UEFA Champions League: Matchday 1 Preview

Footballer shoots at goal

Matchday One of the UEFA Champions League kicks off this week with much-anticipation after the group stage draw was announced late last month. 

After a dominant season in England, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have been priced as the tournament’s favourites, while Juventus’ odds have dropped drastically after Cristiano Ronaldo’s big-money move from three-time consecutive winners, Real Madrid. After reaching the final of Europe’s elite competition last season, Liverpool have been handed with a tricky group, alongside Paris Saint-Germain, who they kick-start their campaign against, as well as Napoli and Red Star Belgrade.

Tottenham also face stern opposition in Barcelona, PSV and Inter Milan, while Group H will see Ronaldo return back to Manchester United, while Paul Pogba will also come up against his former employers, Juventus.

Tuesday 18 September

Group A

Monaco 34/10 
Draw 23/10 
Atletico Madrid 17/20 
Europa League holders, Atletico Madrid, kick-start their Champions League campaign with a tough test away at Monaco. This will be the first meeting between these two sides in UEFA competitions, but the Spanish giants will have the upper hand after snatching Monaco’s most prized asset, Thomas Lemar, in a deal which cost them around £52 million.

Monaco are on a run of six group games without a win, and despite home advantage, I’m leaning more towards the visitors. Atleti will have Diego Costa from the start of the season this time and he has proven that he is a nightmare to opposing defenders. Get on the away win here at 17/20.

Club Brugge 33/10
Draw 28/10 
Borussia Dortmund 15/20 
Another tricky encounter in Group A awaits us as Club Brugge host Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night. Brugge have won both their previous home games against Dortmund, while BVB also failed to win any of their group matches last season, drawing two and losing four.

The German club also failed to strengthen in the transfer market, selling a host of key players, but did manage to sign Belgian midfielder, Axel Witsel. The hosts come into this encounter in superb form, so my money will be placed firmly on them getting a result here. Back Brugge on the Double Chance at 19/20.

Group B

Barcelona 1/10 
Draw 15/2 
PSV 18/1 
PSV face a daunting trip away to one of the tournament’s favourites, Barcelona, who have looked sharp so far this season. The Dutch giants are without a win in six group stage matches, while Barca are unbeaten in their last 26 UEFA home games, winning 24 times.

By no means will Ernesto Valverde’s men take this clash lightly though, with Barca’s top two rivals for qualification facing each other on the same day. The home win is too short of a price to back with confidence, so back Barcelona to Win By Two Goals at 32/10.

Inter Milan 17/10
Draw 43/20 
Tottenham 16/10 
Inter Milan return to the Champions League for the first time since 2011/12, and their first test of conquering Europe once again is a tricky one against Tottenham on Tuesday evening. Mauricio Pochettino has done a fine job at the Spurs helm with his charges being the only London club in Europe’s elite competition this season.

Inter have made some stellar signings in the transfer window, most notably Radja Nainggolan. Meanwhile, Spurs didn’t utilise the transfer market at all, becoming the only club to not sign a player during the window. Still, Spurs could argue that they have more class than their opponents here. At even money, over 2.5 Goals looks the best bet here.

Group C

Red Star Belgrade 13/2
Draw 34/10 
Napoli 4/10 
Red Star Belgrade make their group stage debut against a fierce Napoli side who will be looking to continue on from last season’s brilliance. The Naples outfit have a manager in their ranks who is well-known in the Champions League, with Carlo Ancelotti being one of only three managers to win the prestigious trophy three times in his career.

The club may have lost Jorginho to Chelsea, but they’ve managed to keep hold of their fearsome front three of Dries Mertens, Jose Callejon and Lorenzo Insigne, as well as Arkadiusz Milik. Although Serbia will be a tough place to travel, I’m expecting Napoli to win this one.

Liverpool 12/10
Draw 26/10 
Paris Saint-Germain 39/20 
Liverpool and Paris Saint-Germain battle it out in what is undoubtedly the biggest matchup from Matchday One, with last season’s Champions League finalists priced up as favourites to beat the French champions. Goals are almost guaranteed in a fixture like this, with Liverpool’s front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane firing on all cylinders.

Still, you cannot write off PSG’s Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar. The Reds are unbeaten at Anfield in 16 UEFA matches, winning 11 times. Although PSG can get a result at any ground in world football, I just think Liverpool will be too strong for them on the day. Back the home win here at 12/10!

Group D

Galatasaray 1/1
Draw 9/4 
Lokomotiv Moscow 11/4 
Galatasaray will be looking to start their Champions League campaign off on a good note after a two-year absence in Europe’s elite competition. Lokomotiv's last group stage was way back in 2003/04, and they will have a point to prove, especially with no real dominant figure in the group for them to fear.

Both teams have been in indifferent form this season, but with home advantage, back Galatasaray to edge it at even money.

Schalke 13/10 
Draw 23/10 
Porto 2/1 
German heavyweights, Schalke, make their return to the Champions League after a three-year absence, while FC Porto will be playing in their eighth consecutive group stages. The hosts have the superior head-to-head record, winning two of their four previous encounters, with Porto winning just the once.

The main worrying factor for Schalke here could be the fact that they went into the international break low on confidence, losing two games on the spin. Perhaps, that could be a blessing in disguise with the break coming at the best possible time for the Germans. Avoid taking a result here, instead, back Both Teams to Score at 7/10.

Wednesday 19 September

Group E

Ajax 4/10
Draw 7/2 
AEK Athens 6/1 
Ajax will be embarking on their first Champions League group stage campaign for the first time since the 2014/15 season. AEK, though, last competed in Europe’s elite competition way back in the 2006/07 campaign. On paper, it doesn’t bode well for the visitors, who have lost in all five of their previous trips to the Netherlands.

In fact, it was Ajax who beat AEK both home and away in the 1994/95 group stages. In Amsterdam, I give the visitors very little chance of getting something here. Back the home win and include in all multiples.

Benfica 47/10
Draw 33/10 
Bayern Munich 5/10 
Benfica kick-start their Champions League campaign with a tricky test at home to German champions, Bayern Munich. This will be Niko Kovac's first UEFA fixture as Bavarian boss, and he will be hoping to start it in the same manner in which he started off his Bundesliga reign as Bayern manager.

Despite not losing in six games against Benfica, by no means will this be a walk in the park for Kovac and his side. All three home games against Bayern have ended in draws, so the Eagles will head into this encounter with some hope. Despite all the stars on show for Bayern, I’m backing Benfica to earn a share of the spoils in Lisbon.

Group F

Shakhtar Donetsk 21/20
Draw 26/10 
Hoffenheim 9/4 
Hoffenheim will be making their Champions League debut this Wednesday when they meet Shakhtar Donetsk for the first time in an UEFA competition. Shakhtar have won their last four home fixtures in the Champions League, although they have drawn their last five against German opposition.

The hosts went into the international break off the back of four consecutive wins. Ukraine will be a tough place to travel for any visiting team and I’m expecting Hoffenheim to struggle here. Take the home win here at 21/20.

Manchester City 2/11
Draw 6/1 
Lyon 11/1
After a one-year absence, Lyon make their return to the big time with an almost impossible task to come out unscathed at the Etihad Stadium when they face Manchester City. This will be the first meeting in UEFA competitions for these two sides, although City have lost just one in five matches against French opposition in European tournaments.

After an emphatic title win for Pep Guardiola last season, you get the feeling that the Spanish tactician could be prioritising the Champions League this time around. City are unbeaten in their last eight home games in the Champions League group stages, winning seven times. Backing the English champions on the (-1) Handicap at 9/20 could prove to be easy money made – get on!

Group G

Viktoria Plzen 31/20
Draw 2/1 
CSKA Moscow 37/20 
Viktoria Plzen’s impressive home record will be put to the test when they face CSKA Moscow in the Czech Republic. Plzen have won their last six UEFA home games, while they also managed to beat CSKA 2-1 back in the 2013/14 Champions League group stages.

These sides only met each other twice in UEFA competitions, with both teams winning their respective home game. CSKA have started their season off brightly, although a test in Plzen might be too difficult to overcome. Take the home win here at 31/20.

Real Madrid 4/10
Draw 39/10 
Roma 52/10 
Julen Lopetegui's first Champions League match as Real Madrid boss comes as a tricky one, when the Santiago Bernebeu will play host to their clash against Roma. Los Blancos will be hoping to achieve the unthinkable, claiming their fourth consecutive Champions League title.

They will have to do so without Cristiano Ronaldo, who moved to Juventus before the season started. Roma made it to the semi-finals of the tournament last season, and with this being the trickiest task in the group, they will be hoping to come out unscathed. I simply cannot see that happening. Back Madrid here at 4/10!

Group H

Young Boys 2/1
Draw 26/10
Manchester United 15/20
Young Boys will make their Champions League group stage debut when they host English giants, Manchester United in Berne on Wednesday night. This will be the first meeting in UEFA competitions between the two sides, although United have lost their last two UEFA encounters in Switzerland.

At the time of writing, Young Boys have won all seven of their Super League encounters, while there has been loads of uncertainty surrounding the Red Devils this term. Although Jose Mourinho hasn’t got his backline sorted out for the season, the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba should do enough to guide their team to victory. Back the away win here.

Valencia 33/10
Draw 49/20 
Juventus 17/20 
We close proceedings with what could be a humdinger clash between Valencia and Juventus, who will be meeting for the first time in a UEFA competition. The Old Lady were dumped out of the Champions League last season through a moment of magic by Cristiano Ronaldo, who has since been snapped up by the Italian giants.

Valencia started their campaign off in dire fashion, heading into the break winless in the league. Juve have won their last three away games in the Champions League, and with the likes of Ronaldo and co at their disposal, they should head back to Italy with all three points. Get on the away win here at 17/20.

Tuesday TREBLE @ 7/1
Atletico Madrid Win 17/20
Inter Milan vs Spurs Over 2.5 Goals 1/1
Liverpool Win 12/10

Wednesday TREBLE @ 10/1
Ajax Win 4/10
Benfica vs Bayern Munich Draw 33/10
Juventus Win 17/20

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