Debutant contributor Jonny O'Sullivan (@libero_the) takes a deep dive into the 2019/20 Champions League outrights, picking out his best pre-tournament punts.
Champions League 2019/20 | Outright Preview | BT Sport
Everyone's favourite time of year is on the horizon once more. Better than Christmas and better than your birthday; it’s the return of the Champions League.
Prepare to tell your loved ones you are busy every other week. Prepare to kick off your shoes at 17:55 and bury yourself in your sofa till it is time to go to bed on UCL nights. Prepare to be better than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane and Neymar in your head, telling them that they ‘should have passed' in your own expert opinion, knowing that you would have done more if you had the exact same opportunity.
The Champions League is back and it’s as open as ever…
The usual suspects will be at the front of the pack once more. Manchester City are, of course, favourites, best priced at 7/2 (Betway) to lift the famous trophy.
Even when your only centre-half is the unreliable John Stones and the vastly more unreliable Nicolas Otamendi, having the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva are enough to make you a force to be reckoned with against any side on the continent.
A Barcelona side who are still hurting from embarrassing collapses in Rome and Liverpool in recent years are 11/2 (Betfair) to bring the trophy back to the Camp Nou. The signings of Antoine Griezmann and Frankie de Jong will surely bolster the La Liga champions’ chances, but will they improve their lack of character shown under Ernestvo Valverde in Europe's most prestigious competition?
Next up is Liverpool, the reigning champions. With their incredible fitness levels and still riding high off an insane wave of momentum, it would be wrong to suggest the Reds are not in with another serious chance. With key players avoiding injury, Jurgen Klopp’s charges will fancy their chances of retaining the trophy at a meaty 15/2 at Unibet.
Best of the rest
Then comes the best of the rest. PSG have a team filled with talent – if they can manage to get Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Edison Cavani and Mauro Icardi on the same pitch and firing it will be difficult to stop them. Of course, though, it is a massive if.
Idrissa Gana Gueye will add more steel in the middle of the PSG pitch, but there is no getting around the fact they still have the likes of Juan Bernat at the back trying to keep out the best players in the world. Would you fancy Bernat shutting down a rampant Mohamed Salah? PSG are 11/1 at Unibet and probably for good reason.
Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus all come next in the betting – three clubs in transition. Real spent more than £300m this summer, yet none of their signings has been making their starting XI so far this season (until Eden Hazard makes his return from injury). There is a good reason why Los Blancos find themselves at 11/1 (Unibet), as they will be requiring Hazard to hit Messi 2012 levels to have a genuine chance.
Bayern Munich will be coping without Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben this season and have a manager who their fanbase does not trust, Niko Kovac.
Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman do not possess the consistency on the pitch to truly establish themselves as world-class players right now, resulting in Bayern lacking the ability to create chances for Robert Lewandowski, as shown in the two legs against Liverpool last season.
Juventus have had a strange summer. After desperately trying to sell most of their assets; it was only their brightest youth product in years who was shipped for less than £30m, Moise Kean. Paolo Dybala, Mario Mandzukic and Sami Khedira, to name a few, where all placed on the transfer list to no success.
It could be argued that Juve have thrown away their future in their desperate chase for immediate Champions League success. Bookies do not fancy their chances either with the Bianconeri available at 12/1 on Betfair.
Reds can land back-to-back titles
It seems impossible to look past the two English heavyweights and Barcelona. Liverpool will be hoping they can avoid injury and Barcelona will be praying Messi stays fit, but in the likely event they take place it should be a three-horse race.
Manchester City will no doubt strengthen their team in January due to injuries at the back to make them even stronger, and their ability to cope with key players on the treatment table is something quite incredible, as shown with the absence of de Bruyne last season.
Meanwhile, Barcelona looks vulnerable at the back and could be left to rue missing out on Matthijs de Ligt this summer.
Quite rightly, for this reason, City should be considered the fair favourites for the competition as de Bruyne and co. help end Pep Guardiola’s Champions League drought.
Overall though, Liverpool looks like they could become the second team to retain the trophy. Barca and City have obvious flaws at the back and with Virgil Van Dijk marshalling the likes of Andy Robertson and a revived Joel Matip, the Reds could be the most solid side in the competition and look worthy of interest at this stage.
With a solid backline, Liverpool will be relying on one moment of quality per-game, which is easy for the likes of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Salah. Overall, should injuries be avoided, Liverpool no doubt look the most steady of all the elite in Europe. At 15/2 it seems the Reds will be a solid bet and would be the advisable choice for any punter.
Lille look capable of out-performing odds
If you do not want to wait till May for a return, then maybe you could find some value in having a punt on the group stages. Lille to qualify Group H looks a value shout at 3/1 (BetVictor).
Les Dogues are in a pool alongside teams that have lost key playing and coaching personnel. Chelsea saw Hazard depart and will be relying on Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham to spearhead their attack. Ajax lost de Ligt and de Jong and will no doubt struggle to reach the heights of last season, whilst Valencia have seen head Marcelino depart after a dispute with the owner.
Although Lille’s standout Nicolas Pepe was sold to Arsenal, plus the likes of Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes moved on in the summer, the Ligue 1 club’s smart recruitment team snapped-up Nigerian forward Victor Osimhen, Renato Sanches and Boubakary Soumare. This, along with keeping the likes of Jonathan Bamba and Jonathan Ikone, should leave Christian Galter’s group more than confident of making their mark in the group.
The French club have what it takes to overcome what is a fairly even group and shouldn’t be considered 3/1 outsiders to progress.
Sterling can shine in the Top Goalscorer market
In other markets, backing Raheem Sterling each-way with four places to be the competition’s Top Goalscorer (12/1 Bet365) seems a price too good to be true.
In a group with Champions League new boys Atalanta, Dinamo Zagreb and a Shakthar Donetsk outfit without Paolo Fonseca as boss, Sterling will fancy his chances of racking up a few goals for the Citizens.
Manchester City should run away with this pool and have the potential to hit some impressive figures along the route to the knockout phase. Messi and Ronaldo find themselves in tricky groups with their prospective clubs and neither are likely to feature in all six pool matches.
Sterling has more of a chance of being a regular starter in the competition, with Guardiola potentially looking to use Gabriel Jesus more often in this competition.