It’s back! It’s back! Don’t tell Manchester United fans, but the Champions League is back after a four-month hiatus following Real Madrid’s historic ‘La Decima’ in May.
Across the continent, 32 teams set out to successfully traverse eight groups en route to the nervy knockout stages after Christmas. Here are our straight-forecast picks to mark the occasion.
Group A – Atletico Madrid/Juventus @ 5/4
Considering some of the straight forecast prices available further down this list, the Scudetto holders following in the La Liga champions looks a smart bet.
Neither Olympiacos nor Malmo should be able to live with either the Mattress Makers or the Old Lady over the autumn.
B – Real Madrid/Liverpool @ 2/5
Both of these behemoths, who have now lifted the trophy 15 times between them, are struggling to repeat their 2013/14 heroics so far this term, but with Basel and Ludogorets making up the mini-league, it doesn’t matter.
C – Benfica/Zenit @ 12/1
Seemingly the most open group, with favourites Bayer Leverkusen and seriously-shorn French oddities Monaco also involved.
Benfica were within penalties of winning the Europa League four months ago, in their second successive final, and wrested the Portuguese title from Porto’s grasp for only the second time in nine seasons.
Meanwhile, Andre Villas-Boas’ Zenit squad includes Hulk, Javi Garcia, Ezequiel Garay (formerly of Benfica) and Axel Witsel, among others. They look somewhat stronger than a Leverkusen outfit that stood still during the summer.
D – Borussia Dortmund/Arsenal @ 15/8
This was the straight forecast in Group F last term, when Jurgen Klopp’s BVB saw off the Gunners via a better goal record.
A year on, there’s little evidence to recommend a bet on the result being any different in a group also containing Galatasaray and Anderlecht.
E – Bayern Munich/Roma @ 4/1
Premier League champions Manchester City are yet to emerge from a credible group since first qualifying for the Champions League in 2010/11.
They’ve been handed a stout task this time around, and having managed one point against Roma’s Serie A brethren Napoli in their last pair of continental clashes with an Italian side, Manuel Pellegrini’s men have to be taken on.
F – Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain @ 1/2
Cypriot outfit Apoel Nicosia should enjoy their trips to France and Spain, which are sure to end in humbling defeat, while Ajax will have to have improved out of sight, despite selling their best player for the second summer in a row, to make a mark on this group.
G – Chelsea/Schalke @ 5/6
Chelsea are bankers to top a pile that also contains Sporting Lisbon and Maribor, having seen off closest challengers Schalke 3-0 home and away last term.
The Gelsenkirchen Blues were often shocking in 2013/14 but, buoyed by World Cup winners Benedikt Howedes and Julian Draxler, with Leon Goretzka and Max Meyer also set to come to the fore, they will improve markedly.
H – Athletic Bilbao/Shakhtar Donetsk @ 6/1
Porto finished 13 points behind Benfica in the Primeira Liga last season and six behind Sporting, while also failing to win a home game in the Champions League and crashing out at the group stage.
The Group H favourites simply cannot be trusted with a bet at present, so sticking by La Liga best-of-the-rest Athletic to edge ahead of Brazilian paradise Shakhtar, of Ukraine, is the sensible play.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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