The UEFA Champions League returns to action with more teams in the running than ever for the biggest prize in club football. From giants in the modern game to surprise packages, we take a look at who might be lifting coveted trophy in May. All futures odds are provided by Bovada.
When considering the favourites, we must start with the most recent winners. Five of the last six winners have come from a band of just three teams – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Those three teams will once again start the running clear of their rivals – with the bookies at least. Barcelona are favourites at +300, reigning champions Madrid are +500, while the German giants Munich are middle pins at +400. They would be our choices as outright, but why?
Barcelona are undoubtedly a superb side, and one featuring the most exciting and dynamic forward lines in recent memory.
We’ll probably look back in future decades and reminisce about the majesty of Messi, Suarez and Neymar’s glorious collaboration, or ‘MSN’ as the Snapchat generation calls them. Unfortunately Luis Enrique isn’t very convincing with his tactics and will probably live to regret not rejuvenating his defense come season’s end.
While Barcelona are still the big draw in Europe, another year of not winning the Champions League will probably cost Enrique his job.
Real Madrid may feel slightly aggrieved at beginning their campaign as third-favourites, behind hated rivals Barca and Bayern Munich. After all, they’ve got Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in the form of their lives and are the most decorated side in Champions League history.
Add the enigmatic and charming Zinedine Zidane at the helm and you could be more tempted to look for reasons to back them. But the recycling of the Madrid defense is becoming a concern, with Raphael Varane bordering on being edged out of the club to join a rival, probably of the English variety.
We don’t see Madrid repeating as champions primarily for that reason. Also, no team has ever retained the UEFA Champions since being changed from the European Cup. That trend will continue, with the current kings of Europe eventually being deposed.
Bayern Munich are our picks to win the UEFA Champions League. They have the best out-and-out striker in European football in Robert Lewandowski and a vastly experienced and dynamic midfield behind to support him. Arturo Vidal and Renato Sanches are huge weapons for the German champions, with Kingsley Coman likely to thrill crowds his marauding runs down the wing.
Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are, as always, ready to step in to offer flair and nous and the newly signed Mats Hummels will shore up the defense that let Pep Guardiola down. Carlo Ancelotti, their disciplined Italian manager, took over in the summer and the combination of his steel and knowledge of the game will see an assured Bayern Munich climb back on top of Europe.
Close but no Cigar
Every Champions League campaign features teams which provide magical moments, goals of pure inspiration and thrills galore despite not really having a chance at winning the competition.
While Atletico Madrid, with the majority of their outstanding squad remaining under Diego Simeone’s baton, are our tips to be runners-up once again, others will disappoint. Arsenal is terrible bet due to their penchant for drawing Barcelona in the knockout stage after finishing second in their group, but Manchester City and either Leicester or Tottenham have good chances of a decent run without looking like winners.
This year could see Leicester City continue their incredible voyage into the unknown and do exactly that. The Foxes have a group that looks very winnable, and while they may not go far, they are a great bet to make the knockout stages despite their inexperience.
It is likely to be their one and only shot at the UEFA Champions League. Riyad Mahrez knows his time at Leicester is probably short lived so he’ll want to make the most of this tournament. He’s also on display for all of the top prospective buyers.
Elsewhere we expect Napoli, a side who invested some of the Gonzalo Higuain money in the summer, to join their plunderers Juventus in the quarterfinals.
Winners: Bayern Munich (+400)
Runner-Up: Atletico Madrid (+1400)
Semi-Finals: Real Madrid (+500) & Barcelona (+300)
Quarterfinals: Napoli (+6600), Manchester City (+1200), Leicester City (+4000), Juventus (+1000).