Welcome to part two of our 2013-14 Champions League group stage preview. Here we focus on the betting for groups E to H.
Group E: Chelsea, Schalke 04, Fc Basel, Steaua Bucharest
Chelsea go in as overwhelming favourites for the group win, with PaddyPower offering 1/3. The return of the “special one” has not quite gone to plan, with the initial two league wins, followed by two draws (including the penalty shoot out defeat to Bayern Munich) and a defeat to Everton this weekend gone. Arguably the side are still adjusting, with Jose Mourinho’s tactics and new players taking time to bed in, but it is a slightly worrying time for blues fans.
The side that won the Europa League last season has been bolstered by the influx of quality during the window, including Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle joining the vast array of stars already on display at Stamford Bridge. The European pedigree of recent years and the quality of the squad should be enough to win through and qualify comfortably, with the 1/14 quote showing the bookies confidence too.
German side, Schalke are second favourites to win the group at 5/1 with Coral. After two draws and two losses in their opening four games, they have won three on the spin, including the second leg victory over POAK in the qualifying round. Schalke’s form seems to have coincided with the signing of Kevin Prince Boateng from AC Milan, which with Jefferson Farfan have started to create more for the strikers. Although they are certainly not the strongest German side in the competition, visitors to Gelsenkirchen will always find it difficult. To qualify from the group, they are being offered at 4/9 by Bet365.
Swiss champions Basel will pose plenty of problems for their group rivals and are 16/1 with William Hill to win the group. The successful side of the last few years, has steadily seen a drain of talent to bigger clubs. seeing such star names such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Raul Bobadilla moving on, amongst others. It will be very difficult for them to escape the group stage, this time around, although form has been exceptional with just one defeat this season so far. A narrow third place looks likely, but they are available at 5/2 with PaddyPower to get through.
Steaua Bucharest are the outsiders of the group and will have to rely on home advantage to have a hope of progression. Star man is former Serie A striker Federico Piovaccari who will be the focal point of most attacks. The side are undefeated in all competitions this year, but will find the quality of this group too much. The loss of Vlad Chiriches to Tottenham will also be a huge loss. Only the optimist will take the 50/1 offered by BWin to win the group, while to qualify, the best price of 9/1 offered by Winner to go through is again only for the brave.
It really comes down to a Chelsea/Schalke top two as far as I can see, with a straight Chelsea/Schalke forecast at 5/6, a Schalke/Chelsea available at 9/2. For those that fancy Basel over Schalke to finish behind Chelsea, then its also 9/2, with all three prices coming from BetVictor.
Group F: Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal, Napoli, Olympique Marseille
Without doubt this is the “group of death” of the draw, and a group that Borussia Dortmund would have liked to avoid. The runners-up from last season, have invested heavily after seeing Mario Gotze leaving for rivals Bayern Munich in the Summer, with Pierre-Emerick Aubamayeng, Henrik Mkhitaryan and Sokratis Papastathopoulos joining “Die Schwarzgelben”. Form has been superb,with seven straight wins, including the Super Cup win against Bayern, and this weekend’s 6-2 victory over Hamburg. They are marginal favourites for the group win at 6/4 with StanJames, while they are 3/10 to qualify with Coral.
Arsenal‘s form has been excellent since the opening day defeat to Aston Villa, with five wins on the bounce in all competitions. This and the superb signing of Mesut Ozil have helped to calm fears that the sides lack of transfer activity was hurting the club. It should be remembered that this is a side that beat the eventual champions, Bayern 2-0, in Germany. Their style of play and speed suits European competition, but the back line still needs something, especially struggling in the bigger games. Arsenal are a worthy 12/5 with Ladbrokes to win the group, while a safer bet of simply qualifying is 4/5 with William Hill.
Napoli are hoping Summer changes will bring success, and are available at 10/3 with Coral to win the group. Rafa Benitez has taken over the reins and acted decisively in the transfer window, with Pedro Armero, Gonzalo Higuain, Raul Albiol, Duvan Zapata and Jose Callejon coming in, after the mega-bucks deal that saw Edinson Cavani move to PSG. Form has been great with three wins and nine goals scored. Despite the loss of Cavani, the clubs owners will certainly expect European progression with the massive outlay, I wouldn’t be surprised if they upset either of the above sides and finish ahead, as its such a tight group. The Naples side at Evens to qualify looks a worthwhile punt in a difficult market.
Marseille have it all to do it would seem, with the side 16/1 with Coral to win the group, and 19/5 with Ladbrokes to qualify. They sit in fourth in the French League, with a defeat and draw following three straight wins. The squad has been improved with several young starlets coming in, including French under-21 player, Florian Thauvin, Benjamin Mendy and Gilbert Imbula, while Dimitri Payet adds some valuable experience up front. Realistically a third place and Europa League competition looks the best they can do, with individual bets on home advantage being the best option for punters.
Group G: Atletico Madrid, FC Porto, Zenit St.Petersburg, Austria Vienna
Atletico Madrid, available at 5/4 with BoyleSport, return to the big stage for the first time since 2009. Diego Simeone has worked wonders in the few years he’s been at the Vicente Calderon. The Summer saw Radamel Falcao eventually leave for Monaco and Martin Demichelis join Manchester City among a dozen players who were moved on. This clear-out, made room for David Villa, Toby Alderweireld, Leo Baptistao and highly prized Frenchman, Josuha Guilavogui to join the club. With the backbone of the side intact. the new investments have gelled quickly, with four straight league wins and two Super Coppa draws against Barcelona so far this season. They look good value for the 5/4, while more cautious punters may want to look at the 1/3 available with Skybet to qualify from the group.
FC Porto went through the entire domestic league season undefeated last term, with a cup defeat and Champions League losses, the only blots on the copybook. In their last sixty competitive matches, they have lost just five matches, which is quite incredible. This alone makes the 2/1 with BetVictor to top the group quite appealing. Five wins from five and just one goal conceded so far this season, only add to the appeal. They had made one or two worthwhile additions to the squad, with Nabil Ghilas and Hector Herrerra being the only notable incoming signings. It looks a straight fight between them and Atletico, with Porto also available at 8/13 with William Hill to qualify.
Zenit St.Petersburg have their work cut out to qualify ahead of Atletico or Porto, and are 7/2 with BetFred to win the group. Home advantage and the long trip for visitors will give them hope. Form is good with the side sitting in second domestically, and after two early defeats, they are currently on a run of ten games undefeated in all competitions. Last seasons European campaign was disappointing as they dropped down to the Europa League thanks to three defeats. This season could well be the same, and away from needs to be improved if they hold hopes of progression this year. Zenit are 5/6 to qualify with PaddyPower, but this seems somewhat shorter than expected.
Austria Vienna came through two rounds of qualifying with unimpressive aggregate victories against Icelandic side FH Hafnarfjordur and Croatian side Dinamo Zagreb. This will be an extremely difficult group to avoid finishing bottom in, with Ladbrokes offering 10/1 for the Austrians to even qualify. Their main threats are Czech journeyman, Tomas Jun and Marko Stankovic who has hit eight goals in thirteen this season. The odd draw may be possible at home but I wouldn’t be too surprised If they finish on zero.
Despite Zenit’s short odds to qualify, I feel their poor away performances in the group stages will continue. So a Atletico/Porto forecast looks likely at 11/4 with PaddyPower, while a Porto win and Atletico second is 3/1 also with PaddyPower.
Group H: FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax Amsterdam, Glasgow Celtic
Lionel Messi and his Barcelona team-mates are odds on favourites to win the group, at 2/7 with ToteSport. The “blaugrana” won back the La Liga title from bitter rivals Real Madrid last season, yet despite the general agreement that defence was a priority, they splashed the cash on Neymar and brought Bojan back to the side. A few players left, with David Villa and Thiago Alcantara the big moves. Despite defensive issues, its business as usual, with four straight league wins, and two draws against Atletico in the Super Coppa. They may have the odd issue with Milan and Celtic ‘s more physical squad but they should get through comfortably, with SportingBet offering 1/66! to qualify.
Milan finished fifteen points adrift of champion, Juventus last season and have looked to build on the side that showed flashes of promise last term. They are 9/2 to win the group with Bet365. Added to the squad this Summer were Kaka, Alessandro Matri, Christian Zapata and Andrea Poli. While Kevin Prince Boateng and Mathieu Flamini were the bigger names to leave. Form at the start of the season has been indifferent, with two wins and two draws in five games so far. The “Rossoneri” will have their work cut out against the weaker sides but should have enough to do the job, so unsurprisingly they are 3/10 to qualify.
Yet again, Ajax seem to have drawn the short straw, after last years Dortmund, Man.City and Real Madrid group. They are quoted at a whopping 25/1 to win the group, which says enough. With Christian Eriksson and Toby Alderweireld moved on and nothing really to replace them, it looks a straight battle with Celtic for the Europa League place. Four wins and two draws give some hope but the domestic league standard is far lower than group H’s opponents. To qualify, they are 4/1 with BetFred, which seems short considering their rivals.
Celtic will have a tough task, if they wish to recreate their excellent run of last season. Its been a long run already for the “hoops”, having started with victory against Cliftonville, in the first leg of the first qualifying round back in July. Major stars in Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper moved on in the transfer window, and were replaced with Teemu Pukki and former Ajax man, Derk Boerrigter, while Amido Balde has been brought in to add some fire power. Celtic Park will hold the key to any success, but realistically a Europa League place is the best they can hope for. They are available at 12/1 with Skybet to qualify.
Barring the chance of Barcelona resting players once they have garnered enough points to qualify, they should finish ahead of Milan at the top of the group. Its 8/15 with BetVictor for a Barca/Milan straight forecast, while those hoping for a reversal will get 9/2, also with BetVictor.
William Hill are also offering a market for Celtic’s points tally versus Barcelona, with the “hoops” priced at 4/9 to pick up zero points, while a single point bet is 5/2. Those hoping for a repeat of the amazing home game last season can get 7/1 to get three points again.
- Chelsea/Schalke Straight Forecast @ 5/6 – 1pt
- Napoli To Qualify @ Evens – 1pt
- Atletico Madrid/Porto Straight Forecast @ 11/4 – 1pt