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Group A: Monaco, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Club Brugge
Atletico Madrid are 1/2 favourites to win this group - and although I fancy them to go very far in this competition, they are probably not value to win this section. Diego Simeone’s men are much better suited to knockout ties than group games. This was exemplified by their failure - twice - to beat Qarabag of Azerbaijan in last year’s competition.
They should still qualify none the less, and it is highly likely that Club Brugge - 7/1 to qualify and 33/1 to win the group - will finish bottom. So that leads us to a straight fight between Monaco and Borussia Dortmund.
Both look flawed. Monaco’s great 2016/17 team has all but disappeared, while Borussia Dortmund are long past their best. But Monaco’s squad is youthful and full of promise. They have made a poor start to the season in Ligue 1, already losing to Marseille and Bordeaux. But at 13/10 compared with the 15/8 available on Dortmund to qualify, Leonardo Jardim’s men appear a shade better value.
Best Bet: Monaco to qualify at 13/10
Group B: Barcelona, Inter Milan, PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham are on the receiving end of another tough draw in the Champions League. But they were paired Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund last year and made light work of a very difficult group, securing five wins out of six, including a stunning 3-1 win over Real Madrid (as well as a highly creditable 1-1 draw in the Bernabeu).
Their opening game against Inter at the San Siro may be the most pivotal game in the group. They are narrow 15/8 outsiders to win that match, but they are a much better team than Inter, who still flatter to deceive in the most important matches despite some eye-catching summer recruitment.
Barcelona are 4/9 favourites to win the group. PSV could be stubborn, tricky opposition, but they are still as big as 50/1 to win the group and 8/1 to qualify. This may slightly underrate their ability, but you would still almost certainly be on a value loser.
Tottenham are now fairly experienced in the Champions League - certainly compared with this Inter team. They have the hang of the group stages now, even if a big win in the knockout stages still continues to elude them. At 4/7 they are value to qualify.
Best Bet: Tottenham Hotspur to qualify at 4/7
Group C: Red Star Belgrade, Liverpool, Napoli, PSG
Liverpool scored an astonishing 23 goals in the group last year, although they were helped by a kind draw that included Maribor and Spartak Moscow. This year will be a lot harder for Jurgen Klopp’s men, although they will fancy their chances of two more thrashings in the games against Red Star Belgrade, who are a huge 25/1 just to qualify.
But it is PSG who are the rightful favourites to win the group at 10/11. Their matches against Liverpool should be spectacular, with two fearsome front threes facing off against each other.
Napoli lost their first game under new manager Carlo Ancelotti in Serie A, but two consecutive wins has shown that the departure of Maurizio Sarri may not harm them too much.
That said, they will still be reeling from the disappointment of not winning the Scudetto last year, and their defence still needs quite a bit of work. The departure of Jorginho also leaves a gaping hole in their midfield. They are 13/10 to qualify in what looks like a three horse race.
Best Bet: PSG to win the group at 10/11
Group D: Lokomotiv Moscow, FC Porto, Schalke 04, Galatasaray
If Group C is the group of death, Group D may be the group of life. This section is the least glamorous on paper, but is also likely to be the tightest in this year’s competition. Porto are 5/4 favourites to win it, followed by Schalke at 2/1, Galatasaray 5/1 and Lokomotiv Moscow the outsiders at 15/2.
I’m generally anti Schalke here. Smaller German sides often struggle in the Champions League. Their squads are not big enough and their defences are generally too leaky to go very far.
Galatasaray have looked impressive domestically so far, winning four of their first five games and scoring 14 goals in the process. Any trip to Istanbul is bound to be intimidating for the visitor.
FC Porto are very experienced at this stage and should have enough to go through, while Lokomotiv are rightfully outsiders. It already looks like their first Russian league title since 2004 was a fluke: they have only won two of their first seven games.
Best Bet: Galatasaray to qualify at 11/8
Group E: Bayern Munich, AEK Athens, Ajax, Benfica
Bayern Munich are simply miles ahead of everyone else in this group, and this is represented in the prices. The German giants are 1/7 to win the group. AEK Athens, back in the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2006/07 after an impressive play-off win over Celtic are 80/1 to win the group and 5/1 to qualify.
So [...]s see this as a straight fight between Benfica and Ajax to qualify. Benfica are 10/11 to qualify and Ajax 6/5.
Benfica have a far better recent record in Europe, while Ajax have looked depressingly out of their depth for a club of that stature.
But this might be the time to back the Dutchmen. Although they lost hot prospect Justin Kluivert to Roma in the summer, they added well - particularly the acquisitions of Dusan Tadic from Southampton and Daley Blind from Manchester United.
Benfica were awful in last year’s competition, somehow losing all six of their matches in a group that included Basel and CSKA Moscow.
Best Bet: Ajax to qualify at 10/11
Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Lyon, Hoffenheim
This group is rather similar to Bayern Munich’s in that Manchester City are the overwhelming favourites to finish top. Pep Guardiola’s men are 2/11 to win the group. They should do that with few problems, and tougher challenges will wait in the knockout stages.
This is Hoffenheim’s first season in the Champions League group stages, but their performance in last year’s Europa League does not bode well as they finished bottom in a group including Ludogorets Razgrad, Braga and Istanbul Basaksehir.
At 11/5 to qualify they are outsiders, but even this seems to overrate them.
Lyon are favoured slightly ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk. They are 6/5 to qualify with the Ukrainian champions 2/1.
It is Shakhtar who look the better bet. Lyon have lost two of their first four games in Ligue 1 this year, while Shakhtar have won six out of seven domestic games this year. They are the more experiened side at this level. Although they are not able to play in Donetsk at the moment, their results at their adopted home of Lviv are as impressive as in Donetsk. They are value to qualify.
Best Bet: Shakhtar Donetsk to qualify at 2/1
Group G: Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen, Real Madrid
This is perhaps the least interesting group this season. Real Madrid are the ultra-strong favourites to finish top at 1/6, with Roma the 1/4 favourites to qualify behind them. Russian league runners-up CSKA Moscow are 9/2 to qualify with Czech champions Viktoria Plzen available at 5/1.
Real Madrid and Roma should be far too strong here, even if Roma’s run to the semi-finals slightly overstated their ability. There is little chance of them topping the group ahead of Julen Lopategui’s side, even though Cristiano Ronaldo has now moved on.
CSKA have started unconvincingly in the Russian league like their cross-city rivals Lokomotiv, while European football has become such a tale of haves and have nots that teams from the Czech league simply cannot compete with Real Madrid.
Real Madrid’s matches with Roma should be good spectacles, but it is likely that the only thing at stake will be top spot.
Best Bet: Real Madrid-Roma straight forecast at 4/7
Group H: Juventus, Manchester United, Valencia, Young Boys
Cristiano Ronaldo returns to Old Trafford in what could be one of the highlights of the group stages. His new side, the Italian champions Juventus, are 1/2 to win this group ahead of a Manchester United side that look eminently opposable.
Valencia have not won in their opening three games in La Liga this year, but they are generally a club on the up, although they are unlikely to repeat their achievements of the Rafael Benitez era anytime soon.
But the real point here is that Manchester United are no sort of value. There are huge, deep problems at the club. The defence is still really poor despite huge amounts of money spent on it. The side still lacks a defined identity and young attackers Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford continue to stagnate under Jose Mourinho.
Although Juventus will be a tough test, this could have been a much harder group for United. But they are still value not to qualify at 11/5.
Best Bet: Manchester United not to qualify at 11/5