Friday, August 29, 2008

The UEFA Champions League Group Draw, My Predictions & The Betting Odds.

An intriguing Champions League draw has paired Celtic & Man Utd together in Group E along with Danish champions Aalborg & the dangerous Spaniards’ Villarreal, runners up to Real Madrid in La Liga last season & finishing ten points clear of third placed Catalan giants Barcelona.
In fact if they had performed to the same degree during the first half of the 2007/08 La Liga season, as they did in the second half Villarreal would have been crowned Champions, conceding just one goal at home & losing only 3 of their last 19 domestic league fixtures. 'The Yellow Submarines' won 12 of all their 19 league games away from the El Madrigal Stadium, so they don’t suffer from travel sickness!
I believe Man Utd & Villarreal will both qualify for the first round knockout stage of the competition. The tournament second favourites Man Utd can be backed at a best priced 13/2 to win it outright while you can get 40/1 on 'The Yellow Submarines' shooting down all around come Rome next May.
The Bhoys are 8/1 to get through to the next stage but I would keep my money in my pocket & Aalborg managed by Scotsman Bruce Rioch, the former manager of Middlesbrough, Bolton & Arsenal to name but a few, make their first appearance in the competition for 13 years & I expect them to be the whipping boys of Group E.

The so called ‘Group of Death’ is probably a toss up between Group F & Group G.
Group F looks like a straight three way fight between Bayern Munich, Lyon & Fiorentina. The 1986 European Cup Winners Steaua Bucharest look unlikely to qualify from this group, but not I feel without putting a few noses out of joint along the way. It is worth bearing in mind that the Romanian domestic champions disposed of Turkish giants Galatasaray in the qualifying round, so any trip to their Stadionul Ghencea is fraught with a potential upset.

Group G hosts Arsenal, Porto, Fenerbahce & Dynamo Kiev. All of these teams are a shadow of their former selves. Kiev were Ukranian league runners-up last season & winners of this competition way back in 1999.
Porto are the current Portuguese Liga champions & were victorious in the Champions League back in 2004 whilst under the stewardship of Jose Mourinho, but have had to sell many of their best players of late.
Meanwhile Arsenal are without a trophy of any description since the 2003/04 season. Fererbahce, Turkish league runners-up last season & Champions league quarter-finalists last season (along with Arsenal) are probably on paper at least the best equipped team in the group along with Arsenal to reach the last sixteen. In addition they have a hugely partisan home crowd in Istanbul & the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium, will be a daunting & unforgiving place to go for any visiting team.
My money is on The Gunners & the Turks to qualify for the next stage. Incidently Arsenal can be backed to lift the trophy at 12/1. A big price & a big gamble!

Group C should see Catalans Barcelona canter into the next stage of the competition but who will join them?
Shakhatar Donetsk & Basle are both winners of their own domestic leagues in the Ukraine & Switzerland respectively, & along with Sporting Lisbon, will fight it out for the one remaining place.
I feel Shakhatar are the best of the three. They have a touch more in their locker than Sporting & Basle, including six Brazilians in their squad & a 5-1 demolition of Dinamo Zagreb in qualifying.
Barcelona are joint third favourites to lift the trophy along with Inter Milan & can be backed at odds of 7/1 to do so.

Inter like Barcelona are the stand out team in their group, Group B with the German Bundesliga runners-up Werder Bremen the best of a meadioca bunch. Group B is the weakest on paper & with Jose Mourinho installed as boss & an array of talent on the pitch including Toldo, Figo, Ibrahimovic, Adriano & Cruz the current Serie A Champions should stroll into the last sixteen.
Anorthosis Famagusta the first Cypriot side to play in the Champions League, along with the Greek side Panathinaikos will certainly do well to take points off anyone, other than each other!
Inter & Werder Bremen to go through then, & Inter to win it the tournament at an over generous 7/1. Get on now!

Liverpool shouldn’t have any trouble qualifying for the first knockout round in Group D, but their uninspiring start to the Premier League season both on & off the field may require them to be slightly on their guard. PSV, Marseille & Athletic Madrid are all to be respected but of the three only PSV qualified automatically as Dutch champions, with Marseille & Athletico Madrid making it through via the qualifying stages.
Athletico finished fourth in La Liga but should & could have finished higher before they ran out of gas in the second half of the season. They lost 12 in total out of their 38 league games, but 8 of those 12 were in the second half of the season.
Liverpool to win the group with Athletico Madrid to also qualify.
Liverpool to win the competition are 12/1, a bit skinny but once out of the group stages I expect any off field business to have be resolved & the players to be firing on all cylinders.

The big guns of Real Madrid & Juventus – 11 times winners between them dominate Group H. The only question here is who will win the group? Juve are 2/1 to win it, with Real at 4/5. Zenit St.Petersburg the UEFA Cup holders & Bate Borisov of Belarus make up the rest of Group H.
Put Zenit in Groups B, C, F or G & I would fancy them to go through. They are going to have to cause an almighty shock here to make any progress & I personally don’t fancy their chances.
Madrid & Juventus to qualify comfortably. The Spaniards are 15/2 & Juve 20/1 to be victorious in Rome.

Finally Group A features favourites Chelsea, the dangerous AS Roma, Serie A runners-up to Inter, Bordeaux surprise league runners-up behind Lyon & the Romanian champions CFR Cluj.
CFR were the first Romanian team to win the title outside of Bucharest for 17 years.
Cluj more famous for Dracula & The Cheeky Girls are making their first ever appearance in the Champions league. Whether it lasts more than 6 games remains to be seen, so I have to stick with Chelsea & AS Roma to qualify from Group A.
Chelsea & John Terry are a best priced 5/1 to lift the trophy in May, whilst AS Roma are attractively priced at 28/1 to go all the way.
A bit of each way value beckons the Italians.( Each-way ½ 1,2 )

Group A

AS Roma 3/1 Q
Chelsea 4/11 Q
CFR Cluj 50/1
Bordeaux 15/2

Group B

Werder Bremen 5/2 Q
Inter Milan 4/11 Q
Panathanaikos 10/1
Anorthosis Famagusta 50/1

Group C

Sporting Lisbon 6/1
Barcelona 1/4 Q
Basle 22/1
Shakhtar Donetsk 6/1 Q

Group D

PSV Eindhoven 13/2
Liverpool 4/5 Q
Athletico Madrid 3/1 Q
Marseille 9/2

Group E

Villarreal 100/30 Q
Man Utd 3/10 Q
Aalborg 66/1
Celtic 8/1

Group F

Lyon 7/4 Q
Fiorentina 11/4
Bayern Munich 11/8 Q
Steaua Bucharest 14/1

Group G

Porto 100/30
Arsenal 8/13 Q
Dynamo Kiev 8/1
Fernerbahce 5/1 Q

Group H

Real Madrid 4/5 Q
Zenit St Petersburg 7/2
Juventus 2/1 Q
Bate Borislov 66/1

# Group stages to be played: Sept 16-17, Sept 30-Oct 1, Oct 21-22, Nov 4-5,
Nov 25-26 & Dec 9-10.

Q = My prediction to qualify for the next stage.

* Odds supplied courtesy of Coral bookmakers & are for teams to qualify through to the first knockout round only.

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