From Messi to Vlasic: What we've learned in fantasy Champions League so far

Nikola Vlasic has been a surprise as one of the top scorers in ESPN Fantasy Soccer for the Champions League so far. YURI KOCHETKOV/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

We've reached the first international break since the launch of ESPN fantasy soccer!

It's time to take a breather. But first, here are five things we've learned during the first two rounds of the Champions League group stage:

Second to none

It should be no surprise who sits atop the Champions League fantasy points leaderboard. Lionel Messi scored a hat trick against PSV, a brace against Tottenham, and has 90.2 points -- nearly 20 more than any other player.

Barcelona's next two games in the competition will be against Inter Milan, which shouldn't be easy. Inter have also won their first two games, currently sit third in Serie A, and have won six games in a row in all competitions. But Messi can produce magic against any team, at any time. It takes guts not to pick him as your Tier 1 forward, no matter the matchup.

Triple threat

Three players are tied for second behind Messi in goals scored, with three apiece: Neymar, Edin Dzeko, and Paulo Dybala.

What's more, each of those players scored all three goals in one game, in the most recent round of fixtures. Neymar's hat trick came in PSG's 6-1 win over Red Star Belgrade, Dzeko's came in Roma's 5-0 win over Viktoria Plzen, and Dybala's came in Juventus' 3-0 win over Young Boys.

The lesson here is, keep an eye out for star players going up against much weaker teams, particularly at home. But it doesn't always work out -- in the same round of games, Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski failed to score at home in a 1-1 draw with Ajax.

One more note: Dybala got to be Juve's main man against Young Boys because Cristiano Ronaldo was suspended. Dybala didn't even get on the pitch in his team's Champions League opener against Valencia, and only has one goal in seven Serie A appearances this season. And Ronaldo will be back for the next round.

Neymar and Dzeko are more likely to have another huge performance. But PSG's next two games are against Napoli, who are top of Group C and just kept a clean sheet against Liverpool. Roma's next two are against CSKA Moscow -- easier on paper, yes, but CSKA are top of Group G and just kept a clean sheet against Real Madrid.


Another lesson, as I wrote in a previous column, is don't dismiss players on teams from outside the top five leagues in Europe. They can still deliver big scores, especially when their teams are playing against fellow minnows.

CSKA Moscow midfielder Nikola Vlasic is currently fourth in fantasy points with 50.9, behind only Messi, Neymar (71.4) and Dzeko (52.4). Vlasic had a goal and an assist in CSKA's 2-2 draw with Viktoria Plzen, and then scored the goal in a 1-0 upset of Real Madrid. He's also tied for the lead in chances created with 9.

Ajax defender Nicolas Tagliafico scored two goals in a 3-0 win over AEK Athens, and is 12th with 39.8 points. Shakhtar Donetsk defender Ismaily scored a goal in a 2-2 draw with Hoffenheim, had an assist in a 2-2 draw with Lyon, and is 18th with 37.7 points.

Shakhtar's Junior Moraes, AEK's Viktor Klonaridis and Viktoria Plzen's Michal Krmencik all scored two goals in the first two rounds. And they were all braces -- Moraes' came against Lyon, Klonaridis' came in a 3-2 loss to Benfica, and Krmencik's came in a 2-2 draw with CSKA.

Many of these players' teams face difficult matchups in the next two rounds. CSKA will play Roma, Shakthar will play Manchester City, AEK will play Bayern Munich, and Viktoria Plzen will play Real Madrid.

But Ajax's next two games are against Benfica, who have conceded four goals in two games (although two of them came after Benfica went down a man against AEK). So keep Tagliafico in mind, as well as some of his teammates. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (six goals, one assist), Dusan Tadic (five goals, three assists) and Hakim Ziyech (four goals, three assists) are all putting up big numbers through the first eight games of the Dutch Eredivisie season.

At the back

We don't always give goalkeepers their due, but four of them have posted back-to-back clean sheets in the first two rounds of Champions League games: Borussia Dortmund's Roman Burki, Manchester United's David De Gea, Napoli's David Ospina and Juventus' Wojciech Szczesny.

Their forms domestically have been mixed, however. Szczesny has three clean sheets in seven Serie A games, and has only conceded five goals. But Ospina has just one clean sheet in five Serie A games, and has conceded nine goals.

Burki has two clean sheets in seven Bunesliga games, and has conceded eight goals. De Gea has the worst numbers -- one clean sheet in eight Premier League games, with 14 goals conceded -- but the defenders in front of him probably deserve more of the blame. (And maybe Jose Mourinho, too?)

Juventus and Manchester United will face each other in their next two Champions League fixtures, which will be interesting. Juve have won their first 10 games in all competitions this season, scoring 23 goals in the process. So I definitely won't be picking De Gea as my goalkeeper in those two rounds.

I'd consider picking Szczesny playing at home. I want no part of Ospina against PSG, and I'll probably stay away from Burki against Atletico Madrid, too.

Out of form

Some of the biggest teams in Europe are struggling right now in their domestic leagues, which is certainly worth keeping in mind ahead of the next round of Champions League games on Oct. 23 and 24.

Bayern Munich just lost 3-0 at home this past weekend to Borussia Monchengladbach, and are currently sixth in the Bundesliga -- four points behind league-leading Borussia Dortmund. Real Madrid lost 1-0 at Alaves, are fourth in La Liga, and have failed to score in four consecutive games for the first time since 1985.

Manchester United are eighth in the Premier League, Valencia are 14th in La Liga, Hoffenheim and Schalke are 13th and 15th in the Bundesliga, and Monaco are 18th in Ligue 1. Yikes!

But as mentioned above, Bayern Munich's next two games will be against AEK Athens, and Real Madrid's next two will be against Viktoria Plzen. You can throw form out the window -- those matchups should make fantasy players salivate.