Getty Images. Pictured: Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale scoring an incredible bicycle kick in the Champions League final vs. Liverpool last season
- The Champions League group stage begins on Tuesday, Sept. 18 with some intriguing matchups including Inter Milan-Tottenham and Liverpool-PSG.
- Favorites to win their groups are Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, FC Porto, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Juventus.
- After analyzing Group A through Group H, I've picked out value plays to win and advance.
The 2018-19 Champions League group stage begins on Tuesday, Sept. 18 and concludes on Wednesday, Dec. 12. There are eight groups with four teams apiece, and each club will play the three other teams home-and-away for a total of six games.
The Champions League Final will take place on June 1, 2019 at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, Spain, home of Atletico Madrid.
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Last year it was Atleti’s local rivals, Real Madrid, lifting the trophy for the third time in a row after a 3-1 win over Liverpool in the final. They’ll be looking to make it four in a row with a new head coach (Julen Lopetegui) and without Cristiano Ronaldo (sold to Juventus).
Now let’s get into the group betting previews!
Group A is one of the more intriguing from top to bottom with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, AS Monaco and Club Brugge.
Atletico Madrid will be looking to bounce back after a poor Champions League showing in 2017-18, but they did make some amends by winning the Europa League last season. They’re also contending for a Spanish La Liga title this year along with Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Out of Germany, Dortmund are always a fun team to have in the group stage since they tend to play a more open and attacking style. This approach is far different than that of defensive-minded Atletico Madrid, and the clash of styles will be must-see TV when these teams meet.
As for Monaco, they’re no slouches despite early season results not going their way in France’s Ligue 1. They’re clearly the darkhorse in this group.
The biggest underdogs in Group A, Club Brugge, could play the role of spoiler but they’re overmatched. The club out of Belgium will be moneyline underdogs in all six of their group-stage matches but won’t really have any pressure to get results.
In the first group matches, Atletico Madrid will host Monaco while Dortmund takes on Club Brugge. Atletico Madrid are getting more than 80% of moneyline bets and have moved from -110 to -130. The public is also heavy on Dortmund, with more than 80% of bets, but their line has remained at -125.
I’m expecting Atletico Madrid to win the group, and although I like Monaco to potentially steal a second-place finish, the value at +110 just isn’t there. However, If Monaco end up losing the opener at Atletico, it may be worth buying low on the French side before their second match.
Value Bets: PASS
Group B consists of some heavy-hitters with Barcelona, Tottenham, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven all vying for two spots in the knockout round.
Barcelona are one of the favorites to win the entire tournament and should be able to advance from the group stage despite some tough matchups.
The club to watch here is Tottenham because they haven’t been great historically in European competition. They’ll need to make sure they get positive results in their matches against Inter Milan, and Spurs will host the Italians in the opening group game on Tuesday, Sept. 18.
The three-way moneylines for that matchup are very tight: Tottenham +155, Inter Milan +208, Draw +230. If Spurs can get a win or draw, their odds to advance from the group will increase. If Spurs happen to lose, you’ll be able to get a much better price on them to advance.
PSV Eindhoven of Netherlands will be underdogs in all six of their matches, but they shouldn’t be completely ignored. They comfortably qualified over the summer and have been rolling teams so far in the Eredivisie, the top Dutch league. A 7-0 thrashing of Den Haag over the weekend will have them feeling confident.
Public bettors may be enticed by seeing a name such as Inter Milan at plus-money, but the only real value in this group is to take Barcelona and Tottenham to advance.
Value Bets: PASS
Despite advancing to the Champions League final last season, Liverpool aren’t even the favorites to win their group this year, which is surprising considering how solid they’ve looked in the EPL so far.
Instead, bookmakers believe PSG are the clear favorites here.
The opening group game will set the stage for the rest of the campaign, as PSG travels to Liverpool. The current odds for the match are Liverpool +130, PSG +207, Draw +288.
Napoli will be hoping that one of those top clubs will slip up, but they have a tough opener themselves, traveling to Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade. The Italians are heavy favorites (-220), but early public bettors think the home side can spring an upset.
PSG and Liverpool seem like the obvious choices here, but something seems fishy. If Napoli can win their opener on the road and also beat/draw Liverpool at home in the second game, they’ve got a real chance to surprise people. I’m just not sure the +120 odds are enticing enough, so this is another pass in terms of futures for me.
Value Bets: PASS
Group D is perhaps the weakest group ever assembled in the Champions League. When group play ends, two of these clubs: FC Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray or Lokomotiv Moscow, will advance to the knockout rounds.
Despite the lackluster teams, I think there are a couple of value bets to make.
First is for FC Porto to win the group at +125 odds. I believe they’re the best team overall in this group, so getting plus-money is worth it. Even though FC Porto have a tough opening match in Germany, a win would put them at around -200 to win the group. Schalke just don’t seem to be the same club as last year’s squad and are already in the relegation zone in early Bundesliga action.
So who will join FC Porto in the group stage? I’m going with the biggest underdogs, Lokomotiv Moscow, at +160 odds. They’ve improved from last season by bringing in more offensive talent, and all three home matches will be incredibly tough for their opponents.
Value Bets: FC Porto to win group (+125), Lokomotiv Moscow to advance (+160)
Bayern Munich should roll through this group as the Bavarians are -2500 to advance and -700 to win the set. Benfica, Ajax and AEK Athens will be battling it out for second place.
Benfica struggled in the group stage last season, losing all six games and earning 0 points. They’ll be hoping to bounce back, and according to their odds, they have just over a 50% chance to advance, but I think the competition may be too much to overcome.
Ajax are the darkhorses in Group E and looked strong in eliminating Dynamo Kiev to get here. They unloaded some solid young players such as Justin Kluivert over the summer but revamped the club nicely with talent such as Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind. I love the Dutch side at plus-money odds to advance.
Value Bets: Ajax to advance (+120)
Manchester City are the overwhelming favorites to win and advance from Group F, and it would be a shock if they dropped more than a couple points in this stage. With Man City At -550 odds, there’s not a whole lot of single-wager value in taking them to win the group, but you could include them in a parlay.
The other three teams in the group are all priced similarly to win/advance, and there’s not a lot that separates Lyon, Shaktar Donetsk and Hoffenheim.
Since they play in the Ukrainian Premier League, Shaktar Donetsk will be overlooked, but they won every domestic trophy last season. They were also close to knocking out Roma in the Champions League Round of 16, and the club got stronger in the offseason.
Most public bettors are taking Lyon or Hoffenheim to advance from this group, but right now the value is on Shaktar Donetsk at +200.
Value Bets: Shaktar Donetsk to advance (+200)
Real Madrid are massive favorites to advance and win the group, but there’s no real value taking them. Roma should advance with them, especially after a big run last season to the semifinals, but they have to travel to Madrid in the opener.
CSKA Moscow and Viktoria Plzen will both be overmatched and fighting for a Europa League spot, and their respective prices of +450 and +500 are spot on. They’d be the only sides I’d consider betting here but I don’t really believe either will make it through to the knockout round.
Value Bets: PASS
Cristiano Ronaldo will get a chance to face his former club twice in the group stage, and both Juventus and Manchester United are expected to advance to the next round.
Valencia haven’t shown much in Spain’s La Liga this year, but they have to open up against Juventus in the Champions League. I don’t see any reason to back them before the group stage begins, but they could be poised to make a run if they find their form soon.
Young Boys have the second-longest odds of any team to win their group at 100-1, giving them a 1% chance to pull off the miracle. They begin the campaign as +425 underdogs against Manchester United and could really shake this group up with a win/draw.
The only bet I’d consider making in this group is Valencia to advance, but the current odds don’t make it worthwhile. Most sportsbooks will offer updated lines in between group matches, so I’d rather be patient and wait.
Value Bets: PASS