Last night’s round of matches saw both England and France seal their place in the last eight of EURO 2012 and bring down the curtain on the group games. Fantasy managers have already been utilising their unlimited knockout stage transfers and tinkering with squads over the last few days and, with the final eight teams now confirmed, we take a look at the remaining match-ups and potential targets ahead of tomorrow night’s deadline:
Bearing in mind we have eight transfers for the semi-finals and a further four for the final, there’s still some scope to pick the odd punt or two then usher out those underperformers who fail to progress as the contenders are whittled down. With four players per team allowed for the quarters, six for the semis and up to 12 for the final, there are plenty of contenders worth considering.
Quarter Final One
After we recovered from the initial shock of seeing Russia and Poland both tumble out of the tournament, upon reflection their exit is perhaps beneficial to Fantasy managers. With the Czech Republic and Greece qualifying from Group A in first and second place respectively, we’re handed a chance to pick up a few cut-price squad fillers with the potential to pick up points. Even if both teams go out at this stage, their low prices allow us to spend our budgets on more costly assets from the other six teams.
Michal Bilek’s Group A winners square up to Portugal in the first quarter final on Thursday evening. In defence, Theodor Gebre Selassie has been the stand-out performer. While Petr Cech has been targeted by over 29% of Fantasy managers, the right-back is currently owned by 12.5% in comparison and comes in at 4.6 in the McDonald’s game. Gebre Selassie has played every minute of the tournament under Bilek and has picked up an extra point due to the recovered balls rule in all three of his group games. His attacking forays down the flank have also returned an assist – despite a single clean sheet, he has still picked up 14 points. David Limbersky is another of the back-four worth considering. After a defensive reshuffle in Matchday Two, he was handed a starting role at left-back and now looks an assured pick – priced at a mere 4.0 and with a 6.3% ownership, he’s cheaper and more of a differential than his fellow full-back.
In midfield, Petr Jiracek and Vaclav Pilar are the obvious candidates, having scored all four of their nation’s goals between them. Jiracek started the tournament in the double pivot but was moved to a position wide right in the attacking midfield three for the game against Greece and has resultantly notched in both games since then – priced at 5.5 and with a 7.1% ownership, he’s a budget-friendly option. Pilar is even cheaper at 5.2 in the McDonald’s game and is currently the leading points scorer for the Czechs – his tally of 18 betters Jiracek’s by a single point, with two goals and a point for recovered balls to his name. He is the more popular pick of the two, with 17.9% ownership.
Paulo Bento’s team selection has made it a little easier for Fantasy managers to weigh up Portugal’s assets – he has picked the same starting XI in each of the three games so far. While Rui Patricio’s price of 5.5 may sway some, he’s failed to pick up a single clean sheet and has returned a mere six points thus far. Right-back Joao Pereira, on the other hand, is the only Portugal defender to receive an extra point for recovered balls in all three group games – with an assist also accrued in the Holland match, his price of 6.0 seems more tempting. Real Madrid pair Pepe and Fabio Coentrao both come in at 6.5, with the former looking the most appealing of the two – a goal against Denmark and 11 recovered balls in the win over Holland sees him sitting on 13 points, second top scorer for his country so far.
In midfield, it’s difficult to justify any investment – the starting trio of Raul Meireles, Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso have yet to return any attacking points between them. The obvious potential is up top, where Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani have scored 14 and 13 points respectively. Ronaldo looks a strong favourite for the armband in the first quarter final; his brace against the Dutch could have been so much more, had he not also struck the woodwork twice. Priced at 11.0, he also offers the security of game time and is one of only two forwards remaining in the tournament to have played every minute. Nani comes in at 8.5 in comparison and, with an assist in each of his last two games, is a somewhat less explosive alternative.
Quarter Final Two
Greece are overwhelming underdogs for their clash with Germany, though their back-to-the-wall win over Russia suggests they shouldn’t be written off completely. Priced at 4.0, Giannis Maniatis has played every minute of the tournament to date and is classified as a defender, despite the fact he is an established figure in Fernando Santos’ midfield three – he looks the best value of any team mate and is a perfect cut-price squad filler.
Michail Sifakis seems nailed-on between the posts after impressing over his last two matches. Coming on as a sub for the injured Konstantinos Chalkias with 23 minutes gone in the Czech Republic game, he has yet to concede a goal and is joint-top scorer for Greece, with 13 points accrued. Whether he can keep out Germany seems unlikely, though save points for the 4.5 priced keeper look guaranteed against Joachim Low’s men.
Kyriakos Papadopoulos is similarly priced and has picked up a point for recovered balls in his last two – his resilience at centre-half could see him benefit again, with his side set to be under the cosh for the vast majority of the game. With their captain and key creator Giorgos Karagounis suspended, it’s difficult to see Greece prosper – Fantasy managers won’t be swayed by their attacking assets, with just three goals to their name thus far. Santos’ constant frontline rotation has hardly helped either; Giorgos Samaras is the only forward to have started all their games but has failed to produce any attacking returns. Konstantinos Fortounis could be a real wildcard gamble – coming in at just 4.0, the midfielder was handed a starting role in the front three in the second group match but failed to feature in the following game against Russia.
The only team to win all of their group games, Germany are set for major investment ahead of the quarter finals; of all the favourites, they have the most comfortable looking path to the final. Similar to Portugal, Joachim Low has offered a consistency of selection that makes picking German players a little more straightforward – the only change so far has been an enforced one, with Lars Bender stepping in for the suspended Jerome Boateng at right-back against Denmark. Boateng offers the cheapest route into Low’s backline at 6.5 and should come back into the first XI against Greece, though for those Fantasy managers in doubt over his game time, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Holger Badstuber are just 0.5 more expensive – with Greece struggling for goals, a clean sheet looks a strong possibility here.
Mario Gomez’s form suggests he’s the man most will earmark for the armband in the second quarter final. Priced at 11.7, he is the only German player to produce attacking returns in all of the group games – two goals and an assist have helped him pick up 21 points, more than any player so far. Although Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller offer cheaper alternatives up front, the tactic of ensuring a viable captaincy contender for each of the four quarter finals may well see them miss out for many – with 3.8% and 5.6% ownership respectively they look decent, if somewhat risky, differentials.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is second only to Gomez so far for the Germans, having accrued 15 points. A pair of assists against Holland has been boosted by extra points for recovered balls in two of the three group games – at 9.0, he has so far outperformed 10.0 priced Mesut Ozil in the midfield but the latter’s role “in the hole” means he is always liable to pick up a more explosive score.
Quarter Final Three
The defending champions may have yet to hit top form but have conceded just a single goal and roll up to their game against France on Saturday having racked up back-to-back victories. Bearing in mind they had the best defensive record in the group stages, investment in Vicente Del Bosque’s backline may prove to be a sound tactic – five of their top six scorers in the McDonald’s game are at the back.
It’s not only clean sheets that have boosted their defenders scores – Gerard Pique has received an extra point for recovered balls in all of his three group games; at 7.5, he costs 3.1 less than David Silva, yet has picked up just three points less. The other members of Del Bosque’s settled back-four have all returned recovered ball points in two of the three group matches – Jordi Alba, at 6.5, is the best value and is the most attack-minded of the quartet, while keeper Iker Casillas and right-back Alvaro Arbeloa’s 7.0 pricing seems more than reasonable.
Sergio Busquets is unlikely to pick up many attacking points but his role in front of the back-four has helped him steadily, if somewhat unspectacularly, accumulate the points. Similar to Pique, the 6.5 priced midfielder’s points haul has been boosted by recovered balls in every game – he sits on 11 points, the same number as 9.5 priced Andres Iniesta, though the latter’s out-of-position role on the left of the front three makes him a better captaincy option, despite just one assist so far.
The Spain manager has been kind to Fantasy managers in the sense that 10 of his starting 11 have been the same throughout the group stages – the only problem is that his decision to play either Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres in the central role up top is crucial to our thinking. Both are similarly priced, at 8.6 and 8.5 respectively, but handing Torres one of our three forward roles could be a little risky – he was first to be hauled off on 61 minutes when things weren’t going according to plan against Croatia. Fabregas has been the more consistent of the pair, though – he’s produced attacking returns in two of his three appearances and played a crucial role in the winner over Croatia; in terms of game time, he’s more of a punt than Iniesta in midfield but clearly has the potential to produce. David Silva is the safest option – he’s played a part in four of Spain’s six goals so far and, as his 13 point haul against Republic of Ireland highlighted, affords Fantasy managers strong armband potential; he’s the priciest Spaniard on offer, though, at 10.6.
Laurent Blanc’s side square up to Spain having lost for the first time in 24 matches – hardly the ideal preparation for Saturday’s showdown. Les Bleus have recorded one clean sheet and scored just three goals and Fantasy faith is likely to drop substantially, with their assets relatively costly in comparison to the other underdogs. Mathieu Debuchy’s price of 5.5 offers the cheapest first-choice route into a backline that will be devoid of Philippe Mexes, with the centre-half now suspended after accruing a couple of yellow cards – while 5.4 Laurent Koscielny is likely to deputise, he would surely move back to the bench should the French prosper.
Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery have dropped in performance since Blanc’s decision to move from 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1. They picked up a goal and assist respectively against England in the opener but have failed to produce any attacking points in their last two outings – Nasri, at 8.6, and Ribery, at 9.5, look risky picks, with many Fantasy managers dubious over their potential for the Spain game. Should Yohan Cabaye recover from a thigh injury, he looks a decent value alternative for those looking to take a punt on the French without going overboard with the budget – coming in at 6.5, he has returned 11 points, one less than Nasri and one more than Ribery, despite playing a game less.
Elsewhere, Blanc’s tinkering on the right wing has handed Jeremy Menez and Hatem Ben Arfa a start apiece over the last two fixtures. The latter appeals more as a 6.9 priced midfielder, though Menez’s classification as a forward and higher cost of 7.4 is likely to deter any suitors, with neither player offering guaranteed game time. Karim Benzema is the man most likely but at 9.6 and without a goal so far, many will feel the outlay could be used elsewhere, given Spain’s resilience at the back. The upside to Benzema is he is the only frontman who looks certain of a start in day three of the quarter-finals – at that price, though, you’d want to be confident of handing him the armband.
Quarter Final Four
This clash looks the trickiest of all to predict and is the only quarter final where both teams are unbeaten, meaning Fantasy managers may be hedging their bets. At the back, 6.5 Ashley Cole is the only defender to benefit from the recovered balls rule in all three of his appearances, while Joleon Lescott’s total of 17 points is second overall for Roy Hodgson’s side – his current cost of 5.6 has seen him snapped up by 23% of Fantasy managers and makes him the most popular England player in the McDonald’s game.
Steven Gerrard has been the most consistent performer thus far – the Liverpool skipper was one of only four players to produce attacking returns in all three of the group stage games. He has also picked up an extra point for recovered balls in all his appearances and, at 8.5, has more than justified his price tag, unlike the disappointing Ashley Young.
Up front, Wayne Rooney is quickly picking up the Fantasy suitors following his winner against Ukraine – at 10.5, he still has just 6% ownership, though, and could prove a viable armband candidate for those confident in an England win over the Italians. The class of Danny Welbeck was highlighted by his goal against Sweden. His up front understanding with his United team mate should see him keep his starting role on Sunday and, at 7.5, he could be the surprise package, with many plumping for the more obvious choice in Rooney.
From 3-5-2 to 4-3-1-2 and with many personnel changes at the back over the three group games, Cesare Prandelli has been rather unpredictable. The Italy boss has kept faith in only one defender – Giorgio Chiellini – for the three matches but the Juventus man has been ruled out of Sunday’s showdown with a thigh injury. While 6.5 priced Gianluigi Buffon offers security between the posts, there are a number of intriguing backline options for Fantasy managers – Federico Balzaretti (5.4), Andrea Barzagli (5.9) and Ignazio Abate (4.9) were all handed their first start against the Republic of Ireland and, if Prandelli keeps faith with the trio, Agnate, in particular, looks a strong value prospect in a backline that has conceded just two goals so far.
In midfield, it’s been all about Andrea Pirlo. The Juventus man has played a part in three of his nation’s four goals and – similar to Gerrard – produced attacking returns in all of his three appearances; at 8.1 and with 19 points already on the board, he’s been the standout asset in Prandelli’s squad. Thiago Motta was moved to a role “in the hole” against Ireland and at 6.5, is a decent attacking proposition for those Fantasy managers who are backing the Italians to triumph.
Up front, 8.0 priced Antonio Cassano is the only player to have started all three of the group games. The Milan man has failed to finish any of his matches, though, with Prandelli cautious of over-using him after the player’s recent heart operation. Nevertheless, he looks the man most likely, with doubts remaining over whether Mario Balotelli or Antonio Di Natale will start alongside him.