Why Aren’t Liverpool and Ajax Champions League Favorites?

Chops April 17, 2019 1270 Reads

Probability models and oddsmakers view the 2019 UEFA Champions League Semifinal match-ups essentially as toss-ups.

You’ll hear plenty of talk in the coming weeks around how Barcelona vs Liverpool is the real Champions League final (kind of like how the SEC championship is the real national title game in college football). Whether that’s fair or not, the winner of Barcelona – Liverpool will be viewed as the prohibitive favorite against the Tottenham vs Ajax victor.

But are these match-ups really toss ups? Have Liverpool and Ajax earned more respect–particularly from oddsmakers–then they’ve received?

Here’s how it breaks down.

Evenly-matched semifinals

If you’re looking for competitive semifinal match-ups, you’ve got them (in theory).

The FiveThirtyEight Champions League probability model gives Liverpool the slightest of edges over Barcelona. Same for Ajax over Tottenham.

Liverpool and Barcelona combined are 69% to win the UCL against whoever advances from Ajax and Spurs.

Oddsmakers favor Barcelona

Oddsmakers have fairly consistently been undervaluing Liverpool (in futures markets) and Ajax (in general) this Champions League while overvaluing blue-chip teams like Real Madrid, Juventus, and (arguably rightfully) Manchester City.

Nothing has changed for semifinal odds and futures.

Leg 1 games have Liverpool and Ajax as road underdogs despite the fact they’ve won their four combined UCL knock-out round road fixtures.

Tottenham +120Draw +240Ajax +220
Barcelona -135Draw +290Liverpool +340

(Home team is listed first. If you need a refresher, visit how to bet soccer or 
Champions League betting — All listed odds from FanDuel Sportsbook NJ)

Liverpool are actually a heavy underdog at Camp Nou. Ajax are a more reasonable +220 at Tottenham’s new stadium.

However, Liverpool were viewed as underdogs to Bayern Munich (especially after the 0-0 draw at Anfield) and advanced. Ajax were heavy underdogs to Real Madrid and Juventus and just kept winning. Yes, the public popularity of teams like Bayern, RM, and Juve is part of the reason for their favored status. But at some point, the oddsmakers usually catch up. That hasn’t happened.

Futures markets also don’t reflect the coin-flip nature and / or reality of these match-ups. 

FanDuel Sportsbook NJ has the following listed futures odds.

Barcelona +135 Liverpool +230Tottenham +380Ajax +410

Barcelona are +135 to Liverpool’s +230 to win the Champions League. Clear difference there. And what does Ajax need to do to finally get some respect? On one hand, they’ve gone from +10000 at the start of group play, to +20000 in mid-February after losing to Real Madrid at home, to +410 now. On the other hand, TWO MONTHS AGO THEY WERE +20000. 

Shouldn’t Liverpool and Ajax be the real favorites to advance?

Liverpool are the most tested team in the 2018-19 campaign. They (barely) came out of the “Group of Death” that included Paris Saint-Germain and Napoli. PSG has consistently been ranked in the top 5 of the Global Club Rankings this year. Napoli is in the top 20 and in the hunt for the Europa League crown.

Liverpool then faced German giant Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. Liverpool and Bayern were ranked 1-2 in the world at the time of the draw. Liverpool advanced, defeating the likely Bundesliga champs in Germany.

Liverpool are in a historic Premier League title race in which they’ve literally lost just ONE TIME all season in the world’s toughest domestic division. They may end up with 97 points which would be the second highest total ever.

Why aren’t they favored to win the Champions League? And if they do defeat Barcelona in the semis (this year’s La Liga champs), Bayern in the Round of 16 (likely Bundesliga champs) and win the Champions League as well as the Premier League over a record-breaking Manchester City squad…is there an argument to be made that Liverpool are one of the best teams of all time? They have to be considered in that conversation.

As for Ajax, they haven’t been favored in one single knock-out round, yet have clearly been the better team once the games have been played. Expect most talking head experts (and our High Press Soccer prognosticators) to pick them over Spurs.

Whether it happens or not, Liverpool and Ajax would make the most compelling–and deserving–2019 UEFA Champions League Final match-up.

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