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Champions League Group Stage Betting Preview

Soccer

With the first round of group stage matches behind us, let’s take a look at some of the narratives emerging in the Champions League, and how to identify teams to play and teams to fade. 

See the Puzzle Pieces 

If a Major League Baseball campaign is a marathon, a season competing at the top of European soccer is more like a puzzle. Competing for multiple trophies, both domestically and abroad, presents travel and logistical obstacles that can provide value. When it comes to Champions League action, it’s vital to examine the card in the context of both the competition, and the way the clubs involved are dealing with challenges in their home leagues. This is not simply about form, although obviously that’s a factor. It is also a question of resources and priorities. In the run-up to every Champions League match day, look over each team’s schedule, and see where you can find clubs that are stretched and will likely not perform to the best of their abilities. Likewise, teams that are in the middle of a homestand can be very difficult to breakdown if their opponent has been dealing with other travel the weekend before a European tilt. 

Take a team like Italian outfit Atalanta FC (+15000 to win UCL). This is a relatively small club, one which over-performed In Serie A despite a lack of depth, to qualify for the UCL. It is exceedingly difficult for a side of this stature to maintain their footing domestically while succeeding in Europe. Their group doesn’t do them any favors either. They still have two matches against juggernaut Manchester City (+300), and a tough trip to the Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk (+25000) comes in the middle of December. They already sit at the bottom of their group after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of unheralded Dinamo Zagreb (+30000). Keep an eye on how their season unfolds. Most likely, they will go all out to beat Donetsk at home on the next match day (Atalanta are favored), but if they fail to win, don’t be surprised to see them turn their focus back to Serie A.  

Conversely, bigger clubs that have gotten off to slow starts in UCL action can present conservative but safe betting options as the group stage moves forward. Previous champion Real Madrid (+1600) and defending champion Liverpool (+650) both stumbled out of the gates with losses to Paris St. Germain and Napoli, respectively. Despite these hiccups, it is incredibly unlikely they don’t right the ship to make the knockout rounds. If anything, they’ll probably sharpen their focus over the next few UCL matches. Both of these European powers have winnable home matches next time out, and the slight urgency will only help matters. If you have any interest in a UCL future, these prices are a solid place to start. They won’t get any better for these two teams. 

It also helps to get an idea of the priorities of the various clubs. Obviously, the more depth at a team’s disposal the better, but even the biggest clubs have to decide how to attack their season. This is one reason that Manchester City are clear favorites. The UCL is soccer’s most valued trophy, and the one that has eluded the blue side of Manchester. The club and its supporters see success in Europe as the ultimate affirmation of their arrival at the top of world soccer. They’ve won two straight Premier League titles and four of the last eight. City’s manager Pep Guardiola has perhaps the greatest domestic record in soccer history. Of the ten years he has managed, he has led his team to the title eight times. But he’s only won the UCL twice, and both he and the club are obsessed with changing that.  

As the season continues, there are clubs whose focus on the UCL will increase because a domestic title moves out of their grasp. We saw this last year when Tottenham Hotspur (+2800) poured everything they had into Europe. They advanced to the final for the first time. Wait to see how the various leagues play out, and look to pounce on clubs who see an opportunity to go all-in.  

Match Day Two: Juventus ML (-250) and Juventus -1.5 (+130) 

A high price, to be sure, but this still seems like a safe move considering everything discussed above. Juventus (+1200) has won eight Serie A titles in a row and will be desperate to win the UCL while they have Christiano Ronaldo in the fold. They play Serie A minnows SPAL at home on the Saturday before their match against Bayer Leverkusen (+20000). Meanwhile, the German side has to play away at Augsburg before flying to Italy for the Tuesday fixture. Juventus could only manage a tie in their opening match against Atletico Madrid (+2200), so they’ll be keen on getting the win. One of the best home teams in all of European soccer, Juventus should have little trouble in this spot.