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UEFA Champions League Preview

Another season of the UEFA Champions League is upon us with some mouth-watering matchups taking place.
The UEFA Champions League is upon us with some mouth-watering fixtures taking place this week.
Another season of the UEFA Champions League is upon us. Real Madrid will look to add to their 11th crown and face a tricky group featuring Borussia Dortmund and Sporting Lisbon. However, that is far from the group of death. Group C takes the cake, featuring Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, his former club Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Scottish champions Celtic. Another cagey contest will be in Group A, where PSG and Arsenal are likely to battle for top spot. Second favourites for the tournament, Bayern Munich, will be pitted up against last season’s runners-up, Atletico Madrid, who did a job over the Germans in last year’s semi-finals. English champions, Leicester City, face some fairly decent opposition in FC Copenhagen, Club Brugge and FC Porto. The opening set of fixtures promises to leave you at the edge of your seat. Let’s take a closer look and pick out some winners.

Tuesday 13 September

Group A

15/20 PSG | Draw 26/10 | Arsenal 7/2 (20:45)

First up, Arsenal travel to Paris to take on French heavyweights, PSG. The home side have looked far from their best so far this season under new boss, Unai Emery. The three-time Europa League winning manager faces his biggest test yet when the Gunners come to town. After receiving a large amount of criticism for not spending, Arsene Wenger splashed the cash in the closing stages of the transfer market to bring in Lucas Perez and Shkodran Mustafi from the Spanish La Liga. A striker and central defender – two positions that PSG weakened with the departures of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Luiz to Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. The duo made a massive difference to the team, and proved to be unstoppable at times when they were on the pitch for the Paris outfit. The Both Teams To Score (Yes) market seems well worth looking into at 8/10.

13/20 FC Basel | 26/10 | Ludogorets 17/4 (20:45)

Basel, who are firm favourites to drop into the Europa League, come into the campaign high in confidence, winning all six of their matches played so far in the Swiss Super League. In those six games, Basel have netted 21 times, shipping in just four goals. Ludogorets have been far from their best so far this season, picking up seven points from a possible 12 in the Bulgarian league. These sides last met in the Champions League back in 2014, with Basel claiming an emphatic 4-0 victory on their turf. Another convincing victory for Basel is tipped at 13/20.

Group B

43/20 Dynamo Kyiv | 22/10 | Napoli 13/10 (20:45)

Dynamo Kyiv are a team that are always ruled out before kick-off, but end up causing an upset or two. Their first task, a battle against a Gonzalo Higuain-less Napoli. After losing their star striker who smashed all types of records for the Italian outfit last season, the Naples splashed the cash on Polish forward, Arkadiusz Milik. Selling their best player is something that Dynamo forced not to do, keeping hold of Andriy Yarmolenko. Dynamo did lose one big name, though, in the form of tough-tackling centre back, Aleksandar Dragovic. However, much of the Ukrainian side’s chances are rooted firmly into the left boot of Yarmolenko. With home advantage, back Dynamo on Win/Draw Double Chance at a decent price of 6/10.

7/10 Benfica | 26/10 | Besiktas 39/10 (20:45)

Group B is probably one of the most open groups that the Champions League has produced in many years. No team is head and shoulders above the rest. Benfica have dominated Portugal in recent years, winning three consecutive titles. They come up against Turkish champions, Besiktas, who can be full of surprises on their day. They’ve had an excellent transfer window, bringing in players like Gokhan Inler, Talisca and Vincent Aboubakar from Benfica rivals, FC Porto. But none of those signings can compare to the Eagles’ star striker, Konstantinos Mitroglou. The lethal forward made his switch to the Portuguese outfit permanent, after enjoying a successful loan spell, netting 20 goals in 32 appearances. A straightforward home win is tipped at 7/10.

Group C

5/10 Man City | 7/2 | Monchengladbach 47/10 (20:45)

In arguably the group of death, Manchester City face an uphill challenge going up against some big names in Europe. First up, Pep Guardiola’s Citizens take on Andre Schubert’s Monchengladbach. City have been formidable so far, winning all three of their Premier League matches at the time of writing. The Sky Blues are likely to welcome back Sergio Aguero, who will miss their Manchester Derby at the weekend due to a ban he received for elbowing West Ham’s Winston Reid. Gladbach, like Manchester City, also have a few stars in their ranks, Thorgan Hazard – brother of Eden Hazard – may not have the skill as his older sibling, but coming face-to-face with his opponents on the wing, you can see the Hazard blood runs deep in his veins. These sides met in last year’s Champions League where Man City claimed victory both home and away, but conceded three goals in the process. With that being said, a City Win + Both Teams To Score is tipped at 16/10.

1/14 Barcelona | 19/2 | Celtic 25/1 (20:45)

Barcelona, who are 3/1 favourites for the tournament, will know that even the smallest of teams are not to be taken lightly. Their 2012 defeat in the Champions League at the hands of their opponents, Celtic, will be a good reminder not to underestimate their counterparts. This will certainly be Brendan Rodgers’ most scary match since taking charge of The Hoops. Just the thought of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar running at their defence will surely cause Brendan some sleepless nights. Despite this being the “Group of Death”, this is one of the more straightforward fixtures. Barcelona are a banker, but some exotics could find us some value. Over 1.5 Goals in the first half at 7/10 is well worth a punt!

Group D

1/14 Bayern Munich | 9/1 | FC Rostov 28/1 (20:45)

Even with Guardiola gone, Bayern Munich remain as one of Europe’s biggest giants and have an abundance of talent in their squad. With Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, Bayern will be more solid and will look to shut out teams. They’ve reinforced their backline with the signing of Mats Hummels from arch-rivals, Borussia Dortmund, making their defence second to none. FC Rostov were the biggest surprise packages in the qualifying stages, knocking out Ajax Amsterdam 5-2 on aggregate. Will they continue that run and be this year’s Leicester of the Champions League? Definitely not! Bayern should wipe the floor with them. Robert Lewandowski has got two hat-tricks in two games under Ancelotti and should find himself on the scoresheet here. The Bavarians to Win To Nil is tipped at 5/10.

32/10 PSV Eindhoven| 22/10 | Atletico Madrid 9/10 (20:45)

Diego Simeone’s aggressive Atletico Madrid will lock horns with Phillip Cocu’s resilient PSV Eindhoven in a repeat of last season’s Round of 16 fixture. Atletico managed to scrape through on penalties after two scoreless draws forced the game to go beyond injury time. Both teams are known for their resolute defence and shut out each other in both legs. PSV have not conceded in their last three Eredivisie matches – at the time of writing, while Atletico Madrid got off to a slow start in La Liga, drawing both their games played. However, Atleti are destined to bounce back at some point. Will they do it at the Philips Stadion? The world sure hopes so. If either side snatch a victory, it will be by the odd goal or two. Both Teams To Score (No) is the tip at 6/10.

Wednesday 14 September

Group E

13/20 Tottenham | 26/10 | Monaco 17/4 (20:45)

Group E favourites, Tottenham Hotspur, take on French side, Monaco, at White Hart Lane. Despite being one of England’s lesser sides in the tournament, Spurs have a fairly decent group in which they should make it out of. Monaco got off to a solid start to their French Ligue 1 campaign, beating PSG 3-1, and are on top of the log for now. Tottenham haven’t been convincing so far, drawing two of their three matches played. The Red and Whites did well to earn a spot in this year’s Champions League, beating Villarreal in the playoffs both home and away. However, if you’re expecting a goal fest, you’re in the wrong place. All Spurs’ games so far have produced Under 2.5 Goals. Follow the trend at 15/20.

6/10 Bayer Leverkusen | 28/10 | CSKA Moscow 17/4 (20:45)

Bayer Leverkusen secured third place in the German Bundesliga, ensuring an automatic spot in the Champions League this season. They have an exciting group of young players, combined with that extra bit of experience to make them a formidable force. Players like Hakan Calhanoglu and Javier Hernandez along with new signings, Aleksandar Dragovic and Julian Baumgartlinger, strengthen the spine of the team. CSKA Moscow finished bottom of their group last year. They lost their star player, Ahmed Musa, to Leicester City without making any top signings. Nicknamed the Horses, CSKA will hope to ride their way to the next round, knowing that they avoided Europe’s bigger names in the group stages. However, a trip to Germany is where they should fall short. Bayer Leverkusen at 6/10 is the tip.

Group F

15/2 Legia Warsaw | 4/1 | Dortmund 7/20 (20:45)

After three rounds of qualification, Legia Warsaw were handed a spot in Group F alongside holders, Real Madrid, and German heavyweights, Borussia Dortmund. The Militarians will know that nothing more than third spot in the group is realistically achievable. Dortmund on the other hand, will look to punch above their weight and take on Madrid head on in the fight for top spot. Thomas Tuchel has done a superb job since taking over from Jurgen Klopp, building a new “Yellow Wall”. BVB have an abundance of young talent at their disposal, including Emre Mor, Julian Weigl, Marc Bartra and Ousmane Dembele. Dortmund to win of the Halftime/Fulltime Double is the tip at 17/20.

2/9 Real Madrid | 52/10 | Sporting Lisbon 10/1 (20:45)

Making just one signing in the transfer window, Zinedine Zidane clearly feels that his side is not far from perfect. Alvaro Morata was the only new signing for Los Blancos, brought in to give Karim Benzema competition up front, adding to what was already a lethal attack-minded team. No team has ever retained the Champions League, and Madrid will look to make a statement in their opening game. Had Sporting not sold Islam Slimani, I would have considered the Portuguese runners-up to give Madrid a challenge at the Santiago Bernabeu. They managed to keep hold of William Carvalho, but will lack that extra cutting edge up front following the departure of Slimani. Madrid to Win To Nil is tipped at even money.

Group G

19/10 Club Brugge | 43/20 | Leicester City 29/20 (20:45)

Club Brugge will be looking to make a name on the big stage after missing out last year, but their headlines will be overshadowed by surprise Premier League winners, Leicester City, in Group G. They’ve lost their best player – Thomas Meunier – to French outfit, PSG. Leicester on the other hand, have strengthened massively after losing N’Golo Kante to Chelsea. They’ve signed Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Nampalys Mendy, managing to keep hold of PFA Player of the Year, Riyad Mahrez and Writers’ Player of the Year, Jamie Vardy, in the process. Back Leicester to claim their first ever victory in the Champions League at 29/20.

5/10 FC Porto | 3/1 | Copenhagen 11/2 (20:45)

FC Porto may not be the dominant force they once were, but are a team that you can just never write off. They steamrolled their way past Roma in the playoff round, winning 4-1 on aggregate. Don’t be fooled by the scoreline, though, Porto were far from their best and still have a lot more talent to show. Copenhagen managed to scrape their way past Apoel Nicosia in the playoff round, winning 2-1 on aggregate. However, with home ground advantage, back Porto to start their campaign off with a win.

Group H

13/20 Juventus | 26/10 | Sevilla 9/2 (20:45)

Juventus, who are firm favourites to top Group H, have an excellent squad well worth challenging for Champions League glory. The Bianconeri may have lost Paul Pogba to Manchester United, but they’ve managed to spend that money wisely, most notably on Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic. Juve managed to keep hold of their formidable back three, adding to that, the likes of Mehdi Benatia from Bayern Munich and Dani Alves from Barcelona. Sevilla have also done some neat business in the transfer window, bringing in Samir Nasri, Gabriel Mercado, Luciano Vietto and my personal favourite, Ganso. Jorge Sampaoli will need to get his charges performing at their best if they are to get anything out of Juve. I don’t see it happening, though. Back the Bianconeri at 13/20.

5/10 Lyon | 31/10 | Dinamo Zagreb 11/2 (20:45)

Lyon are far from the team that made it to the semi-finals of the Champions League back in 2010. However, they shouldn’t be underestimated. They’ve held on to their star striker, Alexandre Lacazette, who is likely to run away with the Ligue 1 top scorer award, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic no longer in the running following his move to Manchester United. Dinamo Zagreb performed one of the biggest shocks last year in the Champions League, beating Arsenal 2-1. But now, they let go of their brightest talent, Marko Pjaca, and goalkeeper, Eduardo. Personally, I don’t feel that they have a chance in this group. Back Lyon at 5/10.

Bayern Munich WIN TO NIL 5/10
Manchester City WIN + BTTS 16/10
PSG vs Arsenal BTTS 8/10

Juventus WIN 13/20
Real Madrid WIN TO NIL 1/1

Written by Jesse Nagel