Smart Bets: Picking a Winner in the Champions League

Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.

If you ever needed a tip for picking a winner for the Champions League this year, you don’t need to look any farther than these four clubs. Out of the final eight teams left, four of them come from the English Premier League; no matter how you look at that stat, you’d be hard pressed not to pick one of those teams to make the final.

The last four Champions League finals have been contested with at least one British club in the match. That’s a pretty sobering fact when you look at the names Barcelona, Villareal, Porto and Bayern Munchen staring back at you on your respective betting site. Do any of these other clubs really have a chance to win the trophy this year? More importantly, are any of them worth betting on? If you go by sheer stats alone, conventional wisdom would say no.

But let’s not place the doom and gloom card on the other four entrants just yet. There’s always the chance that a Porto or a Villareal could shock the world and upset one of England’s Big Four. After all, it has happened before when Porto upset Manchester United in the round of 16 before winning the whole thing in 2004, so who’s to say that couldn’t happen again.

With about a week to go before the first leg of the quarter-finals, I figured it would be smart for everyone to take a moment, sit down, and let the professor school you on the final eight teams remaining. Class is in session. It’s time to educate you all in picking a Champions League winner.

36078_manchester-united_logoManchester United

Odds to win the Champions League: 2-1 (via Paddypower)

Why Manchester United will win: Do I really need to tell you about this club? If the names Sir Alex Ferguson, Crisitano Ronaldo and Nemanja Vidic don’t give you wood, then you obviously, A) Don’t like United or B) Hate the club and live in a world where Manchester United doesn’t exist (if this is you, then I suggest you seek refuge with Michael Platini).

Any club that’s fighting for a potential quintuple this late in the year has my full respect. And considering the rash of injuries United has dealt with recently, it seems like a minor miracle that they’ve made it this far.

That fighting sprit, couple with a fairly straightforward quarter-final draw has Sir Alex’s bunch looking like a wonderful choice. You can’t go wrong with a club that’s in the running for every major trophy. Plus, they won the damn thing last season, so they have that going for them, which is nice!

Why Manchester United won’t win: Exhaustion. If there’s one thing that could play a massive role in the race for Champions League glory, this could be United’s biggest threat. Sir Alex Ferugson has already stated that United will prepare for FC Porto in two days, and regardless of the fact that Porto isn’t on the same level as Ferguson’s bunch, that could backfire on the club in spectacular fashion.

If United haven’t wrapped up the title up by the last week of the season, then there’s a good chance the club could be rolling into Rome on fumes with a potential FA Cup final at Wembley looming three days after the Champions League final. I don’t care who you are, playing that much football in a short span may put United’s chances on thin ice.

fcbarcelonalogoFC Barcelona

Odds to win the Champions League: 11-4

Why Barcelona will win: Lionel Messi. If there’s one man in the world that can singled-handedly change a match with his pace, it’s this lad. Aside from his 19 league goals this season, Barcelona’s great hope has also added 6 goals to his name in the Champions League. With the exception of Liverpool at the moment, Barcelona could be the most intriguing pick of the lot based on their ability to impose their will on an opponent with a suffocating attack. If Manchester United is the easy pick, then Barcelona is the sexy one.

Samuel Eto’o could also play a massive role the rest of the way as well. He’s got 25 goals to his name and has looked all but unstoppable of late. They’ll need him to be spectacular if they’re to advance past Bayern Munich and then either Liverpool or Chelsea.

Why Barcelona won’t win: If there’s one chink in the Barca armour it has to be the shoddy defense during the Champions League. Whilst the club has been fairly good in the league, they’ve been extremely on Europe’s biggest stage.

So far this year Barca has on only one occasion kept a clean sheet in the Champions League. They’ve conceded at least 2 goals in three of their eight matches (including the first knockout round) and have never appeared uncomfortable at the back. Away goals now matter more than ever, and that’s the kind of stat that could make people shy away from laying a bet on Barca to win it all.

Andrés Iniesta and Yaya Touré are also both facing a race to be fit for the first leg, and those two injuries could prove to be a crucial blow if one of both can’t go.

liverpool_fc_logoLiverpool FC

Odds to win the Champions League: 6-1

Why Liverpool will win: There might not be a better team in football at the moment than the club from Merseyside. If the 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid during the first knockout round didn’t make you take notice of Rafa’s Reds, then I don’t know what will.

After the win against Real Madrid, Liverpool continued the good times by scoring 9 goals in two matches. Could we see a different Liverpool squad when they play Chelsea? If their previous matches are any indication, we’re all hoping for some fireworks from what has always been one of the tightest draws in Champions League history.

Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres finally seem to be clicking, and when you throw in Rafa Benitez, who is quite possibly the greatest European manager of all time, you have a nucleus that should have every club wetting themselves.

Can anyone beat Rafa at his own game? To be honest, it doesn’t seem very likely. Next to maybe Manchester United, Liverpool are the best pick out there at the moment.

Why Liverpool won’t win: You can thank their recent league form for throwing some doubt into their Champions League chances. Whilst they have the squad to make a run on both fronts, it’s obvious this year that Rafa would much rather win the league. One would assume that he’d forego European glory at the expense of the one trophy that keeps eluding him if he had to pick.

If Liverpool do advance to the next round against Bayern or Barcelona and they’re still in the title race, then there could come a time when Rafa has to decided which is more important, the league or Ol’ Big Ears? Rafa would take the league — although I’m sure he’d love to have both to complete an unheard-of double.

chelsea_logoChelsea FC

Odds to win the Champions League: 13-2

Why Chelsea will win: It’s not surprising to see Liverpool and Chelsea thrown together in the same pool with a potential 15-16 percent chance of winning the trophy. After all, the two teams have been joined at the hip for the last couple of years. Like Liverpool, Chelsea have a tendency during the Champions League to wear opponents down by beating the ball around the pitch and hoping for the odd goal at the death of the match.

It’s not always pretty but it does get the job done. Last season they defeated Liverpool for the first team in a Champions League semi-final, and whilst most wouldn’t admit it, the second-leg match at Stamford Bridge had a lot to do with their progression. Chelsea got a gift own goal from John Arne Riise and then held on for dear life at the Bridge.

Why do I mention last season’s battle? Because Chelsea have once again been gifted the opportunity of playing the second leg at home. If history is any indicator, that home pitch advantage could prove to be priceless if the two clubs are deadlocked after the first leg.

Get past Liverpool and Chelsea could be looking at a second straight appearance in the Champions League final.

Why Chelsea won’t win: If Chelsea don’t win the Champions League, there’s a pretty good chance it will be because they lost to Liverpool in the round of 16. Aside from the Merseyside outfit and possibly Manchester United, they could be the most European-ready club in the tournament.

Roman Abramovich has always made it clear that winning the Champions League should be the top goal each season, and considering where Chelsea currently stand in the league (four points behind United who have a game in-hand), this could be their best season yet to vye for the trophy. For once Chelsea could have all the pressure heaped on one trophy that has eluded them.

Whether they can handle this kind of pressure remains to be seen, but right now their biggest roadblock is Liverpool. Get past them and things could get a bit easier with a match against Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Who ever thought I’d be saying that!

arsenal150pxArsenal FC

Odds to win the Champions League: 15-2

Why Arsenal will win: Youth has always served Arsenal well in the past, and whilst many would say this has been a tough year for Arsene Wenger’s bunch, things seem to be coming around for them of late. They looked inept in Group G, finishing second to Porto and getting into the knockout stage by the slimmest of margain.

They then followed that performance up with a less than impressive showing against Roma that saw them waste opportunity after opportunity to dispose of the Italian side. They needed extra time and PK’s to decide things at the Stadio Olimpico. So if they’ve had such a tough time, then why in the world would they be a good bet?

At 15-2 you’re getting some great odds on a club that could be a fairly decent pick for best pick outside the top four. They’ve records 12 points out of a possible 18 in the Premier League and have been looking fantastic with the return of Theo Walcott and Eduardo to the squad. Arsenal could also welcome Cesc Fabregas back in time for the first leg against Villareal.

You have to remember that the club played most of the Champions League without three of their key cogs. That’s more than enough reason for me to take a punt on a Arsene’s bunch against a decent Villareal side and then either Manchester United or Porto.

Why Arsenal won’t win: You have to feel sorry for Arsenal, because in all honesty, it should have been them going to the semi-final last year against Chelsea. Instead they locked-up when it mattered the most and watched as the experienced Reds ran roughshod on them in the waining minutes of the match.

There’s something about this team that tells me that they still haven’t quite gotten over that defeat. Whilst they’ll be lucky not to draw Liverpool in the semi-final round, Manchester United will almost certainly be waiting with an equally difficult challenge.

The team is really coming around, but I feel that their road to victory could just be too tough. Plus, I think if they do get to the next round, memories of last season could come creeping back if they go into the second leg with any sort of an advantage.

bayern_munich_logoBayern Munchen

Odds to win the Champions League: 16-1

Why Bayern will win: If they play like they did against Sporting in the round of 16 then you might as well hand them the trophy. The 12 goals in the round were a Uefa record for a club that’s making a fantastic return to Europe’s biggest stage.

Is Franck Ribery walks on the pitch and gives a performance for the ages against Barcelona there’s a chance his side could advance. Luca Toni will also need to play an even more intergal role without the assistance of one their most important strikers.

Even still, Bayern are playing some wonderful football at the moment, and unlike Barcelona, they haven’t conceded very many goals. They’ll need to pour in the goals and keep Barcelona at bay. Both of those things could be fairly difficult, but then again anything’s possible.

Why Bayern won’t win: Miroslav Klose’s injury has the striker out eight weeks. That alone has Bayern looking for a replacement for one the most prolific scorers in the Champions League. With seven goals to his name, Klose was pushing Bayern to new levels on a daily basis. Now they’re left to wonder what could have been.

That’s not to say they can’t win without Klose, but I can guarantee you that things won’t be easier against a club like Barcelona. Bayern players and supporters can talk all they want about their depth, but the fact of the matter is, is that your squad went from being a great punt to one that looks extremely questionable without Klose.


Villareal CF

Odds to win the Champions League: 28-1

Why Villareal will win: Now here’s where we get into the good value of the Champions League! Sure, Villareal are going up a great English side in Arsenal, but if you take a moment to look at their form in the tournament this year you’ll notice that the Yellow Submarine held their own against the team that’s pegged to win it all this year, Manchester United.

Twice this year Villareal played Manchester United in Group E, and twice they managed to come away with 0-0 draws. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has a squad that could give Arsenal fits as they did previously to United, and that has everything to do with a staunch back line.

They never looked like the truly dominant side against Panathinaikos, but honestly, they really didn’t need to be at their best against the Greek club. They’ll have to be on their game this time around, so I’d imagine Pellegrini well be feeding the players videos of their previous matches against Manchester United to get them going.

If they can wear Arsenal down like they did Manchester United, then there’s a great chance  they could nick a late goal to squeak into the next round. It would then be a potentail Group E replay against Manchester United, and at that point I’d definitely consider a punt on Villareal to advance given their recent form against Sir Alex’s squad.

Why Villareal won’t win: They won’t win the whole thing if they allow to Arsenal get a goal in the first leg. Villareal don’t come off as a squad that would advance if they fell behind after the first leg.

Coming away with a 0-0 draw at home could be the best possible scenario for Villareal. If they can obtain this scoreline then it’s game on. If not, then it could be curtains for the La Liga outfit.

portoFC Porto

Odds to win the Champions League: 50-1

Why Porto will win: If they win it will be because they defeated Manchester United in the round of 16. Everyone knows Porto have won this before, and to get to the final the last time around they had to go through Manchester United in the round of 16. Could they do it again?

It’s not likely, but if it did happen, it would have to include getting a massive result in the first leg at Old Trafford. United will be more than happy to put this tie out of reach early with a barrage of shots, so it would be in Porto’s best interest to erect a brick wall in front of the goal and hope for the best.

Get past United and anything’s possible.

Why Porto won’t win: They’re playing quite possibly the best team to ever walk the planet. This is not a shot at Porto, but nobody would be shocked if they go down in defeat.

They don’t have near the players that United have and in a tie like this, quality matters more than ever.

Picking a Winner: If you put a gun to my head and told me to pick a side, I’d instantly spit out Liverpool as my choice. Plain and simple they’re the best club when it comes to this competition. Rafa Benitez has instilled a belief in his club that they can beat anyone. And when your players start to really believe that mantra, that’s when it starts to get really scary for the rest of the competition. I’ll take them at 6-1 for a pretty nice pay day.

If you want a decent outside choice, go with Villareal. Their form against Manchester United showed me something, and as far as I’m concerned, Arsenal are ripe for the picking. At 28-1 they’d be worth an outside punt.

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  1. David 31 March, 2009
  2. Aroosa 31 March, 2009