The Champions League gets underway in September with 32 teams aiming for European glory. Tom Carnduff picks out his best bets.
Europe’s elite competition returns later this month, with Liverpool looking to retain the trophy they won in Madrid back in May.
Jurgen Klopp’s men were unable to secure the Premier League title, that long wait for domestic glory continues to go on, but they will look at the Champions League as one they will want involvement in for the long run.
The Reds are fancied for success too; the best price available being 7/1 on Liverpool becoming seven-time European champions in 2019/20.
The value is elsewhere though this season, with the power expected to shift away from England to others across the continent. Tom Carnduff looks at value elsewhere with three main selections.
Are City worth backing?
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne
Manchester City are favourites, an even shorter price than last season, with odds of just 10/3 highlighting why they are seen by many as the best team in Europe.
I’d be inclined to agree but there is little interest in backing them for success here because of two reasons. The first being their short price and the second is constant failings in Europe.
You would be forgiven for thinking that line was about our current government, but City’s efforts in the Champions League continue to fail those in England’s top division.
The 2019/20 campaign will be their ninth consecutive one in the Champions League. Across the previous eight seasons, they’ve won the Premier League on three occasions, also finishing runners-up in 2014/15.
In eight years, their best finish in Europe was a semi-final appearance in 2015/16 with Manuel Pellegrini. Under Pep Guardiola, City have failed to make it past the quarter-final stage.
It could all change of course. There’s no doubting they are one of, if not the, greatest teams to ever grace English football.
Their squad depth is incredible. Jose Mourinho recently made the point that Manchester City’s B team could still finish in the top four; an argument that is hard to disagree with.
There’s clearly a problem though. It’s seemingly mindset, or some supporters may say it’s a curse, because there is no problem with the quality of this team.
At a price of 10/3, there’s just too much risk at odds that short given very recent history, particularly with the same team and the same manager.
Some magic from Madrid?
Atletico Madrid celebrate a goal against Eibar
While Real Madrid have enjoyed an incredible amount of success in this competition, it’s worth considering neighbouring Atletico for glory in 2020.
Atletico have gone agonisingly close to a Champions League trophy on two occasions under Diego Simeone. The first being in 2013/14 and then again in 2015/16 where they reached the final.
Both games ended in defeat in the final, both of those defeats were handed to them by Real.
In the three seasons since, the showings we’ve seen from Atletico have not reflected those of the quality squad they have possessed.
The round of 16 defeat to Juventus last season will still hurt. A 2-0 success at home was followed by a 3-0 defeat away; sentenced to defeat when it seemed victory was so likely.
They would go onto finish second in LaLiga though which, on the whole, is another big positive in Simeone’s reign.
This summer has been one of significant change though, and based on very early showings in the league, there is every chance Atletico will see more silverware this season.
Iconic defender Diego Godin has departed for Inter, Antoine Griezmann made the switch to Barcelona, Lucas Hernandez completed a big money move to Bayern Munich and holding midfielder Rodri is now at Manchester City.
Atletico reinvested the money though. The highly-rated Joao Felix joined for an eye-watering €126m fee. Marcos Llorente comes into the midfield, so too does Hector Herrera, while Kieran Trippier and Mario Hermoso fill the voids left in the defensive areas.
It’s a new-look Atletico side, in terms of the ‘big hitters’ anyway.
They’ve started LaLiga in great fashion with a maximum return of nine points. Five different goalscorers in six games may also indicate that they won’t have to solely rely on certain players to produce.
There were always going to be questions of how this Atletico side would adapt given the turnover of key personnel. However, given their strong form throughout pre-season and into the new campaign has indicated there wasn’t a long transition period.
Bundesliga to deliver?
Bayern Munich are the dominant force in Germany
While Germany has been a regular in this competition by entering three teams, four in recent years, their pursuit of the trophy often ends up unsuccessful.
Bayern ended a 12-year wait both in Bavaria and Germany as a whole in producing a Champions League winner from the Bundesliga in 2013 – they were also the last to do it prior to that in 2001.
Last season saw Bayern, Schalke and Dortmund all crash out at the round of 16 stage, while Hoffenheim finished fourth in their group – although they were fairly unlucky considering the number of draws.
Bayern are the club that often flies the flag. No German team has reached a further stage than the Bavarian outfit since Schalke did so in 2011.
Munich has been the permanent home of the Bundesliga title in recent seasons. They’ve finished top for seven consecutive seasons now and even with a resurgent Dortmund you’d fancy them to remain there in 2020.
Success on the European stage has eluded them since they won the trophy when this remarkable run of dominance started in 2013. Four semi-final appearances in six seasons shows how they have become the nearly men – although a defeat to Liverpool in the round of 16 last season saw them fall well short of usual standards.
It’s perhaps why they have invested big in the transfer window this summer. Mats Hummels was the major departure in terms of fee with his €38m move back north to Dortmund, although Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are now significant absentees on the wings.
They’ve targeted two of France’s World Cup winning squad to bolster the back line. Benjamin Pavard became the latest in a long line of Bundesliga players to be attracted to a switch to Bayern while Lucas Hernandez joined from Atletico for an €80m fee.
Ivan Perisic is in to fill a vacancy out wide after a loan move from Inter, while Philippe Coutinho is one of the headline moves of the summer as he is in for the season from Barcelona.
An already strong squad has been bolstered by a number of players who could slot straight into the first team. Niko Kovac has options in almost every position, and the fact that Robert Lewandowski has six goals in just three Bundesliga games further reinforces his goalscoring credentials.
RB Leipzig have the potential to progress
One side who will be considering themselves contenders to dethrone Bayern are RB Leipzig.
The controversial club divide opinion but it can’t be denied that their rise to the very top has been nothing short of exceptional.
They’ve rose from the regional leagues to the top-six of the Bundesliga in the space of ten years. What’s even more impressive is that this won’t be their first Champions League campaign.
Leipzig finished second in the Bundesliga table in 2016/17 under now Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl – although they did fall 15 points short of Bayern at the top.
They were unable to progress beyond their group in Europe the following campaign. That can be put down to a lack of experience though and, in an open group, they didn’t have enough to reach the double figures in points required.
Die Roten Bullen are in a group that could be seen as the most open of the lot this season. They find themselves alongside Benfica, Lyon and Zenit in Group G, avoiding a repeat of the meeting with their ‘Red Bull brother’ in Salzburg that they had in the Europa League last season.
Prices of 5/4 and 6/4 show how Leipzig are expected to top this group and progress in a better seeding position. It’s hard to disagree, a Leipzig side who have proven too much for many in Germany have only grown stronger over the summer.
As ever they’ve been unafraid to spend money if required for the right areas. Luan Candido, Hannes Wolf, Christopher Nkunku and Ademola Lookman have all arrived on permanent deals for a combined €51m.
There’s also the loan arrivals of Ethan Ampadu from Chelsea and Roma’s Patrik Schick. This new squad have had no issue in working together; nine goals have been scored in three Bundesliga victories.
Of course, there is Julian Nagelsmann at the helm now, who led Hoffenheim on their remarkable rise to European football and is widely regarded as football’s best young manager.
Given the open group, and their fancied chances of success, there’s a good opportunity for progression to the latter stages of the competition.
There’s a price of 5/2 available with Sky Bet on Leipzig to reach the quarter-final stage – 66/1 on them winning the Champions League if you’re very optimistic of their chances – but 5/2 looks great value on a last-eight showing.
The stats behind the selections
Celebrations for Bayern Munich
- This is Atlético’s seventh consecutive Champions League campaign, the longest run in their history. They were beaten finalists in 2013-14 and 2015-16 but haven’t progressed past the round of 16 in the last two campaigns.
- Since Diego Simeone’s first Champions League game as Atletico Madrid manager, they have kept more clean sheets (2013-14 to present) than any other team in the competition (34).
- Koke has made more appearances in the Champions League than any other Atletico player (56) – the Spanish midfielder has scored five goals and provided nine assists in those 56 games.
- This is the 22nd time in the last 23 seasons that Bayern Munich are taking part in the Champions League, the only exception coming in 2007-08.
- Bayern Munich have won five Champions League/European Cup titles; no other German team has won more than one title (Borussia Dortmund & Hamburger SV – one each).
- Bayern Munich have reached at least the quarter-finals in 10 of their last 12 Champions League participations, making the final on three occasions in this run (2010, 2012, 2013).
- Bayern Munich were knocked out in the round of 16 under Niko Kovac in last season’s Champions League; their worst performance in the competition since falling at the same stage in 2010-11.
- Robert Lewandowski has scored 36 goals in just 52 Champions League appearances for Bayern Munich – only Thomas Müller has scored more for the club in the competition (42 goals in 105 apps).
- This will be RB Leipzig’s second participation in the Champions League after 2017-18, when they finished third in their group.
- There were 21 goals scored in RB Leipzig’s six Champions League matches in 2017-18 (10 scored, 11 conceded), at an average of 3.5 per game.
- Julian Nagelsmann (32 years) will be the youngest manager in the Champions League in 2019-20, with the German at least nine years younger than next the youngest coach, Frank Lampard (41).
- Timo Werner scored three goals from just seven shots on target in the Champions League back in 2017-18, more than any other RB Leipzig player. In fact, Werner went on to score seven times in all European competition in 2017-18 – the highest total by an RB Leipzig player in a single season.