With all the qualifiers out of the way, the Champions League proper is now upon us. And with holders Chelsea and fellow British clubs Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Celtic, not to mention traditional European heavyweights Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Juventus, all set to find out who they will play in the group stages on Thursday afternoon, there will be plenty of interest in the outright market before and after the draw.
Unsurprisingly, it is Barcelona who are the favourites for Champions League glory, with the Catalan giants priced up at 14/5 to win back the crown they claimed in such style under Pep Guardiola in 2009 and 2011, with their fellow Spanish titans and old rivals Real Madrid second favourites at 3/1. The nine-time winners last won the trophy in 2002, but will be confident of putting that barren run to an end under Jose Mourinho.
Premier League champions Man City are next in the betting, quoted at 15/2 to add the Champions League to their recent trophy collection. Roberto Mancini’s side crashed out in the group stages last term and will be looking for a much improved European campaign, although their low seeding means they may well be placed in another ‘Group of Death’.
Last year’s beaten finalists Bayern Munich are 9/1 to make up for the pain of losing in their own stadium on penalties to Chelsea, who are 12/1 to do what no other team has done in the Champions League era and retain their crown.
Three-time winners Manchester United are 10/1 and Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping for a better showing in Europe than in 2011/12, when, like rivals City, they dropped into the Europa League after failing to make it out of a seemingly straightforward group that contained Benfica, Basle and Romanian minnows Otelul Galati.
Two 14/1 shots may interest punters looking for an each-way chance. German champions Borussia Dortmund have been excellent domestically for the past three seasons, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles, and will be expecting to give the Champions League a better showing after finishing bottom of their group last year. Similarly, big-spending Paris Saint Germain will have European glory on their mind under the stewardship of Carlo Ancelotti, a two-times Champions League-winning coach with AC Milan.
The Italian’s former club are 18/1 to win the trophy for an eighth time, while another of Ancelotti’s previous employers, Juventus, are 16/1 to be kings of Europe. Arsenal are the biggest priced English side and can be backed at 20/1 to go one better than in 2006, when they were beaten in the final by Barcelona in Paris.
You can get 33/1 or more for the rest of the field, including 66/1 for 2004 winners Porto and 100/1 for Dutch champions Ajax, while Celtic, who qualified for the tournament for the first time in four seasons, are among the rank outsiders. Neil Lennon’s side are 500/1 to win the Champions League at Wembley Stadium in May.
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