Halfway through the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League group stage and English clubs couldn’t be in a better position to qualify for the tournament’s knockout rounds. The five participating Premier League teams all top their groups with a combined record of P15, W11, D4, L0. Any #UCLFantasy manager astutely backing assets from Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham have been amply rewarded after three group games; John Stones and Harry Kane (26 points apiece) are the game’s highest-scoring players so far, while four of the five teams to have registered the most aggregate points are Premier League sides – only PSG (216) have racked up more than Man City (183), Man Utd (172), Chelsea (164) and Liverpool (158).
Over-thinking, under-performing European football hipsters everywhere will at this stage wonder why they bothered logging Qarabag FK’s pre-season possession statistics as they gaze up at the casuals sitting atop their mini-leagues, their lazily assembled squads crammed with names your gran has heard of and indiscriminately selected bench filler.
Indeed, #UCLFantasy’s leading point scorers to date are largely who you’d expect to find in the average pubescent gamer’s FIFA ’18 Ultimate Team.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo? Check. Kylian Mbappé, Edinson Cavani and Neymar? Mais oui.
The game’s three most-selected assets are, unsurprisingly, Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. Owning one or two (if not all) of these marquee players is perhaps a must for every #UCLFantasy side, if only for the very real fear that Barcelona, Real Madrid and/or PSG will run riot and the tireless/tiresome trio – each of whom is owned by at least 40% of managers – will post a double-digit score in the process, leaving non-owners with a sizeable deficit to make up on many of their private league rivals.
As every fantasy player knows though, in order to accommodate the big hitters, sacrifices must be made elsewhere. Defences will be cobbled together on a shoestring, benches filled with €4.0m-rated fodder. So, where are the bargains to be found that can enable such a costly forward line?
Around a third of #UCLFantasy managers have already cottoned on to the bargain that is Alphonse Areola. The PSG keeper, originally undervalued at €4.5m, has started all of his team’s group games so far, registering three consecutive clean sheets and racking up five save points in the process. Shakhtar’s Andriy Pyatov and FC Basel’s Tomáš Vaclík (both priced at €5.0m) are differential bargains in the goalkeeping department, though it’s hard to make a case for anyone other than Areola on form and cost.
It is noticeably in defence where value appears to be this season. Eight of the top ten #UCLFantasy assets ranked by points per million (PPM) are defenders, three of whom have been ever-present in front of the aforementioned Areola for the miserly (in shipping goals, if nothing else) Group B leaders (Marquinhos, Dani Alves and Layvin Kurzawa). Despite their impressive PPM classification, the PSG trio, along with John Stones and his erstwhile teammate Aleksandar Kolarov, are all priced up at €5.5m or above – something approaching ‘premium’ cost for defenders.
For the manager who loves the #UCLFantasy equivalent of a yellow stickered in-store bakery item, Liverpool’s full-back pairing of Alberto Moreno (€4.5m) and Trent Alexander-Arnold (€4.0m) have posted noteworthy scores and demand precious little investment. Rotation is a constant worry with Jürgen Klopp, but Moreno has played the full 270 minutes of the Reds’ Champions League group games to date and Alexander-Arnold has himself started two of those three matches.
Nailed-on bargains may be few and far between, but Basel’s Manuel Akanji (€4.5m) has started all three of the Swiss champions’ group games so far and a forthcoming home game against CSKA Moscow (whom Basel defeated 2-0 in Russia just two weeks ago) could well see Manchester United’s Group A rivals record back-to-back clean sheets. Akanji’s teammate Éder Balanta (also priced at €4.5m) has an identical PPM of 2.67, but was benched for his side’s 0-0 draw at FC Zurich on Saturday. The Colombian centre-back may well be recalled for Tuesday night’s game, the scheduling of which allows for some last-minute squad rejigging should he be included in Basel’s starting XI.
Further forward, Quincy Promes’s 18-point haul in Spartak Moscow’s surprise 5-1 thrashing of Sevilla will have renewed interest in the €7.1m-rated Dutch winger, who posted the biggest individual score of matchday three.
Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich (€7.6m) has scored 20 points thus far, finding the net for the German champions in home games against Celtic and Anderlecht – whom Bayern face return fixtures against in the next two gameweeks.
In attack, Dimitri Oberlin’s restricted pitch time is perhaps a good enough reason to stay clear of the Basel striker despite his impressive PPM of 3.00. Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder is the stand-out budget striker option, the French forward notching four times in three UCL group games and on target again at the weekend in Sevilla’s 2-1 win over Leganes.
A Big Keith-style word of warning for the bargain-hunters though; the first #UCLFantasy price rises of the season took effect after the completion of matchday three, meaning balancing and budgeting your squad has just become that little bit more difficult.
Still scratching your head? Go where the points are:
Group B (PSG, Bayern, Celtic and Anderlecht) has seen the most fantasy points (520) scored to date, perhaps unsurprising given that all six group games have resulted in thrashings of 3-0 or more. Despite having the joint-lowest number of goals scored up to and including matchday three, Group C (Chelsea, Roma, Qarabag and Atletico Madrid) follows next on 497 points.
With only two clean sheets and an absence of real shellackings, the obligatory Group of Death (Real Madrid, Spurs, Dortmund and APOEL) trails the other groups in last place.
A team-by-team breakdown of the groups shows how said points have been divided up:
One final factor to consider in planning ahead is who will have nothing to play for in matches five and six of the UEFA Champions League group stage. An incredible 11 teams can seal their places in the round of 16 tonight or tomorrow, leaving the very real prospect of multiple dead rubbers with two group games still to play. A counter-argument to this is that clubs will still want to assure progress to the knockout stages as group winners to ensure a favourable draw in the last 16 (or in the case of the eliminated sides, attempt to finish third to drop into the Europa League), but the potential for squad rotation nevertheless increases as the group stage approaches its climax.
Be sure to check out our live #UCLFantasy matchday 4 text feed from 16:00 onwards today, for team news beforehand and goal/assist updates during matches. Of course, we'll throw a bucketload of stats at you in-between all that!