UEFA Champions League group stage

Summer is over. That only means one thing: the Champions League is back. This year’s big favourites, Barcelona and Chelsea, have quickly become bitter rivals in this competition. That rivalry is sure to intensify as they were drawn in the same group at this early stage of the tournament. The format is as follows: 32 teams play in the group stage, divided into eight groups of four. The group winners and runners-up advance to the knockout stages, the eight third-placed teams advance to the third round of the UEFA Cup, and the eight fourth-placed teams are eliminated. Here is an overview of all the groups with predictions on who we expect to win each group.

Group A: Barcelona (-118), Chelsea (+125), Werder Bremen (15/1), Levski Sofia (250/1)

Perhaps the Chelsea-Barcelona rivalry is not as intense at this early stage. Both teams will advance from this group and there is a good chance they will meet again at a later stage in this competition. Chelsea looks remarkably choppy this year. His previously impenetrable defense seems a bit looser. That will bode ill for the Blues. But unlike in recent years, with two Premier titles under his belt, this season José Mourinho’s explicit goal is to win the Champions League. Still, we have to side with Barcelona here. They are goal scoring machines and should demolish Bremen and Levski, and they are more than capable of scoring against Chelsea. Almost on par with the money, this group is worth backing to win.

Group B: Bayern Munich (+125), Inter Milan (+163), Sporting Lisbon (6/1), Spartak Moscow (40/1)

Inter is a great price here and well worth backing. They have added strength, quality and depth to their squad and, after the Calciopoli scandal, received last year’s Scudetto in Serie A late. Sporting Lisbon is not easy to convince, but Inter can and must beat them. However, there is a small concern. Bayern Munich are the kind of team that can turn the scoreboard up against weak opponents like Spartak Moscow. If Bayern and Inter are level on points, Bayern could well win this group on goal difference.

Group C: Liverpool (-161), PSV Eindhoven (+450), Bordeaux (5/1), Galatasaray (10/1)

Although they have odds, it’s hard to look past Liverpool in this group. They are a well organized team and lifted the CL trophy two years ago. Manager Rafa Benítez has experience of European competition and should guide his team through this group with ease. PSV is a shadow of the team it was last season. There’s a good chance they won’t finish in the top two of the Dutch league, let alone replicate their above-average Champions League form of recent years. Bordeaux and Galatasaray are second-tier clubs in this competition.

Group D: Valencia (-125), Roma (+150), Shakhtar Donetsk (1/20), Olympiacos (1/29)

It is difficult to understand why the Roma are the least advantaged in this group. They are the favorites to win this year’s diluted Italian league. His team is much stronger this season both on paper and judging by their Serie A results so far. But the Romans face stiff Spanish competition in this group. Valencia have a disciplined and experienced Champions League team. They are deadly on the counter and stifle their opponents’ offense. This looks like a coin toss between Rome and Valencia, so we’ll take the Italians against it. Keep an eye on Olympiacos. They won’t win this group but, like many Greek teams, they can be dangerous in their home games.

Group E: Lyon (-125), Real Madrid (+163), Steaua Bucharest (10/1), Dynamo Kyiv (50/1)

The collapse of Juventus has not benefited any team more than Real Madrid. The Spanish giants chose a handful more of Galacticos and one of the best coaches in the world, Fabio Capello. They are serious contenders for La Liga and Champions League titles this year. But they will have to overcome their nemesis in this tournament: Lyon. Bookmakers underestimate the French team despite excelling in European competition. We’ll happily back them up again to win this group and possibly all of it.

Group F: Manchester United (-275), Benfica (+650), Celtic (13/1), FC Copenhagen (50/1)

Man Utd could not have asked for a more favorable draw. But luck is what they will need to get past this stage. At such a short price, it is not worth betting on the Red Devils to win the group. Copenhagen is a dangerous team as they eliminated Ajax from this competition. They’re a huge price to pay to win the group and are worth a little clearance. Benfica is solid as ever in Portugal and has experience in the Champions League. They should claim second place.

Group G: Arsenal (-161), Hamburg (9/1), Porto (9/1), CSKA Moscow (10/1)

Arsenal were the surprise team in the Champions League last year, reaching the final and defying expectations in every game. This year, they seem to be overrated. The Gunners have yet to settle into their new Emirates Stadium. The squad looks noticeably uncomfortable and will take longer to gel. In light of the above, it is worth looking at others. CSKA are hugely priced at 1/10 and the 2005 UEFA Cup champions must be backed to win this group. Russia is an intimidating place for away teams and the Muscovites are more than capable of claiming results from their travels.

Group H: AC Milan (-333), Lille (6/1), AEK Athens (25/1), Anderlecht (33/1)

Milan should navigate through this group with relative ease. They are capable of dismantling practically any team in the world and rivals like Lille, AEK and Anderlecht are not dangerous opponents. Lille are solid in France and could hold Milan to a draw in their first leg. As usual, the Greek team AEK will also be tough at home, but they are hopeless on their travels. Anderlecht does not deserve to be in this competition. Even at this low price, take Milan.