It feels like an eternity since we last saw Champions League football, so to begin with, let’s have a recap of where we compete before we delve into what is in store next month.
This year’s competition is going to be completed in August with a ‘final eight’ tournament in Lisbon, Portugal.
Four last-16 ties must first be resolved, and it has now been confirmed that these games are going to be played behind closed doors in Turin, Manchester, Munich and Barcelona, respectively.
Munich look all but through thanks to a three-goal lead over Chelsea, but the three other ties are much more delicately poised.
Buoyed by winning their appeal against a two-year ban from the competition, Manchester City took a 2-1 lead over Real Madrid back to the Etihad. Lyon holds a one-goal lead over Juventus while Barcelona and Napoli head to the Nou Camp tied at one goal.
Subsequent knockout rounds will be single-leg affairs staged at the magnificent José Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon, between 12 to 23 August. Quarter-final matches will take place on 12-15 August, while semi-final ties will be played 18-19 August. The final is scheduled for Sunday, 23 August.
We now know the route to Champions League glory for each team, and the draw for the remaining rounds makes fascinating viewing.
Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Barcelona, three of the top four teams in Champions League 2020 betting lists, are on the same side of the draw. Throw in Juventus, if they manage to turn things around against Lyon, and it’s clear that huge names are going to be falling by the wayside at every turn.
The fact that these ties are all 90-minute affairs, rather than the traditional two-legged home and away scenario, played at a neutral venue, adds further jeopardy to proceedings. There is now a real lottery-type feel to the concluding rounds of this tournament.
And that severely tempers enthusiasm for supporting big guns like Bayern and Manchester City at around 4.0 in outright lists, despite their strong domestic form.
Paris Saint-Germain, the shortest price in the outright betting of those in that side of the draw, will surely feel that this is their best opportunity to reach a first Champions League Final, but I’m not even sure they will overcome their first hurdle.
Bayern Munich, fuelled by a relentless supply of goals from Robert Lewandowski, hit the top of outright betting lists after brushing Chelsea aside with astonishing ease at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their last 16 tie.
Lewandoski has scored 11 goals in this year’s competition and is all but home and hosed in the golden boot market; indeed, if he is to be challenged for that award, it may be by teammate Serge Gnabry, who currently has six goals.
However, if Bayern are going to reach their first final since 2013, they are going to have to do it the hard way. Their next two opponents in the competition could easily be Barcelona and Manchester City. Although the Germans have the obvious class to lift this trophy, there doesn’t look any value in the 4.0 about them in outright Champions League betting odds.
Talking of Barcelona, there are signs that they might be heading back in the right direction under Quique Setién, but they are best described as functional at present, rather than the free-flowing side they would like to be.
Their best performance since the restart was a 4-1 demolition of Villareal, but that result is an outlier. Three draw and three one-goal victories from nine games since return from a lockdown are not the Barcelona we have come to expect.
All the data tells us that they are still dominating possession in games but so much of their play has been sterile. Much of that has been down to the indifferent form of Antoine Griezmann and the fact that Luis Suarez doesn’t look the livewire we once knew.
That said, Barca have Lionel Messi, who is still capable of winning any match on his own, and the Catalans ought to have enough to see off Napoli in the second leg.
However, it’s not so easy to see Barca’s arch-rivals Real Madrid, who are 2-1 down against Manchester City, progressing.
Madrid are closing in on just their third La Liga title in ten years, the foundation of which is their strong defensive unit, marshalled superbly by Sergio Ramos.
Zinedine Zidane’s side have conceded just 21 goals all season, which is less than the perennially thrifty Atletico Madrid. Still, they are not quite firing on all cylinders at the other end of the pitch C they have underperformed against xG in each of their last four league games despite winning each of them.
They are going to have to take risks in Manchester, which could spell trouble given the hosts’ quality.
City have to be considered big runners to lift the trophy for the first time, and their prospects would take a massive boost if Sergio Aguero could make a quicker than expected recovery from his knee injury.
His replacement, Gabriel Jesus, has scored in his last two games, but he doesn’t yet look ready to lead the line week out for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Many will expect Juventus, who are closing in on a ninth consecutive Scudetto, to turn things around with Lyon, who take a 1-0 lead to Turin, but anyone that watched Juve’s clash with Atalanta on Sunday night will be in no doubt which is the stronger Italian side right now, and it is
Atalanta that looks the value call in Champions League betting lists at top-price 13.0
Make no mistake, Atalanta are a team on the rise. They have scored 87 goals in 32 Serie A matches, which is TWENTY more than a Cristiano Ronaldo-led Juventus and 19 more than Lazio. Simply put, they are not the flash in the pan they once were.
And what about this for a stat: they are the first Italian team since 1952 to have three players in their side that have scored 15 league goals in one season.
Having won all six matches, scoring 15 goals in the process, since the restart, Atalanta’s winning run came to an end in Turin. However, they dominated the champions for large parts of that game and were only undone by a hugely contentious 90th-minute penalty. They should have won it.
You have to go back to November in all competitions to find the last game in which Gian Piero Gasperini’s side failed to score at least once, while they have improved defensively. Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace of penalties on Sunday is the only goal they have conceded in the last four games.
Atalanta are on the right side of the draw IF they can overcome Paris Saint-Germaine. The French giants are general 1.6 favourites to qualify from the tie, but what condition will they be in having not played a competitive match since their 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in March.
By the time they meet Atalanta, they will have played two cup finals, the Coupe de France Final against Saint-Etienne and the Coupe de la Ligue Final against Lyon, so it’s not as if they will be turning up stone-cold, but they certainly won’t have had the game time of Atalanta, and it’s also worth remembering that the French giants will be without Angel Di Maria, who is suspended.
Favoured by the switch to a single-game format, Atalanta have enough going for them to be of interest from a wagering point of view in this fixture. The 2.5 available about them in the ‘to qualify’ market looks reasonable value, and I wouldn’t put anyone off the 2.25 about the Italians scoring more than one goal in the 90 minutes.
On the face of it, PSG are the strongest side on that side of the draw, so if Atalanta can overcome them, they will fancy their chances of lifting this trophy for the first time. They would surely not be fazed by Leipzig or Atletico Madrid, who are not the force they were a couple of years ago, in the semi-final, and they look capable of beating anyone in a one-off 90-minute final.
1pt win Atalanta to win the Champions League (best odds 13.0) @ 10.0 with bet365