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UEFA Champions League Group Stage
Summer is over. This means only one thing: the Champions League is back. This year’s joint favourites, Barcelona and Chelsea, have quickly turned into bitter rivals in this competition. This rivalry is sure to intensify as they were drawn in the same group at this early stage of the tournament. The format is as follows: 32 teams compete in the group stage, divided into eight groups of four. The group winners and runners-up advance to the knockout stages, the eight third-placed teams advance to the third round of the UEFA Cup and the eight fourth-placed teams are eliminated. Here is an overview of all the groups with predictions of who we expect to win each group.
Group A: Barcelona (-118), Chelsea (+125), Werder Bremen (15/1), Levski Sofia (250/1)
Perhaps the Chelsea-Barcelona rivalry will not be so intense at this early stage. Both teams will advance from this group and there is a good chance they will meet again at a later stage of this competition. Chelsea look noticeably shakier this year. Their previously impenetrable defenses seem a little weaker. This will be bad for the blues. But unlike in recent years, with two Premier League titles under their belts, this season Jose Mourinho’s clear aim is to win the Champions League. However, we have to side with Barcelona here. They are scoring machines and should destroy Bremen and Levski, and are more than capable of scoring against Chelsea. At a lot of money, they are worth backing to win this group.
Group B: Bayern Munich (+125), Inter Milan (+163), Sporting Lisbon (6/1), Spartak Moscow (40/1)
Inter are a big prize here and worth backing. They have added strength, quality and depth to their squad and after the delay of the Calciopoli scandal they were awarded last year’s Scudetto in Serie A. Sporting Lisbon are no pushovers but Inter can and should get past them. However, there is a small concern. Bayern Munich is the type of team that can run up the score against weak opponents like Spartak Moscow. If Bayern and Inter are level on points, Bayern can win this group on goal difference.
Group C: Liverpool (-161), PSV Eindhoven (+450), Bordeaux (5/1), Galatasaray (10/1)
Although they are opposites, it is difficult to see Liverpool in this group. They are a well organized team and lifted the CL trophy two years ago. Coach Rafa Benitez has experience in European competitions and should easily lead his team through this group. PSV is a shadow of the team it was last season. There’s a good chance they won’t finish in the top two of the Dutch league, let alone repeat their above-average Champions League form of recent years. Bordeaux and Galatasaray are second place clubs in this competition.
Group D: Valencia (-125), Roma (+150), Shakhtar Donetsk (20/1), Olympiakos (29/1)
It is difficult to understand why the Roma are weak in this group. They are favored to win this year’s diluted Italian league. Their squad is much stronger this season both on paper and judging by their results in Serie A so far. But the Romans face stiff Spanish competition in this group. Valencia have a disciplined team with Champions League experience. They are deadly on the counter-attack and stifle their opponents’ attack. This looks like a coin flip between Rome and Valencia, so we’ll take the Italians in contention. Look at Olympiakos. They won’t win this group but, like many Greek teams, they can be dangerous in their home games.
Group E: Lyon (-125), Real Madrid (+163), Steaua Bucharest (10/1), Dynamo Kyiv (50/1)
The fall of Juventus has not benefited more than Real Madrid. The Spanish giants got a handful more Galacticos and one of the best managers in the world, Fabio Capello. They are serious contenders for the La Liga and Champions League titles this year. But they will have to overcome their enemies in this tournament: Lyon. The French side is always underrated by bookmakers, despite having excelled in European competition. We will happily back them again to win this group and possibly all.
Group F: Manchester United (-275), Benfica (+650), Celtic (13/1), FC Copenhagen (50/1)
Man Utd could not have asked for a more favorable draw. But luck is what they will need to go beyond this stage. At this short price, it’s not worth betting on the Red Devils winning the group. Copenhagen is a dangerous team, having eliminated Ajax from this competition. They are a big prize for winning the group and worth a small point. Benfica are as solid as ever in Portugal and with Champions League experience. They should take second place.
Group G: Arsenal (-161), Hamburg (9/1), Porto (9/1), CSKA Moscow (10/1)
Arsenal were the surprise team of the Champions League last year, going all the way to the final and defying expectations with every game. This year they seem to be overrated. The Gunners are yet to settle into their new Emirates Stadium. The team looks visibly uncomfortable and will need more time to settle. In light of the above, it is worth looking at the others. CSKA are heavily priced at 10/1 and the 2005 UEFA Cup champions should be backed to win this group. Russia is an intimidating place for visiting teams and the Muscovites are more than capable of claiming results from their travels.
Group H: AC Milan (-333), Lille (6/1), AEK Athens (25/1), Anderlecht (33/1)
Milan should pass this group with relative ease. They are capable of dismantling almost any team in the world and opponents like Lille, AEK and Anderlecht are not dangerous challengers. Lille are solid in France and can hold Milan to a draw in their home game. As usual, AEK Greece will be tough at home too, but they are hopeless on their travels. Anderlecht does not deserve to be in this competition. Even at this short price, get Milan.
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