It’s not just in the official Fantasy game for the European Championship that managers now get unlimited transfers.
The one and only Wildcard for FanTeam’s £1m Euro 2020 game has to be used ahead of the last 16 deadline at 15:30 BST on Saturday, so we’ll run through some of the key targets in this piece.
With no chips available beyond this stage, and only three free transfers granted at both the quarter-final and semi-final rounds, then it pays to target teams who stand the best chance of progressing deep into the tournament. We wrote about the importance of this approach in a recent Frisking the Fixtures special, which you can read here.
And make sure to tune into Az’s below chat with Josh Wooldridge, who won FanTeam’s €200,000 season-long Premier League game and who will be talking through his own EURO 2020 Wildcard picks.
Gianluigi Donnarumma (£6.0m) has kept three clean sheets in a row heading into Italy’s last-16 tie with Austria, with Roberto Mancini’s side now on a run of 11 successive shut-outs in all competitions.
Donnarumma looks the pick of the goalkeepers from a clean sheet perspective in the round of 16 but such is the strength of the Azzurri’s defence that their number one has barely had a save to make, with just two efforts on target to deal with in the tournament so far.
Not only may save points be lacking, Italy also find themselves in the toughest half of the draw: should they see off the Austrians as expected, they’ll then be up against Belgium or Portugal in the quarter-finals and potentially France or Spain in the last four.
Spain’s Unai Simon (£5.9m) is in a similar boat, having faced only two efforts on target in the group stage and with a semi-appealing fixture against Croatia to come before sterner tests await.
The other half of the draw looks more appealing.
Jordan Pickford (£7.0m) is FanTeam’s top-scoring goalkeeper so far after three straight shut-outs and England won’t face anyone seeded higher than 10th in the FIFA rankings before the final, although a round-of-16 clash with Germany isn’t the most straightforward test on paper.
While question marks perhaps remain about the Netherlands’ defence against top-level opposition, Marten Stekelenburg (£4.7m) and the Dutch national team have arguably the most straightforward (on paper) path to the final, with a clash with the Czech Republic followed by a quarter-final against Wales or Denmark.
Stekelenburg could even be paired with fellow budget stopper Tomas Vaclík (£4.6m) to ensure a starting goalkeeper for the quarters or perhaps with Kasper Schmeichel (£5.3m), with Denmark the bookies’ favourites to meet the Netherlands in the last eight.
The cut-price Robin Olsen at £4.6m is another short-term consideration (perhaps paired with Pickford), as Sweden face Ukraine before clashing with one of England or Germany.
The top-scoring defender in FanTeam’s game, Denzel Dumfries, is still a snip at £5.9m despite his group stage exploits and cheaper even than the rest of the Netherlands backline.
He’s had twice as many big chances as any other Fantasy defender at EURO 2020 so far, with no-one in his position able to boast more attacking returns (three).
Given what we discussed earlier about the Dutch team’s obliging path to the final, Dumfries is nearing must-own territory.
The only defender to have had more shots and penalty box touches than Dumfries so far is Denmark wing-back Joakim Maehle (£4.5m), who looks a steal for his country’s clash with Wales – although a quarter-final tie against the Netherlands looms if they progress.
The winners of Germany v England stand a good chance of reaching the final.
If you’re pinning your colours to Die Mannschaft’s mast, then Robin Gosens (£5.7m) – with a goal and two assists already to your name – is your man.
With ongoing uncertainty over England’s full-back/wing-back positions, John Stones (£6.0m) looks the safest for the Three Lions. He is the only defender to have started all three of England’s group games and, as his towering header against the post in the clash with Scotland underscored, he carries a bit of goal threat to go with his security of starts.
In the other section of the draw, the attack-minded Leanardo Spinazzola (£5.6m) and Jordi Alba (£6.5m) – who has racked up more final-third touches than any other defender so far – are obvious selections for this batch of games but, as previously stated, trickier opponents await in the quarter-finals.
The same goes for France, although uncertainty reigns at full-back with Lucas Digne (£6.4m) and Lucas Hernandez (£6.5m) injury doubts and Benjamin Pavard (£6.5m) benched in Matchday 3.
There’s a recurring theme here as we again focus on the Netherlands and their favourable route to the final, so Georginio Wijnaldum (£7.1m) and Memphis Depay (£8.5m), the two highest-scoring midfielders in the FanTeam game, look like shoo-ins to feature in many Wildcard teams.
The pair are ninth and second among all Fantasy assets for expected goal involvement (xGI) in the tournament so far, with Depay’s classification as a midfielder the cherry on the icing with him.
England’s lack of chances created (only Hungary carved out fewer in the group stage) and the rotation risk status afforded to many of their assets leaves us a bit cold on the Three Lions’ forward-thinking players, with Raheem Sterling (£12.0m) the only attacking midfielder from Gareth Southgate’s squad who has started all three games – and he comes at a cost.
Sweden’s penalty-taking, three-goal Emil Forsberg (£5.6m), Wales talisman Gareth Bale (£6.2m), Ukraine’s Andriy Yarmolenko (£6.3m) – who has three attacking returns to his name already – and EURO 2020’s joint-leading chance creator Pierre-Emile Höjbjerg (£6.6m) are all cut-price gems with relatively favourable round-of-16 ties in the bottom half of the draw.
Many of the big-money FanTeam midfielders – from Jadon Sancho (£9.7m) to Bruno Fernandes (£8.9m) – are too much of a rotation risk to consider for this Wildcard selection.
The costliest of all, Kevin De Bruyne (£12.5m), is much more of a secure starter: he has racked up three attacking returns and nine key passes in just 134 minutes of game-time since his return from injury.
The tricky-looking top half of the tournament bracket is of course a downside, although Portugal’s concession of six goals in recent clashes with France and Germany is a positive for the Manchester City man.
Italy duo Lorenzo Insigne (£8.1m) and Domenico Berardi (£7.6m) are among the pick of the mid-price midfielders if we’re looking at the last 16 in isolation, with the former racking up seven shots on goal in Matchdays 1 and 2 and the latter creating six chances in that same brace of matches.
Pablo Sarabia’s (£7.5m) goal and two assists in the 5-0 win over Slovakia will also raise interest in the Spanish midfielder; it would be harsh for Luis Enrique to bench the winger off the back of that performance but he had started the tournament playing second fiddle so it’s a little premature to be guaranteeing certainties over game time.
One of the two highest-scoring FanTeam forwards will be heading home on Sunday night, so there is an obvious dilemma regarding the longer-term credentials of Cristiano Ronaldo (£10.2m) and Romelu Lukaku (£11.5m).
Four attacking returns against France and Germany at least highlights Ronaldo’s big-game player status, while FanTeam’s reward for non-goal shots on target is also something to consider given that he has scored or made the goalkeeper work on a joint-high six occasions.
And those two players are at least available at ‘downgradable’ price points, should they bow out.
Selecting one or both of those strikers also may give Fantasy managers the opportunity to further assess Harry Kane (£13.2m), who has done precious little to warrant interest despite England’s favourable draw.
Ciro Immobile (£9.2m) and the penalty-taking Karim Benzema (£9.8m) seem like stand-out picks if we’re only looking at the last 16 and nothing beyond it, with final-group game heroics from Gerard Moreno (£8.0m) and Donyell Malen (£7.5m) – each selected by fewer than 2% of managers – catapulting them into riskier differential territory.
Patrick Schick (£5.3m) – who is joint-top with Ronaldo for shots on target – remains in the bench fodder price rung despite his treble of goals, so is a possible insurance policy for those managers going big on Netherlands assets and fearing the worst-case scenario.
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