Champions League winners Chelsea face Italian champions Juventus in Group E, whilst the champions of Spain, England, Germany and Holland all do battle in Group D. Manchester United and Barcelona have both been given favourable group draws, whilst PSG and Zenit St Petersburg will both be hoping to reach the knockout stages of the 2013 Champions League after their expensive recruitment drives. Sportingly Better picks out the best bets in this season’s UEFA Champions League competition including an each-way play in the outright betting market.
Champions League Group Draw
[wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group A Dynamo Kiev Dinamo Zagreb FC Porto PSG[/wpcol_1quarter] [wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group B Arsenal Olympiakos Schalke Montpellier[/wpcol_1quarter][wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group C Anderlecht Zenit AC Milan Malaga[/wpcol_1quarter] [wpcol_1quarter_end id="" class="" style=""]Group D Man City Ajax Dortmund Real Madrid[/wpcol_1quarter_end]
[wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group E Donetsk Chelsea Juventus Nordsjaelland[/wpcol_1quarter] [wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group F BATE Borisov Bayern Munich Lille Valencia[/wpcol_1quarter][wpcol_1quarter id="" class="" style=""]Group G Benfica Celtic Spart. Moscow Barcelona[/wpcol_1quarter] [wpcol_1quarter_end id="" class="" style=""]Group H Man Utd Braga Galatasaray CFR Cluj[/wpcol_1quarter_end]
Champions League favourites Barcelona have begun the domestic season well under new boss Tito Villanova with three wins out of three including an opening day 5-1 victory over Real Sociedad at the Nou Camp. The tika-tika style is largely unchanged, but Jordi Alba should solve Barcelona’s long-term left back problem. Alex Song has also been brought in to bolster the midfield. Promising youngsters Thiago Alcantara, Isaac Cuenca, Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya should all find themselves with increased game time this season, whilst the return of David Villa from injury will feel like a new signing for the Catalans.
A Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid shows that Barcelona are not entirely invincible, but the biggest question marks remain over unproven manager Tito Villanova.
Real Madrid (5.50)
The unrest over star player Cristiano Ronaldo has clearly been unsettling for the club and the opening draw to Valencia and defeat to Getafe is not the ideal start “The Special One” wanted. A summer recruitment drive has seen Luka Modric finally make his way to the Bernabeu, whilst Chelsea’s Michael Essien joined on loan on transfer deadline day.
The multi-talented squad is arguably the finest in the competition and Mourinho will be desperate to end Real Madrid’s eleven year wait to lift Europe’s finest club trophy.
Manchester United (8.50)
The arrival of striker Robin Van Persie from Arsenal is arguably the finest bit of transfer business that any of the leading Champions League sides has conducted. The goals and interplay of Shinji Kagawa from German champions Borussia Dortmund have also been warmly received and Manchester United have clearly strengthened their attacking options over the summer.
Question marks remain over the defence with Ferdinand, Evans, Smalling, Rafael and Jones all susceptible to injury. Sir Alex Ferguson appears unsure over his number one goalkeeper, but the return of captain Nemanja Vidic is a big plus and if United can keep most of their squad fit throughout the season then the Premier League runners up will be hoping to make at least the Champions League semi finals after securing an easy draw in the group stages.
Manchester City (11.00)
A somewhat more prudent summer of transfer activity has seen the English Premier League champions add Maicon, Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Javi Garcia and Matija Nastasic to a maturing squad.
Manchester City have arguably one of the best defences in the competition with Hart, Maicon, Kompany, Lescott and Clichy forming a formidable back-line. The return of Carlos Tevez from his self-imposed exile is a big plus for the Citizens, but Manchester City will need to progress out of a group that contains champions Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax.
Bayern Munich (13.00)
The German giants have made a flying start to the Bundesliga with two wins out of two and no fewer than nine goals scored. Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic has been a notable addition along with Spain’s Javi Martinez after Bayern Munich paid the €40 million buy-out clause in his contract.
The form and fitness of wingers Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery always appears to be key, but Bayern’s squad is fast approaching their peak and the Champions League runners up could prove a credible challenge with Gomez, Schweinsteiger, Mandzukic, Muller, Robben and Ribery firing the goals for manager Jupp Heynckes.
The transfer of playmaker Eden Hazard from Lille has certainly added to the Champions League winners squad, but a lot of the Blues success this season will rest on Fernando Torres following Didier Drogba’s departure from the club.
Roberto Di Matteo is still relatively inexperienced as a manager but the additions of Oscar, Azpilicueta and Marko Marin will add much needed youth and exuberance to an aging side. The missing clinicism of Didier Drogba will lessen Chelsea’s hopes of being the first side to retain the Champions League trophy in the modern era.
Big-spending PSG (17.00) have made the biggest splash in the transfer market with the signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Gregory Van der Wiel and Ezequiel Lavezzi. In Carlo Ancelotti, PSG have a world-class manager and the French Ligue 1 side will be hoping to progress ahead of Dynamo Kiev, Dinamo Zagreb and Porto in Group A.
Both Arsenal (23.00) and AC Milan (34.00) have lost two of their biggest assets and look two sides to swerve in the ante-post betting. German champions Borussia Dortmund (41.00) would presumably be shorter priced if it was not for drawing Real Madrid and Manchester City, whilst Italian champions Juventus (17.00) will be hoping for a respectable run in the competition following their return to the competition.
Russian side Zenit St Petersburg (51.00) opened their cheque book again last week securing the signatures of Hulk and Witsel and could be one side to watch in this season’s competition.
Winning Team coming from Spain @2.0
Zenit St Petersburg to Qualify @1.50
Barcelona and Manchester United to win their Groups @1.46
Bayern Munich to win the Champions League (Each-Way) @13.00
Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/apasciuto/