When all six of the Premier League clubs active in the Champions League and the Europa League this season qualified for the respective tournament’s knock-out stages, reactions could be largely divided into two groups: those from a non-fantasy perspective and those from an FPL point of view. The former group felt its excitement about the possibility of a second consecutive all-English Champions League final grow immediately. The latter group though mainly saw the ghosts of even more rotation, injury risk and simply more casino-like unpredictability appear above their already fragile gameweek planning for the coming months tempting some to turn to gaming at playzee casino. So now that the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 and the returns of the Europe League Round of 32 have been played, we are taking a quick look at the current situation of each Premier League club in European football’s most important tournaments and its respective impact on the remainder of the Premier League season.
As it stands at the moment of writing, Manchester City are actually the only one of the four English teams in the Champions League not facing an uphill battle for their return match. The Cityzens were the only EPL side to win their encounter, thanks to two late goals (Gabriel Jesus and a De Bruyne penalty) in Madrid against Real. They already were the favourites to win this tie before the first leg started and those odds will only have increased after Wednesday’s result. At the same time, Pep’s men are still in contention for the two domestic cups as well. They are playing Villa in the League Cup final tomorrow (Sunday March 1st, 16h30 UK time) and visiting Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, March 3rd (19h45 UK time) in the FA Cup 5th Round. In other words, it looks like rotation galore at what is already the most rotation-prone side in the Premier League. We don’t know exactly what, when or how, but we know to keep City’s cramped schedule in the back of our heads when deciding on our FPL transfers.
Domestically, despite their blip against Watford yesterday, the Reds are displaying a kind of dominance that has rarely been seen in the English top flight. Until yesterday Jurgen Klopp’s side had not dropped a point in the Premier League since drawing 1-1 with Manchester United in October 2019 (18 consecutive victories, equalling Man City’s all-time record from 2017) but could not achieve an unprecedented nineteenth straight win at Watford on Saturday. In Europe , Liverpool lost 1-0 in Madrid to Atletico last week without managing a single attempt on target. They have the return at home to come still (March 11th) and we have all seen crazier comebacks at Anfield. On top of that, considering their 22-point lead in the Premier League, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Atletico return get prioritised by Klopp if needed. Liverpool’s prime focus will be on bringing home the first Premier League trophy in 30 years as soon as possible, which could be as early as end of March if they win all 3 EPL games between now and then. That’s about 2 weeks after the Atletico game at Anfield, so if they manage to eliminate the Spaniards, Jurgen Klopp’s focus could shift to the Champions League entirely. Our advice regarding Liverpool? Wait for upcoming double and blank gameweek news, and triple up on Reds assets at least until the title has been won.
In the Champions League, Chelsea’s situation after the first leg of the Round of 16 looks the worst out of all English contenders. The Blues faced German giants Bayern Munich at Stamford Bridge last Tuesday and the Bavarians harshly underlined the home team’s unpredictable form in front of their own fans: 0-3. Chelsea now need a 0-4 win or more to pass through to the quarter-finals, which is not impossible, but honestly, seems very unlikely. This is bad news for Chelsea fans, but better news for FPL managers. Frank Lampard’s men are in the middle of a battle for a top-4 finish with a bunch of strong sides, while this coming Tuesday sees them line up against Liverpool in the 5th Round of the FA Cup. We don’t think that Lampard would prioritise the FA Cup over the PL in any scenario, unless maybe a semi-final or final is concerned, but it could any way well be that the Premier League is all the Blues will have left to play for by the time the game has ended on Tuesday evening. Unless, of course, Chelsea kick Liverpool out of the FA Cup or come up with a legendary comeback against Bayern in Munich.
Like Liverpool and Chelsea, Spurs lost the first leg of their Champions League Round of 16 encounter, though against much less of a footballing household name. José Mourinho’s men welcomed Red Bull Leipzig to their new stadium and subsequently lost 0-1 to the energetic German outfit, courtesy of a Timo Werner goal. This is, of course, far from game over for Spurs, but it does complicate the matter of reaching the quarter-finals considerably. The North London outfit is far from the form that carried them all the way to the final of Europe’s most prestigious tournament last season and their lack of firepower is a huge concern. Mourinho, coach of the Champions League-winning Porto side in 2003/04, recently claimed that getting a top-4 classification this season would be the biggest achievement of his career, which makes us think that Premier League games will be prioritised at White Hart Lane if needed. More than that though, the real main question is whether you, as an FPL manager, want to invest in Spurs assets at all over the coming weeks.
With Arsenal, we have to what is probably the most disappointing story of a Premier League club in Europe this campaign. The Gunners qualified for the Europa League Round of 32 by finishing first in a group with Eintracht Frankfurt, Standard Liege and Vitoria de Guimaraes, but were kicked out of the tournament on Thursday by an Olympiakos goal in the very last minute of extra time. As a result, the Gunners have just the Premier League and the FA Cup, in which they face Portsmouth this coming Monday in the 5th Round, to fight for. As projections for next season are a bit bleak when looking at them from Arsenal’s current tenth place in the league (10 points behind 4th-placed Chelsea), it remains to be seen which route to Europe is considered most viable by manager Mikel Arteta: a top-4 Premier League finish or winning the FA Cup. We feel he should probably go all-in on both competitions, with prioritisation possibly taking place if the FA Cup semi-final or final is reached. In any case, their elimination from Europe reduces the rotation risk for the remaining Premier League games. Don’t forget though, that Arteta is generally not afraid to shake it up a bit.
Finally, there is Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are having another excellent season, both domestically and internationally. In the Europa League Round of 16, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side faced Spanish outfit Espanyol, who they beat 3-6 on aggregate. In the next round, Arsenal’s Greek heartbreakers Olympiakos are waiting. So far in Europe, Espirito Santo has rotated quite a bit, though he has always stuck to a foundation of first-eleven players, like Boly, Moutinho and Jimenez. Often, he would substitute three starters early on Thursday in preparation for the league game in the weekend. Wolves are one of the more consistent sides in terms of their starting eleven, which has been an FPL manager’s blessing, so we wouldn’t worry about them too much. It’s also worth mentioning that they are no longer active in the FA Cup. This means that they can focus everything on a top-6 finish (they are currently 1 point behind sixth-placed Tottenham) and a good run in the Europa League. Keep an eye on team news during Europa League weeks and your FPL Wolves should be fine.