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Fantasy Champions League: Can perennial powers rebound?

After a disappointing league loss to Dijon, Angel Di Maria hopes he'll be able to help PSG rebound this week in the Champions League. AFP via Getty Images

If the fixtures for Matchweek 4 in the Champions League look familiar, they should. After all, these teams all played each other in Matchweek 3. Only the venues will change this time around. There were no big upsets when these sides first played, two weeks ago, but some of the top clubs in Europe did get a scare from relative minnows.

One of those "frightened" clubs was Barcelona, who squeaked past Slavia Prague 2-1, despite the fact that they were outshot by the home team 24-13. Still, that hasn't deterred me from picking Lionel Messi as my fantasy Tier 1 forward and captain again this time. In that contest, Messi scored one of Barcelona's two goals. It was a good all-around performance that also included five shots and four chances created. Barcelona did suffer a surprise 3-1 defeat at Levante this past weekend, but Messi scored for the fifth straight game (across all competitions), again taking five shots while adding three chances created. Messi has the highest floor of all the superstars in this tier, and he'll be at home this time around.

Robert Lewandowski and Kylian Mbappe are the top two in this tier in terms of fantasy points-per-game, and an argument could be made for choosing either of these players here. Lewandowski has scored in all 13 Bundesliga and Champions League matches he's played in so far this season, including a brace in Bayern Munich's 3-2 win at Olympiakos two weeks ago. Mbappe got a hat trick in Paris Saint-Germain's 5-0 win at Club Brugge, despite only coming on in the 52nd minute!

That said, both teams are coming off even more disappointing domestic defeats than Barcelona. Bayern lost 5-1 at Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday, leading to the dismissal of manager Niko Kovac. PSG lost 2-1 at Dijon, who were sitting bottom of the table in Ligue 1 coming into that game. I still wouldn't be surprised if both Lewandowski and Mbappe produce big performances this week. But I think Messi is the safer play.

That PSG defeat won't deter me from picking Angel Di Maria as my Tier 1 midfielder, however. Di Maria got the assist on their goal against Dijon (scored by Mbappe). He also took seven shots and had four chances created, continuing his excellent start to the season. Di Maria has four goals and five assists in 12 Ligue 1 appearances (nine starts), plus two goals and three assists in three Champions League matches. All three of those Champions League assists came in the first meeting with Brugge.

Raheem Sterling is the only player in this tier averaging more fantasy points-per-game than Di Maria, so an argument can be made for Sterling as well, especially given that he was the only player besides Mbappe with a hat trick in the previous round, at home against Atalanta. While Sterling is a more likely goal-scorer than Di Maria, he has a much lower floor. It's happened less often so far this season, but there are still games from time to time when Sterling is practically invisible -- including this past weekend in Manchester City's 2-1 win over Southampton, where Sterling took just one shot despite playing the full 90 minutes. He finished with just 2.4 fantasy points.

Talking Tier 2

Three of the top four options at Tier 2 forward are from Salzburg and Napoli. They faced each other in one of the most interesting games of Matchweek 3, and will do so again this week. Napoli won 3-2 in Austria, but that scoreline doesn't tell the full story. Salzburg outshot Napoli 18-12, and beat them via xG (expected goals) 2.36-0.93 according to TruMedia's model. Erling Haaland and Dries Mertens both finished with braces in that game, taking six and five shots, respectively. Obviously, they both are worth considering in this tier. However, I have some doubts.

Napoli has had two draws and a defeat in their three Serie A games since that first meeting with Salzburg. Mertens failed to score in all three of those games, and took just three shots combined. Haaland failed to score in his one half of action in Austria this past weekend. More importantly, Salzburg is the underdog this week, with the game at Napoli.

Instead I'm going with Timo Werner, despite the fact he was taken off at halftime in RB Leipzig's first meeting with Zenit St. Petersburg -- a 2-1 Leipzig victory. Leipzig -- and Werner in particular -- is coming off quite a week. Werner had two goals and two assists in a 6-1 win at Wolfsburg in the German Cup on Wednesday, and a hat trick of both goals and assists in an 8-0 win over Mainz on Saturday. Leipzig has also been made the slight favorite, despite playing at Zenit this time around.

I'm also sticking with Serge Gnabry at Tier 2 midfielder. Gnabry hasn't scored in any of Bayern's past three Bundesliga and Champions League games, including the first time around against Olympiakos. However, he did score in Bayern's 2-1 Cup win over Bochum on Tuesday, and his underlying numbers remain very good. Gnabry is averaging 4.12 shots-per-90 in the Bundesliga. Among players with 500-plus Bundesliga minutes under their belts, only Lewandowski is averaging more at 4.95. Despite only having 17 chances created in nine Bundesliga appearances, Gnabry has an xA (expected assists) total of 4.20. In the top-five leagues of Europe, only Di Maria has a higher xA total (4.67).

Other picks

  • Mislav Orsic, Dinamo Zagreb (Tier 3 midfielder): Orsic got a hat trick in Zagreb's Champions League opener against Atalanta. He also had a goal and an assist in their first meeting with Shakhtar Donetsk two weeks ago (a 2-2 draw), also hitting the woodwork in that game. Plus, this time around, Zagreb will be the home team.

  • Trent Alexander-Arnold, Liverpool (Tier 1 defender): Speaking of xA, Alexander-Arnold is third among players in the top-five leagues in that category, behind only Di Maria and Gnabry, at 4.01. He also has 40 chances created -- more than any other top-fiver. Liverpool is the biggest favorite of the week and will be at home against Genk, a team they beat 4-1 the first time around.

  • Alejandro Grimaldo, Benfica (Tier 2 defender): Grimaldo is tied for second in the Portuguese league in assists, with four of them in 10 appearances. He also has five shots and eight chances created in three Champions League matches, plus solid passing numbers. Benfica sits top of the table in Portugal, and beat Lyon (currently 10th in Ligue 1) at home two weeks ago.

  • Alisson, Liverpool (Goalkeeper): Alisson has yet to record a clean sheet in his first four games since returning from injury, but he's only conceded one goal in each game. Liverpool has the best defense in the Premier League in terms of xG conceded, at 11.72 through 11 games. They'll be at home against Genk, who are currently eighth in the Belgian league and coming off a 2-0 defeat at 12th-place Eupen on Saturday.