As expected, with the Champions League knockout phase finally kicking off coming Tuesday, Fanteam has created another big-money tournament called the Champions League Knockout Freeze 100K. Yes, in case you were wondering, that “100K” refers to the total prize pool for this one, with the number one player taking home a whopping €25,000 at the end of this year’s Champions League season. We will briefly go over some of the game’s key characteristics before picking our 15-man squad.
First of all, this tournament is called a “Freeze”, because you will not be able to change anything about your team, once the deadline (set at 20h00 on Tuesday, February 18th) has passed. That means no more transfers, no more captain changes, no more changes to your bench, nothing. Each team consists of 15 players from the 16 teams still active in the Champions League, 11 of which are starters while the remaining 4 players form your bench. Like in FPL, the order of your bench matters when one or more of your players don’t start. Do keep this in mind, because in an ideal scenario, you are selecting players for 7 games (Round of 16 to the Final), spread over a few months time and it’s likely some of your players won’t start every game.
So, in that sense, it’s similar to the FPL approach, but without the possibility of interventions. As far as comparisons to Fanteam’s Weekly Monster go, it is very important to note that neither the Stacking Penalty (when points are deducted from clean sheet returns if you own more than one player from the team in question) nor the Safety Net (which automatically changes a player of yours that doesn’t start for the next-cheapest player in the same position bracket of the same team) are active. Here is a summary of the tournament rules:
As part of the preparation for the Champions League Knockout Freeze 100K, we will be publishing two pieces with recommended picks for a 15-man squad of which this article is the first and here is a link to the 2nd. For this piece, we have decided to take the odds* of qualifying for the next round of each team as a foundation for our team selection. After all, you want to have as many players that stay in the tournament as long as possible. For the second piece, we will be taking the odds into account as well, but we will be leaning more towards our own predictions and aiming at including more differential picks. To give an example: for the Real Madrid-Manchester City game, the bookies give odds of 17/10 and 5/9, respectively, but in our opinion, in current form, Real Madrid might actually be the slight favourite here. This type of perceptional differences will be reflected in the differences between this article’s team selection and the one for the next article.
*We have used the compounded odds for this market provided by oddschecker.com.
Current odds to qualify for the quarter finals
|Team||Odds to qualify||Team||Odds to qualify|
|Real Madrid||17/10||Manchester City||05/09|
This means that the 5 teams most likely to qualify for the quarter finals are, from most to least likely, Juventus, Bayern, Barcelona, Liverpool and PSG. Staying true to our chosen approach for our first team selection for the Champions League Freeze, we managed to squeeze in 12 players from these teams. Seeing as the favourites for qualification generally also boost the most expensive players, we have based our choices largely on two parameters, namely that the player needs to be a sure starter on a team that is heavy favourite to go through. In combination with our choice to go all-in on forwards, this approach can give you a more than decent 11, 12 players, but a relatively more fodder-like selection on the bench.
We usually start with our goalkeeper pick and work our way up the pitch, so to say, but seeing as just under 35% of our total 108m budget was spent on this line, we are starting with it this time. By picking Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo and Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski, we have gone with proven track records, to put it mildly. As a matter of fact, these three living legends take up three of the five spots in the all-time list of UEFA Champions League goalscorers (Ronaldo first with 128 goals, Messi second with 114 goals and Lewandowski fifth with 63 goals).
As far as this Champions League season goes, Lewandowski is top of the list with 10 goals in 6 games. Just like last year, he has the most goals behind his name after the tournament’s group stage. His next opponent is Chelsea, who have been generally good this season, but lacking defensive solidity from time to time. To give you an idea of their current situation: the Blues are placed fourth in the Premier League, but they have already conceded 34 goals in 25 games. Only one team in the top half of the table has conceded more so far (Everton, 38 goals).
Both Messi and Ronaldo have been relatively quiet during this campaign’s group stages with two goals a piece, but basically, that doesn’t necessarily say much. They are two of the best, if not the very best, players world football has ever seen and the knockout stages of the Champions League are what they live for. In the history of the Champions League, for example, they occupy positions 1 and 2 when it comes to goals scored in the Round of 16 (Messi with 26 goals and Ronaldo with 23). What’s more, when looking at the most goals scored in the CL knockout stages overall in history, Ronaldo is first (65 goals in 126 games) and Messi is second (41 goals in 112 games). Lewandowski is actually fourth, with 19 goals in 53 games.
What we are trying to say is that this is the type of player teams look to in the biggest games, because they know how to deliver and usually do so. With Messi facing Napoli, Ronaldo facing Lyon and Lewa facing Chelsea, we are not only hoping that they will return big for our team during the Round of 16, but until (much) later in the tournament as well.
Cristiano Ronaldo is our captain and Lewandowski our vice-captain.
It might feel a bit strange to start with our forwards and then continue with our defensive picks, but there is (some) logic to the madness. Picking Messi, Ronaldo and Lewandowski put some serious pressure on our budget, as it has left us with 70.5m to bring in 12 more players, with as many of those picks as possible coming from the previously mentioned bookies’ favourites. That’s an average of 5.8m budget per pick, which is not a lot.
Considering the relatively lower prices of defenders, we figured it would be necessary to pick a few defenders first, before moving on the midfield and the goalkeepers. We were planning to play with a 3-men defence, consisting of 2 premium picks, 2 from the category just below, and 1 cheap, but starting defender on the bench.
As premiums, we have gone with Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Bayern’s Joshua Kimmich, who are facing Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, respectively. The former is the reigning European champion’s captain and as nailed-on as they come, while the latter is versatile nailed-on starter who generally plays right-back, but is also posted on the midfield at times. In addition to that, he gets some set-piece duties as well. Atletico Madrid are struggling more than a bit in front of goal, which is underlined by the fact that only seven teams in the entire Spanish Primera Division have scored less than their 25 goals so far this season. Bayern opponent Chelsea finds the net a lot easier, but they also leave the back a lot more open and we expect Bayern to eliminate Lampard’s men over two games. Both Van Dijk and Kimmich should bring in some points this round and qualify for the quarter finals as well.
We were pleasantly surprised about Leonardo Bonucci‘s price tag, which placed him in the category just under the premium picks. In the long-term absence of Chiellini, the Italian veteran leads the Old Lady’s defensive line, which assures him of starts and usually 90 minutes of playing time. He was only left out of one group stage game, the last one against Leverkusen when Juve had already qualified for the knockout stages, and he played 90 minutes in the other five games. In those games, he recorded 2 clean sheets and received 1 yellow card, bringing him to 20 points on Fanteam and an average of 4 points per game played. Juventus are facing Lyon in the Round of 16 and we are hoping for another shut-out (or two!) for the reigning Italian champions.
Our final two defensive picks are PSG’s Marquinhos, who also plays in midfield at times, and our budget pick, Napoli defender Manolas. The former only missed 20 minutes of the group stage this season as he was taken off after 70 minutes in the first group game, while the latter missed 2 group games due to fitness issues, but played the full 90 minutes in the other 4 games. In other words, they are both nailed-on starters for their teams. Both are facing teams, Dortmund and Barcelona respectively, that on a good day can score a bunch of goals against any team in Europe, but the bookmakers feel PSG are favourites against Dortmund. They don’t in the case of Manolas and Napoli versus Barcelona, but when he was playing for AS Roma during the 2017/2018 season, it was the Greek’s header that sealed a historic comeback for the Italians and a dramatic exit for the Catalans. Who knows, maybe Napoli surprises the bookies and Manolas scores another winner. In any case, he is our fifth defender.
As a result of our approach so far, we needed to make some important concessions in midfield in order to make the budget fit. This has given us a very decent lineup consisting of starting eleven players from the favourites to qualify for the quarter finals, but not all of them are directly involved in their teams’ goals on a regular basis. Most of them are playmaking central midfielders, some of them with set-piece duties.
We’re starting with Miralem Pjanic, who missed just 3 minutes of Champions League group stage football for Juventus and averages 5.2 points on Fanteam this season. He has not scored or assisted yet in Europe this season, but the double encounter with Lyon might be a good chance for him to get off the mark. He is a crucial key in coach Maurizio Sarri’s midfield, he is on plenty of set-pieces, and he will be instrumental in their push for European glory this season.
From FC Barcelona, we have chosen two midfielders who should be assured of a starting spot in the games of the CL knockout stages. In a season full of turmoil for Barcelona at an executive level, to such an extent that the performances on the pitch seem to have suffered at times, new arrival Frenkie de Jong is a regular ray of light. The ex-Ajax man needed little to no time to convince everyone at the club that he is the present and future of their first team, but the question remains when the coach (first Valverde, now Sétien) stops moving him throughout the team and installs him in his preferred central midfield position. He has probably been Barcelona’s best player so far this season, behind Messi of course, and his protagonism in the team will only keep growing. Frenkie is mostly the playmaking midfielder, the man providing the pre-assist, but with the likes of Messi and Griezmann in front of you, he could be directly involved in a goal at any moment. Just check out his recent goal against Real Betis after a combination with Messi.
Our second Barça midfielder is Sergio Busquets, due to the combination of being a starting player at one of the favourites for not just their Round of 16 tie, but for the final victory, and his absolute bargain price tag. True, his performances in the Champions League have not been phenomenal so far this season, with an average of 70 minutes played and just 1.8 points recorded on Fanteam over this campaign’s six group stage games, but as a fifth midfielder on our bench, we could do much worse.
The remaining two spots in our midfield are being occupied by PSG’s Marco Verratti and Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson. With the Italian midfielder, we have selected another player who played 90 minutes in all but one group game (the last one, when PSG was already qualified). He has no direct goal involvements to his name so far, but he did record 4 clean sheets and an average of 3.7 points on Fanteam over 6 games. With Henderson then, we have gone for another team captain and one who has been in extraordinary form domestically of late. In FPL, he has scored an incredible 29 points over the past three gameweeks, courtesy of a probably unprecedented 2 goals, 2 assists and 2 clean sheets in three games. With the Reds currently 22 points ahead of number two Man City in the Premier League, we can see Henderson starting and completing every single Champions League game until they either get eliminated or consolidate their status as Champions League winners a second year in a row.
Finally, our goalkeepers. Due to extreme budget restrictions, we decided to go with one nailed-on starter, which meant an expensive pick, and one budget-enabling bench fodder kind of pick. Following this approach, we came up with a combination of Liverpool’s Alisson and Napoli’s reserve goalie, David Ospina.
The reasoning behind Alisson’s selection is very similar to that of Virgil van Dijk, in the sense that the Reds are facing an Atletico side with very little attacking threat in them. Besides that, he is the unchallenged number one between the posts and in case a situation occurs in this second half of the season in which Jurgen Klopp needs to pick a game to rest the Brazilian, the 22-point lead in the Premier League should lead to that game being a domestic one, not a European one. In other words, the Premier League’s best goalkeeper and one of the best goalkeepers in the world overall should be starting every CL knockout stage game as part of one of the most solid defensive units in European football.
As a result of that certainty (though nothing is ever completely sure in football), our second goalkeeper Ospina is not expected to play a single minute in this Champions League Freeze 100k tournament. He was the cheapest available keeper and allowed us to save another million or so to spend elsewhere in our team.
This team has been entered into the 25 euro FanTeam Champions League Freeze 100k and we hope to report back that we’ve shared in the 100,000 euros prize pool. You can also follow discussions about FanTeam games on FISO’s FanTeam Forum. FISO members could win free ‘Weekly Monster’ entries (worth 20 euros) via the FISO FanTeam forum. There are freerolls for new entrants if registered within the last 8 weeks. Read all about a fiso member who won 30,000 euros on FanTeam from just a 2 euro entry fee. FanTeam have also just launched a 500,000 euro Fantasy Premier League game.