FOOTBALL analyst Ben Levene (@benlevene96) has been in great form of late. He's analysed the upcoming Champions League campaign and picked out his best bets.
Champions League 2018/19 | BT Sport
Back in May, Real Madrid beat Liverpool 3-1 to make it three consecutive Champions League titles, and four wins in five seasons. But things have been all change at the Bernabeu since then and so some firms give Los Blancos just a 10% chance of repeating the feat.
After May’s final in Kiev, man of the moment Gareth Bale was uncertain over his future however it was Madrid’s talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, who would go on to depart.
CR7, who won 15 trophies, scoring 450 goals in 438 matches in the process, had been at the centre of everything Real Madrid since joining back in 2009. Ronaldo boasted a phenomenal Champions League record during his time with the Spanish supergiants. He scored 105 times in 101 matches.
Boss Zinedine Zidane also departed, having won the Champions League in every season since taking charge. Julen Lopetegui was controversially handed the opportunity to replace Zidane and although making a flawless start to the La Liga season, there were signs of a few teething problems in the Super Cup loss to rivals Atletico.
Atleti have the attributes to go deep
If you hadn’t backed Real Madrid in recent years, then Atletico were your next best route to money. Diego Simeone’s side have reached the final in two of the last five seasons and there is reason to believe they are capable of doing so again. Certainly at 16/1.
Since the Simeone revolution, Atletico have thrived in European competitions and still possess the nucleus of talent who have proved themselves at the elite level.
They were eliminated in the group stage last season, but they had just moved into a new stadium and even then they went on to win the Europa League.
If Atletico can find themselves in the knockout phase, which they are odds-on to do, then few sides are more suited to knockout football. They are organised and tough to beat – Atleti have conceded the fewest goals in La Liga for three consecutive seasons now.
They’ve progressed through 14 of their last 18 European knockout ties and three of the four eliminations came against Real Madrid sides who would go on to win the Champions League.
Seven of the last ten Champions League finalist and five of the last ten Europa League finalists have been Spanish sides which is indicative to their dominance in Europe.
Very rarely does a Champions League finalist come out of an elite few. At 16/1 (Sky Bet) Atletico offer value, especially with the each-way terms on available. We cannot ignore the role of the draw, so I’d rather be on a bigger price to account for that.
A lot to like about Liverpool
Liverpool enjoyed an exceptional Champions League campaign last season and whilst I won’t be backing them to reach the final again, they are certainly capable of topping their group.
The Reds have been drawn alongside PSG, Napoli and Red Star Belgrade. Thomas Tuchel’s PSG have been chalked up as favourites for Group C but I’m happy to take the 7/4 (Ladbrokes) about Liverpool. There is less between the sides than the odds suggest.
Jurgen Klopp’s outfit have kicked on since this time last year. January addition Virgil Van Dijk has transformed them and this season they’ve again gone up a gear defensively as Joe Gomez has returned alongside him.
Naby Keita offers that bit extra in midfield and although former Monaco-man Fabinho is yet to make an impact, he offers depth which could benefit them as the season goes on.
Liverpool went unbeaten at home in the Premier League last season and they achieved the same feat at Anfield in Europe. They won both legs of their quarter-final tie with favourites Man City, too.
The Reds are more settled than PSG, who are adapting to life under new boss Thomas Tuchel. When taking Dortmund to the quarter-final back in the 2016/17 season, Tuchel adopted an all-out-attack approach. If he does similar here, Liverpool have the counter-attacking quality to punish them when they meet.
Ajax to enjoy their return
After a barren spell, there are signs emerging that Dutch football is once again on the rise. Both PSV and Ajax feature in this seasons’ Champions League group stage.
It’s the latter with whom we can side this season. The emergence of duo Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong has caught the eye of Europe’s finest and it’s difficult to see the pair still playing their trade in Amsterdam this time next year.
Dusan Tadic adds creative quality and has bedded in perfectly, scoring six times already this season. Alongside Hakim Ziyech and De Jong, Ajax have a talented midfield.
Manager Erik ten Hag led Utrecht to the KNVB Cup and the Europa League qualifiers and has already had an impact since taking over in December. Ajax have lost just two of 26 games during his reign.
I’m happy to back them to progress over Benfica at 11/8.
I caught some of Benfica’s tie against PAOK and if it weren’t for the Greek side imploding, things might have panned out differently.
Benfica finished seven-points behind league winners Porto domestically and look weaker than they have in previous years.
Ajax have not featured in a Champions League group stage since the 2014/15 season and can enjoy their return. Back them to quality at 11/8 (Betway)