This is a two horse race – or at least it really should be – between Atletico Madrid and Juventus, who should provide a good test of eachother’s level in their two crunch clashes. The games between the two should be tight – both teams have been stringent so far in the league season – but Atletico’s suffocating defence could prove to be the key factor and the market looks to have this right with Juventus a watching brief this year until the competition has gotten going fully.
Advice: No bet
Real Madrid (ESP)
Another two horse race although there’s much less doubt over the winner with Real Madrid expected to head Liverpool into the last 16. If the two were meeting on the first matchdays then with Madrid in a state of flux thanks to their transfer policy, Liverpool may have been value, but Madrid have until Ocotber to prepare themselves for a trip to Anfield and should find themselves able to take a point at least with Liverpool’s defence offering plenty of chances. Basel should be an easy third, with Ludogrets having made an amazing journey but also lacking on experience and quality.
Advice: No bet.
This is one of the most open groups of the entire section but Bayer Leverkusen make massive appeal to top their section. Roger Schmidt’s side have made some fantastic signings to compliment their new manager’s gung ho style and the initial results have been spectacular, with 11 goals in just three league games so far including a 2-0 win at Dortmund on the first weekend. Should winning the group be beyond them, then qualification is surely within their reach as a backup for the heavy hitters at 8/13 – they have made the last 16 the last two times they’ve been in the competition. Benfica are rated second best but their summer exodus makes them impossible to recommend with Ezequiel Garay, Rodrigo, Lazar Markovic, Guilherme Siqueira and goalkeeper Jan Oblak now no longer at the club.
Instead, Zenit may take advantage. They haven’t quite delivered the glory that their riches promised – when they won the Europa League in 2008 many saw them going onto bigger things – but Andre Villas Boas looks to be getting the best out of them. They have lost just once this season – back in July – and were impressive in landing a spot in the group stages by beating Standard Liege in style to reach the group stage. They can reach the last 16 for the third time and go through alongside the Germans.
Monaco looked a team on the up with their millions flowing freely from Dmitry Rybolyev leading them to a second place in Ligue 1 last term but his divorce settlement has led to a major exodus and with James Rodrigues and Radamel Falcao now both gone there looks to be a lack of the star quality needed at this level and they have just one win from 4 games so far so the percentage call has to be to oppose them.
Advice: 3 pts Bayer Leverkusen (7/4 general), 1 pt Bayer Leverkusen/Zenit straight forecast (9/1 Bwin)
Another two horse race with Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal expected to fight it out for top spot. The two are well acquainted an closely matched; They won one game each last season and had 12 points at the end of their campaign, and the time before Arsenal edged a tight encounter at the Emirates and drew in Germany. Both sides have serious injury problems, and while Dortmund are expected to have the better campaign here, neither makes appeal for top honours here although heavy hitters should have a field day with a dual forecast.