UEFA Champions League Preview

Tuesday 15th September

Paris Saint-Germain 1/8 | Draw 72/10 | Malmo 20/1

Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets the chance to face his hometown club, and the team with whom he started his career, as Paris Saint-Germain begin their Champions League campaign against Malmo on Tuesday. The French champions and the Swedish title-holders meet at the Parc des Princes in the opening round of games in Group A, and with Real Madrid and Shakhtar Donetsk also in the section, PSG can not afford to slip-up. The Parisians will be full of confidence following their impressive start in Ligue 1 which has seen them win four of their five matches with a 2-2 draw on the weekend against Bordeaux. Laurent Blanc has an embarrassment of riches in attacking positions with the likes of Lucas, Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani and Ibrahimovic. Malmo have won just once in their last five away games, losing three times. PSG rarely lose at home and I’m tipping them to win with a clean sheet at 9/20.  

Real Madrid 2/11 | Draw 13/2 | Shakhtar Donetsk 12/1

Real Madrid appointed a new manager over the summer, and it appears that Rafa Benitez was not everybody’s choice to replace the popular Carlo Ancelotti. The combination of nagging pressure from Real supporters and Barcelona’s recent dominance is not going to make things easy for the former Valencia and Liverpool manager. Things weren’t made any easier when Real drew 0-0 at Sporting Gijon on the opening day of the La Liga season. Real find themselves in a tricky group, alongside PSG and the always dangerous Shakhtar Donetsk. That being said, Real Madrid are a side who never fail to impress in Europe and have a wealth of talent including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez, among many others. Ronaldo will be fired up for this match after scoring an astonishing five goals in Real's 6-0 hammering of Espanyol on the weekend. He did so with a hat-trick inside the first 20 minutes and in record-setting fashion. The handful of goals pushed the Portuguese past Raul on Real Madrid's all-time La Liga scoring chart, with Ronaldo now at 230 goals to Raul's 228. Shakhtar failed to take home the Ukrainian title for the first time since 2008-09, and consequently had to go through qualifying. Entering in the third qualifying round, they took on and beat Fenerbahce, before a 1-0 victory in Vienna against Rapid was enough to send them into the group stage. The loss of Douglas Costa to Bayern, Luiz Adriano to Milan and Fernando to Sampdoria lessens their capabilities, though Mircea Lucescu remains one of the canniest coaches in the game. Real Madrid should have enough quality to see off Shakhtar here, and i'm tipping them to win on the Half-time/Full-time double at 5/10. 

Wolfsburg 8/10 | Draw 28/10 | CSKA Moscow 3/1

Wolfsburg finished runners-up to Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga last season, and despite losing star midfielder Kevin De Bruyne to Manchester City, the club still has plenty of talent and have made some very good signings, picking up Max Kruse, Dante and Julian Draxler. The Wolves are unbeaten in their four league matches with two wins and will face a stern test against an in-form CSKA Moscow side. The Russians have been superb in the Premier Liga, winning seven of their eight matches with a 2-2 draw at home to Zenit on Saturday. This should be a tight affair but I’m tipping Wolfsburg to make home advantage count at 8/10.  

PSV Eindhoven 5/2 | Draw 24/10 | Manchester United 11/10

Memphis Depay makes a swift return to his old stamping ground when his Manchester United side visit PSV Eindhoven – the club he left in the summer. Depay's return is not the only source of intrigue in a contest which pits home coach Phillip Cocu against Louis van Gaal, a man he played under for both FC Barcelona and the Netherlands. Cocu's side are 12 games unbeaten in all competitions, winning 6-0 against SC Cambuur on Saturday. United are back in the UEFA Champions League after a season's exile. Fourth in the 2014/15 Premier League, they beat Club Brugge 7-1 on aggregate in last month's play-off round to secure their participation. Anthony Martial came off the bench to score on his debut in Saturday's 3-1 defeat of Liverpool and should start here instead of injured Wayne Rooney. Van Gaal has an extremely talented squad at his disposal with the likes of Juan Mata, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Depay. United have lost just once in their four meetings with PSV, picking up two wins. Back United at 11/10.

Galatasaray 42/10 | Draw 5/2 | Atletico Madrid 7/10

Turkish champions Galatasaray will be in for a tough night when they host Atletico Madrid at the Turk Telekom Arena. The Lions have made an inconsistent start to the Super Lig and could find it difficult to contain Diego Simeone's men given the quality at his disposal. Atletico Madrid are one of the hardest sides to beat in the whole of Europe. Simeone has totally transformed the club since taking over as manager, guiding Atletico to La Liga and Copa Del Rey success. He also managed to lead the club to the Champions League final two years ago, where they were cruelly denied the title after a late Sergio Ramos equaliser for their rivals Real Madrid. Atletico then went on to lose convincingly in extra time, something that many fans are still rather bitter about. The additions of Luciano Vietto and Jackson Martinez has given them an improved strike force from last season, while the mercurial talents of Antoine Griezmann bodes well for their chances. Atleti are unbeaten in four fixtures against Galatasaray, winning two games – both away from home – and drawing the other two. Back Atletico and move on.  

Benfica 1/5 | Draw 52/10 | Astana 14/1

Portuguese champions Benfica will welcome Kazakhstani minnows Astana to Lisbon on Tuesday. Benfica have won all three of their home games in the league beating Estoril 4-0, Moreirense 3-2 and Belenenses 6-0 on Friday. The Eagles have a host of attacking talent including Nicolas Gaitan, Anderson Talisca and Jonas who is the top scorer in the Portuguese league with five goals. Astana qualified for the group stages of the Champions League by beating Maribor of Solvenia, HJK Helsinki of Finland and Cypriots APOEL but will have little hope of escaping a group that features Atletico Madrid, Galatasaray and Benfica. Benfica are a banker bet here but are too short at 1/5, I’d recommend taking them to win both halves at 27/20. 

Manchester City 15/20 | Draw 26/10 | Juventus 38/10

Manchester City host Italian champions and last year’s Champions League runners-up Juventus in a humdinger of a match. This could be City’s biggest game of the season to date, and as they have underperformed in recent seasons in the Champions League this is a big opportunity for them to display their credentials and show that they can cut it amongst the European elite. The Citizens have been outstanding in the Premier League, winning five straight games, having scored 11 goals without reply. But it’s the quality of their play, rather than the results themselves, which have impressed the most. The squad is far improved this summer with the arrival of Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi who will be looking to tear apart a vulnerable Juventus team. Despite the additions of Paulo Dybala, Sami Khedira, Hernanes, Mario Mandzukic and Juan Cuadrado on loan from Chelsea, Juventus have struggled to cope without the superpowers of Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal having lost opening matches in the Serie A against Udinese and Roma. This match will set the tone for both squads in Group D as they have been drawn into the “Group of Death.” Paired with German up-and-comers Borussia Monchengladbach and reigning Europa League champions Sevilla, this is a must-win match for both sides but Man City look good for the win here. Take the home win at 7/10.

Sevilla 11/20 | Draw 3/1 | Borussia Monchengladbach 9/2

The two-time defending Europa League winners are looking to crack their way into the Champions League. Sevilla was the last team out of La Liga to qualify for the Champions League, but they are not a team to be taken lightly. Sevilla lost just one home game all of last season (against Real Madrid) in all competitions and will be confident of victory here having beaten Monchengladbach twice in the Europa League last season, 3-2 and 1-0 in Seville. Los Rojiblancos have lost their top scorer Carlos Bacca to AC Milan, but have signed two quality strikers in Fernando Llorente and Ciro Immobile. Monchengladbach finished third in the Bundesliga last year and had an impressive result beating Bayern Munich 2-0 at the Allainz Arena last season. They have a talented team which includes Christoph Kramer, Raffael Araujo, Granit Xhaka and Thorgan Hazard. The Foals have struggled in the Bundesliga this season and are coming off a 3-0 home defeat against Hamburg. They've also lost both away meetings. The home win is a banker bet at 15/20. 

Wednesday 16th September

Bayer Leverkusen 2/9 | Draw 5/1 | BATE Borisov 11/1

Bayer Leverkusen qualified via the play-offs, with a comfortable 3-1 aggregate victory over Lazio, having finished fourth in the German league last season. Roger Schmidt’s side are hard to beat at home having lost just once from 17 games last season with 10 wins and six draws. Leverkusen have bolstered their squad by bringing in Javier Hernandez, Kevin Kampl, Charles Aranguiz and Kyriakos Papadopoulos. BATE have been dominant in their domestic league having won 14 of their 19 games played with four draws and just one defeat. The Belarusian champions are known for causing upsets having beaten Bayern Munich 3-1 in the 2012/13 season, and I’m tipping them to earn a commendable draw at 5/1. 

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AS Roma 42/10 | Draw 29/10 | Barcelona 13/20

Roma host European champions Barcelona in this epic Champions League group stage fixture. Rudi Garcia’s men look an improved force with the arrivals of Mohamed Salah, Edin Dzeko, Antonio Rudiger, Lucas Digne and Wojciech SzczÄ™sny, and are coming off a 2-0 away win over Frosinone. Barcelona have won all three of their matches in La Liga beating Athletic Bilbao and Malaga by 1-0 scorelines followed by a hard-fought 2-1 at Atletico Madrid on Saturday. Barcelona will be looking to make history by becoming the first team to defend the Champions League this season. The Catalans enjoyed a brilliant first season under Luis Enrique, sealing a historic treble with the 3-1 win over Juventus in May’s Berlin final. No side has ever successfully retained Europe’s elite club competition in its current form, although Barca did win two in the space of three years with their 2009 and 2011 successes proving they are a special team. With the attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona have South America’s cream of the crop, capable of pure brilliance. While Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan come in January to bolster the attack and right back positon, the midfield and defence are top class. Barca are tipped for victory here at 13/20 and they’re my favourite to win this year’s competition at 3/1 despite what history says. 

Dinamo Zagreb 11/2 | Draw 34/10 | Arsenal 9/20

Arsenal open their Champions League campaign away against Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb. Zagreb are no strangers to the Champions League group stage, but they have no idea how to advance from it. Never since the change of format in 1992 have they progressed from the group stage. Dinamo are not going to be in anyone’s bets for last 16, and they potentially could be the group’s playtoy. Arsenal are blessed with an abundance of attacking talent with Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez leading a lethal team that is superior to Dynamo Zagreb in all departments. The Gunners played Dinamo Zagreb in the play-off round in 2006, winning 3-0 away and 2-1 at home. The away win looks a certainty at 9/20. 

Olympiacos 6/1 | Draw 7/2 | Bayern Munich 9/20

Olympiacos will need more than just home advantage to upset the German champions. In fact, they’ll need to be special just to keep up with Pep Guardiola’s side. Bayern have won all four of their Bundesliga matches scoring 13 times while conceding just twice. The Bavarians once again look poised to make a deep run in this prestigious competition. They lifted the cup back in 2012-13, beating league rivals Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the final, and are certainly among the favourites to go all the way this time as well. Bayern have retained their top talent, gotten Javi Martinez back from injury, and added a pair of instant stars in Douglas Costa and Arturo Vidal. The arrival of Vidal in particular adds a formidable piece in the midfield. The rest of the team is bevy of terrific attackers and defenders. If this team can stay healthy and play its combination of possession and fast attack, then Bayern could be the team to beat. Bayern are tipped to win on the Half-time/Full-time double at 11/10. 

Dynamo Kiev 18/10 | Draw 2/1 | FC Porto 16/10

Dynamo Kiev won their league at a canter last season, which was enough to secure them a place in the group stage draw. Dynamo went the whole of last season unbeaten on their turf and have followed that trend by winning all three of their home matches this season, scoring eight times without reply. Porto have made some quality signings in Maxi Pereira, Iker Casillas, Danilo Pereira, Giannelli Imbula and Dani Osvaldo. They’ve won three of their first four games in the Portuguese league with a 1-1 draw at Maritimo. These sides played out to a goalless draw in the 2012/13 season and it’s very likely to happen again.  

Chelsea 3/20 | Draw 13/2 | Maccabi Tel Aviv 17/1

Chelsea will be keen to kick off their group-stage bid with a convincing win at Stamford Bridge. In spite of a disastrous start to the domestic campaign, Jose Mourinho's charges have so much experience and ability that anything short of a semifinal berth in Europe will be a disappointment to them. The Premier League champions have a squad brimming with world-class players like Thibaut Courtois, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro. Mourinho knows that the Champions League is something that is missing from his CV at Chelsea and this group could be the silver lining in this season as he chases that elusive crown. Pedro is going to be absolutely critical to Chelsea’s chances in Europe. Too often last term there wasn’t enough thrust to their attack but the former Barcelona star will add pace and directness to the Blues’ play. Maccabi Tel Aviv shocked many by beating recent European stalwarts Basel to get this far, but the Israeli champions will find it difficult to trouble the 2012 Champions League winners. Chelsea should prove too strong for their opponents and I’m backing them to win on the Half-time/Full-time double at 5/10. They also look a solid bet to win their group at 12/10. 

Valencia 7/10 | Draw 27/10 | Zenit Saint Petersburg 4/1

Valencia returned to the Champions League group stage this season after missing out each of the last two years. To reach this point, the Spanish side had to defeat Monaco, quarter-finalists last term, in a two-legged playoff. Valencia haven’t got off to a flying start in La Liga having drawn both of their games against Rayo Vallecano and Deportivo, but playing in the Champions league again is a big motivation. Zenit are third in the Russian league with five wins from eight matches with two defeats against Krasnodar and Krylia Sovetov. It should be close affair but Valencia are tipped to capitalize on home advantage. 

Gent 24/10 | Draw 21/10 | Olympique Lyon 5/4 

Gent are making their Champions League group stage bow this season having never previously qualified before. Gent rallied to their first ever Belgian league crown under the guidance of boss Hein Vanhaezebrouck, overcoming the likes of Club Brugge, Anderlecht and Standard Liege for their maiden domestic title. They managed to retain the services of all their top stars this summer, possibly through the prospect of game time in Europe’s elite club competition, and added attacking midfielder Thomas Matton from domestic rivals KV Kortrijk, while 26-year-old Swedish centre back Erik Johansson will sure-up the defence for their Champions League debut. Lyon are coming off a goalless draw with Lille and the long-term loss of exciting Lyon attacker Nabil Fekir to a serious knee injury will be a major concern for Hubert Fournier’s side. Lyon will now look to the talents of new signing Mathieu Valbuena while Clement Grenier and Alexandre Lacazette will need to produce their magic from last season. The draw looks the likely outcome at 21/10.

UCL Picks
Real Madrid HT-FT WIN 5/10
Wolfsburg WIN 8/10
Man United WIN 11/10
Atletico Madrid WIN 7/10
Benfica WIN BOTH HALVES 27/20
Man City WIN 15/20
Sevilla WIN 11/20
Leverkusen DRAW 5/1
Barcelona WIN 13/20 & OUTRIGHT 3/1
Arsenal WIN 9/20
Bayern HT-FT WIN 11/10
Dynamo DRAW 2/1
Chelsea HT-FT WIN 5/10 & WIN GROUP 12/10
Valencia WIN 7/10
Gent DRAW 21/10

Written by Chadley Nagel for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!