Champions League Teams to Watch: RB Leipzig, Atalanta and Valencia

Tyler Everett September 11, 2019 268 Reads
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The 32 teams in the group stage of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League include usual suspects (and favorites) like defending champs Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona.

After that group, you have a handful of teams including Atlético Madrid — who we would argue is as good as the teams in that first groupJuventus, and Real Madrid who, on paper and reputation, could make a deep run.

But who are the relative unknowns (the possible ’19-20 versions of Ajax*) worth checking out in group play?

This year’s Champions League title favorites are in order: Man City, Barcelona, Liverpool, Real Madrid (huh??), Bayern Munich, Juventus, PSG, Atleti, Tottenham and Chelsea.

Before we move on, should Spurs (+2300) and Chelsea (+2700) be seen as more likely to win the UCL than Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig, Napoli and Inter Milan? Based on how those teams have looked in the opening weeks of the EPL season, the odds on Spurs and Chelsea seem more like a nod to the strength of their brands than anything else. Name recognition also must be why Real Madrid (+1000) is favored ahead of Bayern Munich (+1100), Juventus (+1100), PSG (+1100) and Atleti (+2100).

Three teams to watch this Champions League: RB Leipzig, Valencia, Atalanta

Without further ado, let’s talk Bundesliga side RB Leipzig (+5000), La Liga side Valencia (+8000) and Serie A’s Atalanta (+10000).

These teams we believe are worth watching (as we talked about in our Champions League predictions feature) because of their style of play and potential to cause damage to the favorites.

RB Leipzig (+5000, 12th-best odds)

This team might be the “underdog” that is most likely to reach the knockout rounds. And it definitely jumps off the page as one of the strongest Pot 4 teams.

First of all, Group G’s Pot 1 team is Zenit St. Petersburg, which is not exactly a perennial fixture in the latter stages of the UCL. At least they have a sense of humor about it.

I’m not exactly going out on a limb by expressing some confidence in the German club’s chances. And their chances only look better when you remember that this group’s Pot 2 team, Benfica, is missing João Félix, who might be sliiightly difficult to replace.

Second, and more importantly, RB Leipzig are currently first in the Bundesliga. Yes, it’s early, but a goal differential of +7 in a good league is a sign these guys are for real. They have nine goals through just three games (in the Bundesliga, only Bayern has more), and they’ve also given up just two. RB Leipzig’s three wins are over Union Berlin (4-0), Eintracht Frankfurt (2-1) and Borussia Moenchengladbach (3-1).

So who are the names to watch? The biggest is 23-year-old German Timo Werner, who scored a hat trick in his team’s last Bundesliga match, a 3-1 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach on Aug. 30, and has already scored five goals this year. Both Werner, who had 16 goals and seven assists in the Bundesliga last year, and 25-year-old Austrian Marcel Sabitzer (1 goal, 3 assists so far this year) currently boast impressive WhoScored ratings over 8.0.

Valencia (+8000, tied with Ajax for the 16th-best odds)

Another team we’ve written about quite a bit, Valencia is the reigning Copa del Rey champ after finishing ’19-20 on a tear. They also reached the semifinals of the Europa League. They had a weird, tumultuous summer, even by Spanish standards. And they’re off to another slow start in La Liga. They opened the season by drawing Real Sociedad before losing to Celta Vigo and finally getting three points over promoted side Mallorca.

A year ago, it was an inability to score, especially early, that held them back. With just three goals through three games this year, we don’t yet know whether Valencia solved that problem over the summer. The good news is that Rodrigo Moreno did not leave, after he appeared for weeks to be headed to Atleti. We’ll know a lot more about this team this weekend, when they travel to Camp Nou to face Barcelona.

Though there are certainly questions, Valencia is worth a look based on A) how they played the last couple months of ’18-19 and B) the fact that no one else in Group H (Chelsea, Ajax and Lille) screams “untouchable” at the moment.

Atalanta (+10000, 18th-best odds)

Let’s start with this team’s group: Man City is a lock to advance, but Atalanta is a popular pick to join Pep Guardiola’s team instead of Shakhtar Donetsk or Dinamo Zagreb.

Through two games in Serie A (how much more could you possibly need to see to have a strong opinion??), there’s been some good and bad for this club: scoring five goals is extremely impressive. There’s just one minor issue: they’ve also given up that many.

Still, expect this team, which led Serie A with 77 (!) goals a year ago, to push for a spot in the knockout rounds, and maybe more if they can tighten up defensively.

Their top scorer a year ago was Colombian Duván Zapata (23 goals, 7 assists in Serie A). He has two goals through two games this year in domestic play. Another player to watch is Slovenian Josip Ilicic, who had 12 goals and 7 assists in Serie A in ’18-19.

*Because we’ve recently written about them at length, we left Ajax out of this group, but if you’re not already familiar with them, you should change that ASAP.

Where to Bet Premier League in the US

In the US, you can legally bet on soccer online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

For New Jersey, we recommend DraftKings Sportsbook NJ or FanDuel Sportsbook.

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