Stag’s Take – World Cup Round 1
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse Stag;
The fixtures were hung by the tele with care,
In hopes that Thursday soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of golazos danced in their heads…..
The World Cup has finally arrived after four short years! We’ve already had the customary pre-tournament bust-up to get things going, with Spain’s Lopetegui joining Cameroon 2014, France 2010, and Ireland 2002 to name but a few. This article will be short, quickly explaining the justifications I have for every pick in my squad for this edition’s fantasy game. Of course, I reserve the right to make changes to this team before the deadline on Thursday at 1700 CET, 1600 London/Dublin/Casablanca, 1200 ET – any changes will be mentioned over on my FPL Stag Twitter feed.
I will mention features of the game like Boosters and Substitutions in this article. If you don’t know what they are, I advise you to read my World Cup Fantasy tactics article which I published over the weekend. There you will have everything I could think of explained to you in just over 1,000 words.
Right, let’s get on with the reason you clicked on this article – the team.
Willy Caballero (5.0) – Argentina
Just under three short months ago, I watched Spain maul Argentina live in the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid and I thought to myself “well I certainly won’t be putting any of that team in my side”. It’s funny how pricing and timing can change a lot.
The Argentina side that goes to this World Cup has very little going for it save for the presence of a small man in the number 10 jersey, and under current coach Jorge Sampaoli, their defence hasn’t been at all dependable. They had the second best defence in CONMEBOL qualifying, even though they scraped through, conceding 16 goals in 18 games, but that doesn’t relay to you that only Nicolas Otamendi is a top class player of their expected back four. Fazio, the Spurs reject, will partner Ota. Mercado of Sevilla should start on the right, with Tagliafico of Ajax on the left flank (incidentally he is a good entry into the Argentine defence at 4.5 too). All that said and done though, after a few weeks in camp with Sampaoli, known for being tactically astute, I am optimistic that at least one clean sheet will come from games against Iceland, Croatia, and Nigeria. There are few options at goalkeeper for good sides who come in at better value than Caballero.
Francis Uzoho (4.0) Nigeria
If you’ve been following the development of fantasy teams online in recent days or weeks, you’ll know that Uzoho has been a favourite from the start. The reason is simple: value. Uzoho is the only starting ‘keeper to come in at 4.0. The pricing in this game has made making a balance team very difficult – saving budget for elsewhere seems essential.
Thomas Meunier (6.0) Belgium
Belgium’s golden generation qualified for the World Cup by topping their weak group with ease, conceding just six goals. They qualified against teams of similar quality to Panama and Tunisia (maybe you would say England also if you’re part of the no hope brigade), these Red Devils don’t struggle in against the small sides. Perhaps the same could be said of Thomas Meunier’s clubs PSG, or Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku… I digress.
Although Meunier is a right-back generally, he actually player much further forward for the national side under Roberto Martinez – think about how the Spaniard used Baines and Coleman at Everton, the formula hasn’t changed much. Thus even at 6.0, an OOP (out-of-position) defender of Meunier’s class with good clean sheet potential shouldn’t be ignored. Vying with the Belgian for my designated premium defender slot was Joshua Kimmich of Bayern and Germany. The quality of Belgium’s group shaded the decision for me, although Kimmich provided a lot of assists for the national team in qualifying and he looked very capable in offence in Champions League games this season.
Miranda (5.5) Brazil
Brazil are the favourite for the World Cup, and deservedly so as they have one or two world class players in every position and have the form to match it. Miranda the cheapest nailed-on entry into their backline, who face Switzerland, Costa Rica, and Serbia in the opening stage of the competition.
Marcelo is of course an enticing prospect on the left wing for the Brazilians, but his premium price was a bit hefty to justify at 6.5. There is doubt about whether Thiago Silva or Marquinhos will partner Miranda. The right berth has become a selection minefield since Dani Alves was ruled out of the tournament, with both Danilo and Fagner battling for the nod. I like to reduce selection uncertainty in my fantasy team, this choice reflects that.
Lucas Hernandez (5.0) France
The Atleti left-back has come into fantasy focus recently as Man City’s Benjamin Mendy has failed to ward off doubts about the injury which ruined his debut season in the Premier League. Whilst he is unlikely to play all three group games, a starting French defender at such a good price can’t be turned away.
In spite of his young age, just 22, Hernandez has earnt a starting berth in Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid team which is known for its strength at the back. What he lacks is returns or threat like Mendy in an attacking sense. However, the clean sheet potential is very high for Hernandez in game one against Australia and afterwards against Peru and Denmark if the chance arrives.
Benjamin Pavard (4.5) France
Mathieu Debuchy, remember him (?), is apparently waiting on standby to come into the France squad to replace Djibril Sidibe, France’s de facto left-back who is on the verge of going home due to a meniscus injury suffered playing for Monaco in April. Regardless, Sidibe has already been ruled out of France’s date with the Socceroos on Saturday, with bargain Benjamin Pavard of Stuttgart expected to start in his place. A reported line-up from French outlet L’Equipe has backed up this suspicion further.
If I thought the Hernandez option was good at 5.0, I needn’t say much more about Pavard, only to say that France have a great chance of going all the way in Russia and that is as much down to a solid defence as it is to their decorated attack.
Guillermo Varela (4.5) Uruguay
Uruguay, along with hosts Russia, have been drawn in what fivethirtyeight class as “The Easiest In Modern World Cup History”. As by far the most outstanding side in Group A which also contains Saudi Arabia and Egypt, you cannot swerve the former Manchester United man.
Other good options at the bargain price aside from the aforementioned Tagliafico are Kudriashov (Russia), Dalsgaard (Denmark), and Sakai (Japan, 4.0).
James Rodriguez (9.0) Colombia
James was the star of the last World Cup, with four goals, and he has enjoyed a decent season for Bayern this term which leads me to hope he can replicate those fine performances at this year’s tournament.
Colombia’s recent form hasn’t been good in their most recent two games where they played out scoreless draws against Australia and Egypt, however they had the Midas Touch just days before that draw with the Aussies when they beat France 3-2 in Paris back in March. I’m hoping that Los Cafeteros can show that promise again in their group with Japan, Colombia, and Senegal.
Christian Eriksen (9.0) Denmark
Eriksen’s presence in my team is largely down to life experience. Back in November, Eriksen was responsible for dashing my dreams of following Ireland to the World Cup, as his hat-trick contributed to a 5-1 demolition of the Boys in Green in Dublin in a playoff.
After that game, Eriksen’s form for country never tailed off. He has nine goals and five assists in his last nine outings for the national team. In those games the Danes scored 21 times, highlighting his overall importance to the team. In this sense he’s comparable to Gylfi Sigurdsson when he was at Swansea – you just can’t avoid him. Denmark have a good chance of advancing from their group, but will need to edge games with sides of similar quality. Eriksen won’t be fazed by the occasion.
Younes Belhanda (5.5) Morocco
Belhanda comes in at decent value for a starting central attacking midfielder. He will be in my side for at least one game, The Atlas Lions’ showdown with Iran, though it remains to be seen whether or not he will remain beyond that.
Belhanda was once considered to be one of Europe’s hottest talents when he enjoyed a breakthrough winning season with Montepellier as they won Ligue 1 almost a decade ago. Since then, he has journey throughout Europe as his star faded, and now lines out for Galatasaray in Turkey. This tournament represents a chance for him to restart his career, I’m playing the odds that he will take it to save money for a big forward line.
Mateus Uribe (5.5) and Carlos Sanchez (4.5) Both Colombia
If Colombia’s midfield dominates a game, I’ll be smiling from ear to ear. More by consequence of pricing than anything, I find myself with a trio of Colombians in my midfield. Sanchez is a watercarrier defensive midfielder who is unlikely to deliver many points but should play 90 minutes in all three group games. Uribe is expected to start by may not, however he is quite an attacking player and represents good value amongst the other 5.5 mids.
I’ve funded a big name frontline…
Antoine Griezmann (10.0) France
France’s starting forward is outstanding value at 10.0. Mbappe is a doubt for the first game with injury, Giroud hasn’t played much as is no way as prolific as Griez, and Dembele doesn’t score the goals to justify inclusion.
Griezmann was the top scorer at Euro 2016, and had an outstanding second half of the season for Atleti which is expected to earn him a move to Barcelona in the wake of this tournament. Easy decision.
Romelu Lukaku (10.0) Belgium
The Belgian talisman’s form wavered for Manchester United this season, but he has done well in front of goal for his national side in friendlies ahead of this tournament, scoring twice against Costa Rica and once against Egypt.
As with Meunier earlier, the fixtures are just too good to ignore with Rom. Had I two million more, I’d make an effort to fit in the prolific Brazilian Neymar though.
Leo Messi (12.0) Argentina
Messi, possibly the greatest player to grace the game, has one tournament to rid himself of the torment of losing the 2014 final and the following two Copa Americas. He is essential to Argentina in spite of their wealth of talent up front, scoring the vast majority of their goals over the last few years. His first game of the tournament comes against Iceland, whose defence has been shaky in recent friendlies. I may swap him for Neymar afterwards, but the GOAT has one game at least to lead my team to a good score.
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.