The start of the UEFA Champions League group stage is less than a week away and the competition’s official, free-to-play Fantasy game is now live.
Champions League match tickets, Playstation 5 consoles and cash in the UEFA store are up for grabs, while Premium Memberships will also be dished out to the leaders in our Fantasy Football Scout mini-league (PIN: 65KAB8EHX307).
Having run down the stand-out goalkeepers and defenders in the first instalment of our position-by-position series, we now shine some light on the midfielders available in UEFA Champions League Fantasy this season.
Although the scoring system is strikingly similar to Fantasy Premier League, there is one important difference, as we saw with the defenders.
Every three balls a player recovers in a match gains them one point, which gives central and defensive midfielders a competitive edge that they’re missing in FPL.
Premium Midfielders (9-11.5m)
All seven of these premium midfielders need no introduction. One of the stand-out names is Bayern’s Serge Gnabry (10m), with his four-goal haul against Spurs the highlight of his 10-goal title-winning campaign last time out. With three goals and an assist already in his first three games this season, he looks set to keep up his blistering form. Bayern’s kind group games against Lokomotiv and RB Salzburg make him ever more appealing.
Another Bundesliga gem is Jadon Sancho (10m), who is back fit ready for Matchday 1. He’s only getting better as he matures and after his 20 goals and 20 assists last season in all competitions, he’ll be in the points for Dortmund’s lightning attack sooner rather than later.
An FPL favourite and the joint-most expensive midfielder on the game, Mohamed Salah (11.5m) has five goals from four in the league so far and his permanent role as penalty taker should translate into even more points. None of the teams he faces has rock-solid defences and the home game against Danish minnows Midtjylland in Matchday 2 could be prime ground for a haul.
The other most expensive player is Kevin de Bruyne (11.5m), and although he only has one goal and an assist to his name so far after Manchester City’s shaky start, he’s expected to recover from an ankle injury to face Porto.
His class should produce points in City’s relatively easy group, while De Bruyne also has 25 ball recoveries in just three Premier League games so far, which could be another great source of points for the Belgian.
De Bruyne’s teammate and another man never far from the points, Raheem Sterling (10.5m) is one million cheaper and with six Champions League goals and three assists to his name last season, seems set to yet again score well for Pep Guardiola’s men.
Two former Premier League wingers make up the premium midfielders, with Philippe Coutinho and Angel di Maria both coming in at 9m.
Coutinho is firmly part of Ronald Koeman’s plans at Camp Nou, with flashes of brilliance already this season leading to one goal and two assists. The Matchday 1 fixture at home to Ferencvaros makes him particularly appealing.
Di Maria managed 12 goals and 23 assists last season in a PSG side that is only getting stronger. He’s always been a player who shines on the big stage and with a relatively kind group for a team of PSG’s calibre, he could be a shrewd premium pick.
Mid-priced Midfielders (6.5-8.5m)
Fresh from winning La Liga’s Player of the Month, Barcelona’s next wunderkind Ansu Fati comes in at a kind 8m. Like Gnabry, he has three goals and an assist from his first three games this season and a team of Barcelona’s quality should have no issue in dispatching Ferencvaros and Dynamo Kiev with a few goals to spare. He’s arguably the pick at this price point.
Alongside Fati are two players whose 2019/20 seasons were ravaged by injury. Marco Reus (8.5m) and Florian Thauvin (8.5m) could both prove to be bargains if they regain the form of yesteryear.
Reus has been a staple on the scoresheet in the Bundesliga and Champions League for eight seasons now in a Borussia Dortmund team stacked with quality and only getting better. Likely starting alongside Sancho and Erling Haaland, Reus will definitely be on the scoresheet this season.
Thauvin sat out the entirety of last season due to injury, but already has two goals and three assists in six league games as he returns to being Marseille’s talisman. Whenever the French side score, expect Thauvin to be near.
Another returning from injury, this one being markedly shorter, is RB Leipzig’s Marcel Sabitzer (8.5m). Despite the German outfit’s wealth of attacking options, expect him to always occupy one of the spots. Constantly adding more goals and assists to his game as he’s moved to a more dominant central role, he also picked up 11 points for balls recovered last season.
Three hundred miles south on the other side of the Red Bull franchise, RB Salzburg’s Dominik Szoboszlai is nailed and has penalties as well as assists in his game, but with their fixtures, your money may be better spent elsewhere.
Club Brugge put in some great attacking performances last time out, and their league form suggests that they may be able to repeat this. Playing some less-than-reliable defences in Lazio and Dortmund may also help the case of Hans Vanaken (7m), who has three goals and five assists in eight Belgian Pro League games this season. Vanaken also has penalties in his locker and scored against Real Madrid last term.
Finishing off the mid-priced options are Phil Foden (7m) and Lucas Ocampos (8.5m).
Foden is the cheapest way into Manchester City’s attack with their relatively easy group, but as any FPL fan will know, predicting Guardiola’s line-up week in week out is like trying to anticipate the weather with tea leaves – impossible, inefficient and a waste of everyone’s time and energy.
Ocampos is a key piece to Sevilla’s attack as they’ll be trying to top Group E, and also scored in the Super Cup against Bayern Munich. His propensity for a card has to be noted – he finished last domestic season with eight yellows and a red to his name.
Budget Midfielders (4.5-6m)
Reliable 4.5m midfielders are hard to find in any Fantasy Football game but this season we could have two in the UCL Fantasy game: Zenit’s Wilmar Barrios (4.5m) and Lokomotiv Moscow’s Vladislav Ignatyev (4.5m).
Barrios is the better option through his positional security: he played every moment of Zenit’s Champions League campaign last season and recovered the ball 48 times, gaining 14 points in the process. This meant that as a 4.5m midfielder, he averaged just over four points a game in the group stages, something certainly not to be ignored.
Ignatyev has been in and out of the Lokomotiv team this season but has started their big games against Zenit and CSKA Moscow and is expected to be part of their first-team line-up for the Champions League. He also gained 13 points from balls recovered in 2019/20 and if he can repeat that this season, then Barrios and Ignatyev could be the core of some great UCL Fantasy seasons.
The remaining seven budget midfielders that I’m going to discuss can be split into three categories.
First up, there are strong attacking assets from poor teams. Newcastle fans may remember Remy Cabella (6m), who’s now plying his trade for Krasnodar and has five goals and two assists in nine games so far this season, including two goals and an assist in their play-off matches against PAOK.
Cabella has the potential to be outshone by Club Brugge’s Krepin Diatta (5.5m), who has four goals from six starts so far this season and, as with Vanaken, faces some less than reliable defences in a very attacking side.
Then there are the less exciting picks, the defensive midfielders from big teams who can be expected to hoover up the ball recovery points. Real Madrid’s Casemiro (6m) topped off his 16 points from balls recovered last season with a goal and an assist and is still a key piece for Zinedine Zidane’s side. Although not flashy, he could be a shrewd pick, averaging just short of five points a game last season.
Similarly, Liverpool’s Fabinho (6m) already has 30 balls recovered in four Premier League games this season and if he can bring that form into Europe, he could be a solid pick.
Finally, there are the ‘watch this space‘ players.
The first of these is RB Leipzig’s Dani Olmo (6m). He scored three Champions League goals last season and has started every game in 2020/21 so far but the return of Sabitzer and signings of Hwang Hee-chan and Alexander Sorloth leave his place in the side very much uncertain.
Atalanta’s latest signing, Aleksei Miranchuk (5m), has the potential to be the game’s biggest bargain if he can permanently replace Josip Ilicic in this Atalanta side, but having not yet played for the Italian club he can’t be trusted from Matchday 1.
Finally, there is Aleksandr Erokhin (5m). An attacking midfielder for Zenit who had a bit-part start to the season, Erokhin has played 90 minutes in their last two games and has three goals and two assists from just 249 league minutes – that’s an average of a goal contribution every 50 minutes or so. Zenit play first on Matchday 1 so we will know their line-up before the deadline and if he starts, he’ll have a place in this author’s team.
Our guide to the best Champions League forwards will be published on Friday, while our Matchday 1 preview will follow early next week.
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