Welcome to the first part of the 2013-14 Champions League group stage preview, with 32 sides vying to achieve the ultimate glory.
Will Bayern Munich beat the winners hoodoo of never retaining the title? Will Borussia Dortmund go one better? Will it be Gareth Bale and Ronaldo, or Lionel Messi and Neymar celebrating? Or will one of the four English representatives bring the trophy back with them?
Here we take a look at betting odds for qualifying and one or two other interesting bets of note in Groups A-D.
Group A: Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk,
Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad
Manchester United go in as bookies favourites to win the group at 5/6 with Coral, which is a little shorter than I’d expect considering the draw. United brought in Marouanne Fellaini as the only signing of note on deadline day, while recent form under new manager David Moyes has been below par, with a draw and defeat in the last two and no goals.
Home advantages should garner 7-9 points but with difficult trips abroad and a need to improve form in the league, the squad will undoubtedly be tested on the road. The one plus point for United is the others are not great travellers themselves.
Shakhtar Donetsk are always a dangerous side to play against, Sporting Bet quote them at 5/1 to win the group. Sitting second in the Ukrainian league, they have seen Fernandinho and Henrik Mkhitaryan move on for large fees, whilst bringing in coveted winger, Bernard and Brazilian star striker Fred into the club.
Home form in Europe has until recent years been superb, but this will need to improve to progress further, while away from has seen just two wins in eight road games in the Champions League. Their position as second favourites is a little dubious but for those wishing to back them to Qualify from Group A, 7/5 with Sporting Bet is the best available.
German side Bayer Leverkusen are 6/1 also with Sporting Bet to win the group. An excellent start to the season, which saw wins in all matches was abruptly ended away to Schalke before the international break. The loss of Andre Schurrle to Chelsea and Daniel Carvajal to Real Madrid in the summer, has been offset with the signings of Emir Spahic, Heung-Min Son, Emre Can and Erin Derdiyok.
Home advantage will, like last season be key, which saw them beat Chelsea, Valencia and Genk in group games, while an improvement on the single point taken on the road is surely required. Sebastien Kiessling will be their main threat in the air, so expect lots of crosses coming in. Leverkusen look a useful 6/4 with William Hill to qualify from the group.
Real Sociedad enter the group stage for the first time in nine years, thanks to an excellent 4-0 aggregate victory of Lyon in the final qualifying round. The side from San Sebastien (7/1 with Betfred to win the group) finished fourth last season domestically, and have done well to keep the squad together, with only Asier Illarramendi moving on for a massive fee to Real Madrid.
Incoming signings have been few and far between with Esteban Granero joining on loan from Q.P.R. and Haris Sefarovic signed from Fiorentina, along with several lower division players. Real will see this as a much needed cash injection, rather than a viable chance of progression, but with players such as David Zurutuza, Imanol Agirretxe and Antoine Greizmann looking to impress in the best shop window of them all, they should cause many a problem, especially at the partizan Anoeta stadium. They are 7/4 with Ladbrokes to qualify.
United should have enough to top the group, with Leverkusen and Shakhtar vying for second spot. This is reflected in the betting with a United/Leverkusen or United/Shakhtar straight forecast being offered at 4/1 by BetVictor.
Group B: Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray, FC Kobenhavn
Real Madrid are unsurprisingly odds on favourite to win the group at 4/7 with Boylesports. The summer departure of Jose Mourinho has at least given rise to some stability at the club with Carlo Ancelotti taking over the reins.
The world record deal for Gareth Bale, along with the signings of Isco, Daniel Carvajal and Asier Illarramendi has re-invigorated the squad with some much needed youth, while Mesut Ozil, Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol have been shipped out to recoup some of the outlay.
They have inevitably started the season with three league wins, as they look to wrestle the title back from Barcelona. Real will have to put up with sides defending deep at the Bernabeu, while away ties to Turkey and Italy will be awkward affairs, but they should have more than enough to go through. A qualifying bet is somewhat pointless with a best price of 1/14 with Bet Victor.
The “Old Lady”, Juventus are 5/2 with Bet365 to win the group. The Italian champions have formed a formidable squad over the last season or so, with the midfield especially attaining high praise, thanks to maestro Andrea Pirlo, still pulling the strings at the age of 34, and a supporting cast of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio.
The summer has seen big centre-back, Anthony Ogbonna join from Torino, while upfront, the firepower has been greatly upgraded thanks to the free signing of Fernando Llorente and the purchase of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City. Juventus have started well in Serie A, with two wins and certainly look strong favourites to qualify along with Real at 2/7, again with Bet Victor.
Galatasaray are 16/1 with Totesport to win the group. The Turkish side have drawn the short straw this year, with hopes of repeating last years quarter-final spot arguably in the balance before they start. Two wins and two draws have seen them get off to a good start on home soil, and its this home advantage that will give them any chance of qualifying, bearing in mind they beat group rivals Real Madrid in the second leg of last years quarter-final at the Turk Telekom Arena.
Along with the mainstays of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder, Galatasaray have brought in Bruma from Sporting Lisbon, Aurelien Chedjou from Lille and signed Juve’ player Felipe Melo on a permanent after his loan spell. If they can maintain the home form, they have a chance of sneaking through, but they’ll likely need help from other results. They are 4/1 to qualify with Bet365
FC Kobenhavn will appear in the group stage for the first time in three years, thanks to UEFA’s co-efficient, the ranking system used for clubs and nations, which has meant they were automatically advanced to the group stage. Not much is expected from this campaign, with a point or two expected at best when the side entertains at Parken.
Domestically the champions have struggled so far, with just six points from seven games and are sitting just outside the relegation zone. Barring individual match bets in said home matches, the odds of 18/1 with Paddy Power to qualify says enough.
Despite Galatasaray’s chances which are valid, it looks a straight fight between Real and Juventus for the top spot, so an Evens bet for a Real/Juventus straight forecast with Bet Victor is favourite, while a Juventus/Real selection is available at 9/4 with PaddyPower.
Group C: Paris St.Germain, Benfica, Olympiakos, Anderlecht
Moneybags Paris St.Germain (PSG), will be making a concerted effort to go further this year, after last seasons away goal exit to Barcelona in the quarter-finals. Under Carlo Ancelotti they lost just once in Europe last year, away to Porto, so an improved squad and new manager, Laurent Blanc have a lot to live up to.
The summer has seen Edinson Cavani, Lucas Digne and Marquinos added to the squad, with the biggest loss being Mohammed Sakho joining Liverpool. Early form has been good with three wins and two draws so far. The draw has been very kind and the odds of 8/13 to win the group look worth while, while 1/12 from Betfred to qualify from Group C isn’t offering any value.
Portuguese side Benfica are 9/4 with Ladbrokes to win the group. The side from the Stadium of Light have flattered to deceive over the years, with the 2011/12 exit to Chelsea in the quarter-finals being the only time they have progressed from the group stage in recent Champions League adventures. They have started relatively slowly this season with a win, draw and loss in their opening games.
The transfer window has seen plenty of activity with the signings of Pizzi,Lazar Markovic, Filipe Duricic and Rogelio Funes Mori coming in among some dozen players. The only notable player to leave is Lorenzo Malgerejo. Benfica should have enough to get through, with Bet365 offering 4/11 to qualify.
Olympiakos will be hoping to give the struggling Greek nation something to cheer about this year, with the side quoted at 14/1 (generally) to win the group. Spanish manager Michel has seen his side get off to a good start domestically, with three wins on the bounce.
The squad has had a few changes with Ljubomir Feysa and promising midfielder Giannis Fetfatzidis leaving, while incoming players include Alejandro Dominguez, Gaetan Bong, Sambou Yatabare and former Premier League striker, Javier Saviola, who joined on a free from Malaga. If the poor Benfica turn up in this group, the Greeks will be in pole position to take advantage, I generally feel they have a decent chance of sneaking through, so the 4/1 from Boylesport to qualify from Group C, looks a worthy punt.
Lastly is Belgian side, Anderlecht. The team has a poor record in the group stages, with just two victories in eighteen games. This is the first time they have qualified for the group stage on two consecutive occasions, but little is expected from them. Form has been good, with four wins and a defeat so far domestically.
The side have lost two of last seasons main stars in Dieumerci Mbokani and Lucas Biglia without really replacing them.. They will have to play beyond their abilities if they wish to qualify, and odds of 6/1 from Skybet to qualify are generous but unlikely to pay dividends.
Overall, an interesting group should be dominated by PSG with either Benfica or Olympiakos finishing second. A PSG/Benfica straight forecast is available at 6/5, while a PSG/Olympiakos bet is 10/1, both with Bet Victor.
Group D: Bayern Munich, Manchester City, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen
Defending champions Bayern Munich, come into the group phase with the added pressure of trying to retain the title they won at Wembley, and adjusting to life under new coach, Pep Guardiola.
“Die Roten” are unsurprisingly 6/10 with Boylesports to win the group. Form has continued where it left off, with two wins and a draw domestically, along with the penalty shoot-out victory over Chelsea in the European Super Cup.
New signings in Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara show Guardiola’s intention of bringing in small, dynamic players to add even more mobility to the side, while the likes of Mario Gomez and Luis Gustavo have left. 6/10 looks more than useful, while “to qualify” odds of 1/20 are only worthwhile if you looking to lump on!
Manchester City are 2/1 with Paddy Power to win the group, as the blue half of Manchester look to improve on a poor two seasons in the Champions League, which saw them fail to progress from the group on both occasions. They’ve had a jittery start so far, with two wins and a defeat, as new manager, Manuel Pellegrini looks to blend his signings into the squad.
The summer has seen Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo, Stevan Jovetic, Fernandinho and Martin Demichelis join the side, while outgoings, include Carlos Tevez, Gareth Barry, Maicon and Kolo Toure. This is arguably a group City should not falter in, and with Pellegrini in the dugout, all looks rosy for the 1/5 being offered by Paddy Power.
CSKA Moscow are another side teams would rather not play, an awkward side who revel in home advantage, and a side who can surprise on the road. They are 20/1 with Ladbrokes to win the group. CSKA currently sit top of the Russian league and are undefeated in the opening eight games played this season.
Despite losing dreadlocked star, Vagner Love, they are well equipped to score goals, with striking sensation Vitinho joining the prolific partnership of Ahmed Musa and Seydou Doumbia upfront. With City’s previous problems in Europe, CSKA at 4/1 with Skybet to qualify is a strong option in my opinion.
Viktoria Plzen are the rank outsiders of the group, and are a massive 66/1 with Coral for the group win. The side from the Czech Republic qualified via three rounds of matches. They currently lead the Czech league and are undefeated in thirteen games across all competitions. They are a hardworking side but will have their work extremely cut out to progress or gain many points. To qualify they are currently 18/1.
Bayern should win the group and fairly comfortably too, with City and CSKA battling for the second spot. A Bayern/City straight forecast is 10/11 with Paddy Power, while Bayern/CSKA is 7/1 with Bet Victor.