This article is part of our DraftKings Fantasy Soccer series.
Saturday's Champions League final is an all English affair, with Premier League champions Manchester City taking on Chelsea, who finished fourth in the domestic table. Despite winning each of the past two matchups, a 1-0 victory in the FA Cup semi-final on April 17 and a 2-1 win in the Premier League on May 8, Chelsea find themselves as +360 underdogs on DraftKings Sportsbook, with Manchester City a -114 favorite to win. And despite Man City finishing the domestic season as the highest-scoring team, goals are expected to be at a premium Saturday, with the over 1.5 goals sitting at -265 but the under 2.5 at -157 (+123 over).
Given Manchester City's expected win in a lower-scoring game, there's little doubt that Kevin De Bruyne ($10,800) will be the most popular player in cash games and potentially the highest in GPPs. As the primary set-piece taker and the one of the leading chance-creators in the Premier League, the only reason not to play De Bruyne is because everyone else will.
That strategy is obviously more for tournaments than cash games, but it's important to realize that if you're playing the main $150K Championship Clash, which pays $50K to first, fading the chalk is going to be the way to differentiate yourself and hopefully give you a unique shot at first place. Fading De Bruyne right away will help in that cause, both because you won't have a player tons of others will but also because the trajectory of your lineup building changes when you aren't rostering the most expensive player in the game.
Riyad Mahrez ($10,400) isn't far behind salary-wise and is probably the pivot for those who don't want to play De Bruyne thanks to his excellent floor and small role on set pieces. Rostering both is also a possibility, though you're spending 46.8 percent of your salary if you captain De Bruyne. That's a more cash-game strategy because you're getting as many floor points as possible, but you're also limiting your other pieces, as it leaves you with only $5,850 per position.
The starting XIs for both teams are pretty fluid, but we will know the starters before the match. Manchester City can use a number of different formations, including using De Bruyne as a false 9, which would leave Sergio Aguero ($7,000) and Gabriel Jesus ($7,800) on the bench. Phil Foden ($9,200) seems likely to start in the attack with De Bruyne and Mahrez, leaving guys like Bernardo Silva ($5,800), Ilkay Gundogan ($5,600) and Rodri ($5,000) in the midfield, the latter of whom will be the most defensive, which is why he is the cheapest. However, we still have Raheem Sterling ($7,600) and Ferran Torres ($8,200) to consider if they start, though it seems unlikely. Any of the Manchester City attackers are usually strong plays because they are generally expected to score plenty of goals, but loading up on them in this game probably isn't the worthwhile path since a plethora of goals isn't expected. Then again, Man City stacks have worked in other games that weren't expected to be high scoring, so let's not throw the thought out completely.
The Chelsea side will be the differential path because they are decent underdogs, but you can't ignore that they won each of the past two games. Mason Mount ($9,600) is their most expensive player, which is understandable given how good he's been from a fantasy perspective. He hasn't even had a role on set pieces lately, but he's still been very active with shots, crosses and chances created. Given the expectation that Manchester City are likely to have plenty of possession, focusing on Chelsea's set pieces may not be all that necessary, which only helps the case for Mount.
Chelsea's attacking players aren't cheap, with Timo Werner ($8,800), Hakim Ziyech ($8,400), Christian Pulisic ($8,000) and Kai Havertz ($7,400) basically priced in the range of the Manchester City attackers other than De Bruyne and Mahrez. Given how this game is expected to play out, a full-on Chelsea stack has to be the least popular lineup build, making it an attractive path for higher-risk tournament players trying to finish first among 11,029 entries.
One big issue we have for both teams is that they have very viable players who won't start, which ultimately limits the minutes of the starters because we know they can sub out and not have a drastic drop in class (additionally, they are allowed up to five subs in the Champions League, unlike the three in the Premier League). I am not usually one who advocates rostering players who don't start, but the possibility of a late goal from Aguero or Olivier Giroud ($6,600) shouldn't be ignored.
Fitting in the higher-priced players will obviously force you to find some cheaper ones, which will put the spotlight on the more defensive players. Chelsea's Jorginho ($4,400) is a possibility because he takes a lot of their penalties, and a low-scoring game with a spot-kick could surely decide who wins GPPs. Most of the center-backs and other defensive midfielders are appropriately priced low, but Jorginho has the most goal upside because of his role. N'Golo Kante ($3,400) has been Chelsea's best player of late, but his play doesn't really translate into DraftKings' scoring, and he comes in with an injury, so while he is cheap, you have to think he doesn't play 90 minutes if he starts.
The full-back situation is interesting because Chelsea use theirs a lot in the attack while Manchester City's tend to be less active (not inactive, just less). Ben Chilwell ($7,200) is the more attractive attacker versus Cesar Azpilicueta ($4,200), but the price difference will surely get people looking at the latter. Reece James ($6,400) is also usually a consideration because he takes some set pieces, but he's been lining up as one of three center-backs recently, which generally limits his open-play contributions, and that's particularly a concern if Manchester City dominate possession and don't concede many corners. But similarly to the attackers, if there are plenty of people looking to roster the City guys, the Chelsea ones will be viable differentials.
Similar in price is Joao Cancelo ($6,000), who has been a bit up-and-down when it comes to fantasy scoring, but he could definitely be more viable than the Chelsea full-backs in this match because he joins the attack and contributes well defensively. A lower-scoring game with Cancelo allows you to get a solid floor without missing out on a bunch of upside, particularly because it's not like Manchester City are expected to score a ton of goals. Even though he's priced similarly to Silva and Gundogan, Cancelo seems like the safer option, and you could even make the case that his realistic floor is similar to either Gundogan's or Silva's score if they happen to find the back of the net.
The toughest consideration in this one is whether to roster a goalkeeper or, even better (worse?), both. Ederson ($6,800) is much more expensive than Edouard Mendy ($4,800), who comes in with a rib injury but is really just cheaper because he is a decently sized underdog. If the game is tight, like a lot of Champions League finals are, we could see both goalkeepers post clean sheets after 90 minutes; that theoretically limits their upsides because they don't get the win bonuses, but rostering them in a scoreless game surely makes sense. Mendy will be less popular, but you could make the argument he has the ultimate upside if Chelsea score early and Man City use the rest of the match to pepper him with shots. If he happens to keep them all out in a win, oooh boy will the people who captained Mendy be celebrating. You could make a similar argument for Ederson if City score early, but there's more expectation that they'll hold onto the ball to limit Chelsea's attack, which theoretically takes his save upside down a tick or two.