The 2015-16 edition of the UEFA Champions League is the first in European soccer history where five teams will represent the same country at the beginning of the Group Stage; Spanish sides Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, and Valencia will all be taking part in the biggest club tournament in soccer.
Of those five teams, only FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are among the favorites to win the tournament, listed at 3/1 and 5/1, respectively. The Bundesliga and EPL round out the top-five, with Bayern Munich sitting at 4/1, Chelsea at 10/1, and Manchester City at 14/1.
Will those traditional powers emerge from the Group Stage and dominate the tournament as in years past, or will we see some surprises come the new year?
Let’s take a look at the groups, set the odds for all the UCL action to come, and make some picks!
2015-16 Champions League Odds:
Odds to win the Champions League title:
Odds to win …
I would love to sell you an upset in Group A, but there’s no room for it. Real Madrid and PSG are too powerful in terms of star players and roster depth to get eliminated in the first round. The Spaniards will finish first; I like PSG, but I haven’t seen enough from them in European tournaments to put them at the top.
Group B might be one of the hardest to predict because there isn’t a legitimate favorite. Manchester United are the traditional power, but they have a definite lack of offensive might this season, which could land them in trouble against a team like Wolfsburg, which scored the second-most goals in the Bundesliga last season. On paper, though, United should still win the group win the group, followed by the Germans in a close race.
Given their relatively easy draw, it will be a big surprise if Atletico Madrid doesn’t win Group C. Their roster is mature and talented. Portuguese side Benfica will battle it out for second with the Turks from Galatasaray, while Kazakh squad FC Astana looks overmatched.
In the World Cup and the Champions League, one quartet has to get the label “group of death”. It’s mandatory. This year, that honor goes to Group D. These four teams should battle each other tooth and nail all year for spots in the knockout phase. Given their strong start in the EPL, Manchester City (four straight wins plus four straight clean sheets) are the favorites. Juventus, last year’s UCL runner-up, are second in the odds, but I actually like Sevilla to pull the upset and advance over the Italians. Juve made a nice run to the final last season but lost too many key pieces over the summer.
There’s only one real question in Group E: who will come second? Barcelona is going to advance; bank on that. Why am I so sure? Barcelona has been in the semifinals in all but one season since 2008, and this isn’t a particularly tough draw. Roma and Bayer Leverkusen will battle for the other berth in the knockout phase. The Belarusian champs BATE Borisov will just be hoping to improve on their embarrassing performance from last season, when they went 1-0-5 with a -22 goal differential.
Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola was expected to bring a UCL title to town when he took over the powerhouse German squad. Three years into his tenure, Bayern have largely underperformed at the tournament. Yes, the reached the semis each of the last two years, but that’s not good enough for management and fans given their roster. The Germans should be full value to win a weak Group F, though, followed in a distant second by Arsenal.
Chelsea have had a rough start to their EPL title defense. But manager Jose Mourinho will have his side ready for the UCL. With a favorable draw, Chelsea may not even need to be in top form to advance, though. Look for high-scoring Porto – aided by new goalkeeper Iker Casillas – to round out the top-two.
Valencia are the favorites to win Group H, but it’s arguably the most wide open of the bunch. Zenit and Lyon also have a real shot at finishing first. Valencia play against stronger competition in La Liga, but I like the Russians to take top spot in a minor upset, while Valencia moves on in second.
Best upset picks:
The UEFA Champions League usually has one or two upsets per year in the Group Stage, and I don’t expect this season to be any different.
The best upset pick out of this crop is Zenit, who are currently at 5/2 to win Group H. With Hulk blasting powerful strikes from literally anywhere on the field, last year’s Russian Premier League champs will certainly give group favorite Valencia all they can handle.
Perhaps it’s a bit of an overstatement to call a 2/1 Wolfsburg an “upset pick,” but United are certainly the Group B favorites. As mentioned, though, Louis Van Gaal’s squad is struggling to score early in the year, and I don’t see that changing. Meanwhile, Wolfsburg fills the net with the best of them. I can definitely see the Germans emerging in top spot in the group.
Odds to score the most goals:
The only reason Messi’s odds aren’t better is that his two teammates, Neymar and Suarez, figure to score a ton of goals as well, and there’s only one ball on the field. That said, the “Little Wizard” has already won this honor five times, including a tie with Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar last season (10 goals). “CR7” has been the top-scorer in the Champions League four times. Expect either he or Messi to take it once again.
(Photo credit: Ver en vivo En Directo (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)
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