In Review

Champions league odds 2014/15: an intelligent punter's guide

Real Madrid start favourites, but Chelsea can't be discounted as the group stage gets underway

The group stage of the UEFA Champions League begins this week. There are eight groups each consisting of four teams and the top two in each group will go through to the last 16.

Which teams are the best bets in this year's competition? Here are the key factors to bear in mi

Previous final experience: Since the early 1990s only one side - Borussia Dortmund in 1996/97 - has won the tournament without first appearing in a previous final. Bayern lost in 2010 and 2012, but prevailed in 2013; Chelsea lost in 2008 but won in 2012; Milan lost in 2005 but won in 2007.

Previous semi-final experience: History shows that the best place to look for this year's winner is last year’s beaten semi-finalists. Six of the last eight winners had made it to the semis the year before - while only one of them (Bayern) actually won their semi.  

Bookies can get it wrong:While rank outsiders don’t win the  competition, don’t be put off by generous odds. The 2013 winners Bayern were available at 16-1 prior to the group stages, despite having appeared in two of the previous three finals, while Chelsea, winners in 2012, were also available at double-figure odds.

Some nations have the magic:Since 2004, teams from just four countries have won the tournament: Spain (four times), England (three times), Italy (twice) and Germany (once) - and no team from any country other than these four has reached the final. Italian teams seem to be on the wane, however: since Inter won in 2010, no Serie A team has made it beyond the quarter-finals. Spain and Germany have the best recent records, providing eight of the last 12 and six of the last eight finalists.

First-timers are rare: Since Dortmund’s win in 1997, only one team - Chelsea in 2012 - has won the tournament for the first time. In other words, in regards to ‘win only' bets, the percentage call is to stick with teams that have won the Champions League - or its predecessor the European Cup - at least once. 

Back-to-back winners are rare: No team has retained the trophy from one year to the next since Milan in 1990, and before that you’ve got to go back to 1980 and Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest.

So, to sum up, the ideal profile of a Champions League winner is a side from either Spain, England, Germany or Italy which has already won the tournament before (but not the year before) and which has appeared in a final in the past four years and also made it to the semis 12 months earlier.

Bearing all that in mind, let's take a closer look at the 32 teams playing in the group stage. The first figure denotes the best odds currently available on the team winning its group; the second figure denotes the best odds available on winning the trophy.

 Group A 

ATLETICO MADRID: evens; 25-1. 

Last year’s beaten finalists should have no problem in making it to the quarter-finals at least. But the reigning Spanish champions have sold key players since last season - including goal machine Diego Costa to Chelsea - and although they've signed some decent replacements, they may find it hard to match last year’s heroics.

JUVENTUS: 6-4; 28-1. 

Beaten finalists in 2003, but they’ve failed to progress past the quarters since then while last year they didn’t even make it out of the group stage. Winners of Serie A for the past three seasons, they could do better this time but look unlikely to still be around at the business end of the tournament.

OLYMPIAKOS: 12-1; 500-1.

Have made the last 16 on the last three occasions they’ve competed - last year going out 3-2 on aggregate to Manchester United, having held a 2-0 first leg lead. Don't bank on them making it past the round of 16.

 MALMO: 80-1; 2,500-1.

The Swedes did reach the European Cup final in 1979, when they lost to Nottingham Forest. It would be a major surprise if they made it out of the group this time. 

Group B 

REAL MADRID: 7-20; 7-2.

Last year’s winners are the favourites this time and with such a talented squad it's hard not to see them making it to the semis at least for the fourth year running. The negative is that no team has retained the Champions League in its present format and on that stat alone you could argue that other teams represent better value.

LIVERPOOL 7-2; 28-1.

They're back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009/10 and, unlike then, they should make it out of the group stage. Lack of recent Champions League experience is likely to count against them in the knockout stages, while their manager’s lack of experience in this competition is also a concern, but Reds fans will take heart that the last team to win the Champions League without having played in the tournament the year before was… Liverpool, back in 2005. 

BASEL: 28-1; 750-1.

As we predicted last year, the Swiss champions did cause some surprises, beating Chelsea home and away in the group stage. They’re going to find it tough to get out of the group, but once again they’re likely to give their more illustrious rivals a few problems. 

LUDOGORETS RAZGRAD: 150-1; 2,500-1.

The Bulgarians are making their CL group stage debut. Anything other than fourth place in the group would be a surprise.

Group C

BAYER LEVERKUSEN: 9-4; 100-1.

The 2002 runners-up finished fourth in the Bundesliga last year and have been in good form so far this season (winning 2-0 at Dortmund on opening day) and scoring goals for fun. You can see why the bookies have made them favourites to win the group. But the quarter-finals are likely to prove their limit. 

BENFICA: 3-1; 150-1.

Failed to get out of the group stage in three of their last four CL campaigns, but even if they do manage that this time, they’re unlikely to progress much further.

ZENIT: 4-1; 150-1.

Made it to the last 16 last year, despite only winning one group match, and while they may scramble through the group again, the three-month Russian winter break doesn’t help the chances of teams from that country in this competition and they're unlikely to make it past the round of 16.

MONACO: 9-2; 150-1.

The 1992 winners and 2004 runners-up are back in the CL for the first time in eight years. It’s a tricky group to call, as you can make a case for all four teams, but Monaco’s poor start to the new Ligue 1 season doesn’t augur well.

Group D

ARSENAL 5-4; 25-1.

Arsene Wenger’s men have made it out of the group stage every year since 2000 – but in the past four years they've gone out in the round of 16.  However, the last two defeats were against Bayern: with a kinder draw, this stronger Gunners squad has a good chance of making it through to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND: 5-4; 25-1.

They’re past winners who played in a final within the last four years and so they do fit two key stats. But while they can’t be entirely dismissed, they don’t look quite as strong as they were two years ago, and they’ve also been hit with injuries ahead of their first group match against Arsenal. 

GALATASARAY: 10-1; 250-1.

Reached the round of 16 last year, when they pushed Chelsea very close, and the quarter-finals the year before when they gave Real Madrid a tough time - so the Turks shouldn’t be under-estimated. 

ANDERLECHT: 40-1; 1,000-1.

The glory days of the Belgians in European club football are long gone and they look like being the whipping boys in this group.

Group E

BAYERN MUNICH: 8-13; 9-2.

They tick all the right boxes if you want to place a win bet; they’re previous winners, have made three finals in the past five years, and they lost in last year’s semis. Manager Pep Guardiola will have learnt from that setback against Real and we can expect better this year from the German champions who have key members of the country's World Cup-winning team (plus the brilliant Arjen Robben) in their very strong squad.

MANCHESTER CITY: 9-4; 14-1.

Made it out of the group stage for the first time last year, when their run was ended by Barcelona in the round of 16. A place in the quarters could be on the cards this time, but the stats are against them winning the competition: you’ve got to go back to 1997 and Dortmund to find a team who won the CL without having first appeared in a previous final.

ROMA: 8-1; 100-1.

Last year’s Serie A runners-up, playing in the CL for the first time since 2010/11, might cause problems for Bayern and Man City in their home games in the group, but the recent record of Italian teams in the CL is not encouraging and they're going to find it hard to make the last 16.

CSKA MOSCOW: 50-1; 750-1.

It will be tough to get out of such a difficult group. But if they are to pull off a major surprise, then as with Zenit in group C above, that three-month Russian winter break won't help. 

Group F:

BARCELONA: 1-2; 6-1.

From the stats perspective, they’ve got a lot going for them: they're previous winners from a country with a great record in the competition and they’ve played in a final within the last four years. But against that, six of the last eight winners reached the semi-finals in the previous year and last year Barca only made it to the quarters. Still, they’ve started La Liga season brightly under new coach Luis Enrique, and with new signing Luis Suarez available to add bite to their attack when he returns from his ban in late October, they look set to go far.   

PARIS ST GERMAIN: 9-4; 16-1.

With the brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading their attack, they've got enough talent to make it to at least the semis, and certainly make some each-way appeal at current odds; the negatives are that since 1997 no team has won the CL without appearing in a previous final - and no French side has prevailed since 1993.

AJAX: 25-1; 500-1.

Won the European Cup three years running in their golden era in the 1970s, and the CL itself in 1995. But Dutch teams no longer cut the mustard in this competition - none has reached the final since 1996 - and they look booked for third place here.

APOEL NICOSIA: 100-1; 1,500-1.

Cypriot teams are capable of pulling off surprise results - the national team shocked Bosnia in a recent Euros qualifier - but while they may ruffle a few feathers, it's very hard to see them making it through to the last 16.

Group G

CHELSEA: 3-10; 7-1.

The Londoners have to be worth an each-way bet at their current odds; they’re previous winners who have played in a final within the past four years, and they also lost in last year’s semi-final which from the trends point of view is another positive. They’ve got a stronger squad than 12 months ago and there’s also the ‘Mourinho factor’ to take into account: the Special One has eight CL semi-final appearances and two victories in the competition to his name.

SCHALKE 04:  11-2; 250-1.

Finished second behind Chelsea in their group last year and it could be the same again, the Germans having made it out of the group stage for the last four years. They made the semis in 2011, the quarters in 2012, but last year suffered a humiliating 9-2 aggregate defeat to eventual winners Real in the round of 16. They’ll have learnt some lessons from that, but they’ve had a very poor start to the new Bundesliga season and it’s hard to be confident about their chances.

SPORTING LISBON: 11-1; 500-1.

Taking part in the CL for the first time since 2008/9, when they made the last 16, the Portuguese may push Schalke close for second place in the group, but if they do make it through it's hard to see them going any further than the round of 16.

MARIBOR: 100-1, 2,000-1

The Slovenians, who knocked out Celtic to get here, might fancy their chances of taking points off Schalke and Sporting, but are likely to finish bottom of the group.  

Group H

PORTO: 13-8; 66-1.

They're two-times winners of the competition, but since their 2004 victory under Jose Mourinho the Portuguese have only made it as far as the quarter-finals on one occasion. They’ll fancy their chances of getting out of the group - they usually manage that - but the round of 16 is their most likely point of exit.  

ATLETICO BILBAO: 15-8; 100-1.

The Spaniards qualified for the group stages with an impressive 4-2 aggregate win over Napoli. They could be the surprise package from a country whose representatives in this competition should never be underestimated. They won’t be winning it - but each-way backers might get a run for their money.

SHAKHTAR DONETSK: 7-2; 250-1.

Quarter-finalists in 2011, their best ever performance, they also made the round of 16 in 2012. They’re a decent side but their chances of progression look to be handicapped by their having to play their home games 600 miles away in Lviv, due to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

BATE BORISOV: 28-1; 1,500-1

The Belarusians are not the worst rank outsiders in the competition and could pick up points, but they still look very unlikely to make it through to the last 16. 

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