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Oct 14, 2008

Fantasy Focus: Champions League

While the quest for glory in Premier League fantasy is all about the long game, there's far less room for error in the Champions League.

With just six rounds of matches in the competition - the knockout stages will be a wholly separate fantasy game - you need to get off to a good start. And just as in the domestic competitions the use of transfers is strategically very important.

The team currently top of the overall league - Pekechampions - holds a four-point advantage but has little scope to change things around due to the fact that 10 transfers, out of the maximum of 12, have already used.

It's crucial in the Champions League to move quickly to correct mistakes, spot the top performers and bring in those at lesser clubs with lower values who can enable you to shuffle other more expensive names into your pack.

The problem with the number of transfers made by Pekechampions is that virtually all teams will rest players if their qualification is assured early. And it is often the players you have transferred in who are dropped.

For instance, Pekechampions currently has five players - Sergio Aguero, Tomas Ujfalusi (Atletico Madrid), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Xavi and Rafael Márquez (Barcelona) - who play for teams with six points from the opening two matches. It means there is every chance they will qualify ahead of the final group round on December 9/10 and perhaps even before Matchday Five on November 25/26 .

The likelihood is that Pekechampions' manager will be left with what is effectively deadwood and, due to the number of transfers used, no way of replacing them. It plays into the hands of any team sitting behind who may have the ability to make late changes and squeeze in some unknowns from the bigger teams who are not held by the league's leaders.

Well placed to take advantage is Insomnio, currently lying sixth and 21 points behind first place. With just four transfers used so far their manager is perfectly placed to shift players around based on suspensions, injuries and form before the dead wood begins to appear in a month's time. It seems unlikely Pekechampions' tactics will enable them to keep their place at the top of the pile.

Another important difference for the Champions League is that values do not fluctuate with there being just six rounds of games. It means that the wheel-and-deal aspect of the Premier League game, to create extra budget, is removed so cheaper players should be bought for general budget space rather than profit.

In the Podcast Champions League Challenge, our so-called experts have yet to make any real impression at the top though Jon Carter has been most impressive in seventh place.

Even so, Jon is still 20 points behind Pedro Munitis and his team Bring Back Crespo! We're not sure if we're in the presence of greatness and it's the Pedro who played for Racing Santander, Real Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna and the Spanish national team. And why he wants Crespo back.

Still, it looks like Pedro is an avid listener to our Fantasy Podcast as he tops the league having made just the three transfers so far. That's the same as second placed Mark Orr so it looks like the battle for Podcast honours could be very close.

The Most Valuable Player in the Champions League game after the first two rounds is Steven Gerrard. With three goals in Liverpool's opening games he's already notched up 22 points and is five points clear of the next highest scorer, a certain Emmanuel Culio of CFR Cluj-Napoca.

While Gerrard was one of the most selected players before the tournament started, Mr Culio - like any player at Cluj or BATE Borisov - wasn't even on the radar.

Even so, Cristiano Ronaldo remains as the most picked midfielder, in 22.12% of teams, just ahead of Arsenal's Theo Walcott who is up there due to his budget-beating £6m price tag - that's half of what it will cost to land the Portuguese winger. People obviously fear 'horse bolting' on Culio as, although he has shot up in popularity, he is still in just 1.45% of squads.

One of the most sought after players during the amnesty period was Sergio Aguero of Atletico. The £7million tag looks like a bargain after he, like Gerrard, bagged three goals. But with Atletico now playing their remaining two home games away from the Calderon would it be better to look elsewhere? Probably not at such a cheap price for a player who is, along with Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor, the highest scoring striker and the most popular player in the whole game, being in almost a quarter of teams.

There's not as much confidence in defenders though. Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich is the most picked backline boy but is in only 19.25% of teams. After Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid and Chelsea's Ashley Cole there is no standout set of players people are punting for.

Apart from Culio, the hidden gems have so far been few and far between with only Ilsinho of Shakhtar Donetsk and Villarreal goalkeeper Diego Lopez on the list.

It means the big names have been hogging all the action, and it may take a punt on an unknown for you to catch the likes of Pekechampions at the top end of the standings.

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