The midweek matches mark the final chance for #UCLFantasy managers to claw back deficits/consolidate leads before the competition breaks till mid-February. Here are The Stats Zone's seven captaincy candidates to consider ahead of Matchday 6:
Neymar — PSG — Forward — €11.3m — Bayern Munich (away - Tuesday)
Only a Bayern win by four or more goals on Tuesday evening would deprive Paris Saint-Germain of top spot in Group B – but then Unai Emery and Les Parisiens have spectacularly blown such an advantage before. PSG will surely then field a near-full strength team in midweek, with leading Ligue I goalscorer Edinson Cavani having been rested for his club’s shock 2-1 defeat at Strasbourg on Saturday with this fixture in mind. Neymar struggled in PSG’s first league defeat of the season and was booked in stoppage time as that sore loser alter-ego of his reared its ugly head again, but plenty of #UCLFantasy managers will be backing him to channel that overgrown adolescent fury into precious fantasy points at the Allianz Arena.
The Brazilian forward had the beating of the Bayern back line in September, registering a goal and an assist in PSG’s 3-0 win over the German champions. Neymar is also #UCLFantasy’s leading points-scorer amongst strikers on 45, nine clear of his clubmate Cavani and almost double that of Messi (23). What may deter managers from handing him the armband this time is the fact that Bayern on home soil are a different beast to the timid side that succumbed to defeat at the Parc des Princes – the Bundesliga leaders having racked up eight wins and a draw in their nine competitive home games in 2017/18.
Lionel Messi — Barcelona — Forward — €12.1m — Sporting Lisbon (home - Tuesday)
Perhaps the stand-out captaincy candidate this week, certainly if prioritising fixtures over form. With ‘only’ three goals from five UEFA Champions League group games so far, Messi has perhaps by his own stratospheric standards flattered to deceive in Europe this season. Last season’s haul of 11 goals in nine games was his tenth successive return of six+ goals in the Champions League and the fourth season in which he had reached double figures in Europe.
His form this season is a mirror image of Cristiano Ronaldo’s, in that Messi has actually shone in La Liga – his strike in Barca’s 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo on Saturday was his 13th in 14 league games – while toiling in European competition. 90 barren minutes in Barcelona’s trip to Portugal in September doesn’t inspire confidence in the Argentinean magician ahead of Matchday 6, but his struggles in Europe away from home (blanks in Barca’s games at Olympiacos, Sporting and Juventus) are at odds with his form at the Nou Camp. Messi has returned three goals and one assist in Blaugrana’s two previous group games on home soil and their midweek opposition’s standing in Group D may play into Barca’s hands – Sporting have to win their final group match, whilst hoping that Juventus don’t do likewise in Greece, to qualify for the knockout stages. Parking the bus and stifling Barca isn’t an option for the Portuguese side on Tuesday, at least not for the full 90 minutes – a rare chance perhaps for Messi and co to enjoy a very different type of home game in which the opposition haven’t got a mandate to simply “spoil” things for the Catalan giants.
The downside of course is that Barca are already through to the last 16 as group winners, but whether Ernesto Valverde dares to infuriate myriad all-important endorsers and sponsors around the world by resting Messi for a second consecutive group game is another matter.
Cristiano Ronaldo — Real Madrid — Forward — €12.3m — Borussia Dortmund (home – Wednesday)
Ronaldo’s woeful domestic form has propelled social media schadenfreude to new, dreary levels this season. Open up Twitter and there’ll be the latest damning statistic presented by the tedious Lionel Messi fanboys: two goals in 10 La Liga games, two goals from 67 shots, the worst shot conversion rate in Europe’s top five leagues, a worse shot conversion rate that Benevento’s draw-salvaging ‘keeper. Heck, even Joselu has scored as many league goals as the Ballon d’Or winner-elect in 2017/18. The Portuguese superstar blanked again at the weekend in Madrid’s 0-0 draw away at Athletic Bilbao, but his UEFA Champions League form couldn’t be any different.
Two goals and an assist in Real’s 6-0 rout of APOEL in Matchday 5 means that Ronaldo has scored in every Champions League game this season and is the tournament’s stand-alone leading goalscorer (on eight), two clear of the chasing pack. Though there isn’t a lot riding on Real’s midweek home game against an already-eliminated Dortmund (Madrid meanwhile are definitely through to the knockout stages as Group H runners-up), Ronaldo bagged a brace in the reverse fixture in September and there’ll be plenty of #UCLFantasy managers who will be backing him with the captain’s armband again on Wednesday. One small caveat is that, despite his impressive goal tally, he is still spurning a lot of opportunities. Of the 33 shots he has attempted in the Champions League this season (a record in itself), only 16 have been on target – an accuracy of 48%, which is some way behind the other heavy-hitters (Neymar on 61% and Lionel Messi on 72%).
Edin Dzeko — Roma — Forward — €10.6m — Qarabag (home - Tuesday)
A win for Roma over the Group C whipping boys (unless you’re Atletico Madrid, that is) would not only see them qualify for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League but potentially progress as group winners, should Chelsea fail to beat Atletico at Stamford Bridge. All to play for at the Stadio Olimpico then as the Italian giants take on a side they beat 2-1 in Azerbaijan in September, with Dzeko on the scoresheet. The former Manchester City frontman – who was on target again in Roma’s 3-1 victory over SPAL on Friday – is outscoring Lionel Messi in #UCLFantasy this season, with three goals and an assist from his five appearances to date. How motivated their opposition will be is questionable, having already been eliminated from the Champions League and denied even a chance to drop into the Europa League by Atletico’s 2-0 over Roma in Matchday 5. Roma are unbeaten in Europe at home and yet to concede a goal – this is surely as close as any midweek fixture is to being a banker ‘home win’.
Sadio Mané — Liverpool — Forward — €8.9m — Spartak Moscow (home - Wednesday)
Take your pick from Liverpool’s plethora of attacking options for this winner-takes-all fixture against Spartak. Sevilla’s last-gasp equaliser a fortnight ago denied the Reds the chance of a breather in Matchday 6 (a win would have seen them through as group winners) and even raises the possibility of Liverpool missing out on the round of 16 altogether. Only a win will do for the Russians, while a draw will definitely see Jurgen Klopp’s side through – but it’s unlikely the gung-ho German will try and grind out a tense 0-0 at Anfield. Only PSG (24) have scored more goals than Liverpool’s 16 in the Champions League this season and the Reds’ aggregate total of 266 fantasy points ranks them third, above the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United.
Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino have all accrued more #UCLFantasy points than Mané this season (as have budget buys Alberto Moreno and Trent Alexander-Arnold, for that matter), though the Senegalese forward did miss the back-to-back spankings of Maribor through injury. What perhaps tips the balance in Mané’s favour this week is not only his price (at €8.9m, he’s cheaper than the three other aforementioned attacking options) but also his benching in Liverpool’s 5-1 win at Brighton on Saturday. Klopp has made more changes to his starting XI than any other Premier League manager this season and maybe only Mané is assured of a start on Wednesday, having sat out the entire 90 minutes at the Amex Stadium. In the three Champions League group games he has featured in this season, Mané has returned attacking points in all of them.
Dries Mertens — Napoli — Forward — €10.0m — Feyenoord (away - Wednesday)
So thrilling to watch this season, Napoli are improbably facing an early exit from the Champions League before the knockout stages have even begun. Only a win in the Netherlands will do for Maurizio Sarri’s side, who also have to hope Manchester City can defeat Shakhtar in Ukraine. Mertens is Napoli’s leading #UCLFantasy points scorer with two goals and three assists, plus a penalty earned in his side’s potentially damaging Matchday 1 defeat in Donetsk. Mertens also missed from the spot at the Etihad in October; had that gone in, the Belgian forward would have now been averaging six #UCLFantasy points per game. Only 1% of managers own Mertens, who also has ten goals in Serie A to his name this season, which positions him very much in the differential bracket for those looking for ways to reel in the early #UCLFantasy pacesetters. Mertens also has form against Feyenoord – he recorded a goal and an assist in the reverse fixture in Naples in September.
Fernando Llorente — Tottenham — Forward — €7.2m — APOEL (home – Wednesday)
Hear this one out. Yes, he’s got more yellow cards than goals this season. Yes, he’s actually yet to score in a Tottenham shirt. Yes, he’s only started one Champions League game in 2017-18. Yes to the many, many reasons why this man shouldn’t be anywhere near your team, let alone the captain’s armband. But following the smash success of this tipster’s previous captaincy punt ahead of Matchday 5 (Zlatan Ibrahimovic = 1 point), Spurs’ misfiring Spaniard gets the maverick’s nod this time. Tottenham are guaranteed top spot in Group H and Mauricio Pochettino will surely rotate on Wednesday evening, with eight games to contest between now and January 2nd. Harry Kane in particular is a strong candidate to be rested for this encounter with APOEL, whom Spurs defeated comfortably 3-0 in Cyprus in September. Standing to benefit from Kane’s possible absence is Roberto Soldado 3.0 (Vincent Janssen of course being the second incarnation), who may never get a better chance to break his duck. Should you captain him? Emphatically, no. Has this waffle taken me beyond the 1,500-word count? Yes it has.