The UEFA Champions League returns and brings with it that stirring anthem, star-studded midweek matches and a brand new chance for Fantasy glory via the official UEFA game.
Whilst the basics will be broadly familiar to Fantasy Premier League managers, the intricacies of strategy and diversity of pan-European player selection pose many new challenges.
And that is why we’re putting together a series of guides and recommendations to boost your chances of bossing your mini-league and scooping prizes, including Champions League match tickets, Playstation 5 consoles, cash in the UEFA store or FFS memberships (if you enter our FFS league – PIN: 65KAB8EHX307)
Core Strategy – Prepare your Poker Face
The group stages of the Champions League are divided into three distinct parts, which I feel broadly compare with the key stages of a poker hand: the flop, turn and river.
In the first two games, teams bed themselves in, get a feel for the group and effectively place their first bets on how they’ll fare as they face off against two different opponents, which is what distinguishes them from ‘the turn‘, where teams then face one opponent home and away, back to back.
This is the key for most teams; by close of play on Matchday 4 their fate may not yet be sealed, but they will have a very clear idea of where they stand and what they (and their opponents) require. This sets up the real excitement for Matchday 5 and 6 – as with the river, fortunes can be won or lost and even Champions League royalty can find themselves flushed out.
The big difference in the group stage this year is the compactness of the schedule. Although this changes the traditional fixture grouping of three twos, the frequency should make the Fantasy game slightly easier to stick with as there’s less chance to miss a key Gameweek amidst FPL deadlines.
From the first kick-offs in Kiev and St Petersburg on 20 October, teams will play once a week for three consecutive weeks before the action recommences after the November international break. This gives the group stages two distinct halves and provides a natural break to regroup and recover from a poor start or conversely a lot of time for your starting line-up to collect injuries and risk rotation.
As with FPL, chip strategy needs considering from the very get-go in UCL Fantasy. The Wildcard can be played just once, but at any time.
There are unlimited transfers between the group stage and the knockout phases, and a whopping eight transfers a round between the first and second legs of each knockout round (three after the first, five after the second). This normally leads me to use my Wildcard in the group stage, and I plan on using it between Matchdays 2-4 depending on injuries/ fixtures. The thinking here is that, by employing it during the group matches, you have twice the amount of players to choose from and therefore a much better chance to get ahead early or utilise differential picks, compared to the knockout rounds when teams begin to look more and more similar. So plan when to use your Wildcard and pick your Matchday 1 team accordingly.
Over the following week, I’m going to be writing a position-by-position introduction for UCL Fantasy, starting with the goalkeepers and defenders.
Who to choose between the sticks?
Premium Goalkeepers (5.5-6m)
For goalkeepers, points scoring is essentially the same as FPL and, like FPL, the top keepers in UCL Fantasy all cost 6m. My picks of the six most expensive keepers in the game are Thibaut Courtois (6m), Manuel Neuer (6m) and Marc-Andre ter Stegen (6m). Whilst Courtois perhaps has the toughest group of the three (Inter, Shakhtar, Moenchengladbach), his Real Madrid defence was statistically the strongest in Europe last season and has two clean sheets from three domestically so far this season. You can definitely trust him to deliver some clean sheets if you go for a premium keeper.
Neuer and Bayern Munich celebrate their 2020 Super Cup victory
Neuer is fresh off the back of winning European Goalkeeper of the Year and playing in the best team in Europe. His fiercest attacking opponent is potentially RB Salzburg – Atlético have just played out back-to-back goalless draws for the first time under Simeone. Of the three, I‘m most inclined towards ter Stegen. Although he‘s playing in the weakest defence of the three, games against Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kiev should be easy for Barcelona. Unlike the other two 6m keepers, he‘s the best option across their whole defence as Koeman grapples with his limited options to find their clear starting XI.
For 0.5m less, you can have PSG’s Keylor Navas or Juventus’ Wojciech Szczesny (5.5m). For Navas, PSG have only conceded twice this season in six Ligue 1 games and four of their matches are against a dysfunctional Manchester United and Istanbul Basaksehir (who are currently in the Turkish relegation zone). As with Barcelona, games against Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kyiv spell clean sheets for Pirlo‘s Juventus and their Polish keeper.
Mid-priced and Budget Goalkeepers (4-5m)
The ability to make substitutions between days of a Matchday shouldn‘t be taken for granted, and a good rotating pair can be far more important to UCL Fantasy than in FPL. Sevilla keeper Bounou (5m) is my pick at that price point, although the relative cheapness of his colleagues means he’s not even the best option in his own defence.
At 4.5m, Liverpool’s Adrian is a rare gem. Assuming not every game in the near future will follow the story of their 7-2 drubbing to Aston Villa, Adrian seems set to start at least the first three, if not the first four, games of the UCL group stages with Alisson ruled out for up to six weeks. Liverpool are in Group D, the first half of the draw, so you’d need someone in the second half to rotate with him. This could be a premium option such as ter Stegen, Szczesny or Navas, but if you prefer two budget keepers, Zenit‘s Kerzhakov (4.5m) could be a steal with games against Club Brugge and an out-of-sorts Lazio side. This rotation includes a potentially lucrative defensive fixture run – Club Brugge at home, Midtjylland at home and Lazio home and away.
Liverpool’s current Goalkeeper Adrian, who is standing in for the injured Alisson Becker
If you don’t want Adrian, Olympiacos’ Jose Sa (4.5m) is another good budget option in the first half of the draw. The Greeks have only conceded one goal in their first five games this season, including shutting out Omonia home and away in the play-offs.
How defenders score points
There is one key difference in points scoring between FPL and UCL Fantasy, and it affects defenders the most. For each game, every three balls recovered for a defender gains a point. With some defenders racking up 10+ recoveries each game (these will be highlighted below), this can leave them with four to five base points each game, before clean sheets or attacking input have even been considered.
Premium Defenders (6-6.5m)
Having already talked about the strength of the defences they’re playing in in the goalkeeper section and their UCL pedigrees, Sergio Ramos (6.5m) and Joshua Kimmich (6.5m) should need no introduction. Ramos is on penalties in a rock-solid Real Madrid defence, and with 13 goals in 44 games last season, he seems a near-essential pick. Kimmich plays as a defensive midfielder and it’s a miracle that he’s been classified as a defender. With two goals and two assists already this campaign, he looks set for a great season at both ends.
Alongside these two, Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk (6m) needs no introduction. He led the way for balls recovered last season with 81. As a result, 24 of his 41 points came from this stat alone. If he puts up numbers like that again, he will easily outscore his two flying full-backs Alexander-Arnold and Robertson (6.5m), even with their attacking output.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson celebrate for Liverpool
Mid-Priced Defenders (5-5.5m)
With a huge amount of options at this price range, I’ve whittled them down to 10 options. Top of the list for me are Atalanta’s two flying wing-backs, Robin Gosens (5.5m) and Hans Hateboer (5m). Opening the group stages against Midtjylland and Ajax, the pair have already both scored in the league and look set to bring this form to Europe.
Mats Hummels (5m) was second to van Dijk for balls recovered last season with 79, and Dortmund’s form alongside their group games should bring clean sheets too. A similar option is RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann (5m), who also had 79 recoveries last season, albeit having played more games. His fixtures against Istanbul Basaksehir and Manchester United definitely have scope for clean sheets and more recoveries for this great young Leipzig side.
Staying in Group H, PSG’s Marquinhos (5.5m) and Alessandro Florenzi (5m) are great mid-priced options playing for the best team in their group. Marquinhos is nailed in the heart of the PSG defence and with 50 balls recovered last season in the UCL seems a more attractive option than his keeper Navas. Florenzi is 0.5m cheaper, with more attacking threat.
The final three mid-priced options up for discussion are Leonardo Bonucci (5.5m), Raphael Varane (5.5m) and Niklas Sule (5m). Nailed centre-backs in top teams are always solid options and Bonucci’s regular goal threat potentially makes him a priority over Szczesny in goal, whilst Varane and Sule offer a cheaper (albeit likely slightly lower scoring) alternative.
Budget Defenders (4-4.5m)
As in all Fantasy games, picking the wheat from the chaff in terms of budget defenders is easier said than done. Surprise packages often come to the fore and blow other options out of the water, and that’s precisely who I’m hoping to identify below.
Sevilla’s Jules Kounde pictured during the 2019/20 Europa League
The best option in this bracket is unquestionable. Nailed in a Sevilla defence with great form and fixtures, Jules Kounde at 4m looks incredibly underpriced at this point. He’ll most likely start every game in a group that Sevilla will fight to win and was key to their UEL-winning run last season.
Elsewhere at 4m, RB Salzburg’s starting centre-back Jeremy Onguene has a tough group but took home 12 points for balls recovered last season, and we should keep an eye on young Barcelona stopper Ronald Araujo’s progress throughout the group stages, as injury and rotation may see him getting games.
Jerome Onguene in action against Liverpool’s Sadio Mane during the 2019/20 Group Stage of the Champions League
At 4.5m, Atlético Madrid’s Felipe seems a steal. He seems nailed on in Simeone’s mean defence, has games against RB Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow and hoovered up 15 points for balls recovered last season. Alongside him, Inter Milan’s Alessandro Bastoni (4.5m) looks underpriced provided he recovers from COVID-19 in time.
Zenit’s Yaroslav Rakits’kyy had 13 points for balls recovered last season and as with Kerzhakov in goal, has some kind fixtures outside of the Dortmund games in Matchday 3 and 4. The same goes for Olympiacos’ Rafinha (4.5m) in their great defence with some nice fixtures outside of Manchester City (who I haven’t discussed thanks to Pep roulette).
The final option is Rennes’ Nayef Aguerd (4.5m). With two goals in six games so far this season, he definitely holds attacking threat, and Rennes’ place at the top of Ligue 1 shows that they won’t simply be rolled over by the likes of Chelsea and Sevilla.
That’s all for now. We’ll be back with midfield and forward picks in the next few days; in the meantime, you can check out our introduction to the UEFA Champions League Fantasy game here and sign up for the FFS League for a chance to win bragging rights and FFS Premium Memberships with the code: 65KAB8EHX307
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