A new year of Champions League football is upon us which provides an opportunity for redemption for Premier League clubs. Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Manchester United each find themselves in position to advance from the group stage and hopefully make some noise in knockouts though there would still seem to be a gap between them and the other super teams.
The beauty of the Champions League for daily fantasy purposes, however, is finding the diamonds in the rough from the teams from more obscure leagues. If we are to fit in the Messis and Ronaldos and Ibrahimovics we must find those values. That will be our goal. Let’s start by looking at each game.
Benfica v. FC Astana
The Portuguese champions return to Champions League hoping for better results than last term. Last year’s leading scorer Jonas was unavailable for Champions League play, so the hope is they will find more goals this time around. Argentinian winger Nicolas Gaitan will also help and they’ve added Mitroglou on loan from Fulham. One interesting player who flashed some quality last season is Brazilian starlet Anderson Talisca. If he starts he is an incredible value on Mondogoal. Benfica will certainly be a focus facing the overmatched Astana side.
Speaking of Astana, many congratulations are in order for the Kazak side making it this far. There is value in any team as Mondogoal will price players from lesser clubs accordingly. Two players we will keep on our radar are Canas and Dzolchiev. This is unlikely to be the match to use them but when in Kazakhstan keep those names close.
PREDICTION: Benfica are far too much for the Kazaks, 3-0.
Galatasaray v. Atletico Madrid
The Turkish champions feature several recognisable names that we will want to keep an eye on. Dutch national Wesley Sneijder has been a Galatasaray staple for years and is still playing well into his thirties and is in support of the Turk Yilmaz and none other than former Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski. When Astana comes calling we will certainly consider these players longer, but Atletico is not going to be a matchup to capitalise on.
Atletico Madrid return to Champions League following a heartbreaking loss against Barcelona on Saturday. The Atleti are just a year removed from being La Liga holders and Champions League finalists, so Simeone’s side must be taken seriously yet again. They sold Mandzukic but held on to Griezmann and the shock starter alongside is old friend Fernando Torres. Presumably Jackson Martinez or Vietto will ultimately start up top, and may be in the plans there in Champions League regardless, but we will just have to check lineups beforehand. Simeone’s calling card is his defence and Oblak is outstanding while Juanfran, Godin and former Chelsea fullback Filipe Luis will be strong options throughout group play.
PREDICTION: Atletico in a fairly comfortable 1-0 away win.
Manchester City v. Juventus
The hopes of a long knockout stage run may lie with City. Already a world class team, they bolstered their attack with Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne whilst also adding Otamendi at centre back. The group is difficult with Juventus providing the most direct challenge to finish top. There will be opportunities to use City players but against Juventus they just won’t be worth spending for due to other more favourable options.
Similarly, while we love the defending runners up Juventus, this is just not a place to use them. They waltzed to the Serie A title and will do so again this year, and were effective in replacing Carlos Tevez with the younger Paolo Dybala. They also added failed Chelsea experiment Juan Cuadrado and reliable striker Mario Mandzukic. The most impressive piece of business by far was keeping Paul Pogba in stripes for another season. Rumours suggest he’s off to Barcelona next summer but the Zebras wlll not mind having him in the fold.
PREDICTION: This may be a relatively dull match between two great teams not wanting to risk a loss in early group play, let’s call it 1-1.
Paris Saint-Germain v. Malmo FC
PSG are bored by Ligue 1 these days, but they will not find much of a challenge in Malmo either. Realistically we will be taking 4 PSG players on Mondogoal and hoping they are the right 4, as this won’t be a unique strategy. Angel di Maria was their large summer purchase and is being worked into the side after his prison sentence at Old Trafford. Ibrahimovic and Cavani remain strikers despite rumours to their leaving, and the blossoming midfielders Matuidi, Lucas Moura, Pastore and Verratti. It’s a crowded but deadly attack. The defence is no slouch either, particularly against a team like Malmo who are unlikely to muster a threat.
The Swedish champions return to the Champions League after a performance last year that netted 4 goals in 6 matches. Expecting anything better this time around is likely overly optimistic as they will find themselves significant underdogs across the board. It’s hard to envision a scenario where we’d buy Malmo players but if you’d like to chance it Rosenberg and Berget are their scorers.
PREDICTION: PSG should score at will, but what will that be? We’ll be slightly conservative in the group opener and say 4-0.
PSV Eindhoven v. Manchester United
An exciting run to the top of Eredivisie was met with the selling off of the stars that got them there, leaving PSV undermanned for their victory lap. Memphis will be wearing the red of Manchester United though one would assume a warm welcome to the club that he helped reach those heights. Georginio Wijnaldum left for Newcastle which, outside of his weekly paycheck, seems a step down. What’s left at PSV are a few goalscorers in striker de Jong and winger Narsingh. They could be worth a punt in a large field, but generally we will leave PSV alone in this spot.
Returning home to his youth club will be an emotional experience for Memphis but more importantly it will be a needed step down in class. His best performance in a United jersey came in Champions League Qualification against Club Brugge, something he hasn’t matched yet in the Prem. The narrative is strong, but it’s not a great matchup for Memphis or United as a whole. We’ll be more interested in buying when they are in the friendly confines of Old Trafford.
PREDICTION: Give Memphis a goal and a 2-1 United win.
Real Madrid v. Shakhtar Donetsk
By all accounts, Real disappointed with a runners up finish in La Liga and semifinal loss in Champions League. Not a bad season for most! But Real are not most clubs and brought in Rafa Benitez from Napoli to replace Ancelotti. Real did little business this summer but did cripple Porto by purchasing Danilo and bringing Casemiro back in from loan. Ronaldo, Bale, James, and Benzema will all be top of mind as we try to make the best team possible. Shakhtar are no pushover but that applies more to matches in their native Ukraine.
Shakhtar made a great run last season, ultimately bowing out to Bayern Munich in the round of 16 after a thrilling 0-0 first leg in the Ukraine. That success may have hurt them, however, as the attention ultimately had them sell stars Douglas Costa and Luiz Adriano. In later matches we will certainly be all over Alex Teixeira who has a stunning 9 goals in 7 league matches thus far. But away to Real is not one to focus on.
PREDICTION: Ronaldo just scored 5 goals which is frightening form for the Ukrainians to face, Real wins 4-1.
Sevilla v. Borussia Monchengladbach
Sevilla qualified for Champions League by way of winning the Europa League, something they’ve done in back to back seasons now. They have finished 5th in La Liga each of the past two seasons with their biggest weakness being stuck in a league with Barca, Real and Atletico. They were raided this summer by richer teams and have had trouble in their start to league play. Their best player is probably defensive midfielder Gregory Krychowiak, which does us little good in fantasy. Leading scorer Carlos Bacca was poached by AC Milan leaving a major void up top. They bought Ciro Immobile from Dortmund and Fernando Llorente from Juventus, though expecting comparable goals seems optimistic. On top of all this they are in the toughest group. But at home to Monchengladbach they are favoured and in play, so we will take a deeper look.
For the past several years Borussia Monchengladbach has troubled statisticians by dramatically overperforming expected goals numbers. This season that has all come crashing down as they have lost each of their 4 Bundesliga matches in convincing fashion. Max Kruse was snapped up by Wolfsburg after they lost Kevin de Bruyne, though they do return leading scorer Raffael. One name that will be familiar to Premier League followers is Hazard, which belongs to Thorgan Hazard, Eden’s 22 year old brother. He signed a permanent deal with Gladbach after his loan stint away from Chelsea. Gladbach are a firm 4th in the group, however, so finding spots to use any of their players will be rare.
PREDICTION: Gladbach’s Bundesliga troubles carry over as home side Sevilla wins 2-0.
Wolfsburg v. CSKA Moscow
Just when they thought it was safe to come outside, Kevin de Bruyne was finally swiped from their hands. While this was no doubt a devastating blow, Wolfsburg moved quickly to buy Julian Draxler and Max Kruse who will help them survive the loss. Max Dost, or as some refer to him the ‘Dutch Harry Kane’, continues to lead the line and find the net. Former Chelsea winger Andre Schurrle will feature and if we find ourselves in need of a pricey defender then Ricardo Rodriguez fits the bill.
One favour the Russians have done us is not playing a home match to start Champions League, as their time zone forces an earlier start. With no late swap and a slew of mysterious teams that makes for a nightmare! That won’t be the case here though CSKA offer little by way of fantasy help anyhow. If our hands our forced, most likely in Moscow at a later time, the Nigerian Musa and Russian Dzagoev will be in consideration.
PREDICTION: Wolfsburg are still incorporating new parts and slip to a 1-1 home draw.