With the Champions League group stage draw now decided, odds on the outright winner of the tournament have already fluctuated before a ball has even been kicked.
After a historic third consecutive title, one might expect Real Madrid (9-1) to be the favorites for glory once more, but a summer of change has seen their odds lengthen from this time last year, listed as fifth favorites with most bookmakers despite a favorable draw.
The departures of Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo will of course have a huge effect on the team, but there’s still a sense that those remaining — serial winners on the grandest stage — are being underestimated.
Los Blancos have the chance to reinvent themselves under Julen Lopetegui after all, with a group of players eager to prove that they can be just as prolific without their perennial top scorer.
In Group G alongside Roma (65-1), who reached the semifinals last season, they’ll face some competition for the top spot, but CSKA Moscow (300-1) and Viktoria Plzen (2000-1) are favorable opponents to say the least. Listed as long as +900 to lift the trophy again, it’s hard to argue that the holders don’t offer the best value among the apparent favorites.
It’s Manchester City (9-2) who are most likely to claim Madrid’s title with the bookies, and in all honesty, it’s hard to disagree with that. Pep Guardiola’s side have been drawn in Group F and are the outstanding favorites to top it despite some decent opposition.
Shakhtar (175-1), Lyon (225-1) and Hoffenheim (175-1) all have a realistic chance of progressing to the knockout phase, with very little to separate the sides, but none can match up to City’s quality. And the fact that they will likely take points from one another should make the Premier League champions’ task a little easier.
The question marks understandably revolve around the manager — as crazy as that sounds — as much if not more than the players when it comes to the latter stages. Guardiola has tasted heavy defeats in the competition, in the semifinals in particular, but last season’s exit to Liverpool in the quarters should have been a lesson and a valuable experience for the squad.
As far as the group of death is concerned, there are a couple of candidates this year, with B and C certainly looking difficult for all involved.
The former includes Barcelona (6-1), Tottenham (25-1), PSV (500-1) and the returning Inter Milan (65-1), and as such, I can see very little value in the Catalans reclaiming their crown, at least at their billing as second favorites to do so.
Spurs showed last season that they were capable of overcoming adversity to top a group involving eventual champions Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, and if the consensus is that Real Madrid aren’t the force they once were, the same is certainly true of their fierce rivals.
Group C is arguably even more daunting for those involved, particularly poor Red Star Belgrade (2000-1), who face Paris Saint-Germain (8-1), Napoli (55-1) and last season’s beaten finalists Liverpool (12-1). All three are scintillating attacking sides, which should lead to a hugely entertaining group.
And while PSG have the capacity to go the distance with their frightening front three under new manager Thomas Tuchel, the same could be said of Liverpool, who have a vastly superior squad to this time last year under Tuchel’s Dortmund predecessor Jurgen Klopp.
It would be remiss to talk of any Champions League race without considering Ronaldo’s influence, too, of course, but that certainly hasn’t been overlooked in the odds.
The Portuguese’s new employer, Juventus (13-2), will face his old one in Manchester United (61-2), along with Valencia (150-1) and Swiss champions Young Boys (1000-1), which shouldn’t be as challenging as it might appear on paper.
The Italians are a pretty safe bet to reach the quarterfinals again at the very least, and it’s difficult to argue with their price, which tends to mean that there is perhaps better value out there.
Bayern Munich (9-1) are another side that should coast through their group, perhaps more so than any other, but it’s difficult to assess their credentials when it comes to the latter stages under rookie boss Niko Kovac, who has no managerial experience in European soccer whatsoever.
I’d avoid the Bavarians for the time being as a result, keeping tabs on their progress under the Croatian in the months ahead.
The main talking points for me focus on the Clasico rivals instead, with Barcelona set too short and Real Madrid too long ahead of the tournament, but if I had to pick the best value as things stand, Liverpool aren’t a bad punt.
They, along with Atletico Madrid (12-1), would be my outside tip for the title.
The Spaniards may have crashed out at the group stages last year, but they did go on to win the Europa League and have a real pedigree of going the distance in European competitions.
Their slow start to the season in La Liga is nothing new really — winning just one of their opening three games for the third season running — and while Group A is far from straightforward, I’d fancy them to have the nous to negotiate a way past the likes of Monaco (125-1) and Borussia Dortmund (80.5-1).
Do that, and in knockout football over two legs, there are few better managers at masterminding success than Diego Simeone.
All odds referenced from Bookmaker and current as of Friday, Aug. 31.