It’s Christmas for footy fans with the World Cup around the corner. 736 players will travel to Russia with hopes of hoisting the winner's trophy on July 15th and we’ll all be watching. But not only will we watch the games, we'll also be playing McDonald's World Cup Fantasy. If you need a rundown on the differences between World Cup Fantasy and traditional OFPL check out the article from Anthony O’Shea (more from him later) linked here.
In this series, Sean Sullivan, Anthony and I will be providing you with captaincy and budget options ahead of each round. That puts the schedule as:
Round 1: Thursday, June 14
Round 2: Tuesday, June 19
Round 3: Monday, June 25th
Round of 16: Saturday, June 30
Semifinals: Friday, July 6
Quarterfinals: Thursday, July 10
Final: Saturday, July 14th
The goal will be for these roundtable chats to be available in the evening before the next slate of games. But let’s get to it with my captaincy and budget pick for round one.
Captaincy pick: Romelu Lukaku, Belgium 10.0m
The one known as, “Big Rom” is in fine form for the Red Devils after scoring a brace in their final World Cup tune-up match versus Costa Rica. Lukaku also scored 11 goals in World Cup Qualifiers showing that he is ready to put on a show after a strong season for Manchester United. Belgium has an impressive group of attackers unlike any that Panama has seen since the 2016 Copa America and spoiler alert they lost a game 5-0 to Argentina followed up by a 4-2 loss to Chile. This could get ugly.
One thing that helps Lukaku is that playing alongside Dries Mertens in Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3 formation will only give him more space to operate in the center of the pitch due to his speed. Even if Eden Hazard misses out on the match it’s hard to see Belgium being held under four goals with Lukaku netting two.
Budget Pick: Lasse Schone, Denmark 5.5m
While Christian Eriksen is the star of the Denmark team, going into an important matchup with Peru, Schone will be one to watch. At a 5.5 million price tag, that can allow you the funds to fit someone like the aforementioned Romelu Lukaku into your side. Eriksen will pull defenses but it is the Ajax man who will be the key in unlocking defenses. Schone chipped in 10 goals and three assists over the course of the season and will need a few more if Denmark is to advance out of the group and beyond. With the capability to play in central midfield and on the wing, Schone will offer versatility and experience for a Danish squad that could make a dark horse run to the final eight at this World Cup.
Be sure to check out more on the world cup by checking into FPL 360!
Captain Pick: Leo Messi, Argentina 12.0m
This year’s fantasy World Cup gives us a plethora of huge options up front, with the crème de la crème of the best strikers mixed with the top attacking midfield talents. Few names stick out like this year’s top scorer in La Liga Lionel Messi at the highest and justified cost of 12.0.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is Argentina’s main goal threat in spite of their abundance of world-class strikers, as he exhibited in World Cup qualifying when he rescued them from doom with a hat-trick against Ecuador to pull his side back into a qualification berth at the final hurdle. This is surely Messi’s last chance to lead Argentina to World Cup glory after losing the final in Brazil in 2014.
Facing the Argentines in Round One of the group stage is Iceland. This Iceland team is not quite the tight side which defied expectations at Euro 2016, even if they conceded just seven goals en route to topping their qualifying group which included Croatia and Ukraine. They’ve leaked 11 goals in their last four friendlies against Mexico, Peru, Norway, and Ghana. No group topping team in qualifying scored less than Iceland’s 16 goals, which has seen their manager edge them into a more attacking formation than the 451 which got them to Russia – something akin to a 442. It has left them vulnerable, perfect for a player of Messi’s caliber who will punish any side who gives him any space.
Budget Pick: Younes Belhanda, Morocco 5.5m
A goal and an assist for Morocco’s Younes Belhanda in their final friendly game ahead of the tournament against Estonia cemented my view that the Galatasaray man is a steal at 5.5.
In this fantasy game, an “hourglass” approach with investment in forwards and midfielders appears to be the obvious route but trustworthy enables are hard to come by in the middle. The 28-year-old plays in an attacking midfield role for the Atlas Lions, and is nailed on to start in Round One against Iran. For both nations, a win is a must in the tie if they want to progress as they sit in a group with Iberian heavyweights Spain and Portugal, thus goals are likely to arrive. Belhanda rose to prominence as a driving force in the same Montpellier side as Olivier Giroud when they won Ligue 1 in 2012. In the number ten role, he scored 12 times in 28 games, making a marked contribution as a playmaker too. Since that breakout season, his career has meandered eastwards to Ukraine, Germany, back to France, and now Turkey where he scored on average of every ten games in the top flight this season.
Belhanda is a budget player seemingly in good form whose career has been threatening to peter out if he doesn’t perform at this competition for his country. The Iran game is the perfect chance – if he can take it.
Captaincy Pick: Harry Kane, England 11.0
Priced at 11.0, Harry Kane is found just below the forward price cap (12.0). For a striker who scored 41 goals in all competitions for Tottenham Hotspur last season, Kane is actually quite a bargain. Of his relevant deeper metrics, no player in the English top-flight averaged more total shots (5) or shots on target (2.1) per game than Kane in 2017-18. The Spurs talisman enters the World Cup as one of the best forwards in Europe, having scored 105 goals over the past four Premier League seasons.
Selected to wear the captain’s armband for England by manager Gareth Southgate, I will also be handing Kane my fantasy captaincy when the Three Lions begin their World Cup campaign against Tunisia. While the Tunisians won’t be pushovers, Kane enters the match having scoring eight goals in his last eight international appearances. Short and sweet...the 24-year-old will bag a brace on his World Cup debut.
Budget Pick: Aleksandr Golovin, Russia 6.5m
When deciding which budget midfielder(s) to choose for your fantasy World Cup team you will want to look for individuals who play further up the pitch and handle set-pieces. With that said, Russia’s Aleksandr Golovin is someone who checks both boxes. The promising youngster is a dead-ball specialist and a nailed-on starter for the host nation. Last season for CSKA Moscow in the Europa League, Golovin averaged 2.8 shots per game and scored two superb goals. His first was picturesque free-kick from just outside the box against Arsenal, but the second was an equally impressive strike from open play against Lyon. My stance on Golovin also has much to do with the fact he is only selected by 2% of all teams. In turn, this makes him a solid differential pick.
In truth, I don’t like Russia’s chances of getting out of the group stage. However, I do think the host nation will score a couple of goals in their opening match against Saudi Arabia. All things considered, Golovin will be in my starting XI for Round One.
We'll be back with more on the 18th but until then, happy managing!