2018 World Cup: Starting XI Thoughts

I swore to myself I wasn’t going to participate, as I recall loosing interesting Euro 2016 and the 2014 World Cup fantasy games last time around. Truth be told, I am bored, as I sit and refresh Twitter all day looking for some nugget of information on which to strike up a conversation. Thankfully we are just three days away from Russia and I have put together a starting XI.

What makes this competition challenging is the fact many of us don’t follow many of the other leagues outside of England. Sure, I watch Serie A and La Liga from time to time and know the star players, but in fantasy it’s more than just these high priced players we need to research in order to build a successful squad. I’ll be honest, I can’t name one starter from Iran, Saudi Arabia or Panama for that matter. Let’s not forget about powerhouse, Tunisia. Although we might know more about them if they stun England. In defense of Tunisia, we have heard of Yohan Benalouane of Leicester.

Much like the 2017-18 FPL season, I am looking at rolling out a 5-2-3 formation for Round 1 that will include the Bench Boost being played.  While the team is still in a bit of flux, I do like how it’s coming together with a good mix of talent in my starting XI, as well as on the bench. Most important for Round 1 is having 15 starters with the Bench Boost activated.

GOALKEEPER

For Round 1 I am playing match ups, which sees Monir El Kajoui as my starting goalkeeper, facing Iran, ranked 37th in the world., who’s got 37 caps. He’s recorded two clean sheets in four starts in 2018 against the Ukraine and Uzbekistan. Iran has scored just three goals in their last three games, while games against Greece and Kosovo were postponed. Looking for that second starter is challenging, but have decided to start Mat Ryan, based solely on his work at Brighton this season. Australia has a tough draw against France in Round 1 and can only hope he makes some massive saves. The other option was Peru’s Pedro Gallese, but against Denmark, the play of Christian Eriksen worries me.

DEFENDER

I’ve gone with a double Russian defense with  Igor Smolnikov and Sergey Ignashevich. Both defenders bring a wealth of experience to the national team (149 total caps). My hope is to get a home field bump from the Russians who face Saudi Arabia in Round 1. Currently ranked 67th, the Saudis have scored just two goals in their last three games (ita/PER/ger). Both will play as “budget defenders” at €4.5.

Joshua Kimmich (€6.5m) comes into my starting defense as the premium midfielder. Germany faces Mexico and comes into the tournament as a heavy favorite to get to the semi-finals.  Mexico has struggled recently, just one goals in their last four games, which bodes well for Die Mannschaft. Kimmich can get forward, scoring three goals for country in 29 caps, while finishing with six goals in 47 games for Bayern Munich.

Thomas Meunier was a relatively unknown to me playing behind Serge Aurier at PSG. He finished the season with 22 appearances and four goals playing as a RWB. On paper, Belgium has a very strong squad and outside of their match against England should put up two clean sheets ( vs. PAN/TUN) in Group G.

Ahead of the Thursday kickoff, I’ve tapped Brazil to win the world cup, which means I am tripling up on the Seleção. While it will be the play up front, Brazil needs to bring a good defense to Russia. A positive headed into the World Cup is their four clean sheets in the last four games. It’s center back, Miranda who will help anchor my defense, as I bank on the clean sheet potential for points. He’s posted 47 caps and at age 33, this will probably be his final World Cup. There was thought of adding Marquinhos or Danilo, but their starting spots are guaranteed. Danilo might have the upper hand starting at RWB.

MIDFIELDER

Needing just two starters has allowed me to put more of my budget towards the forward line. Tomas Müller (€9.5) gets the nod as a starter, but his goal output has been a bit concerning, scoring just two goals over the last two years. Nowhere near as prolific as from 2014-2016 (20 goals). Lots of competition at that price, so his start is guaranteed ahead of Thursday. Hard to ignore a play of his caliber and experience (91 caps) since 2010.

Colombia’s James Rodriguez (€9.0) is the other midfielder starter as Los Cafeteros face 61st ranked Japan, who have conceded seven goals in the last four games. James knows how to find the goal with 21 goals in 62 caps for Columbia, but just seven on the season while on loan to Bayern Munich (from Real Madrid). His inclusion bodes well in Round 1.

Rounding out a triple Russian inclusion, Yuri Zhirkov. At age 34, he’s the most experienced international player with 84 caps (just two goals) and should start all three games in the group stage. Not sure he will have much creativity, but like the defenders looking for some Russian luck in Round 1. Also considering Morocco’s Younes Belhanda with 47 caps and 5 goals the Galatasaray midfielder could turn out to be a diamond in the rough against Iran.

Columbia could win Group H as they start with Japan. I’ve decided to triple up on them and look at Carlos Sanchez, capped 85 times with no goals, he’s more of a defensive midfielder, but Columbia could post a few clean sheets in the group stage. At €4.5 I am not expecting much offense.

The fifth midfielder is defensive midfielder, Casemiro from Brazil. Starter and clean sheet potential, but no offensive threat. Options at €5.5 include Miguel Layún of Mexico, Nemanja Matić of Serbia and Renato Tapia, probably more favored than the Brazilian when it comes to attacking points.

Up front my sqaud is led by the Brazilian, Neymar, who will also don the captain’s armband in Round 1 against the Swiss. His on the pitch exploits need to introduction, as the world stage is his to succeed. I look for Brazil to post great attacking statistics and Neymar should be at the center of the threat.

Timo Werner was another unknown from RB Leipzig who’s posted 8 goals in just 14 caps for Germany. His club stats the last two years has seen 33 goals in 63 games for the youngster. Germany is one of the heavily favored clubs, his price of €9.5 isn’t cheap.

Finally Radamel Falcao, somewhat of a throwback as he hasn’t been the same caliber of player after the ACL injury.  He’s still dynamic but just five club goals (on loan at Manchester United and Chelsea) in 2014-16, but returned to relevance back at Monaco last season with 18 goals in 26 games.

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