Champions League Odds, Picks: Projections & Best Bets, Including Salzburg vs. Lille (Sept. 28-29)

Champions League Odds, Picks: Projections & Best Bets, Including Salzburg vs. Lille (Sept. 28-29) article feature image

Denis Charlet/AFP via Getty Images. Pictured: Lille standout Jonathan David.

  • Things should heat up this week on the Champions League landscape, with 16 matches on the docket.
  • Soccer analyst BJ Cunningham delivers his best bets, odds and projections below.
  • See why he’s backing the likes of Manchester City and RB Leipzig to shine in their matches.

Champions League returns to action this week for the second round of group-stage matches.

If this week's fixtures are anything like the opening round,  we're going to be in for a treat. There were a ton of goals last time around, led by Manchester City's 6-3 win over RB Leipzig at Etihad Stadium.

There were some historic upsets as well, with none bigger than FC Sheriff Tiraspol getting their first-ever UCL win when they stunned Shakhtar Donetsk.


— CBS Sports Golazo ⚽️ (@CBSSportsGolazo) September 15, 2021

This slate of contests is highlighted by a rematch from last year's semifinal round, with Manchester City traveling to the French capital to take on Paris Saint-Germain. There are also some other high-profile encounters across the continent, with Juventus battling reigning UCL champion Chelsea and Serie A giant AC Milan hosting La Liga stalwart Atlético Madrid.

In case this is your first time reading, I will be putting out these projections every week there are Champions League matches until the end of the tournament. If you'd like to read more about how I determine my projected lines and totals using an expected goals model, you can read about it here.

For Champions League, my projections factor in UEFA Coefficients for every country represented in the competition. The projections also factor in the talent of each squad based on their total transfer value on TransferMarkt. That way, the projections can account for the strength of the domestic league each club plays in and talent level of each club.

You can use these projections to identify betting value on moneylines, spreads, or over/unders. Also you can follow me in The Action Network App to see any bets I make throughout the week. 

Champions League Projections

Best Bets

Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Inter 

Shakhtar Donetsk Odds+500
Inter Odds-200
Over/Under2.5 (-155 / +125)
Day | TimeTuesday | 12:45 p.m. ET
How To WatchParamount+
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute Soccer odds here

Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan meet again after facing off twice in the UCL group stage last year, with both matches ending in 0-0 draws.

This time around, Shakhtar will have a fully fit squad because in their first meeting last season, the club had seven starters sidelined due to a COVID-19 outbreak and still held Inter to a scoreless tie in Kiev.

It's also an improved Shakhtar team because they spent some money during the transfer window. The club brought in Pedrihno, a talented winger from Benfica; Marlon, a starting center back for Sassuolo the past few years; and, talented winger Lassina Traore from Dutch power Ajax

Shakhtar did lose their opening match to FC Sheriff, which is cause for concern, but since that defeat they have two resounding wins in the Ukrainian Premier League, beating Mariupol and Veres by a combined scored of 9-1.

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After losing manager Antonio Conte, top striker Romelu Lukaku, who scored 30 goals and carrying a 0.73 xG per 90-minute scoring rate and star right wingback Achraf Hakimi, it seemed like Inter was heading in a downward spiral. However, the Nerazzurri have seemed to prove the doubters wrong so far, at least on the domestic front.

Inter is unbeaten through their first six matches with a +7.13 xGDiff, which is very impressive given the circumstances. However, they haven't exactly played murderer's row, only facing one club that was in the top eight last season.

Also, Inter might have some tired legs coming into this encounter with this being its sixth match in the last 17 days. On top of that, it's more than 1,000 miles to get to the Ukrainian capital and it's going to be below 50 degrees, which is a lot colder than Inter is used to at this point in the season.

I only have Inter projected as a +122 favorite, so I think there's some value on Shakhtar to get result from this match and will take their spread of +1 at +105 odds via DraftKings and would play it up to -130 odds.

Pick: Shakhtar +1 (+105)

PSG vs. Manchester City

PSG Odds+200
Manchester City Odds+135
Over/Under2.5 (-150 / -120)
Day | TimeTuesday | 3 p.m. ET
How To WatchParamount+
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute Soccer odds here

The headliner of the week is in Paris, with PSG and Manchester City squaring off in a rematch of last season's semifinal that saw they Cityzens advance to the final via a 4-1 aggregate scoreline.

Things have changed a little bit this time around, as the Parisians were busy in the transfer market bringing in Hakimi, Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and others to hopefully deliver their first Champions League title. However, once again, this is a bad matchup for the hosts.

If we go back to that semifinal matchup last season, PSG switched to a 4-4-2 formation in the first half of the opening leg to try and withstand the Manchester City attack. And it actually worked for 45 minutes. However, when you switch to that defensive formation and leave Kylian Mbappé and Neymar on an island against one of the best defensive teams in the world, even they're going to struggle as neither registered a single shot in the first leg.

The question mark surrounding PSG coming into this match is who's actually healthy? At the time of writing this Ramos, Angel Di Maria, and Marco Verratti are out, while Messi, Kurzawa, and Juan Bernat are questionable.

Manchester City has looked unbeatable since their opening loss to Tottenham Hotspur, winning four of their last five in the Premier League. The Cityzens have a +12.00 xGDiff, only allowing their opponents to create 2.69 xG in total this season. If last Saturday's match against Chelsea and their first Champions League game against RB Leipzig are any indication, Manchester City's attack with standout Jack Grealish is scary good.

Jack Grealish (vs. Chelsea) :⁣

• 55 touches ⁣
• 12 touches in opp. box (most) ⁣
• 6 duels won ⁣
• 3 crosses ⁣
• 3 shots ⁣
• 3 fouls won (=most) ⁣
• 2 shots on target (=most) ⁣
• 2 chances created ⁣
• 1 tackle ⁣

📰 : Squawka Football

— Citizens Indonesia (@Citizens_INA94) September 26, 2021

Through their first six EPL matches, the Cityzens are averaging 30.33 shot creating actions per outing; 46 touches in the opponents penalty area per game; and, 12.33 carries into the opponents' penalty area per contest, per So, this will be a new challenge for PSG, who haven't been tested in Ligue 1 outside of a confrontation with Lyon.

Also based on UEFA Coefficients, England is the most difficult league to play in Europe, while France is the sixth most difficult overall. So, everything points to the visitors notching another win over the host side.

I have Manchester City projected at -145, so it's nice to see my number is exactly what DraftKings currently has on the Draw No Bet line and will make it my top selection.

Pick: Manchester City — Draw No Bet (-145)

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RB Leipzig vs. Club Brugge

RB Leipzig Odds-225
Club Brugge Odds+550
Over/Under3.5 (+130 / -165)
Day | TimeTuesday | 3 p.m. ET
How To WatchParamount+
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute Soccer odds here

RB Leipzig rebounded from a bad start to the season this past weekend, thrashing Hertha Berlin in a 6-0 home rout.

The Red Bulls might may have suffered a 6-3 defeat at the hands of Manchester City in their first UCL match, but scoring three goals against that defense is a very difficult thing to do. It only happened three times last season and two of those occasions came over the course of their final three EPL matches.  Manchester City had already won the title and was resting starters.

RB Leipzig finished second in the German first division behind Bayern Munich last season. However, when looking at xG and expected points, they were actually better than the nine-time defending champion. Leipzig had a +37.9 xGDiff, compared to Bayern's +37.06 xGDiff.

The reason for that is because it was by far the best defense in the German top flight, allowing only 0.86 xG per match. So, it's going to be difficult for Club Brugge to create anything on their defense.

Club Brugge might have earned a 1-1 draw with PSG in their opener, but the Belgian champions have a major uphill climb against Leipzig. They haven't been that dominant in their domestic campaign, earning 18 points from their first nine matches and were trashed by Gent in a 6-1 blowout a few weeks ago.

Last season in the Champions League, Brugge were drawn in the same group with fellow German side Borussia Dortmund, who are very comparable side to RB Leipzig. Dortmund completely dismantled them by a combined score of 6-0, actually holding Brugge to a total of 0.06 xG in the second match.

Also based on UEFA Coefficients, Germany is the fourth-most difficult league to play in Europe, while Belgium is the 13th-most difficult. So, RB Leipzig gets a big advantage in terms of level of the level of competition they face on a week in, week out basis.

I have RB Leipzig's spread projected at -136, so I think there's the slightest value on their spread of -1 at -135 odds via DraftKings and would play it up to -140 odds.

Pick: RB Leipzig -1 (-135)

Salzburg vs. Lille

Salzburg Odds+100
Lille Odds+280
Over/Under2.5 (-130 / +105)
Day | TimeWednesday | 3 p.m. ET
How To WatchParamount+
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute Soccer odds here

As is the case with most of the champions from smaller countries in this competition, Salzburg dominated the Austrian Bundesliga last season by scoring 2.15 xG per match and allowed only 1.07 xG per contest. So far this campaign, they've cruised through their first seven matches, going 9-0-0 and outscored their opponents by a 23-4 margin.

However, they’re in a bit of a transition with former manager Jesse Marsch now at RB Leipzig. They also sold their best players — Patson Daka and Enock Mwepu — during the last transfer window.

Their first match against Sevilla was absolutely chaotic, ending in a 1-1 draw, but Salzburg missed two penalties and converted another for their only goal. Salzburg may have created 2.76 xG for the match, but if you take away the three penalties, they only created 0.51 xG on 12 shots, which is quite poor.

Now, they face the best defensive team in Europe last season, as Lille only conceded 0.67 xG out of their patented 4-4-2 formation. However, Lille's offense was completely inept, only creating 48.07 xG the entire season, which was ninth best in France. For a little perspective, Lorient, Nantes and Strasbourg — who all finished below 15th place — created more xG than them.

Their offense has improved this season, creating 11.8 xG through their first eight Ligue 1 matches and their defense is still one of Europe's best, as they only allowed Wolfsburg to create 0.07 xG in their first Champions League tilt.

I only have 1.94 goals projected for this contest, so I think there's value on the total under 2.5 goals at +105 on DraftKings and would play it to -125 odds.

Pick: Total Under 2.5 (+105)

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