Champions League – Wake up around favorites
We have reached the end of the European football season business, friend. The Champions League quarter-final starts this week, and half of the remaining eight teams come from the English Premier League: Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.
Barcelona and Juventus, league leaders in the Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A, also advanced to this stage. The last two teams remaining are Ajax, currently top of the Dutch Eredivisie, and Porto, currently second in the Portuguese League Primeira.
The two-legged quarter-final will take place over the next two weeks, and both legs will count as one round in the format of ESPN Champions League fantasy. So, you might want to build your fantasy line around players from favorites to advance to the semifinals.
That is especially true in this round, because there are no close calls – at least according to bets. Every quarter-final battle has a significant favorite and a pretty heavy underdog.
Barcelona is actually the smallest favorite of the four, facing Manchester United. But that won’t stop me from making my Lionel Messi go forward and become captain. He has been the best player in Europe so far this season, with 33 goals and 12 assists in 29 La Liga appearances, averaging nearly twice as many fantasy points per match as other players in the league.
Messi also has eight goals and three assists in six Champions League appearances. Only Robert Lewandowski has many goals, in two more appearances for Bayern Munich who are now eliminated.
Manchester United have improved under new manager Ole Gunnar Skolskjaer, but they are still sixth in the country, and not a strong defensive team – they conceded 43 goals in 32 Premier League matches. I hope Barcelona go forward, and Messi performs very well in the process.
Manchester City are the biggest or second biggest favorites to progress to the semifinals, according to online opportunity makers I check regularly. They are involved in an all-Premier League fight against Tottenham.
These teams are in second and third place, respectively, in England. But there was a wide gap between them. Man City are just two points behind Liverpool, and have a game in hand. Tottenham are 16 points behind Man City.
These teams have only played once so far this season, Man City’s 1-0 win at Wembley Stadium on October 29. Riyad Mahrez scored, but he is the most reserve player this year.
Raheem Sterling provided an assist on Mahrez’s goal, and more importantly he became one of the best players in the Premier League this season. Sterling has 15 goals and nine assists in 28 appearances, and the third in the league in fantasy points per match.
Sterling is also in good condition lately, with four goals in four appearances (the Premier League and Champions League) since the beginning of March, and he is also in good condition against Tottenham – he scored three goals and made 11 shots in City’s Man Two match against Tottenham last season. Sterling will be my Tier 1 midfielder this week.
Level 2 talk
Liverpool are also widely expected to progress to the semifinals – they are the second biggest or biggest favorite, depending on where you get your chance. That should come as no surprise considering they faced Porto, who they beat 5-0 on aggregate in the Round of 16 this year.
Roberto Firmino scored one of the goals in Liverpool’s 5-0 win at Porto in the first leg (the second leg was a goalless draw), and took six team high shots in the match.
Firmino has a relatively calm fantasy season, but he picked it up lately, with three goals and two assists in four Premier Leagues starting in early March. He only had two goals in eight Champions League appearances, but became a superstar in this competition last year, with 10 goals and seven assists in 13 appearances.
I think Firmino is the best option in Tier 2 attackers, mainly because 10 of the 16 players available come from four underdogs.
However, I can go with players from one of the underdogs in the Tier 2 midfielder. That’s how good Judge Ziyech is for Ajax this season.
Ziyech has 15 goals and 10 assists in 24 Eredivisie appearances. He only has two goals and one assist in seven Champions League appearances, but Ziyech has taken at least five shots in six of the seven matches, so he has a fantasy-wise floor.
The problem is, Ziyech will fight Juventus, who have conceded 20 league goals in 31 matches in Serie A, and only six goals in eight Champions League matches. That’s why I’m not 100 percent sold at Ziyech.
Fortunately, the first leg of Ajax-Juventus was not until Wednesday – the same day as the first leg of Manchester United-Barcelona. So I will wait until Wednesday, to see the status of Ousmane Dembele for Barcelona.
Dembele has been ruled out with a hamstring injury, but was trained on Monday and has been included in the Barcelona squad which travels to Manchester. He has three goals and one assist in six Champions League appearances this season, and I would consider choosing Dembele over Ziyech if he starts on Wednesday.
Sergio Busquets, Barcelona (Tier 3 midfielder): He has started seven of the eight Barcelona Champions League matches so far, and has finished with double numbers in points five times. Busquets does not provide many advantages, but has a very high floor, an average of 79.6 passes per game in the seven starts.
Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool (Tier 1 defender): He is a leading defender in the Premier League, averaging 13.4 points per game – more than two points from Barcelona’s Jordi Alba in La Liga. Van Dijk finished second after graduating domestically, and Liverpool dominated possession against Porto last season – 64.9 percent at home, 55.3 percent at home.
Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus (Tier 2 defender): He has started all eight Juventus Champions League matches so far, and finished with double numbers in points six times (and with 9.9 and 9.1 points in the other two matches). Bonucci has a solid floor, averaging 65.8 passes per match in the Champions League, and 50.4 passes per match in Serie A.
Alisson, Liverpool (Goalkeeper): He leads the Premier League with 17 clean sheets, and Liverpool conceded 20 goals in 33 league matches. Porto could not score on two legs against Liverpool last season, and although Alisson hasn’t joined Liverpool, he is still the most attractive choice at the goalkeeper this week.