The round of 16 draw for the Champions League was re-done on Dec. 13 and it will all culminate on May 28, 2022 with the Final at Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Manchester City is the favorite with +250 odds at most books while Bayern Munich is +350.
Champions League odds
PSG enters the Champions League draw in an unusual position: outside the top spot. UEFA divides qualified teams into four groups of eight, with the lead one being the two competition champions (Chelsea for CL, Villareal for Europa) and the league winners from the six best associations. For only the second time in the past nine years, someone else won Ligue 1, France’s top division.
This puts the new, stacked PSG team in a potential pickle, as they’ll likely draw into a challenging group for the first stages. That said, this is likely the best lineup in Europe, with Messi paired with Neymar, Angel Di Maria, and Kylian Mbappe up top. They also did well in signing Euro 2020 hero Gianluigi Donnarumma for goalkeeping. That could be the biggest addition overall, as UEFA has dumped the away goals tiebreaker for the knockout rounds. Two-game legs will go to overtime and possibly shootouts, giving PSG an edge with their dominant lineup and the Italian netminder who allowed just four of nine spot kicks during the semifinal and final in London.
Major offseason signings: GK Gianluigi Donnarumma from Inter Milan, CB Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, MF Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool, RW Lionel Messi from Barcelona
Draw Position: Pot 2
Manchester City was the odds-on favorite to win the Champions League before the Messi signing in August. They made it to the final and fell to Chelsea. However, City did win the Premier League for the third time in four seasons.
Manchester City made one big signing in the transfer window, luring Jack Grealish away from Aston Villa for 100 million pounds. That might not be it for August. The well-endowed club has now offered 150 million pounds, which comes out to over $200 million, to Tottenham Hotspur for striker Harry Kane. If that happens, don’t be surprised if the tables change again and the “Blue Moon” rises to the top of the odds boards again.
Major offseason signings: LW Jack Grealish from Aston Villa
Draw Position: Pot 1
Bayern Munich, who won the competition in 2020, defeating PSG in the final. Bayern has a very good lineup up and down, highlighted by elite scorer Robert Lewandowski. They were fairly quiet during the summer, adding center back Dayot Upamecano. He’ll likely replace the departing David Alaba, who signed as a free transfer with Real Madrid.
Major offseason signings: CB Dayot Upamecano from RB Leipzig
Draw Position: Pot 1
Chelsea lifted the trophy at the end of last year’s competition. Entering the London club from Borussia Dortmund, he got the lineup to work with all that talent. American fans will obviously want to see more Christian Pulisic on the pitch, whether or not it’s at the expense of the English darling Mason Mount. Chelsea also went out and spent a lot on a striker, sending a record 97.5 million pounds to Inter Milan for Belgian Romelu Lukaku. The penalty kick win over Villareal in the Super Cup should be a good confidence build.
Major Offseason Signings: CF Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan
Draw Position: Pot 1
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and took the Prem the following year. Fans seemed to think the latter was a bigger deal (ok they hadn’t won a domestic title in 30 years). Last season, injuries prevented any chance at a repeat in England. They return a very good offense, led by seasoned scorers Mohammed Salah and Roberto Firminho. Ibrahima Konate joins the side from RB Leipzig but there haven’t been any other big signings. Jurgen Klopp will lead on the depth on his roster this season, with some veteran names leaving the side and a chance for younger players to continue developing. Unfortunately, we will likely not see goalie Alisson Becker go out and try to score like he did to steal a win during the Prem campaign.
Major offseason signings: CB Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig
Draw position: Pot 2
Manchester United got the last spot from the Premier League, after making the Europa League final. This is a major year for the Red Devils, who are looking to improve with a strong roster on the last few seasons of disappointing results. Bringing Jadon Sancho back to England certainly adds another weapon to the attack. That lineup will be tested as many of those players will be called up for World Cup qualifiers.
Major offseason signings: RW Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund
Draw position: Pot 2
Real Madrid will start La Liga play with three games on the road. When they host their first CL group match, it’ll be at a newly renovated Bernebau. While they kept many of their talented names on the roster, this wasn’t a busy offseason. In fact, they saw club mainstay Sergio Ramos leave but got a nice replacement. It will be interesting to see how the veteran squad handles this year, with some names looking at double duty with the World Cup. Perhaps the new investment in La Liga will give the club some needed cash to go after players in the January transfer window and bolster their chances should they make the knockout rounds.
Major offseason signings: CB David Alaba from RB Leipzig
Draw position: Pot 2
Juventus dropped the Series A title for the first time in almost a decade. They qualified for the Champions League on the last day of the season. Some fans wonder if the Super League backlash may get them booted before the draw. However, the Italian powerhouses bring a tough lineup of veterans to the tournament. American fans will certainly watch Weston McKennie as he continues to develop as a midfielder. It’s pretty hard to count out any team that can get the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Major offseason signings: None
Draw position: Pot 2
Barcelona enters the season without their biggest star in Messi. The club’s financial situation was so dire they literally had to let him walk without any transfer fee because his deservedly high salary could not stay on the books. The lineup currently features injuries to multiple big names, including ter Stergen in net, along with de Jong, Dembele, and Aguero. There’s still plenty of marquee players to fill the starting XI every week, including newcomer Memphis Depay. One of those names people will want to see is American right back Sergino Dest, who has electrified in international duty. Could he become the next big star in a city that has seen its share?
Major offseason signings: RB Emerson Royal from Real Betis, CB Eric Garcia from Manchester City, CF Memphis Depay from Olympique Lyon, CF Sergio Aguero from Manchester City
Draw position: Pot 2
Atletico Madrid might be the peskiest team to face in Champions League this past decade. While their crosstown rivals rely on big stars and stylish play, Atletico will feature stingy defense and counterpunching. They ground their way to win La Liga over the other two big guns last season. Now can they turn that style into European glory? They’ll have to do so without Portuguese striker Joao Felix for the start of the season.
Major offseason signings: CM Rodrigo de Paul from Udinese
Draw position: Pot 1
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Champions League betting strategy
The UEFA Champions League (UCL) Knockout Stage kicks off soon, and bettors worldwide are trying to work out which team they should back to go all the way.
The competition is one of the hardest to predict due to it being spread over a long period of time where players and team’s form can fluctuate. Injuries and suspensions can also cause a club to exit prematurely. The quarterfinals and semifinals are drawn after the Last 16, so it’s even harder to predict when you don’t know each side’s path to the final.
This season there have been two rule changes that will make the competition less unpredictable.
Away Goals Rule Abolished
The away goals rule has been in place since 1965, and if you were to introduce it now, many people would be against it due to its unfair nature.
When a game finishes in a tie at the end of the second leg, a team will advance to the next stage if they have scored more away goals. If both sides have scored an equal amount of away goals, the match goes to extra-time. The same rules apply at the end of extra-time, meaning if there are no more goals scored by the end, a penalty shootout will decide the winner.
This rule has been responsible for some of the most dramatic moments in the competition’s history. In 2019 Ajax were moments away from reaching the UCL Final when Lucas Moura scored in injury-time to level the scores at 3-3. Spurs’ three away goals to Ajax’s one meant they advanced to the final.
In 2009 one of the competition’s most controversial clashes was settled by a stoppage-time goal. Chelsea went 1-0 up on aggregate in the second leg and had one foot in the final. Referee Tom Henning Ovrebo made a series of questionable calls, which intensified the atmosphere at Stamford Bridge. With moments left, Andrés Iniesta rifled the ball into the top corner allowing Barca to progress, and Chelsea’s players reacted furiously.
Last Season underdogs FC Porto benefitted from the rule. The second-leg finished at 3-3 with both sides on two away goals. The game went to extra-time, and Sergio Oliviera scored in the 115th minute, meaning Juventus needed to score two goals to stay in the competition and only managed one.
Some would say this is wildly unfair because Porto had an extra 30 minutes where their away goals counted as double. On the other hand, Juventus had an additional 30 minutes in front of their home fans, so both sides had advantages and disadvantages.
However, you feel about the rule we can all agree that it creates drama and moments that make this competition special. We’re potentially losing all of that for financial gain. Every tie ending in a draw will be settled in extra time and penalties if needed, meaning more opportunity for UEFA and TV companies to line their pockets with advertising money.
Number of Substitutes Increased to 6
Pre-pandemic teams were permitted to make three substitutions. Covid-19 brought player welfare into question, and every major league in Europe – except the Premier League – have adopted the five substitute rule.
UEFA have followed suit announcing from this season onwards that teams during the group stages can make five substitutions per game. In the Knockout Stage, teams can make an extra sixth sub if the game goes into extra time.
How Do These Changes Effect The UEFA Champions League?
It greatly benefits the Super Clubs. A plucky underdog could cease control of a tie with a moment of individual brilliance or by capitalizing on a mistake. Now they have to beat the bigger club or better team outright to advance to the next stage.
If it does go to extra time, the elite clubs will benefit from having deeper squads. Let’s say Benfica manages to force extra time against Manchester City. Pep Guardiola could introduce a fresh Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, or Riyad Mahrez into the game. With all due respect to Benfica and their manager Nélson Veríssimo, they don’t have one player of that quality in the starting eleven, let alone sitting on the bench.
The Group Stage winners are awarded home advantage in the second-leg of their Last 16 ties. You’ve guessed it all the Super Clubs except for Chelsea, PSG, and Atlético Madrid were able to take first place. If the game goes to extra time, they will get 30 more minutes in front of their fans.
If you’re unsure who the current Super Clubs are:
- Real Madrid
- Manchester United
- Bayern Munich
- Manchester City
- Atlético Madrid
In today’s game, it’s just as much about the man in the dugout as it is the eleven players on the pitch. A tactical tweak, well-timed substitute, or motivational half-time speech can be the difference between progressing and exiting.
Here are the best eight coaches, in my opinion (Alex Blowers), left in the competition:
- Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
- Jürgen Klopp – Liverpool
- Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea
- Julian Nagelsmann – Bayern Munich
- Mauricio Pochettino – PSG
- Diego Simeone – Atlético Madrid
- Carlo Ancelotti – Real Madrid
- Max Allegri – Juventus
Potential Fixtures Left To Play Before UEFA Champions League Final
One of the big concerns in soccer right now is player welfare. A lot of managers are speaking out about the packed fixture schedule and that the physical demands being placed on the players are too demanding.
To help you make your pick, I’ve compiled the maximum potential number of fixtures each side could play between January 26th and the UCL final on May 28th.
Remember, there’s a FIFA sanctioned international window from March 21st to 31st, meaning many players will represent their countries and travel to different parts of the world.
Bayern Munich – 14 Bundesliga, 6 UCL
Villarreal – 16 LaLiga, 6 UCL
Lille OSC – 16 Ligue 1, 6 UCL
Benfica – 15 Primeira Liga, 6 UCL, 1 Taça da Liga
Red Bull Salzburg – 14 Austrian Bundesliga, 6 UCL, 3 ÖFB Cup
Ajax – 14 Eredivisie, 6 UCL, 3 KNVB beker
Benfica – 15 Primeira Liga, 6 UCL, 2 Taça da Liga
Atlético Madrid – 17 LaLiga, 6 UCL
Juventus – 15 Serie A, 6 UCL, 3 Coppa Italia
Inter Milan – 16 Serie A, 6 UCL, 3 Coppa Italia
Sporting CP – 15 Primeira Liga, 6 UCL, 1 Taça da Liga, 3 Taça de Portugal
PSG – 16 Ligue 1, 6 UCL, 3 Coupe de France
Real Madrid – 16 LaLiga, 6 UCL, 3 Copa Del Rey
Manchester City – 15 PL, 6 UCL, 5 FA Cup
Manchester United – 16 PL, 6 UCL, 5 FA Cup
Chelsea – 14 PL, 6 UCL, 5 FA Cup, 2 FIFA Club World Cup, 1 Carabao Cup
Liverpool – 16 PL, 6 UCL, 5 FA Cup, 1 Carabao Cup
Who To Back
We all love watching an underdog pulling off the impossible. Those days in soccer are well and truly over, especially in the UCL. We’re in the age of the Super Club, where the gap between the have and have nots gets bigger every season.
The odds are stacked more in the Super Clubs’ favor with the abolishment of the Away Goals Rule and the addition of a sixth sub in extra-time.
However, some of these sides are struggling on the pitch, and my advice is to pick either Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, or Chelsea. These are the four standout teams left in the competition, and I’m confident one of them will be lifting the trophy.
How Does the Champions League Work?
32 teams will compete in the European competition. 26 teams automatically qualify with their regular season finish, while six other teams go through a playoff process to complete the field. UEFA will draw the eight four-team groups on August 26th. Those teams will play six group matches, facing each opponent home and away, to determine the knock-out field of 16. Two-leg (home and away) playoff rounds will lead to a one-game final to crown a champion.
What are Some Popular Bets?
The big difference in soccer is moneyline bets are shown as three-way offers. Players can wager either side to win or for a draw. For example, here were the prices on the Red Bull Salzburg-Brondby IF first leg of the qualifying playoff:
- Red Bull: -625
- Tie: +600
- Brondy: +1400
If this is confusing, there is the option to pick a side with a “Tie No Bet” price that voids if neither side wins outright.
There are other more recognizable wagers, like the spread and total goals. Betting a team at +0.5 means a tie covers. Betting -0.5 only cashes if a team wins outright. There are also a variety of prop bets, including:
- Player to score
- Correct score
- First Goal Scored
- Results by Half
- Both teams to Score
Do note: when games go to extra time, like the elimination rounds, prices posted only cover regulation results. All group stage games will end in regulation time.
Once the draw occurs, most books will offer futures prices on teams to win the group, advance, or finishing position. The draw usually also affects championship odds, based on who might face a tougher group stage than other contenders.
When Will Group Play Start?
The six “matchdays” start Sept. 14 and 15 and will end on Dec. 7 and 8. The teams alternate between Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Games start either at 1830 CET (1230 ET) or 2100 CET (3 PM ET). Eight games occur per days, usually two in the early window and more later. The former usually features games in Russia or other eastern destinations.
How old is the Champions League?
Teams have been playing in Europe’s top club competition since 1955. However, then it was called the European Cup and only featured a tournament between the domestic league champions. The competition changed in 1992 to its current format with group stage play and became the Champions League.
Who has won the most times?
Spanish superpower Real Madrid has won a record 13 competitions, including seven of the current format. Bayern Munich’s title run in 2019-20 is the only perfect record, as they won all 11 matches (the pandemic made the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds single-match format). That was the German team’s sixth title, one behind AC Milan for second place. Juventus have seven runners-up finishes, the most, and two titles. Atletico Madrid have made the most finals without winning (3).
I liked watching the US men’s team this summer … Are any of them in the Champions League?
Late Goal Summer was fun, wasn’t it? Good news: many teams feature Americans now. Aside from the previously mentioned ones, Gio Reyna plays for Borussia Dortmund, alongside perhaps the best scorer on Earth in Erving Haaland. Midfielder Tyler Adams plays for RB Leipzig, another side qualifying out of the Bundesliga. Two more teams in the final qualifying round have prominent Americans. Red Bull Salzburg from Austria will see a lot of Brendan Aaronson (aka Medford Messi) on offense, while Jordan Seibatcheu has done well for the Swiss side Young Boys.
How can fans watch Champions League play?
Unfortunately, since European domestic competition dominates the weekend, Champions League and other international play happens on weeknights (bet this makes the NFL look not so intrusive). After bouncing around American channels, Champions League will spend this year on CBS’ family of networks. Matches will stream on the Paramount+ app, and some will air on CBS Sports Network. Hopefully, we’ll see a return of The Golazo Show, which was their version of Red Zone Channel and an absolute treat. And please give us more Clint Dempsey possibly under the influence like he was in Denver during the Nations League broadcasts.
So what happened to the Super League?
That was New Coke bad. The public found out and the teams abandoned the plans. It did shine a light on the egregious differences in spending power between some clubs in Europe. While American franchises are owned by billionaires or corporations, club soccer has a history of local ownership by fans and shareholders. PSG is funded by the Qatari government, so paying Messi over $50 million a year isn’t as difficult. So far UEFA and FIFA have taken a “Don’t Let Me Catch You Doing That Again” approach. If they were to penalize participants, it probably would have happened and possibly led to riots during Euros.
Who has the most goals in Champions League play?
That would be Cristiano Ronaldo. He has 134 goals in 176 appearances and has been in the competition since 2003. In fact, when he plays in his second Champions League game this season for Juventus, he will pass former Real Madrid teammate Iker Casillas for most appearances with 178. Messi leaving Barcelona means his former teammate Xavi Alonso will maintain the record for most games played with just one club at 151.