Can the champions retain their title?
Liverpool defeated Tottenham in Madrid in June to claim their sixth European crown. And so for the first time since 2013, the Champions League campaign begins with a defending champion who isn’t from Spain.
At 7.50, the Reds are fourth in the outright tournament betting this season, just ahead of Real Madrid (9.50) and Paris Saint-Germain (10.0). The Spanish and French giants clash in the most mouth-watering fixture of the opening match week, and you can find the best odds for the game right here.
Liverpool’s journey to try to reach their third final in a row begins with yet another trip to Napoli, to repeat a fixture they lost in the group stage last season. It’s probably the key match in determining which team tops Group E, as ahead of the beginning of the competition, the Reds are rated as the third most likely team to top their section.
Jürgen Klopp’s European champions are 1.45 to lead the way in Group E. The only teams deemed more likely are Manchester City – 1.12 to top Group C – and Barcelona – 1.35 to emerge at the head of Group F.
So while a defeat in the first game would dent Liverpool’s hopes of topping the group, whatever the outcome of the match it would be a surprise if both they and Napoli did not qualify for the knock-out phase.
These sides have been grouped with Salzburg and Genk, who are priced at 5.06 and 17.8 respectively to make it out of Group E. The former haven’t made the Champions League group stage since 1994/95, while the Belgian side have never won a match at this level in 12 previous attempts.
Napoli vs. Liverpool is unquestionably a big game, as it sees the 2018/19 runners up from two of the continent’s biggest leagues clash. But in terms of which teams qualify from the group, it should have little bearing. Which games will be of greater relevance on that front?
Week One: Benfica vs RB Leipzig
If one were to assign the moniker ‘Group of Death’ to one of the sections in the 2019/20 Champions League, Group F would be the obvious candidate. One of only two groups which feature three teams from Europe’s top five leagues, Group F contains Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan.
However, the Spanish champions are still a very short price to finish top of that pile. Group F might include three strong clubs but it isn’t the toughest to call.
That honour falls to Group G. Where six groups have one team priced at 50 to more to top it, the outsider in this group – Zenit St Petersburg – are available at just 6.00 to finish first.
Despite being drawn from Pot 4, RB Leipzig are actually the favourites to top the group, at 2.65. They had the second best underlying statistics in the Bundesliga in 2018/19, and Five Thirty Eight consider them the 11th best team in Europe. It’s clear why bookmakers favour them.
Leipzig’s trip to Benfica is the closest priced match up of week one, with the Portuguese team 2.77 to win while the visitors are 2.64. They’ve only met once, in a friendly in 2017 – Leipzig won 2-0 – so there’s no history to consider. The outcome of the match will be vital to both teams’ Champions League future though.
Week Two: Valencia vs Ajax
Despite an indifferent start to their Premier League campaign, Chelsea are firm favourites to top Group H. There looks set to be a serious battle for the second spot though, as there are two teams who can barely be split in the qualification odds – Ajax are 1.72 to advance, while Valencia are 1.76. Their two clashes will therefore obviously be vital, and the first of these takes place in Spain in week two.
Both teams reached European semi-finals last season, and their one previous European encounter (albeit it was back in 2002) saw a pair of 1-1 draws in the Champions League second group stage. FiveThirtyEight rate this clash as the most even in week two, and it’s hard to argue.
If the match odds from week one are correct, Valencia will have no points after losing at Chelsea, while Ajax will have three after a home win against Lille. A point in this match will likely see the Dutch side take a sizeable stride towards the last 16.
Week Three: Inter Milan vs Borussia Dortmund
It’s always tricky to look too far ahead when predicting matches, but this will almost certainly be crucial in determining which side advances from Group F alongside Barcelona.
This game is the first of a double header, meaning both sides will have faced the Spanish champions and Slavia Prague at this point. As Dortmund host Barcelona while Inter travel to Camp Nou, they are the more likely of the two to get something, but there is unlikely to be much between the sides by the time week three rolls around.
They haven’t met since 1993/94 so there’s no recent head-to-head to rely on. Both sides fell foul of Tottenham’s march to the final last season, as Inter went out in the Group Stage (thanks to losing their head-to-head with Spurs on away goals) while Dortmund lost home and away to Mauricio Pochettino’s team in the round of 16.
With home advantage, bookmakers will almost certainly make Inter the favourites to win the match. As they are priced at 2.00 at this point to qualify, while Dortmund are 1.67, this match will be vital to the men from Milan if they are to upset the odds. At the half-way point of the Group Stage, we will then have a much clearer picture of which teams look set for the knockout phase - so stay tuned for our latest updates right here on the blog.