Champions League Group H Top 2 Odds: Ajax -560 | Chelsea – 210 | Valencia -112 | Lille +1100
All it took for ’18-19 UEFA Champions League semifinalist Ajax to get the respect it deserved in Group H was a pair of 3-0 wins. One at home over Lille on September 17 and the other at Valencia on October 2. The Dutch side is now (finally) favored (-143) to win the group.
Now the most compelling questions in this group are how Ajax matches up with Chelsea and who we should expect to join Erik ten Hag’s squad as the other team advancing from this foursome.
Both teams will enter the October 23 match at 12:55 p.m. Eastern at Amsterdam Arena in good form. Ajax (+125) is favored over Chelsea (+210) in that one, but remains a good bet. The Dutch club, as we’ve mentioned every time we’ve gotten the chance on High Press Soccer, is first in the Eredivisie with 29 points through nine games and has been rolling in the UCL.
And Chelsea is on a bit of a tear itself, even if you choose to downplay the 7-1 win over Grimsby Town in the EFL/Carabao Cup on September 25. No, Brighton (September 28) and Southampton (October 6) are not exactly powerhouses. But back-to-back EPL wins, with a Champions League win at Lille (October 2) between those victories, constitute a quality stretch.
The question is how Frank Lampard’s teenager-heavy attack will fare at a venue where teams like Juventus and Real Madrid both faltered last spring. As far as age goes, the gap between these two teams is not exactly yawning. But Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, Dusan Tadic, David Neres and Nicolas Tagliafico, among others, are all vastly more experienced in games like this than Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi.
Chelsea did what they had to do against Lille to get three points, but the way they looked in both that game and the home loss to a dysfunctional Valencia squad make you wonder how much of a fight they’ll give Ajax on the road.
The Blues are currently two points behind second-place Manchester City in the Premier League after securing 9 of 12 possible points from their last four games. However, their four EPL victories this year are over Brighton, Southampton, Wolves and Norwich, exactly 0 of whom are currently top 10 in the Premier League.
Who else makes the knockout round?
Let’s start with the oddsmakers’ take. On DraftKings Sportsbook NJ, after Ajax (-143), they like Chelsea (+220) way better than either Valencia (+500) or Lille (+6,000) to win the group. Top-2 odds are as follows: Ajax (-560), Chelsea (-210), Valencia (-112) and Lille (+1100).
I don’t see Lille, who have 0 points through two games, making a furious rally. But there is a path to Lille getting right back in the mix by the end of the next matchday. All the French club would have to do is beat Valencia at home and have Ajax defeat Chelsea. If that happens — and those are the most likely outcomes, as the oddsmakers and I are on the same page — all of a sudden, it would be Ajax in first with 9 points and three teams with just 3 points.
It has to be Chelsea, right?
Even if Chelsea are one of three teams with 3 points at the halfway point of group play, they seem like the best bet to get out of this group. For one thing, their current goal differential of 0 is better than Valencia’s -2 and Lille’s -4. Their last three also present good opportunities for points: home vs. Ajax, at Valencia and home vs. Lille (the ideal final-game venue and opponent if qualification is still up for grabs).
The wild card
The wild card is Valencia. They got off to a terrible start to the season but have rebounded. We’re also talking about a team that proved last year that it can pull off a turnaround.
This year, they’ve gone draw, draw, win, win in their last four in La Liga. That followed a rough start to the season: a draw, a loss, a win and a loss. And their win at Chelsea shows they can occasionally play at a high level, if not maintain it.
Despite the rough start, Valencia is just two points out of fourth place in Spain. The club is also very much alive in this group. Between the never-ending off-field nonsense and the on-field ups and downs, they’ll be as interesting as anyone outside Europe’s elite over the next month or two.