoming Arsenal.
Arsenal won group B with 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss to qualify to the round of 16 and had a quiet winter transfer window. Part of the pack in the EPL title race, in third only two points behind #1 Liverpool after defeating the leaders 3-1 a week ago, the Gunners celebrated with a 6-0 thumping of West Ham on Sunday. They’ll tackle lowly Burnley before traveling to Portugal.
Napoli vs Barcelona
Last but not least is the most anticipated match in the round of 16: Napoli hosting Barcelona. The Serie-A title holders qualified to the round of 16 as group C runner-up with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. Napoli added right-winger Cyril Ngonge from Hellas Verona for €18.0m and right-back Pasquale Mazocchi from Salernitana for €3.0m. In Serie-A, Napoli is in a six-way race for a UCL qualification spot, needing positive results against AC Milan this weekend and Genoa next before welcoming Barcelona to southern Italy.
Despite some negative results here and there, Barca made it to the round of 16 by winning group H with 4 wins and 2 losses. Barcelona signed Brazilian club Athletico-PR’s forward Vitor Roque for €40.0m in the winter market. Barcelona is third in La Liga, 8 points behind top club Real Madrid and looking to capitalize on dropped points when Madrid plays Girona. Barca hosts Granada this Sunday and visits Celta Vigo next weekend before traveling to Italy.
Are you enjoying your unlimited free transfers before R-16? What’s on your mind as you shift gears from domestic league play and dust the cobwebs from your UCL fantasy team? Do you even remember your password? Please post your team in the comments and ask our experts for advice. Then share your thoughts and questions below!