AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

STAR PREVIEW: Champions League Ante-Post picks

2020-21 UEFA Champions League
Final: Atatürk Olympic Stadium, İstanbul, Turkey

Past Winners:

Past Golden Boot Winners:

The world may have been turned upside down over the past year but some things stay the same and we still have the prospect of Europe’s best football clubs taking each-other on in the Champions League. The most prestigious prize in club football will always be ferociously contested, but this year could be as open as any we’ve seen, with a number of different factors to take on board for Europe’s clubs, and the fact we’ve seen upset results in all the top visions is a testament to that.

However, the cream can be expected to rise to the crop over the next few months and this can finally be the time for PSG to get their hands on the trophy. Since the Qatari takeover in 2011 European glory has been their single goal above all else and after suffering many a heartbreak, including last year when losing out 1-0 to Bayern in the final.

They were hit by injuries at just the wrong time before the mini tournament that decided last season’s tournament but they bounced back from going behind to Atalanta with smart tactical changes from Thomas Tuchel, were deserved 3-0 winners against Red Bull Leipzig in the semi-final, and didn’t lost anything in their final defeat to Bayern.

Their front three of Ángel Di María, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is arguably the best in the world – although plenty could contest that – but the side is better balanced than most give credit for, with an excellent keeper in Keylor Navas and a high-class centre-back partnership in Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe, whilst in midfield Idrissa Gueye can protect the back four.

In midfield, Ander Herrera and Leandro Pardes have an excellent passing range but the x-factor is Marco Veratti, who was missing for their run to the final last season; If Thomas Tuchel has access to the Italian maestro in midfield then he has one of the most creative midfielders in the tournament and any side will struggle to keep PSG quiet.

There is a slight worry about off-field implosions given the spat that Thomas Tuchel has had with sporting director Leonardo over squad sizes, and there is no guarantee all will go well over injuries, but if they get through their tough group with Manchester United, RB Leipzig and İstanbul Başakşehir, then it’s unlikely that many sides would be favourites to beat them in a two legged tie.

The group stages are likely to be the main issues – and with so many injuries a gamble is being taken – but if all full strength they are now ready to win the tournament look overpriced at 10/1, double the price of last year’s winners Bayern Munich. Being a losing finalist is not a barrier to glory the season after; Just as Bayern Munich (runners up 2011-12, winners 2012-13) and Liverpool (2017-18, 2018-19)

Bayern, who stormed to victory in this last season with 21 straight wins, are understandable favourites at 4/1 and there’s little not to like about a squad that if anything, looks a tiny bit stronger than previously now Douglas Costa and Leroy Sane are present. It’s not impossible to defend the trophy and they make far more appeal at 4/1 than Manchester City at the same price.

City are always respected, but tactical tinkering has cost them in the knockout stages for the last two seasons – even if there has been a fair dash of bad luck – and they now have questions to answer at this level.

Liverpool’s attacking strength can’t be underestimated – and it’s worth remembering how unlucky they were not to beat Atletico Madrid last season – but the loss of Virgil Van Dijk is a serious blow for a side that already concedes plenty (even if they usually score more) and squad depth is perhaps an issue too if something else happens to the spine of their team. At 11/2, they can be left out.

Defensive concerns are an issue for all of the Premier League’s four teams, with Chelsea brilliant going forward (and sure to improve now that Timo Werner is being supplied by Kai Havertz and Christian Pulisic on the flanks) but also liable to concede just as many in each game, as seen by 3-3 draws with West Brom and Southampton; Indeed, the 3-3 draw at Stamford Bridge means Chelsea have conceded 63 goals in his 43 games in charge.

Manchester United are also brilliant going forward with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood making a lethal front three (especially with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba supplying them) but they have been opened time and again as a unit so far this season doesn’t augur well for bigger tasks.

The La Liga challenge is traditionally strong and all of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla have realistic chances.

Real Madrid, who won three titles in four seasons, were pressed to pieces by Manchester City last season in the Round of 16 but also saw Raphael Varane commit two howlers at the Etihad; At 12/1 they are more than fairly priced, but there has to be a worry that other teams can rattle Zidane’s side in the way the Citizens did.

Barcelona’s 8-2 destruction at the hands of Bayern Munich felt like a changing of the guard last season and this could be a transitional season for them, making Atletico Madrid and Sevilla much more of interest.

Sevilla’s ruthless run to the Europa League title included defeats of Manchester United and Inter Milan in the semi-finals and final – both deserved successes – and Julen Lopetegui’s side should have every chance of getting through a group with Chelsea, Rennes and Krasnodar based on their exploits in the Europa League season.

Ever Banega provided a midfield masterclass in their Europa League run and he is ably supported by Suso whilst Ivan Rakitic’s arrival from Barcelona looks an absolute steal. Jesus Navas continues to roll back the years on the left hand side and it’s not hard to see Sevilla making it to the knockouts at least – they are 6/4 second favourites to win their Group behind Chelsea – and from then on 66/1 will look big.

Atletico Madrid will always be tough to beat in knockout competitions thanks to their world-class rearguard, led by the exceptional Jan Oblak in goal with Kieran Trippier, Stefan Savic, Jose Gimenez, and Renan Lodi as a back four. The arrival of Luiz Suarez is potentially really smart business, but they are likely to miss Thomas Partey’s presence in midfield and whilst they are an unpleasant draw for any, the 20/1 on them is not especially tempting at this time.

One of the best outside bets may be from Germany again, this time in the shape of Borussia Dortmund. Lucien Favre’s side were knocked out 3-2 on aggregate by runners up PSG last year and they have had an excellent transfer window by keeping all their stars, including Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Thorgan Hazard. The additions of Thomas Meunier and Emre Can look like smart business to pad a squad which is well balanced by elite standards and 28/1 is too tempting to pass up.

The Italian challenge needs serious respect. Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta came back brilliantly from losing their first three games to reach the quarter-finals and have kept the vast majority of their squad, bar Belgian international Timothy Castagne (was sold to Leicester) – and they may be well suited by playing open teams in the shape of Liverpool, Ajax and Midtylland in what looks to be an exciting group on paper.

Antonio Conte’s Inter, beaten Europa League finalists, have added a ton of experience after returning to Europe’s top level and have taken big strides over the last season. They will need to improve more – as Conte has done at Juventus and Chelsea – but his managerial record in Europe there never matched hid domestic exploits. Juventus have been perennial contenders for several seasons and their defeat to Lyon last season looks better now than it did then, but their best chance may have gone and the appointment of Andrea Pirlo looks to be a gamble after Maurizio Sarri struggled to fit in.

Golden Boot

It’s no surprise that Robert Lewandowski is the 7/2 favourite here, given his 15 goal tally last season and the fact Bayern are favourites to go all the way again. Their group games – Atletico Madrid apart – should have plenty of goals with Salzburg and Lokomotiv Moscow there, and that could open the door for another Bayern star to shine.

Serge Gnabry scored nine goals last season when playing 767 mins compared to Lewandowski’s 886 and whilst Gnabry did score four against Spurs in the group stages, he scored five in the knockouts last season and it wouldn’t surpise to see something similar happen again.

Sadio Mane hasn’t hit the goalscoring heights in Europe that we’ve seen in the Premier League – understandable perhaps given how Liverpool can share the goals around – but a group stage involving Atalanta, Ajax and Midtylland promises goals a plenty, and he came back from COVID in style by scoring in the Merseyside Derby. Liverpool are no strangers to high scoring knockout stage games either and it’s easy to see Mane getting on the scoresheet regularly if Liverpool’s games continue in the same vein as their Premier League encounters have.

Barcelona haven’t been of interest in the outright betting but their young star
Anssumane Fati is of interest. Backing the 17-year-old is a huge leap of faith but his talent is exceptional; He scored seven league goals from 11 starts last season and has three La Liga strikes in this campaign; Striking a blow against Juventus will be hard, but Barcelona will be expected to win well against Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvaros and a good tally in the group would make things very interesting.

RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)

Tournament Winner
BACK PSG 2 pts each/way at 10/1 with
BACK Borussia Dortmund 1 pt each/way at 28/1 with
BACK Sevilla 1 pt each/way at 50/1 with

Top Goalscorer
BACK Serge Gnabry 1 pt each/way at 16/1 with
BACK Sadio Mane 1 pt each/way at 16/1 with
BACK Anssumane Fati 1 pt each/way at 40/1 with

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