The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League returns this week with a solid round of fixtures.
Though it seems like group play started yesterday, more teams than not have already had their fates sealed.
The following ranking of this week’s most intriguing games considers the following, in order:
- First: how high are the stakes? (will the outcome really decide whether a given team makes it to knockout play?)
- Second: is this a match-up of two quality clubs with a legit chance to win this tournament?
- Third: Is the line begging for us to take a close look and/or action? (Looking at you, Barcelona-Borussia Dortmund).
- Fourth: Does it involve Jose “The Special One” Mourinho???
*The home team is listed first in each of the following games.
1. Valencia (+185) vs. Chelsea (+138), Wednesday, 12:55 p.m. Eastern
Anyone familiar with this site will not be shocked – and I doubt they’ll disagree, either — with our choice for No. 1 on this list. Group H is by far the most unsettled, as Ajax, Chelsea and Valencia all have 7 points through three games. As we wrote the last time we talked Group H, Valencia is the wild card here.
Chelsea and its young stars are the darlings of not only the EPL, but also Europe after beating, and then drawing, Ajax in their last two UCL tilts. And yet they’re very much in danger of bowing out of the Champions League before the knockout round. On paper, Frank Lampard’s team should handle Valencia, but that isn’t how it played out at Stamford Bridge on Sept. 17. After taking on Ajax in back-to-back Champions League battles, this young Chelsea team is less green than it was in September, but La Mestalla will surely test the Blues’ young stars.
Valencia’s homefield advantage is significant – ask La Liga’s top clubs how much they enjoy visiting La Mestalla – and this team is in good form. Dating back to October 30, their last four results are a 1-1 draw vs. Sevilla (10/30), a 2-1 win over Espanyol (11/2), a 4-1 UCL win over Lille (11/5) and a 2-0 win over Granada (11/5).
The line here is also telling. I’m not a mind-reader, but I can confidently (though maybe not accurately) say that you did not think the line on this game would scream “coin flip.” While Chelsea are probability favorites, a Valencia win or draw is still a 50/50 proposition.
Chelsea at better than even money will entice those with short-term memories, but the fact they loss to this team at home a few months ago explains why they’re such a slight favorite.
2. Real Madrid (+130) vs. Paris St. Germain (+200), Tuesday, 3 p.m.
After their start to group play, PSG is a must-watch regardless of the opponent.
The Parisians’ trip to Madrid will answer a couple questions: Was the result of these teams’ previous meeting on September 18 a fluke, or is PSG that much better than an up-and-down RM side? And more importantly, should we expect the Ligue 1 leader to make a deep run in knockout play? As this will be the last time we see them against an elite opponent until knockout play starts – with all due respect to Ligue 1’s finest as well as Club Brugge and Galatasaray – Tuesday’s clash will be instructive.
Even if you’re (understandably) uninterested in PSG, who has the group in the bag, tune in to this to see how Gareth Bale is received at the Santiago Bernabéu. This past weekend did not go well for him.
And I’d be remiss not to point out that PSG at +200 is as good of a bet as any available next week.
3. Juventus (+115) vs. Atletico Madrid (+290), Tuesday, 3 p.m.
These two are both going through to the final 16, so there’s no drama in that sense. However, Atleti still has a shot at first place with a win at Juve on Tuesday. They looked evenly matched in their first meeting, and fans should expect another close, hard-fought game when they meet again.
Juventus is once again one of the best teams on the continent. Atleti is always formidable in the UCL. The rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and his old crosstown rivals is just one more reason this is a compelling game, regardless of the fact neither of these teams is going home anytime soon.
4. Barcelona (-155) vs. Borussia Dortmund (+410), Wednesday, 3 p.m.
Barcelona’s trip to BVB ended in a dull 0-0 draw that Dortmund probably should have won back in September. But that was Messi’s first appearance of the season, and the Argentine didn’t come on the pitch until the 59th minute. His presence from the start in this one means we can just about rule out another 0-0 draw. Even by his preposterous standards, Messi is absolutely en fuego right now.
With that in mind, and considering Barcelona is at home, part of me gets why the odds on Dortmund winning are so high. But even with an in-form Messi, Barcelona is susceptible to a letdown, as we learned, again, when Levante blew them out 3-1 on November 2.
5. Tottenham (-286) vs. Olympiakos (+800), Tuesday, 3 p.m.
This isn’t going to be Mourinho’s Spurs debut, but it nevertheless promises to be compelling. Enough said.
Where to Bet Champions League in US
In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.