Stag’s World Cup Take – Round 3
The twists and turns of the 2018 World Cup have almost wound to the first halving of the 32 participants at the end of the group stages. Some teams are through and ready to rotate, some teams find themselves in a precarious three-way battle for two berths, and others have already check-in for their flights home. That said, there’s very few exceedingly attractive games in the forthcoming round, which may give scope for a few risky transfers, or even a full Wildcard.
The Wildcard option
There are quite a few compelling reasons to use the Wildcard ahead of Round 3, and you’ll see plenty of teams on fantasy football forums and social media taking the option. The most obvious reason is that you have a great chance to catch up with those who have streaked ahead of you courtesy of Ronaldo and/or Kane hat-tricks and free-scoring Russians. Tom from the Who Got the Assist podcast put it succinctly: “Basically it’s a free hit.” Remember, we have unlimited transfers to fix our squads for the knockout rounds anyway.
There’s a tactical aspect to the Free Hit style wildcard too. People like me will struggle on with flaws in my squad whereas you have a chance to get ahead with a clear-out and adapt to form earlier.
Roberto Martinez’s press conference after Belgium’s win over Tunisia was a timely reminder that injuries do cause teams problems at World Cups, and can riddle fantasy sides. The Belgian manager is promising “major changes” for his side’s final group game against Gareth Southgate’s Three Panama Canal navigating Lions with injuries potentially ruling Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, and Dries Mertens out of the tie. Add to that inevitable resting from other sides like Croatia, Uruguay (if leaks are correct Varela won’t be start), France, and smattering of others.
There is the other side of the coin too. I’m not wildcarding in case I need to fix up my squad if a lot of my players go out in the knockout stages. Ten of my eleven in round two returned points this week, and I don’t have chronic injury issues plaguing me either. At maximum, I’ll take one hit to make changes whereas it’s conceivable that I could use my wildcard to escape a -8 or more.
Chasing form and progression
As with my column ahead of the last round of fixtures, the easiest way of going through teams is to go group by group.
The host side are much more interesting to me than Uruguay, who as I said are likely to rotate according to reports. Cheryshev, Golovin, and Dzyuba all look great so far, especially for wildcarders. Surely Russia’s defence will be exposed by the South American side at least once. The Uruguay side have been unconvincing in attack and now fears about entering their solid defence mean the team are unattractive.
Spain, Portugal, and Iran are all in the hunt to escape this group but Carlos Queiroz will need to deeply upset his homeland if he’s to extend his stay in Russia. Ronaldo, obviously, stands out for Portugal whilst nobody else does. On paper at least, Iran v Portugal is the biggest mismatch of the round and with game falling so early giving Ronaldo the armband looks like a no-brainer. Spain haven’t been terrible, and yet they have come nowhere near to matching their position as bookies’ favourite.
Morocco crashing out of the World Cup with zero points would be a travesty. I’d be surprised if they rolled over for their closest European neighbours. Spain’s defence could be breached. Diego Costa is the standout option though Silva and especially Isco are improving.
Les Blues’ expected line-up signals the removals of Lloris, Pavard, Umtiti, Pogba, and Mbappe from their team. That may not be accurate, but the scale of the upheaval may well be accurate. Australia and Denmark are still in with a fighting chance of progressing and Christian Eriksen is running the show. With France up next, Denmark’s relatively stable defence isn’t worth investment but perhaps the Socceroos’ will clean up against Peru.
Croatia will rotate, so start thinking about who you’ll sign from the Balkan state in the knockout rounds (hint: Luka Modric). Ahmed Musa’s fine finishing against Iceland could certainly be repeated against Argentina, and may well put pay to Messi’s World Cup dream. Only Messi seems like a good move from La Albiceleste. I don’t see Iceland competing with a second string Croatia team. They are set up to nick a 1-0 win and no more. When they go down, they offer very little.
The mooted bans to Switzerlands’ star players damages their attraction ahead of their final group game against Costa Rica. A ban for Shaqiri may pave the way for Embolo to snatch a starting role or a longer period on the pitch for Breel Embolo, a player who I think looked fantastic when given a chance against Serbia. The Swiss defenders should definitely be in line to get into a wildcard defence. 4.5m man Manuel Akanji is your best bet.
Phil Coutinho again found his way onto the scoresheet for Brazil, supplying the magic to pull three points from a dour display against Costa Rica. Neymar’s nerves may have been settled by his goal against the Caribbean nation though and perhaps he can build on that against Serbia. Kolarov is a great addition to any fantasy team because of his set pieces and up front Mitrovic is getting great positions but lacking the clinical touch apart from his one header. He could be in contention for the Golden Boot if he’d taken a few of the clear cut chances that came his way.
Group F is a minefield. Last week I pointed out the Toni Kroos looked like Germany’s most promising attacking outlet in an overly ponderous team and his free-kick against Sweden highlighted that very fact. Julian Brandt’s introduction on the right wing and Werner’s move to the left definitely aided their cause and may be two of the changes made to the side by Lowe for their must-win game against South Korea on Wednesday.
Mexico are one of the form teams in the whole tournament, but Sweden’s staunch defence may cause their counterattacking team a bit of trouble. It will be one of the tensest games of the round as the Central American side still risk bowing out after two wins. Lozano, Vela, and Layun are flying for El Tri.
With Belgium’s injury problems it’s hard to make recommendations this far off their clash with England. With England, we’ll find out if the Panama performance was a sign of improvement overall or just playing against an inept team. Kane is the clear goalscorer with Lingard close behind in terms of the opportunities falling to him. Raheem Sterling’s World Cup is yet to catch fire.
Colombia are back! What a performance to knock Poland out of the tournament. James Rodriguez’s two assists were both exhibitions of staggering skill, Quintero racked up the points for a goal and an assist. Japan’s whole side have confounded expectations and continue to do so. It wouldn’t be a shock for them to beat the hapless Polish side comfortably. Colombia should beat Senegal too, though Mané will have to perform to drag his side through.
FPL Stag has just returned to Ireland after a semester studying abroad in Spain, whom he has adopted for the tournament. He produces weekly content on the Official Premier League fantasy football game throughout the season for Rotoworld.