There was a time when Real Madrid would have been the first name on a list of teams to progress from the UEFA Champions League group stages to the knockout stages when the competition resumes after Christmas. But such has been the fall from grace of Los Blancos that they required a last day 2-0 victory over group leaders Borussia Mönchengladbach to leapfrog their opponents and go through as group winners with 10 points out of a possible 18. Madrid are now 14/1 at Bet365 to win the 2021 Champions League Final outright, which provides massive value for a team capable of anything under legendary manager Zinedine Zidane.
Atalanta scrape through against Ajax
Atalanta were the surprise package of last year’s competition, reaching the last four before being knocked out in the semi-final by eventual runners up, Paris Saint Germain. Just like last year they struggled to make it through, being hammered 5-0 at home by Liverpool before defeating the Anfield outfit 2-0 in the reverse fixture. Atalanta beat Ajax 1-0 in Amsterdam to knock the Dutch side out and send the Bergamo team through to the knockout stages. As a team that went far in the competition last year, the 40/1 on offer at William Hill for Atalanta to win the competition puts them only in front of Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Porto in the betting stakes. The 14/1 widely on offer for Atalanta to reach the final seems much lower, an indication that the bookies secretly fancy Atalanta to go far in the competition.
Manchester United crash out to Red Bull Leipzig
For many years the most hated team in Germany award goes to FC Bayern Munich, with fans of other German clubs sneeringly labeling the Munich outfit FC Hollywood. But many Germans now feel that status has passed to RB Leipzig, with fans all over Germany feeling the club has bought its success with the backing of major drinks brand Red Bull. Leipzig will certainly be the most hated side in the red half of Manchester after mercilessly knocking Manchester United out of the Champions League with a 3-2 victory. The defeat saw boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s odds slashed from 9/1 to 2/1 to be the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season. With Manchester City odds-on favourite to defeat their city rivals in Saturday’s derby at Old Trafford, speculation abounds that this derby could be the last game Solskjaer takes charge of. For their part, Leipzig are 28/1 to lift the Champions League trophy but only 12/1 to reach the final.
The winter break awaits
There’s a long way to go yet, with many more twists and turns to come. The winter break and focus on domestic competitions can deplete squads with injuries, while the transfer windows can bolster squads towards the run in. The prices available will lengthen or shorten once the knockout stage draw is made on December 14th, so taking prices now is always a gamble. But with a favourable draw in the knockout stage round of 32 the prices of the longer price team could drop dramatically, just as the short prices for the favourites could increase with an unfavourable draw. One thing is for certain, even though there’s plenty of football still to play we can start looking forward to the drama of Champions League knockout football.