The Champions League is nearing the end of the group stage, and the usual suspects are looking ominous once again. The betting is headed by holder’s Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Chelsea, and it would be no surprise to see the winner come from the four teams who have taken five of the last six trophies between them.
Each of the four are on track for the second round, with Bayern, Madrid and Barcelona already assured of qualification, and Chelsea almost certain to wrap it up over the final two group matches.
The German machine that is Bayern Munich looks unstoppable again this season, and a fair price to retain the trophy they won the year before last. They actually contested the previous two finals before the all-Spanish affair last season, and the defeat to Chelsea in home soil in the 2012 final will still stick in the throat of the Bayern faithful. The final is set to be held on German soil again this year – At the home of Hertha Berlin – and Pep Guardiola will be keen to add to the two Champions League titles he won with Barcelona. In Guardiola, the German champions have one of the best tacticians around, and they have quality oozing through their ranks. They laid down a marker when they beat Roma 7-1 away in Italy earlier in the season, and the fact that they won the return fixture 2-0 without the likes of Robben and Mueller in the team, tells you all you need to know about their strength in depth. They’ve won all four group fixtures so far, and are unbeaten in twelve games in the Bundesliga.
Real Madrid – +333 with Bwin
Last year’s victors, Real Madrid, will be looking to do something no team has done since the inception of the Champions League – retain the trophy. The last side to successfully defend the European Cup was AC Milan, who won the old version of the title in ’89 and ’90. It would be foolish to write off the Galactico’s though, and with Ronaldo, Rodriguez and Bale in their squad, they are sure to make the business end of the tournament. They’ve also won four out of four in their Champions League group, and currently sit top of La Liga, having won 10 and lost 2 of 12 matches so far.
Guardiola won the Champions League with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, and since then they’ve been to two semi-finals and one quarter-final. They remain one of the best sides in European football, and with Suarez joining the likes of Messi and Neymar, they possess a dazzling forward line. Suarez’ Barcelona career has yet to take off, but when he finds his form, the three of them will pose a formidable threat. One potential problem with backing the Catalans at this stage is presented by PSG. The French side are a point ahead in the group, having beaten them in France, and although Barca can turn the tables with a win in the return fixture in Spain, it’s by no means a formality. They can be expected to be there or thereabouts again, but will face a tough route to the final if they do end up finishing 2nd in the group.
Jose Mourinho has already won the Champions League twice, with Porto in 2004 and with Inter Milan in 2010; like Guardiola, he is one of the current game’s greatest tacticians. His Chelsea side have swept all before them in the Premier League this season, are unbeaten in 12 games, and the quiet whisper of ‘the invincible’s’ is already going around Stamford Bridge. They are also unbeaten in four Champions League group matches, with two wins and two draws. Mourinho has added quality to an already talented squad this season, with Diego Costa, Matic, and Fabregas, and where they struggled to score on occasions last season, they suddenly look full of goals. They have to be taken very seriously in this year’s competition, and at the prices look a better bet than Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Best of the Rest
Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and PSG can all be backed at around the same price, but PSG stand out as the best bet among the ‘outsiders’ for the title. The French side have spent big money over the last couple of seasons to compete at the top table of European football, and have been unlucky not to progress beyond the quarter-finals in each of the last two years. They have been knocked out on away goals in 3-3 aggregate draws in the last two seasons, by Barcelona and Chelsea, and that experience will serve them well. They top their qualifying group at the moment, and have already beaten Barcelona 3-2 in this year’s competition. Atletico Madrid have started the season well again under Diego Simeone, and look set to top their group ahead of Juventus, but they may find it difficult to repeat the achievements of last year. Dortmund are having an odd season, in which they’ve won all four Champions League games at a canter, but are languishing in the bottom three of the Bundesliga after a shocking start domestically.
PSG have added David Luiz to a strong squad, which features Silva, Imbrahimovic, Cavani, Matuidi and Cabaye, and remain unbeaten in the French League and the Champions League so far this season. With most bookies offering half the odds for a top two finish, PSG could be the surprise guests to crash the final party this year.
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