Some may argue that the importance of the captain’s armband is negligible on the pitch, but when it comes to fantasy football it can often make or break a manager’s week, even a season in the case of #UCLFantasy. Here are The Stats Zone’s seven candidates to consider ahead of matchday 5:
Not a name often coupled with the ‘differential’ tag, but with Messrs Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi, Cavani, Kane and Lukaku as his premium forward peers and playing under a manager prone to more rotation than a wind farm, the Argentinean striker is currently just that.
Owned by just 2% of #UCLFantasy managers, Agüero has scored twice in three Champions League appearances – a missed penalty in the 2-0 home win over Shakhtar the only blemish on his European record this season. An unused substitute in City’s 10th consecutive league win on Saturday, Agüero is surely in line for a start on Tuesday evening against the Group F whipping boys – whom he scored against in September’s 4-0 rout at De Kuip.
Agüero had declared himself available for selection at the King Power Stadium following a dizzy spell suffered on international duty, so with three extra days of convalescence he must be in with a reasonable chance of leading the line against Feyenoord. But then, this is Pep Guardiola we’re talking about here.
As prolific in Europe this season (six goals in four matches) as he has been wasteful in La Liga (one goal in eight), ‘CR7’ (as he must never, ever be called under any circumstances) will be at the forefront of #UCLFantasy managers’ minds this week.
A win for Real at Group H minnows APOEL (who have not disgraced themselves in the Champions League this season – consecutive draws against the desperately disappointing Borussia Dortmund testimony to that) will seal their passage into the knockout stages with a match to spare. Having played all 360 minutes of Los Blancos’ four group games so far, the all-time Champions League top scorer (111 and counting) will renew acquaintances with an APOEL defence he terrorised in Madrid’s opening group game at the Bernabéu. Ronaldo netted twice in Real’s straightforward 3-0 win, but only an offside flag and superb goalkeeping from the even more superbly named Boy Waterman prevented the Ballon d’Or winner-elect from adding to his tally. Real peppered the APOEL goal with 27 shots in that fixture, Ronaldo with nine of them.
This is your five o’clock alarm call: Spartak’s game against Slovenian outfit NK Maribor is one of two fixtures that kick off at 1700GMT on Tuesday evening, the other being Besiktas v Porto. The diabolical amongst you may consider not reminding your private league rivals of this early start to matchday 5 and many a casual will be caught unawares when they come to make (all too) late changes to their squads. Meanwhile, the mavericks out there may want to consider this Promes-ing (sorry) young Dutch midfielder for the armband this week.
After a ponderous start to the season, Spartak have suffered only one defeat in their previous 15 games in all competitions (their last Champions League game away at Sevilla) and come into Tuesday evening’s appetising-looking home game against rock-bottom Maribor off the back of a 4-1 away win at Krasnodar, who Spartak trailed in the Russian Premier League standings before kick-off. Two goals and an assist for striker Luiz Adriano (generously priced at €6.5m and owned only by 1% of #UCLFantasy players) is noteworthy, but Promes’s second consecutive goal-and-assist return highlighted his explosive potential – as did his performance in matchday 3 of the Champions League. An 18-point haul against Sevilla is the competition’s joint second-best individual performance in fantasy terms so far and Tuesday’s opposition offer a great chance at another double-digit score – only Anderlecht have a worse defensive record than Maribor in the group stages to date.
This is how #UCLFantasy tipsters earn their reputation: by bigging up the world’s most expensive footballer, whose PSG side takes on a Celtic team that cost 50 times less to assemble, for the rematch of a game the Ligue 1 leaders won 5-0 back in September – away from home. Wait, there’s more. He’s also the joint-most selected player in #UCLFantasy this season (50% of us own Demi Lovato’s wingman) and the best-performing forward after four group games, with four goals and three assists.
A maverick choice, Neymar Jr is most emphatically not. But he is arguably the most blindingly obvious candidate for the armband in matchday 5 and it would be incongruous to ignore him here. Edinson Cavani may be outperforming his Brazilian teammate at domestic level (two for Cavani in PSG’s win over Nantes at the weekend taking his Ligue 1 total to 15, compared to Neymar’s seven), but their goal tallies are identical in the Champions League this season. What perhaps tips the captaincy nod in Neymar’s favour is Saturday’s revelation that he has been officially handed spot kick duties for PSG, which, given that one of Les Parisiens’ goals in their rout of Celtic at Parkhead came from the spot, may prove to be of some significance on Wednesday evening.
One Sid Lowe-sized caveat though: coach Unai Emery has hinted at rotation between now and the end of the year and, given that PSG have already assured their passage to the round of 16, concerns will be heightened that a plum home fixture against the Scottish champions may be the game Emery opts to rest his £198m striker. Neymar did however miss October’s victory over Nice through suspension and the following league game against Angers through injury, and should any of PSG’s front three be in line for a breather this week, it may well be Cavani - the Uruguayan having featured in all but one of PSG’s games in all competitions this season.
By his own ridiculous standards, Lionel Messi is on something of a barren spell. The Argentine has failed to find the net in his last four appearances for club and country, and if we look a little further back, it’s just one goal in six games. For a player who, along with you-know-who, has rewritten the rule books on scoring consistency, this is the equivalent of a normal human being failing to score for 10 – 15 games.
By the sheer law of averages, though, this is bound to come to an end sooner rather than later. A trip to Turin is no easy task, of course, but Barca still haven’t confirmed their passage to the knockout stages and will be hell-bent on doing so with a game to spare. Messi put on a masterclass against Juventus at Camp Nou in September, and the Italian giants succumbed to Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday so confidence isn’t exactly soaring. Gianluigi Buffon isn’t in the best frame of mind either – he was left on the bench over the weekend, with Allegri alluding to the fact the legendary stopper was still teary-eyed over Italy’s failure to navigate World Cup qualification.
A risky – and expensive – choice given that Chelsea face Liverpool in the Premier League less than 72 hours after the completion of this match, Hazard comes into this game off the back of a dazzling display at West Brom at the weekend, two goals and an assist suggesting that the Belgian whiz is back to something approaching his best. Hazard was hooked after 70 minutes of Chelsea’s 4-0 win, perhaps indicating that Antonio Conte had the 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan in mind and indeed Hazard’s prominent role in it.
Not quite pushovers on their own turf (their previous two home games being a 0-0 draw with Atlético Madrid and a narrow 2-1 loss to Roma), Qarabag were nevertheless walloped 6-0 by Chelsea on matchday 1 and, should they have aspirations of qualifying for the round of 16 or indeed dropping into the Europa League, the Azerbaijani side will have to entertain the idea of taking the game to their visitors – opening up ample space for those devastating Hazard-led Chelsea counter-attacks.
Not so much for the maverick as the truly insane, here’s the captaincy nomination equivalent of the nutty p.124 story on Ceefax (RIP).
Included in United’s Champions League squad back in September in spite of his long-term knee injury, Zlatan finally returned to league action for the Red Devils in Saturday evening’s 4-1 win over Newcastle. Sent on as a 77th-minute substitute for Anthony Martial, the big Swede/lion/deity was afforded just over a quarter of an hour in a game that had long since ceased to be a contest. Almost certainly not quite ready to play the full 90 minutes in spite of his godlike powers, Wednesday evening’s trip to Switzerland will probably see Ibra granted more pitch time by Jose Mourinho – perhaps, just perhaps, even a start. United only need one point from their final two group games to not only progress to the last 16 but win their group, so Mourinho will surely be tempted to rotate his squad at Basel in midweek – particularly with three Premier League games in seven days on the horizon. Whether that will include a first start since April for Zlatan, of course, is speculative in the extreme. But go on, live a little.