From the importance of capitalising on the Wildcard and Limitless chips to being prepared to take a risk with choice of captain, the top ten Fantasy managers have plenty to teach the rest of us.
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Ahead of the 2023/24 UEFA Champions League knockout rounds, UEFA.com analyses the efforts of the top-performing managers on #UCLfantasy, presented by Playstation, and highlights some traits that may be useful for other managers to study as we approach the knockout stages.
The top ten worldwide managers come under focus as we identify some key elements of their success to date.
All managers in the top ten used their Wildcard during the group stage, taking advantage of what they deemed to be favourable fixtures for some key Fantasy assets.
The most popular days for playing this chip among the top ten managers was a tie between Matchday 3 and Matchday 6, with four managers apiece deploying it during these weeks. Matchday 3 has long been a popular time for the Wildcard as the first part of a fixture double-header for each team, while Matchday 6's popularity can be attributed to the fact that Fantasy assets from teams who still have something to play for can be targeted.
Interestingly, the average score of those who used the Wildcard on either Matchday 3 or Matchday 6 was lower than those who played it at another time. The only matchday when the Wildcard yielded an improved score was Matchday 5, although we are talking about a relatively small sample size.
For the second season in succession, no Fantasy managers in the top ten used the Wildcard on Matchday 4.
Four managers in the top ten chose to use their Limitless chip on Matchday 5, and to good effect. The average score for these managers during that matchday was 99.3, as opposed to an average of 88 from those who did not play a chip. Eighth-placed 'Juan Carlos Plaza', one of the Matchday 5 Limitless users, achieved a score of 111 points – more than any other top-ten manager during the group stage.
Like the Wildcard though, the Limitless users did not always benefit, as Matchday 4 was the only other time when the Limitless average exceeded that of the non-chip users.
Although there were some standout scores from those with impeccable timing, generally speaking the chips used in the group stage proved to be less powerful than in previous seasons, at least among the top ten. For Fantasy managers who are still armed with one of both of the chips, perhaps there will be better opportunities across the knockout stage to make use of them.
The split of captains between each position was identical this season compared to the same stage of 2022/23, with forwards finishing the matchday with the armband on 33 occasions, while midfielders were selected 24 times and defenders just three times by the top ten.
The largest consensus for a captaincy choice came on the very first matchday, with eight of the top ten opting for Jude Bellingham, who rewarded them with an 11-point return – the first of three double-figure hauls for the Real Madrid midfielder in the group stage.
Fantasy manager 'Xicobala' has enjoyed some hugely successful picks so far, racking up a total score of 166 captain points (when doubled) from six choices over the course of the group stage – more than anyone else in the top ten.
Perhaps the most telling statistic is the fact that 47 of the 60 selected captains were players who played on the Wednesday of a matchday. The fact that the elite managers settled for a Tuesday score on just 13 occasions shows that those willing to be brave often benefitted. With the round of 16 spread out over four different days, Fantasy managers will have plenty of opportunities to try and land on a significant points return from their captain.
With goalkeepers generally having a lower ceiling for points compared to other positions, elite Fantasy managers often choose to select budget-friendly shot-stoppers to free up funds for premium assets in other positions. This is evident from the top ten's selections, with Yann Sommer, Iñaki Peña, Sven Ulreich, Janis Blaswich and Álex Remiro all featuring prominently at various points of the group stage.
Including a mix of highly-owned players and differential assets is always sound advice when it comes to squad selection, and it is clear that the most successful managers so far this season have adopted that strategy. Popular picks such as Bellingham, Erling Haaland and Harry Kane were never far away from the top ten's matchday squads, while the likes of Brais Méndez, Leandro Trossard, Galeno and joint top-scorer Rasmus Højlund all produced significant returns for these Fantasy bosses in spite of their relatively small ownership at the time of selection. Clearly, a calculated gamble on occasion can reap great rewards.
Only time will tell if these ten Fantasy managers will continue in the upper echelons of the global rankings in the Champions League knockout stage, but their approach so far has clearly been successful and there are plenty of lessons from how they approach the game.