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The Champions League Betting Preview 2020/21

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The 2020/21 Champions League Preview

An inevitable consequence of the 2019/20 Champions League being the most protracted in history is that this season’s edition is to be its most compressed, with group stage fixtures taking place over a mere 50 days.

Each of Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have already had vulnerabilities exposed in an extraordinary start to the Premier League season and it will be fascinating to see if such erraticism continues with the return of Europe’s premier competition, or whether it may even prove to be a calming tonic to domestic chaos.

Below is a quick look at how England’s representatives may fare in the 2020/21 Champions League, ahead of Matchday 1 on Tuesday.

All odds are provided by SkyBet.

Champions League Group C: Porto, Manchester City, Olympiakos, Marseille

If Manchester City were one of the strongest sides to feature in Pot 2 of UEFA’s seeding system, Portuguese champions Porto were arguably the weakest to come from Pot 1. As such, City are strong 1/4 favourites to qualify as Group C winners and progress to the knockout stages for an eighth successive season.

Beyond City, the rest of the group appear pretty evenly matched, which should afford Pep Guardiola to ability to absorb an awkward draw here, a shock defeat there, as Porto, Olympiakos and Marseille take points from each other. All three have reached the knockout stage of the Europa League in recent years: Porto being beaten home and away by Bayer Leverkusen in last season’s Round-of-32, Olympiacos beating Arsenal home and away at the same stage before succumbing to Wolves in the next round while Marseille, now managed by Andre Villas-Boas, were beaten finalists in 2017/18.

With City clear favourites to progress (and 4/1 joint favourites to win the competition outright), it may well be more interesting to predict who might join them in the knockout stage as group runner’s up. While Olympiacos are considered outsiders to qualify at 7/2, there is not much between Porto and Marseille in the Group Straight Forecast, with a Man City - Porto 1-2 priced at 5/4 and Man City - Marseille 5/2.

Champions League Group D - Liverpool, Ajax, Atalanta, Midtjylland

Liverpool’s group has a similar dynamic as Group C and this is reflected in the Premier League champions being odds-on at 8/15 to finish as group winners (and 11/2 3rd favourites to win the competition). Their strongest challenge may well come from Pot 3’s Atalanta, who were agonisingly close to reaching last season’s semi-final against PSG in August and have scored 13 goals in their opening 3 games to top Serie A and further reinforce their reputation as one of Europe’s most entertaining sides under Gian Piero Gasperini. The Italian side are 8/15 to qualify, ahead of Ajax (6/5) who are continuing to rebuild following their own memorable run to the semi-finals in 2018/19, a run that predictably saw star players such as Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Hakim Ziyech draw the irresistible attention of the continent’s richest clubs.

Making their first appearance in the Champions League group stage are Danish champions Midtjylland who have spent the last few seasons struggling to emerge from UEFA’s early-season qualifying rounds, however, the club - who share an owner in Matthew Benham with Championship side Brentford - do actually boast a decent record against English sides, having P6 W3 D1 L2 against Premier League opposition, including a memorable 2-1 home win against a Louis Van Gaal-era Manchester United during the 2015-16 Europa League.

Regardless, it would be a sizeable shock to see them in contention in a group where value again might be found in the Group Straight Forecast, with prices for a Liverpool - Atalanta 1-2 11/8 and Liverpool - Ajax 3/1.

Group E - Sevilla, Chelsea, Rennes, Krasnodar

After an eye-catching transfer window, expectations of (and at) Chelsea have risen and alongside a favourable draw, Frank Lampard will be looking to see off Europa League holders Sevilla and secure top spot in a group that should contain little threat beyond the La Liga side. They are priced 11/10 to do so, while a Sevilla team shorn of club legend Éver Banega and new Tottenham signing Sergio Reguilón are a closely-priced 11/8 to finish as group winners.

It has become a footballing cliché to guard against underrating the Spanish side and despite the loss of Banega and Reguilón, they have retained one of Europe’s most sought-after defenders in Jules Koundé and welcomed Ivan Rakitić back to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán stadium. In Julen Lopetegui, they also have a manager who was considered worthy of fighting over by Real Madrid and the Spanish FA not too long ago and who led the team to their highest league finish in over a decade, alongside that sixth Uefa Cup/Europa League, in his first season at the club.

The remaining two teams, Rennes and Krasnodar, are both making their debut at this level of European competition, a fact which is remarkable in each case though for differing reasons. Krasnodar, who finished 3rd in Russia last season, qualified after beating PAOK in the qualifying playoff to reach the Champions League group stages for the first time since their founding in 2008.

Rennes, on the hand, have waited 65 years to make their first appearance in the European Cup/Champions League, a prospect they achieved by finishing 3rd in Ligue Un’s curtailed season. It will be a swift return to France for new Chelsea goalkeeper, Eduoard Mendy, who left Rennes in the most recent transfer window for £21.6m, while many observers are excited to see how one of Europe’s hottest prospects, 17-year-old midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, fares at this level.

A Chelsea- Sevilla 1-2 is 9/4, Sevilla - Chelsea 11/4.

Group H - PSG, Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Istanbul Başakşehir

Even before their alarming start to the season, Manchester United faced by a distance the most difficult task of an English club to reach the knockout stages. They will play a PSG team that, since United eliminated them in the final minute of their Round-of-16 tie in March 2019, appear to have exorcised themselves of their mental block in the Champions League by conjuring up their own late winner against Atalanta in last season’s quarter-final, before cruising past RB Leipzig to reach their first final.

Leipzig join United and PSG in Group H and judging by their table-topping start to the Bundesliga, do not seem to have been affected overly by the loss of Timo Werner to Chelsea. Indeed, Julian Nagelsmann’s side have scored 8 times in their first 3 league matches.

There is an argument that suggests Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s counter-attacking style may prove more effective in Europe and although the United manager is currently under pressure, he does have a Champions League KO victory and a run to the Europa League semi-finals within a tenure that is not yet 2 years old.

Despite their poor form and the quality of a group that also includes Turkish champions, Istanbul Başakşehir - who feature a number of ex-Premier League stars including Demba Ba, Nacer Chadli and

Martin Škrtel - United remain odds-on to qualify at 4/9 ahead of Leipzig (10/11), while PSG (4/6) are favourites to finish top (United 9/4, Leipzig 5/1).

By Michael Murphy