The holiday season produced a few 1st-of-a-kind collaborations at WagerBop, and we’re not done trying new stuff now that the calendar is firmly into 2020.
Nikola asked if we could collaborate on a UEFA Champions League preview, a genre of The Beautiful Game which has been too-often absent from our site throughout the 2019-20 round robin. He’d like the opportunity to blog about what supporters consider the ultimate football competition in Europe, and I (Kurt) agree that it’s long overdue, even refreshing after months spent covering FIFA and the Premiership.
But I bargained with him for the honor of touting Champions League futures. Futures are an underrated style of betting market for long drawn-out cycles such as UEFA’s – yes, it takes a futures wager forever to potentially pay off, but in return, you get the fun of getting to know a club a little bit better as you cheer them through milestone after milestone.
It’s similar to March Madness futures in that respect. Maybe, like a Wake Forest partisan whose Demon Deacons are sent to the 2nd-tier NIT Tournament, you’re a serious Serie A supporter whose favorite club is Roma…but the storied Italian brand is not playing in the CL this cycle. Gambling on a futures line (or multiple futures lines) prior to the Round-of-16 is a reason to “adopt” a team right away as opposed to surfing through the 8 initial matches looking in-vain for a cheering interest.
Then there’s the 2-legged format – quite possibly the only elimination-round scenario in the soccer world in which futures bettors can lose and live to fight another day. Liverpool’s “investors” were crushed when Lionel Messi threatened a hat trick vs Reds in the 1st leg of the semifinals last May. But joy echoed through the London fog when Liverpool rallied for a 4-3 aggregate victory at Anfield just 6 days later. Reds went on to best Spurs 2-0 in an all-EPL Champions League final.
Salah’s side posted a 1st-place record in Group E and is a (+400) futures wager to defend the crown successfully in 2020. But Liverpool is far from the only likely suspect with single-digit odds to prevail in a Turkish bath, nay, this year’s final in Turkey on May 30th.
The Favorites: Liverpool, Barcelona, and Manchester City
3 favorites – or “favourites” as Daily Mail puts it – stand atop Bovada Sportsbook’s UEFA Champions League futures table at 4-to-1 or 5-to-1 odds.
Man City is widely perceived as having dialed-back its fanatical push for domestic glory following a cycle of triumphs in the Premier League and Football Association Cup. It’s funny how that strategy has worked out. City is almost a shoo-in to remain at the top level of UEFA in 2020-21 and is in solid-enough form and health to beat anyone in the current 16. That’s exactly what coach Pep Guardiola wants. What he doesn’t want is for Liverpool to somehow manufacture a Champions League advantage of its own while also winning the Premiership and perhaps even the FA Cup in 2020. That would give Reds the cake and the eating too, so to speak, and defeat the purpose of Guardiola’s long-term plan.
Lo and behold, Liverpool is so far ahead in the English domestic table that the club may not have any kind of stress at all down the spring straightaway. Reds are an amazing 14 points clear of Citizens in 2nd place and 16 points clear of Foxes through 22 Matchdays. Worse yet for City and Leicester is that Liverpool has only played 21 matches so far, not 22, giving Jürgen Klopp a little breathing room when choosing lineups and minutes in Premier League fixtures.
The corollary of that? Team-wide focus and wherewithal in other events. Liverpool’s lone loss in the 2019-20 Group Stage was to Napoli back in September, when the English football hardware still appeared to be up for grabs. As Reds have taken a stranglehold on the Premiership, the club has flourished in almost all competitions, capturing a FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, beating Arsenal 1-0 with a 3rd Round FA Cup lineup that felt strong by Klopp’s standards, and winning 4 of 5 Champions League matches.
The club’s only bugaboo has been Napoli, which managed a 1-1 draw in a rematch with Reds on 11/27.
It could be argued, however, that Man City is getting more respect than Liverpool from Champions League speculators with the teams each at (+400) to lift the trophy. Liverpool’s draw may be slightly easier with Atlético Madrid on the Round-of-16 schedule while City takes on Real Madrid, a (+1600) wager to prevail at the final in Turkey. Los Blancos prevailed on penalties in an emotional meeting between Madrid titans on Sunday. But Atlético Madrid has only scored 22 goals in 19 domestic league fixtures and may be lucky to sit only 5 points behind Barcelona in La Liga.
Speaking of FCB (+500) the club is almost-certainly torn between wanting redemption from a 2020 meeting with Liverpool and feeling pleased to have drawn a winnable Round-of-16 opponent in Napoli. Then again, when a Serie A side has played about 200 minutes of Group E football vs Liverpool and emerged with a victory and a draw, it deserves a closer look as a potential spoiler bid. After all Ajax hasn’t reached the knockout phase this time around – someone has to take up the Cinderella mantle.
Update: Barcelona has sacked former manager Ernesto Valverde, replacing him with 61-year-old Spaniard Quique Setién. We’ll see how gamblers react and whether Barcelona’s odds-to-win the Champions League and/or the Round-of-16 aggregate move longer or shorter. However, my reasons for thinking FCB is a shoo-in for the final 8 are not contingent on any coach’s formation.
The Italian underdogs out-scored Reds with stubborn 4-across-the-back defense and clean tackling. Reds committed too many fouls to get a cohesive attack going in the September loss at Stadio San Paulo, and controlled the play almost obsessively in the rematch only to muster just 5 shots on-target and commit another 15 fouls. Barcelona can hope to utilize a depth advantage in addition to top-quality defending in the 1st upcoming leg vs Napoli on 2/25, knowing that a follow-up 90+ minutes in Spain awaits in March. Luis Suárez and Messi are every bit as efficient on set-pieces as Gli Azzurri could ever be, giving FCB excellent chances to win even if the ties are ragged and filled with whistles.
Liverpool is my best lean here, but Barcelona is worth a look at 5-to-1. Avoid Manchester City, as the club’s plan to be more-prepared than Reds for the international calendar has backfired somewhat.
UEFA Champions League: 2020 Sleepers and Long-Shots
Bayern Munich (+700) is 1 of 2 proud European clubs lurking outside a majority of bettors’ eyesight. You can’t say Bavarians have drawn an easy opponent in the Round of 16, in fact quite a few American and U.K. speculators may be hesitant to put down a “cheering interest” futures bet on the German club precisely because of who they’re drawn against in February…Chelsea Football Club.
Paris Saint-Germain is the aristocrat at (+700) odds next to Bayern. French football may have never experienced a dynasty quite like Parisians, and Neymar is keeping things rollin’ with 2 goals in his latest Ligue 1 appearance vs Monaco. PSG’s Round-of-16 draw offers-up a conquerable opponent in 4th-place Bundesliga squad Borussia Dortmund. So why is the French side not getting the action of a Liverpool or a Barcelona on the betting board?
Maybe it’s because Paris isn’t towering over its rivals in domestic play when compared to recent history. PSG stands with only a 5-point lead over Marseilles in Ligue 1, with a host of double-digit match winners ready to contend if the front-runners fall back by February. Liverpool may turn out to be the only UEFA club with an easy track to a national crown as it pursues further glory across the continent.
Chelsea (+4000) has had a see-saw campaign in the Premier League and the Champions League alike, squeezing through a difficult Group H round robin in which Ajax scored the most goals and allowed the fewest goals in 6 matches but finished behind Valencia and Chelsea and was relegated. But there is no question Frank Lampard’s Blues (as the tabloids say) had to go through a rough transitional period before manufacturing the team’s current solid form. Christian Pulisic is a rising international superstar, and Bayern would have preferred to play Pensioners back in autumn, when every English side looked shaky.
Tottenham (+2000) is probably overpriced as a Champions League future. Lilywhites are going through a manager change themselves just as the lamb bites the butcher in league and tournament play. Winnable Round-of-16 legs against RB Leipzig are upcoming, however, and Spurs has surprised us often.
Update: Harry Kane’s injury woes may be worse than imagined, with the inestimable striker poised to spend a long time out of the lineup pending further evaluation. That’s glum news for Lilywhites and could send an already-long futures line plunging toward the bottom of the board.
Finally, don’t overlook Juventus at (+1000). It’s hard to get a grip on why exactly the Old Lady isn’t a single-digit futures bet and a more-popular wager. The lineup features Ronaldo, widely considered the greatest attacker on the planet, a timeless player who is scoring nearly a goal-per-appearance at age 34. Wojciech Szczęsny and 41-year-old Gianluigi Buffon form a captivating 1-2 combo between the posts. Juventus leads Serie A as of 1/13 after allowing just 18 goals in 19 matches, and posted 3 clean sheets while finishing atop Group D.
I’m feeling Bayern Munich at 7-to-1, but that’s not really a “long-shot sleeper” pick and neither is Juventus.
Atlético may not have the elite attacking form to win 4 elimination pairings in a row, but Real Madrid (+1600) does. For a low-risk, high-payoff Cinderella pick with some emotional baggage, put a unit on Chelsea (+4000) to explode on the attack again – and for Blues to make winning the Champions League a pet project while others vie for multiple honors.
Now over to Nikola Velickovic for his Round-of-16 predictions:
And here is Mr. Velickovic, taking over from the masterful Kurt who made a fantastic intro.* In this section of the article, we will have all eight 1st legs covered with a short preview and a pick, along with the odds. Though you need to know that many things can change until the games begin, but we will try to be as accurate as possible even if that means a little lower profits.
* As you can tell already, Mr. Velickovic’s eye for quality is 100% accurate.
Tuesday, Feb. 18th: Borussia Dortmund vs Paris Saint-Germain
No need to take much of your time with this match. You all know that there will be a lot of goals involved at Signal-Iduna Park. PSG is maybe the best-attacking team in the world (wit all due respect to Liverpool’s lethal trio). Meanwhile, Borussia is the team able to shredding into pieces any defense in Europe, especially when they play in Germany. Just remember how Barcelona got away in their head-to-head clash. We really believe that anything below three goals with both teams scoring here would be a first-class sensation.
Pick: BTTS & Over 2.5 goals (-125)
Tuesday, Feb 18th: Atletico Madrid vs Liverpool
Klopp’s machinery looks unstoppable, but if there is a guy who knows how to restrain flamboyant attacks, that is Diego Simeone. Atletico is known for its ultra-defensive approach, and we truly believe that this game won’t be that efficient. Especially because it is the first leg, and there is no need for Liverpool to rush in. On the other end, Atletico, for sure, isn’t going to overexpose themselves.
Pick: Under 2.5 (-138)
Wednesday, Feb 19th: Atalanta vs Valencia
As much as we love Atalanta this season and its style of play, we can’t be sure in their win here. Valencia showed numerous times throughout this season that they know how to slow down the game and make it ugly while fulfilling their mission. La Dea, or the Goddess, as fans call Atalanta, provides nice and attractive football, yet we doubt in its experience. Moderate efficiency is the best choice here.
Pick: 2 or 3 goals (+100)
Wednesday, Feb. 19th: Tottenham Hotspur vs RB Leipzig
This is what every Spurs fan waits. The supporters of the club are very frustrated with the results in the domestic championship and hope to have some joy in the Champions League. Yet, the opponent is not easy at all. It is probably the future German champion. If not this, then in some of the next few years. Leipzig is a hard-working side with an incredible pace, able to hurt every opponent in Europe. But, we strongly believe in Mourinho and his motivation skills. If Spurs can’t beat the Bulls at home, then they don’t have the chance to advance to the next stage.
Pick: Tottenham (+105) Note: Spurs moneyline is now sure to grow longer with the news of Kane’s likely absence.
Tuesday, Feb. 25th: Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
Now, after a few matches in which we aren’t expecting high efficiency, this is the one which should end with lots of scores. The mentality of both teams will dictate the offensive approach and high pace. Lampard and Flick aren’t guys who know to defend very well, and in their case, the best defense is to attack with full power. Therefore over 2.5 goals and both teams to net in this event is inevitable.
Pick: BTTS & Over 2.5 goals (-120)
Tuesday, Feb. 25th: Napoli vs Barcelona
The current turmoil in Barcelona regarding Ernesto Valverde and his status won’t affect Blaugrana’s performance against Napoli. Furthermore, the Catalonian club could only be better. Napoli is a massive underdog here, and to be honest, we can’t see them competing with the Spanish powerhouse, even at their own ground. So we pick Barca in this one.
Pick: Barcelona (-106)
Wednesday, Feb. 26th: Lyon vs Juventus
The UCL starts now for Juve. That is at least what their players stated, adding that their sole goal this season is the Champions League title, nothing else. Their opponents are not a piece of cake, but for sure, not that terrible also. Juventus is an experienced team, which knows how to play on the result, able to increase or slow down the tempo. We will go with their win here, as they have a much better squad than the French side.
Pick: Juventus (-138)
Wednesday, Feb. 26th: Real Madrid vs Manchester City
The best for the last. Two great names, in a spectacle, to close our Round of 16 previews. Zidane against Guardiola. But to cut to the chase here. We foresee fireworks of goals in this contest. Just look at the previous matches of both sides, and their current form. Also, we are positive that City holds the edge over Real and that the English champions (still are) will easily dispatch the Los Blancos. Guardiola is aware that his crew can’t reach Liverpool in the Premiership, and is solely targeting the form for the finish of the Champions League. Real is still oscillating, which is evident, and they have problems in La Liga where they race with Barca for the No.1 place. All in all, we are backing up a lot of goals in this event, but if you want, try with City’s win.
Pick: Over 2.5 goals (-175)
Nikola Velickovic is a sports journalist who loves to write and read on all sports. Nikola contributes both news updates and functions as a sports breaking news writer at WagerBop.