The World Cup is over – and so now the eyes of football fans are turning back to the planet’s premier club competition: The Champions League.European’s top club trophy has been put on hold during the international break – but now it’s ready to return with a bang.
The mini-league qualification games have given smaller teams a chance to put one over on the big names. That’s why in these preliminary rounds we saw results that seem to confound the odds. Zagreb can beat Chelsea and Copenhagen hold Manchester City.
Now we’re into the knockout phase when class, quality and squad depth always win out.
We’re all getting excited for the showdown that is the Round of 16 – and looking out for some enthralling betting online.
It all begins again in mid–February, with the two-legged gamesfrom February 14th until March 15th. Some ties are clear cut: expect an angry Harry Kane to fire Tottenham past AC Milan, Inzaghi’s slick Inter to overcome Porto and Man City with Haaland to power ahead of Leipzig. We think Chelsea probably have too much for Dortmond too.
Others draws are more in the balance: Brugge versus Benfica gives a chance for one of the lesser-fancied teams to make the quarters. And that’s as far as we expect either of them to go.
The big battles will be PSG against Bayern and Liverpool against Real. These are four of the favourites – and through the luck of the draw they will be going head-to-head.It means two of the giants will be dumped before we even reach the quarter-finals.
Experts can look at past seasons Champions League performance and at their showing in the first half of the season. But there are unusual factors to take into account too.Which teams will be inspired by the World Cup? Which players will be downhearted and which full of confidence?Which players will be exhausted? Will some World Cup stars be more match-fit than those who have had a break?
Most bookies are making Bayern and Liverpool favourites to win their ties, just. With both ties so tight football fans are watching the odds closely.The savvy punters are waiting to see if there’s a chance to get great odds backing Real and PSG. They’ve both got every chance of getting through.
The Germans may be looking for a rebound after the World Cup disaster – or that may have been a good demonstration of where German football is right now. The majority of the national team comes from Bayern – so maybe the odds are favouring them based on past glories rather than present form.
The same goes for Liverpool – their domestic form has been disappointing this year. With the second leg in Madrid Real could be in line to squeeze through this tie too.
Who will win the Champions League?
Which leaves the huge question: Which single team is most likely to lift the trophy this season?
We think it’s Manchester City’s time at last. Haaland has given Guardiola’s side a new dimension.The big Norwegian has a stunning Champions League scoring record.We can’t see Leipzig delaying De Bruyne, Silva, Grealish, Mahrez and Haaland for long.Dependant on the draw is there anyone left who will stop City?
Perhaps only PSG could demonstrate the quality needed. Will they at last find the extra robustness and drive than has been lacking so long. With the powerful French showing in Qatar Mbappe appears to have finally ascended to the star role he has promised.Neymar is more difficult to read. Will he be sulking after Brazil’s limp exit or will he get a grip?
The dark horses
And there’s one team we haven’t mentioned so far. They face Frankfurt in the next round and we expect that tie to be very little obstacle to their progress.Napoli went in to the international break topping Seria A and currently has five players ranked in that league’s top ten performers.
No, there are no household names in this tight-knit group but the Napoli results in the first half of the season have been outstanding. Look out for new names likeKhvichaKvaratskhelia up front, a Georgian striker who will be untroubled by World Cup tiredness.
Overall we still think it’s City’s trophy to lose this season but the international break has added an extra uncertainty to all predictions for 2023. The games will resume as if it’s a whole new season – some teams may be much better than they were last year, some may be worse.
It makes the predictions fluctuate much more than normal and gives a canny football fan the chance to find some very enticing odds. And one thing is definite – the Champions League is going to be as enthralling as ever.