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The 2019-20 UEFA Champions League starts today!
Unlike with Manchester City, who yet again get the most favorable possible draw (🤔how does that always happen), Liverpool were done no favors. All of the attention has been given to the Barcelona-Borussia Dortmund-Inter Milan pairing as the “group of death” this season.
But guess what group is actually more difficult?
FFS with this already, right?
Here’s a deeper dive into a deceptively tough Group E and where the Liverpool landmines may be.
Last Season: Eliminated in UCL group stage (by Liverpool)
League: Serie A (Italy)
Nickname: Gli Azzurri (The Blues)
Manager: Carlo Ancelotti
Best Players: Dries Martens, José Callejón, Lorenzo Insigne, Kalidou Koulibaly
Odds to Win Group: +200
As we wrote in our Napoli vs Liverpool Champions League preview, Gli Azzurri are no joke.
They’re fourth in Serie A this season. Most notably, they lost a 4-3 barn-burner vs Juventus on August 31st that may go down as one of the most exciting matches of the year.
Napoli are creative, skilled distributors who will absolutely create chances. Think of them as an Italian version of Tottenham or Arsenal. They’re going to score. They’re going to be scored on.
For whatever reason, Liverpool has struggled against Napoli recently (including a 3-0 shellacking that wasn’t really that close in a summer friendly in Scotland). Having said all of that, Napoli shouldn’t be considered the lock to advance from this group as oddsmakers think. They’re -500 for a top 2 finish. There’s a team in the group not named Liverpool that analytic models like FiveThirtyEight and ClubElo like just as much or more…
Last Season: Eliminated in UCL playoff by Red Star Belgrade, in Europa League Round of 16 by Napoli
League: Austrian Bundesliga
Nickname: Die Mozartstädter (The Mozart Townspeople)
Manager: Jesse Marsch
Best Players: Erling Braut Haland, Dominik Szoboszlai, Maximilian Wöber, Hwang Hee-chan
Odds to Win Group: +1700
If you’re looking for a good value play, Red Bull Salzburg at +275 to finish top 2 is solid.
These guys are going to score. It’s hard to say how good their defense is just yet as the Austrian Bundesliga is filled with teams that are more “MLS quality” than “top flight Europe quality.” The best we can do is look at last season’s Europa League for some hints. It’s not apples-to-apples, but it’s a start.
In group stage matches, they advanced in first despite having Celtic and RB Leipzig in their group. They advanced with a +11 goal differential. Their 17 goals in group play was tied for second most. From there, Salzburg got past Club Brugge (who are in the UCL this season) by a 5-2 aggregate in the Round of 32.
However, in the Round of 16 they lost to Napoli by a 4-3 aggregate.
So basically, they were close with Napoli last season. Napoli hasn’t necessarily improved this season. Salzburg has. Led by Erling Braut Haland (read about him as one of our Champions League players to watch), it would surprise no one here (particularly me) if Salzburg advance. Keep an eye on these guys.
Last Season: Lost to Slavia Prague in Europa League Round of 32
League: Belgium Pro League
Nickname: Racing or Blue-Whites
Manager: Felice Mazzu
Best Players: Joakim Maehle, Jhon Lucumí, Sander Berge, Mbwana Samatta (when fit)
Odds to Win Group: +5000
Here’s the deal with Genk: they might not suck!
They have some young talent that will be playing in the major European domestic divisions within the next two years. Maehle (right-back, 22), Lucumi (center-back, 21) and Berge (defensive mid, 21) make up an exciting young core. At 26, Samatta is the elder statesman. He’ll be among their top goal scoring threats though and he’s set to become the first Tanzanian to play in the UCL. So that’s kinda interesting [if you’re from Tanzania].
Also…Genk’s roster is worth over $132M! That’s more the Red Bull Salzburg ($102M) as well as Sheffield United and Norwich City (who just beat Man City).
Genk won’t win this group. However, if this is the real “group of death” than is their +800 for a top 2 that crazy?
In the US, you can legally bet the Champions League online in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.