Matchday One of the UEFA Champions League kicks off this week with much-anticipation after the group stage draw was announced late last month.
After a dominant season in England, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been priced as the tournament’s favourites, while Juventus’ odds have dropped drastically after Cristiano Ronaldo’s big-money move from three-time consecutive winners, Real Madrid. After reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition last season, Liverpool have been handed with a tricky group, alongside Paris Saint-Germain, who they kick-start their campaign against, as well as Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.
Wednesday 19 September
AEK Athens 715/100
Ajax will be embarking on their first Champions League group stage campaign for the first time since the 2014/15 season. AEK, though, last competed in Europe’s elite competition way back in the 2006/07 campaign. On paper, it doesn’t bode well for the visitors, who have lost in all five of their previous trips to the Netherlands.
In fact, it was Ajax who beat AEK both home and away in the 1994/95 group stages. In Amsterdam, I give the visitors very little chance of getting something here. Back the home win and include in all multiples.
Bayern Munich 54/100
Benfica kick-start their Champions League campaign with a tricky test at home to German champions, Bayern Munich. This will be Niko Kovac’s first UEFA fixture as Bavarian boss, and he will be hoping to start it in the same manner in which he started off his Bundesliga reign as Bayern manager.
Despite not losing in six games against Benfica, by no means will this be a walk in the park for Kovac and his side. All three home games against Bayern have ended in draws, so the Eagles will head into this encounter with some hope. Despite all the stars on show for Bayern, I’m backing Benfica to earn a share of the spoils in Lisbon.
Shakhtar Donetsk 92/100
Hoffenheim will be making their Champions League debut this Wednesday when they meet Shakhtar Donetsk for the first time in an UEFA competition. Shakhtar have won their last four home fixtures in the Champions League, although they have drawn their last five against German opposition.
The hosts went into the international break off the back of four consecutive wins. Ukraine will be a tough place to travel for any visiting team and I’m expecting Hoffenheim to struggle here. Take the home win here at 92/100.
Manchester City 2/11
After a one-year absence, Lyon make their return to the big time with an almost impossible task to come out unscathed at the Etihad Stadium when they face Manchester City. This will be the first meeting in UEFA competitions for these two sides, although City have lost just one in five matches against French opposition in European tournaments.
After an emphatic title win for Pep Guardiola last season, you get the feeling that the Spanish tactician could be prioritising the Champions League this time around. City are unbeaten in their last eight home games in the Champions League group stages, winning seven times. Backing the English champions on the (-1) Handicap at 9/20 could prove to be easy money made – get on!
Viktoria Plzen 11/10
CSKA Moscow 26/10
Viktoria Plzen’s impressive home record will be put to the test when they face CSKA Moscow in the Czech Republic. Plzen have won their last six UEFA home games, while they also managed to beat CSKA 2-1 back in the 2013/14 Champions League group stages.
These sides only met each other twice in UEFA competitions, with both teams winning their respective home game. CSKA have started their season off brightly, although a test in Plzen might be too difficult to overcome. Take the home win here at 11/10.
Real Madrid 3/10
Julen Lopetegui’s first Champions League match as Real Madrid boss comes as a tricky one, when the Santiago Bernebeu will play host to their clash against Roma. Los Blancos will be hoping to achieve the unthinkable, claiming their fourth consecutive Champions League title.
They will have to do so without Cristiano Ronaldo, who moved to Juventus before the season started. Roma made it to the semi-finals of the tournament last season, and with this being the trickiest task in the group, they will be hoping to come out unscathed. I simply cannot see that happening. Back Madrid here at 3/10!
Young Boys 41/10
Manchester United 69/100
Young Boys will make their Champions League group stage debut when they host English giants, Manchester United in Berne on Wednesday night. This will be the first meeting in UEFA competitions between the two sides, although United have lost their last two UEFA encounters in Switzerland.
At the time of writing, Young Boys have won all seven of their Super League encounters, while there has been loads of uncertainty surrounding the Red Devils this term. Although Jose Mourinho hasn’t got his backline sorted out for the season, the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba should do enough to guide their team to victory. Back the away win here.
We close proceedings with what could be a humdinger clash between Valencia and Juventus, who will be meeting for the first time in a UEFA competition. The Old Lady were dumped out of the Champions League last season through a moment of magic by Cristiano Ronaldo, who has since been snapped up by the Italian giants.
Valencia started their campaign off in dire fashion, heading into the break winless in the league. Juve have won their last three away games in the Champions League, and with the likes of Ronaldo and co at their disposal, they should head back to Italy with all three points. Get on the away win here at 17/20.
Tuesday TREBLE @ 7/1
Atletico Madrid Win 17/20
Inter Milan vs Spurs Over 2.5 Goals 1/1
Liverpool Win 12/10
Wednesday TREBLE @ 10/1
Ajax Win 4/10
Benfica vs Bayern Munich Draw 33/10
Juventus Win 17/20