By Ian Palmer
The 2014/15 European Champions League season kicks off on Tuesday, September 16 with 32 of the continent’s top soccer clubs hoping to emerge as the king of the hill next May. Real Madrid of the Spanish La Liga enters the tournament as the reigning champions. They beat cross-town rivals and Spanish league champions Atletico Madrid 4-1 in last season’s final. Now is the ideal time to check out the groups and each club’s odds of winning the event via bet365’s soccer lines. The top two teams in each group will advance to the round-of-16 stage while the third-place squad will enter the second-tier Europa League.
- Atletico Madrid-20/1(Spain), Juventus-25/1 (Italy), Olympiakos-500/1 (Greece), and Malmo-2000/1 (Sweden)
- Atletico Madrid won the Spanish league last campaign in a bit of a surprise and made it all the way to the Champions League Final in Lisbon, Portugal. However, they were beaten 4-1 in extra time by Real Madrid. The team has lost striker Diego Costa and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, but are still one of Spain’s best. They beat Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup earlier this season and also have a win over their rivals in 2014/15 league play. Juventus won the Italian Serie A last season to capture the title for the third straight year. They’re strong in net with Italian international Gianluigi Buffon and also feature French international Paul Pogba in the midfield. Malmo and Olympiakos will have a hard time with Juventus and Atletico Madrid, but they should battle it out with each other for third place.
- Top Two: Atletico Madrid and Juventus should advance
- Real Madrid-7/2 (Spain), Basel-500/1 (Switzerland), Liverpool (England)-25/1 and Ludogorets-2000/1 (Bulgaria)
- Real Madrid is the reigning European Champions League king and the squad is filled with stars in all positions. However, they’ve struggled early on in the Spanish season. Liverpool finished as runners up in the English Premier League last year and the five-time European champs are back in the Champions League for the first time since the 2009/10 campaign. Real and Liverpool should fight for first place and they meet each other for their first of two games on Oct. 22 at Anfield in Liverpool. Madrid’s top players are Cristiano Ronaldo, Javier Hernandez, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos, and James Rodriguez and they could be the difference between a first and second-place finish. Liverpool has Mario Balotelli, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling to counter with. The last time these two sides faced each other Liverpool hammered Madrid 4-0 at home. Basel and Ludogorets will battle it out for third spot.
- Top Two: Real Madrid and Liverpool
- Benfica-80/1 (Portugal), Zenit St. Petersburg-150/1( Russia), Bayer Leverkusen-66/1 (Germany), and Monaco-125/1 (France)
- This is a bit of a weak group, but it should be quite competitive since there isn’t much separating the four teams. Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen are the favorites, but Portuguese champions Benfica have proven to be one of Europe’s most consistent teams. They made it to the final of the Europa League last season, but were beaten in a penalty shootout by Sevilla of Spain. Monaco has weakened themselves by loaning out top striker Radamel Falcao of Colombia to Manchester United for no reason other than money. Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco, and Benfica should all battle it out for first place, but Zenit St. Petersburg could surprise them all.
- Top Two: Bayer Leverkusen and Benfica
- Arsenal-20/1 (England), Borussia Dortmund-25/1 (Germany), Galatasaray-250/1 (Turkey), and Anderlecht-750/1 (Belgium)
- Borussia Dortmund made it to the Champions League Final in the 2012/13 campaign, but were upended by fellow Bundesliga team Bayern Munich 2-1. They have a string squad which is led by striker Marco Reus, but he’s going to miss a game or two since he’s been sidelined with an injury. Dortmund also has a great midfield and good caching squad. Arsenal has made it to the group stage for the 17th straight year. The English club has a lot of experience and some great young players in Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. However, French striker Olivier Giroud is out for four months with an injury and Walcott hasn’t returned from last season’s torn ACL as of yet. Arsenal and Dortmund should battle for first place, but Galatasaray also has a shot even though striker Didier Drogba has left the fold. Anderlecht could be competitive, but will still likely finish in the basement.
- Top Two: Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal
- Bayern Munich-4/1 (Germany), Manchester City-14/1 (England), CSKA Moscow-500/1 (Russia), and Roma-80/1 (Italy)
- This is quite a strong group as it features German Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich taking on English Premier League kings Manchester City for the second consecutive season. Both teams have very deep squads, but Munich is stronger in goal with German international keeper Manuel Neuer between the posts. The squad also boasts several other German internationals including Mario Gotze, who scored the game-winning goal for his homeland at this summer’s World Cup against Argentina. Man City hasn’t really done very well in Europe and haven’t gotten off to a very good start in England this season. Still, they should battle Bayern for top spot. However, if any of those two teams struggle we could see Roma take advantage of it and sneak into second place. CSKA Moscow isn’t a bad side, but they’ve been place in a mission-impossible scenario here.
- Top Two: Bayern Munich and Manchester City
- Barcelona-11/2 (Spain), Paris Saint-Germain-16/1 (France), Ajax-500/1 (Holland), and APOEL Nicosia-1500/1 (Cyprus)
- Barcelona had an offseason in 2013/14 as they didn’t manage to win a major trophy even though they had Neymar of Brazil and Lionel Messi of Argentina in the lineup. The squad got stronger over the summer when Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was bought from Liverpool. Barcelona’s biggest threat in this group will come from Paris Saint-Germain and their top striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Sweden. Barcelona and PSG should duke it out for numero uno while Ajax will likely take third spot with APOEL Nicosia possessing the cellar.
- Top Two: Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain
- Chelsea-6/1 (England), Schalke-150/1 (Germany), Sporting Lisbon-350/1 (Portugal) and Maribor-2000/1 (Slovenia)
- Chelsea has won both the Champions League and Europa league over the past few seasons. The club has gone through numerous player changes since last year with strikers Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres, and Demba Ba all leaving town. They’ve been replaced by Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. Brazilian-born Spanish international Costa was named the English Premier League’s player of the month for August and had seven goals in his first four league games. German Bundesliga club Schalke has a good attacking side though and won’t be easy to beat. They also have Julian Draxler to cause trouble for opposing defenders, even Chelsea’s experienced back-four. Chelsea should battle for first with Schalke and Sporting Lisbon of Portugal fighting for second.
- Top Two: Chelsea and Schalke
- Porto-66/1 (Portugal), Shakhtar Donetsk-150/1 (Ukraine), Athletic Bilbao-100/1 (Spain), and BATE Borisov-1500/1 (Belarus)
- Shakhtar Donetsk is in a bit of turmoil now as the club is situated in the current war zone in Ukraine. It’s also been reported that their headquarters have recently been attacked. The team has a lot of experience, but it’s anybody’s guess which players will show up for the games. Athletic Bilbao and FC Porto are also decent teams who can beat anybody when they’re in top form. Donetsk. Bilbao, and Porto should all have a shot at the top two positions with Borisov taking up space in the basement.
- Top Two: Shakhtar Donetsk and FC Porto