The draw for the group stages of the Champions League has been made as we near the return of Europe’s premier club competition, each of the four Premier League sides learning their fate last Thursday evening.
Champions Liverpool were drawn to face Ajax and Atalanta alongside minnows Midtjylland, whilst Manchester City must overcome a group containing Porto, Olympiakos and Marseille.
Manchester United were handed arguably the most daunting assignment as they face a meeting with last season’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain and semi-finalists RB Leipzig, alongside Turkish champions Istanbul Basaksehir, who boast former Premier League players in Demba Ba, Nacer Chadli and Rafael da Silva amongst their ranks.
Elsewhere Chelsea will have to navigate their way past Europa League holders Sevilla, Krasnodor and debutants Rennes, whilst Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – winners of 11 of the past 12 Ballon d’Ors between them – will meet in the group stages for the first time as Barcelona face off against Juventus.
Following the draw, we’ve decided to look at how the bookmakers rank the contenders, so for those of you who like betting and the best casino online, here are the five favourites to win the Champions League:
Real Madrid – 12/1
The record 13-time winners and champions in four of the past seven seasons, Real Madrid are perennial contenders for a competition they have often made their own.
Zinedine Zidane’s side head into the new season as Spanish champions after wrestling La Liga back from the clutches of Barcelona, and they will be hoping to make a significantly better impression on the Champions League than last season’s meek last-16 exit to Manchester City.
Real have – uncharacteristically – been quiet over the summer transfer window in terms of incomings, instead opting to trim their squad with the departures of unwanted stars such as James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale.
Last season’s title success was built on a miserly defence and Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos remain amongst the world’s best despite the latter’s advancing years, whilst Zidane’s squad is stacked with impressive depth in almost every position.
There remains concerns with an over reliance on Karim Benzema for goals, however, whilst the club are still largely dependent on a host of ageing stars central to their recent golden period.
The likes of Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio will hope to act as new signings following injury-hit seasons, whilst Martin Odegaard will want to make an impression after returning from an impressive loan spell at Real Sociedad.
Rule Real Madrid out at your peril, but they remain outsiders to be crowned as champions once more.
Paris Saint-Germain – 11/1
Last season’s runners-up will be primed for another tilt at European glory after falling agonisingly short, the Parisian’s quest for a maiden Champions League title halted with a final defeat to Bayern Munich.
The competition has become somewhat of a holy grail for PSG after years of domestic dominance and Thomas Tuchel possesses a squad more than capable of once again reaching the latter stages.
Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Angel Di Maria make up one of the most exciting forward lines in world football, and that trio will once again be crucial to the French side’s hopes of making an impact at the business end of the tournament.
Tuchel has lost invaluable experience this summer with the departures of Edinson Cavani and Thiago Silva, however, the loss of the latter leaving PSG short of defensive strength and leadership with Marquinhos – who featured in a holding midfield role for much of last season – expected to drop back into the backline.
The arrival of Alessandro Florenzi on a season-long loan deal from Roma is the club’s only addition of note this summer, and it will be hoped the Italy international can add some quality to the full-back positions which have looked a class below the game’s best sides.
PSG have been linked with new additions in both midfield and defence before the deadline and the additional depth could prove crucial, though their hopes once again rest firmly on the shoulders of both Mbappe and Neymar.
Liverpool – 11/2
Jurgen Klopp’s side head into the new season amid a wave of optimism after finally ending the club’s 30-year wait for a league title, the Premier League champions having tasted European and domestic success over the past two seasons.
Liverpool will once again be regarded amongst the favourites for the Champions League and now possess a squad better equipped to compete on multiple fronts, the signings of Kostas Tsimikas, Diogo Jota and, most notably, Thiago Alcantara hopeful of addressing the flaws in an already formidable side.
Last season’s exit to Atletico Madrid was the story of two goalkeepers as Jan Oblak starred for the visitors, the Reds losing in extra-time after blunders from deputy goalkeeper Adrian, starting in place of the injured Alisson.
Another significant absence for Alisson or defensive leader Virgil van Dijk could prove costly with both players irreplaceable to Klopp’s side, whilst it remains to be seen how the Reds perform in the absence of a crowd, Anfield having played its part in some memorable European nights on Merseyside.
Klopp has proven he can guide a club to Champions League success and Liverpool look well-equipped to challenge once more, England’s champions seeking to reach a third final in just four seasons this term.
Manchester City – 4/1
Manchester City’s wait for European success was prolonged for another season at least following a catastrophic loss to Lyon in the quarter-finals last season, Pep Guardiola’s side stunned by the French underdogs in a one-legged latter stages.
Guardiola has brought a wealth of domestic success to City since moving to the Etihad four years ago, but he has struggled to replicate his previous feats on the Champions League stage since leaving Barcelona.
City have failed to reach the semi-finals in any of Guardiola’s seasons in charge and have been eliminated by sides they were expected to beat in each campaign, their performances littered by defensive mistakes and an unwanted habit of conceding goals in clusters.
Their ranking as joint-favourites is a reflection of a talented squad with arguably the best depth in European football, whilst the club have strengthened their defensive options with the captures of Nathan Ake and Ruben Dias this summer.
Guardiola has said he will be regarded as a failure if he fails to bring the Champions League to Manchester and has been accused of overthinking his tactics on the biggest stage, City will hope that lessons have been learned from previous exits as they bid to finally claim the coveted prize.
Bayern Munich – 4/1
The reigning champions are regarded as joint-favourites, alongside Manchester City, to retain their title, Bayern Munich having been hugely impressive in winning a treble under Hansi Flick last season.
Bayern became the first side in Champions League history to win the trophy having won every single fixture in the competition, breezing their way to the final before defeating Paris Saint-Germain in Lisbon.
Robert Lewandowski scored prolifically last season to finish as the leading scorer in the Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup, the 55-goal season of the Poland international seeing him named as UEFA’s Men’s Player of the Year.
The loss of Thiago Alcantara to Liverpool is a blow to the holders, whilst loanees in Ivan Perisic, Philippe Coutinho and Alvaro Odriozola have all returned to their parent clubs, though the signing of Leroy Sane from Manchester City adds another dimension to an exhilarating attacking line up.
Bayern are blessed with world-class talents across the pitch and will take some stopping from becoming just the second club to defend the trophy in the Champions League era, their potential conquerors likely to have a major say in the destination of Europe’s biggest prize.