It’s time for an in depth look at the Champions League Round of 16!
With fewer games than the Europa, I’ll be previewing each game individually from an FI perspective. But, this is still going to be a “the best of” approach at this stage.
I’ve included a Key Point summary of things to be aware of and a “highlights” of key players as a quick read. Then below, there is in depth analysis of each game for all of my fellow nerds out there.
When I did an initial sweep, I found 74 players that could be worth discussing in this round! That’s hardly suprising since we are talking about Europe’s very best, with 176 players involved and that’s just the starting 11’s.
But it’s way too many to cover in depth, and not even that helpful if I do – if I pick everyone I pick nobody if you know what I mean.
The most important point to note about this round is that with the fixtures split over the 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th of February there are just 2 matches per day, and despite being the CL, these are only bronze days.
The really big dividends will not start until the quarters when all CL matches will be Gold Days.
This does not mean the R16 is not important, far from it. But it means we need to adjust our approach a bit.
Key Players - Highlights
Lots of members love the in depth analysis, but I’m also experimenting with more top level summaries for those pushed for time.
So I’ll list my top selections from Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool, Dortmund v PSG, Tottenham v Leipzig and Atalanta v Valencia here. The other 4 games are coming tomorrow.
Note that this is no substitute for reading the in depth analysis below, understanding the context is important to getting trades right!
Big Hitters: Virgil Van Dijk, TAA, Jadon Sancho, Neymar, Mbappé.
All fairly stable holds for the coming months with good chances of winning, in this round and beyond. Potentially vulnerable to drops if knocked out, but do have other reasons to hold longer term. My pick: VVD. Offers very solid value from here until the end of the season including the Euro’s in my view.
Best Youngsters: Mario Pasalic, Christopher Nkunku, Dayot Upamecano, Achraf Hakimi.
Good, performance suitable young players at reasonable prices with a chance of making a splash in this round, and good longer term prospects too. My pick – Pasalic.
Comeback kids: Julian Brandt, Giovani Lo Celso
Two good, performance suitable players who have had struggles but show signs of coming back in form. Still have reasonable price tags versus their potential. My pick: Actually, happy with both.
Cheaper Goalscorers: Alvaro Morata, Marcus Reus, Mauro Icardi
All cheap, yet capable of exploding with more than 1 goal. Particularly for Morata or Reus, they could get attention if they can pull off upsets vs Liverpool and PSG. My pick: Icardi is the more reliable choice particularly when PSG play at home and could dominate. But I like Morata too as a great underdog punt that is not far off a free hit at just over £1.
I use my usual method for identifying strong performance players, but I put much more focus on their stats in knockout games (i.e the groups) rather than just domestic.
I also put much more emphasis on fixtures than usual. I usually take into account the betting odds and I like to reference this algorithm on a site called fivethirtyeight.com too.
The betting odds are useful for determining who people generally think will win the game.
To counter this, the algorithm has proven very good at seeing through bias/lazy assumptions – it was often correct in disagreeing with betting odds last year – highlighting when there was a good chance of an upset including Ajax knocking out Juventus.
I’ve included for ease two snippets from the prediction algorithm, showing first the win chance in each leg, and the predicted chance of progressing to the quarters. Full credit to fivethirtyeight.com, this is not my work, I just like to reference it as a rough guide and include it here for interest.
Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool - 18th Feb and 11 March
Key: Felix, Morata
Key: Van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold, Salah, Mané, Firmino
Notable: Keita, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Market and Player Assessment
Two very strong teams defensively. Liverpool far superior in attack but Atletico have home advantage in the first leg and that feels like a recipe for a tight match, but Liverpool are comfortable favourites over both legs.
Liverpool are capable of some big scores particularly in the second leg at home, but both match days will be shared with Dortmund vs PSG, another tight game with lots of gifted performance players and they have stiff competition.
My pick would be Van Dijk who has been showing excellent stats lately, and can dominate in a low scoring game where Atletico can be expected to give up a lot of possession.
He’s a solid choice, still at a reasonable price, and very capable of further wins if Liverpool progress to the Gold Days. In the event of a knockout, the Euros is something to fall back on.
Whilst TAA can win, I think VVD offers much better value and his chances of winning improve in limited match day knockout games, particularly when they are low scoring.
In attack, I would avoid the favourites in Salah, Firmino and Mané (and Keita too). All are capable of winning. But it feels like high risk for little gain on a bronze day where it is assumed Liverpool will go through anyway.
If we really wanted a punt, Wijnaldum may get attention closer to the game, if his occasional goal goes in he can win, and people will remember he won vs Genk this season in the CL already. Or Oxlade-Chamberlain as a late punt, if he hasn’t risen too much before the game and looks like starting.
A big performance from Felix would make a huge impact. But it feels unlikely in a low scoring, low possession team that aren’t expected to win.
Especially since Felix is in such poor form. Really not worth it for many reasons as covered in Scouting. Jumping on fast mid-game in the event of an upset with Felix in a starring role might be viable though, especially if Felix keeps dropping.
Morata would be my pick from Atletico by a long way. At £1.02 he’s a decent IPD punt and has a chance of leading for Spain later.
In great scoring form, and can win on limited fixture days. At a low stable price with reasons to hold later, he feels like a free hit bet that could pay off if there is an unlikely upset.
Borussia Dortmund vs PSG - 18th Feb and 11th March
Key: Brandt, Sancho, Hakimi,
Notable: Reus, T Hazard, Alcacer, Guerreiro
Key: Neymar, Mbappé, Icardi
Notable: Di Maria, Marquinhos
Market and Player Assessment
The first leg could be tight with Dortmund at home but PSG are expected to cruise to victory in the second leg, with the betting odds and algorithm in agreement.
Both have strong attacks but Dortmund have shipped goals to Inter and Barcelona in recent CL games and this leakiness is expected to cost them. And should benefit PSG attackers.
Overall though, I think many will view this as a good contest, and we could see price rises for winners and significant dips for some losers here.
Brandt is looking much improved as per December Scouting reviews, including in 2 winter break friendlies in the last week where he showed good goal threat again. Can challenge for the win particularly for the home leg. Has risen significantly in the last month and I think he is a strong choice for the CL and the rest of the season in general. Was better at £1.80 to £2 in December Scouting but £2.56 is still a good price versus his potential. If interested I would not let this run away too much further.
Sancho is obviously the main draw. Had an incredible November/December before the winter break, which did not always come through on performance scoring due to his trouble competing with real midfield big hitters as discussed in Scouting in December.
This would be his moment to shine though. He did well vs both Inter and Barcelona in the groups, scoring and assisting and making a good contribution. Can win, particularly in the 1st leg and can get hype. But my overall view still stands, he’s fine for passive traders but he’s unlikely to deliver big returns and carries significant risk if the hoped for EPL transfer doesn’t materialise by Summer.
Hakimi is looking superb this season, particularly in the CL where he has 2 braces to his name, including vs Inter. A strong contender if Dortmund do well although they are underdogs here. Possibly vulnerable to a drop if Dortmund go out but hype links to Real Madrid may sustain him… even though that doesn’t necessarily improve him.
I’d be confident holding him in the build up, less so for the game where a knockout could hurt.
Reus is in great form as a good cheap option. 3 goals and 4 assists in the last 5, though his CL record this season is fairly poor. That was before he hit form though. With Germany involvement too, this looks good value for £1.12, particularly if he starts well when the Bundesliga returns.
Hard to bet against Neymar for obvious reasons, he’s got a great chance particularly in the home leg where PSG could dominate. Only concern is that he may take a drubbing if PSG go out. I think holders are generally quite sticky on him though and he may get his big transfer in the Summer to sustain him.
One of the few premiums that justify the price, I think he’s just a player to commit to for the long haul or not at all and don’t worry too much if he is knocked out and dips.
Mbappé is a strong contender for the headlines and the win. Great form, great CL record. And on limited fixture days, there is far less chance of better performance players outscoring him.
Can rise with hype and the promise of the Euro’s probably sustains him in the event of a knock out. Much better to be holding him now than in pre-season where I was strongly against it – that was right – despite all the talk of him being a “must hold” back then, the reality has been a highly underperforming trade.
You can see the same “must have” talk around now. I disagree – I think the next 6 months will be better, but at the price, not spectacular.
Icardi has a lot going for him and despite being a weak performance player, he can smash in enough goals for that not to matter, particularly on limited fixture days. Amazing form too. £1.80 is a nice balance of risk and reward. You’ll likely get some solid IPD out of this whilst you wait. He probably rises before the match. Selling before may be best.
If you let him run for the games, he could knock it out of the park and increase significantly if PSG get a favourable Quarters draw. He’ll be a gold day contender for sure. But, a knock out would do bad things to the price.
I think it’s a great pick but I would consider banking a profit if there is a significant pre-match rise.
Di Maria is superb and has every chance of walking away with it. But, he’s very vulnerable to a knock out given his age at this stage of the season. A good choice for the next month at this value price, he can get IPD and performance wins in the mean time. But I would probably be selling before the game if I can lock a profit in to dodge any risk of elimination which would not be pretty.
Marquinhos is a strong contender for the defender dividend and a bit of attention. His goal and assist potential are not what they used to be, they are weak. But in limited game knock outs, his big baselines can easily be enough to win by default if other defenders don’t score. A good choice and you might get him to £1.50 or so. Maybe more if PSG make it through and get a favourable draw – he’s a good Gold Day contender for later.
Tottenham vs RB Leipzig - 19th February & 3rd October
Key: Lo Celso, Son
Notable: Alli, Aurier
Key: Werner, Sabitzer, Upamecano
Notable: Forsberg, Nkunku, Klostermann, Halstenberg
Market and Player Assessment
First major disagreement between betting odds and the algorithm. Betting odds make this a toss up as to who qualifies, with the algorithm set on an RB Leipzig win. It makes Leipzig heavy favourites at home.
Leipzig have faced sterner opposition in Benfica and Lyon, and are unbeaten away. Spurs have only thrashed minnows or been taken apart by Bayern. But then Spurs are under new management. Tricky.
I would lean towards Leipzig but it may be better not to worry too much about that. Whoever makes it through is likely to get a very rough draw and probably will not be expected to go much further anyway. I think best to stick to players we want anyway, with a good CL run considered a bonus here.
This game is also on the same day as Atalanta vs Valencia. I’d be wary of Atalanta demolishing Valencia at home and stealing the show.
First thought is Lo Celso, who finally showed what he is capable of yesterday vs Middlesborough. I’ve been highlighting his ability in Scouting but he hasn’t shown it until now.
Had this FA Cup game been scored, it would have been a big score for Lo Celso as he had a favourable playing position and brought his great FI suitable mix of threat, creativity and involvement to the party.
Whilst he lacks the Euros, or a credible transfer rumour for later, I think he is one can that be an exception to the full season fit rule. The price is right for a potentially very good player who can attract an EPL premium with more good performances.
Son is also very capable. Despite poor domestic form, his CL record this season has been good, netting braces twice all be it vs weak opponents. And scoring a consolation vs Bayern. Longer term prospects are not brilliant, so it may be smart to sell before the game if picking up now.
Alli is coming off a price drop after his hype phase. I’m pretty pleased with how this trade went in Scouting, able to predict the chance of hype to get the rise, but also identify the likely weakness to sell before the dip. He can win on a limited fixture day though. If he dropped further in price he wouldn’t be a bad bet to pick up a week or two before, but I’m not super keen because his recent stats are poor.
Werner could be the man to beat, particularly when at home. In blistering form and my views on him are clear from Scouting. I’ve been very keen on him since pre-season at £1.90ish and up at £4.15 now I think he deserves that price.
A solid bet because he retains duel reasons to hold no matter what happens in the CL. Having both the Euros and a big transfer prospect is a powerful combo for the second half of the season. CL is a bonus and Leipzig are one of the better underdogs who could cause upsets.
Nkunku is a good youngster who has a chance to shine, good recent form. One from my October wonderkid series hovering around £1 then, he’s doubled in price by now. Still good for the price and unlucky not to get more goals/assist with his numbers.
Long term holders are looking in good shape, those like me who like to think 3-4 months ahead may want to offload him at some point before the season end, then look to rebuy for next season later on. Not too many concrete reasons to hold towards the season end. But I think he’s worth holding up to the CL at least.
Sabitzer is definitely a player who is not as good as many have thought. I’ve said that consistently whilst he was being hyped and the longer term results and the subsequent price drop show why. He’s far too often a nearly man, despite some great performances. The why of that is all explained in Scouting.
But, for the CL, on a limited game day, he can definitely be a strong contender. And his CL performances so far this season have been very good with 2 goals and 2 assists in 5. After a price drop from £2.90 to £2.39, he’s officially off my “I’d rather put a shotgun in my mouth than buy this” list.
He can be on my “not bad” list instead. With the Euros and a possible transfer to come, and the chance of a good CL performance and an occasional domestic win too, it’s nowhere near as bad as it was.
Forsberg is a solid cheap punt and may attract interest ahead of the game. Great CL form, with 3 goals and an assist in the last CL 3 games and those goals came vs tough opponents in Benfica and Lyon. Still 28 and playing for Sweden, £1.24 looks solid value to take into the CL games, especially after a recent price drop.
Klostermann and Halstenberg are both options who have reasonable chances of winning, and background factors like loose transfer rumours and Germany involvement. But I think both are fairly expensive for what you get.
I am more tempted by Upamecano due to his excellent baselines. Scouting readers from November will recall I highlighted this improvement the week before he got his first win vs Benfica in the CL. He got a nice price jump there. His goal threat across the last 10 games is also huge for a CB, and respectable even for a midfielder. None have gone in so far. When one does, the score could be big.
Also has transfers and future France prospects but Euro 2020 feels too early. £1.64 is premium defender territory but he’s got the numbers and trend fit to back it up.
Atalanta vs Valencia - 19th February & 3rd October
Key: Gomez, Ilicic, Pasalic,
Notable: Gosens, Malinovskiy, Castagne,
Notable: Soler, Rodrigo, Guedes
Market and Player Assessment
A 50/50 in the betting odds but the algorithm gives it to Atalanta comfortably, predicting a heavy first leg victory.
Atalanta are in fine attacking form, with Valencia much weaker in attack yet solid defensively. Valencia have proven themselves no push overs in the CL beating Ajax and Chelsea away and Lille at home.
Over the tie I think it’s fairly balanced but at home, Atalanta could really rack up the goals, the first leg is key.
A bit like Spurs/Leipzig, this is an underdogs tie and the winner is likely to get a tough draw, so again, a focus on longer term players rather than just one knockout game here seems best.
Gomez and Ilicic lead for Atalanta. Gomez the better performance player but Ilicic has been getting the rub of the green more often. In the CL, Gomez has been significantly better than Ilicic though both in the real stats and the performance scores.
Ilicic is significantly cheaper though to balance that out. Both are good and could do serious damage in the first leg. I think buying early and possibly selling before the game could be a good shout.
Holding older veterans too long when we have few reasons to stick with them beyond February makes me sweat a bit. If Atalanta are knocked out it won’t be pretty for them.
Pasalic is an exciting young player. First highlighted in Scouting on 1st December at 68p, he hit £1.15 by the 23rd December after some great displays notably vs Milan. Dropped back to £1.02 now. He isn’t the one of these one hit wonder kids you need to buy and sell before they get found out, though.
He’s showing real performance strength consistently over recent games, and I rate him highly. Well worth the money anyway, and if he starts he has a real opportunity to make a splash on the big stage. Has started the last 3 CL games for Atalanta scoring vs Shakhtar and Manchester City already. Good potential here.
Gosens is another decent shout for this round, as covered in Scouting this week. Extremely high goal threat for a defender and a goal from a defender is very likely to win it with just two games in play. Could be good to hold in the lead up to this game. Longer term value is questionable, he feels solid but unspectacular.
Malinovskiy has solid FI numbers and can win. Particularly good for Ukraine actually with the Euros in mind. And cheap. But, rotation is an issue. I would wait on this and consider a late punt if we see him in the team sheet and he is still around £1.
Timothy Castagne is another defender in with a shout, he has strong threat from defence, and creates chances too. Scored vs Shakhtar last time out in the CL. Seeing plenty of minutes for Belgium too, scoring twice in the qualifiers all be it vs soft opponents. At 93p, looks a solid choice in the lead up to this winnable CL game and possibly beyond.
Parejo can pop up with a huge score and blow everyone away anytime. It’s more likely in the second leg at home than away mind. He’s fantastic but as predicted in Key Strategy – early season was the time to make use of elite veterans, by the lead up to Christmas, it’s bleak. Still looks pricey and whilst he may win, if he is knocked out he would be very vulnerable to a price drop.
Soler gets a bit of attention as a decent young player, but in truth, it’s been a real struggle for him on FI. In midfield, even with a goal, he’s going to struggle to get his head above water in a tough midfield category.
If he was in better form, I might recommend him as a cheap punt who can get attention. But he’s not.
Rodrigo is a good goal scorer, and at under £1, you could make a case for a hold for IPD over the next month and then a sale ahead of the CL game. He is injured though, so I’d only do that when he came back. Can easily win on the CL day, has 2 goals and 2 assists in the 5 CL games this season. Also has Spain involvement so a longer hold is feasible.
Guedes is returning after a long injury, probably in the next few weeks. Has risen 20p as a result as injury buyers come in, though £1.30 now is a reasonable price. In truth, he struggles to punch through from midfield, but he’s a well regarded young player with Portugal involvement and sometimes good transfer links. A good performance in the CL could see him push higher.