Football Features

Ranking this season’s major Champions League contenders from dark horses to favourites

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:42, 2 October 2020 | Updated: 15:25, 20 October 2020

The groups for the 2020/21 Champions League are drawn, and we’re getting set for another season of dramatic action.

There are reunions, grudge matches, some intense pairings and, yes, a group of death. The four English sides have draws of varying fortunes, with some positive and at least one of them will be more than a little nervous about their opponents.

We’ve ranked the elite seven contenders as decided percentage odds from SBK, and provided a brief overview of the best of the rest sides, the winners and losers from the Champions League group stage draw.

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7. Juventus

  • 2019/20 finish: Round of 16
  • SBK Champions League odds: 6.45%
  • Group stage opponents: Barcelona, Dynamo Kyiv, Ferencvaros

With regards to the Champions League, Juventus went into “win-now mode” two years ago. With the side’s key players all being 35 or older, Juve know their window is closing even if new coach Andrea Pirlo should bring fresh impetus to Turin. Their group should be relatively straightforward as they duke it out with Barcelona for top spot. The other two sides could be tricky but when you have Mr. Champions League in your side it will take a serious fluke for you to lose to a side that is significantly weaker as Dynamo and Ferencvaros are.

7=. Barcelona

  • 2019/20 finish: Quarter-final
  • SBK Champions League odds: 6.45%
  • Group stage opponents: Juventus, Dynamo Kyiv, Ferencvaros

After an 8-2 humiliation and the Coke Zero of “squad revolutions” this summer, Barcelona enter the 2020/21 Champions League somewhat refreshed and with a Champions League winner as coach. Ronald Koeman will hope to bring Barcelona into the modern age with a midfield built around Frenkie de Jong and an attack that recognises the value of pace with Ansu Fati, the youngest goalscorer in the competitions history, continually showing his absurd skills.

Despite his wishes, Leo Messi is still at the club and that should give them too much for all their opponents in the group stage, though the clash with Juventus is absolutely dripping with narratives all over the pitch, most obviously getting to see Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo go head-to-head on the European stage for the first time since the 2011. The two have only ever met in semi-finals before, so this is an early season treat for fans the world over.

5. Real Madrid

  • 2019/20 finish: Round of 16
  • SBK Champions League odds: 6.67%
  • Group stage opponents: Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter Milan, Borussia Monchengladbach

After winning three Champions Leagues in a row, Real Madrid have somewhat understandably dropped off the radar a little bit. Still, they won La Liga last year and in Thibaut Courtois have one of the world’s best goalkeepers, which is always an essential thing if you want to win the Champions League. Sergio Ramos is somehow becoming more and more clutch as the years go by, so as long as he can avoid stupid suspensions you’d have to consider Madrid to be among the favourites.

They should breeze through this group, even though the matches against Inter will serve up some tasty story lines (a Juventus reunion for the coaches, Alexis has a good record against Madrid and Lautaro Martinez auditioning for Barcelona).

4. PSG

  • 2019/20 finish: Runners-up
  • SBK Champions League odds: 8.09%
  • Group stage opponents: Manchester United, RB Leipzig, Istanbul Basaksehir

Last season’s runners-up, PSG, have to pick themselves up and say “we go again” once more. On the balance of chances they really should have won the final but their superstar strikers failed to deliver. They’ve not really changed too much this summer but the departure of Thiago Silva might actually make them stronger defensively. This group sees a semi-final rematch against RB Leipzig and a reunion with their 2019 conquerors Manchester United. PSG have the quality to walk through this group, but how far they can go beyond that remains to be seen.

3. Liverpool

  • 2019/20 finish: Round of 16
  • SBK Champions League odds: 12.50%
  • Group stage opponents: Ajax, Atalanta, FC Midtjylland

Absolutely one of the best sides in the world, Liverpool will be back to try and reclaim the European crown they surrendered last season. They are a phenomenal team capable of winning in almost any way imaginable. Their defence is solid (as long as Alisson is playing, anyway), their midfield is industrious and has added one of the world’s finest in the position in Thiago Alcantara, so they can even match wits with passing sides if they want to. And of course they have one of the best attacking trios on the planet. Liverpool’s group is full of exciting sides but no one that the Reds shouldn’t be able to outplay, although their clash with free-scoring Atalanta should be must-see TV.

2. Manchester City

  • 2019/20 finish: Quarter-final
  • SBK Champions League odds: 17.24%
  • Group stage opponents: Porto, Olympiacos, Marseille

Perpetual European disappointments Manchester City always seem to find a way to mess up.  Whether that’s getting outgunned by Monaco, collapsing against Liverpool or getting blitzed by Spurs and Lyon, City always seem to find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They have a winnable group on paper but on closer inspection it’s full of the kind of trap games where City will either win 7-0 or lose 1-2 inexplicably. Whatever happens, City will always be worth watching and if things all click of them, they have the talent go all the way.

1. Bayern Munich

  • 2019/20 finish: Winners
  • SBK Champions League odds: 19.61%
  • Group stage opponents: Atlético Madrid, RB Salzburg, Lokomotiv Moscow

Bayern Munich blew away the competition last season, winning every single game en route to capturing the Champions League that sealed a historic second treble for them. Bayern are almost unfeasibly good in attack, with weapons and pace everywhere. Thomas Muller is the ultimate link-man, Robert Lewandowski can’t stop scoring and the “Sanabry” wing duo should strike fear into the heart of basically everyone. Atlético Madrid will be a ferocious test, but with four guaranteed wins (five likely, six possible) you’d expect Bayern to annihilate their group and once they get out of there and into the knockouts, duck and cover!

Winners and Losers:

Winner: Chelsea

Last season, the Blues were bounced out of Europe by Bayern Munich, but they have a new look attack now and are in a group that is high on hipster cred but low on elite opponents. Well, sort of. Sevilla are a supremely coached outfit and Europa League winners, but despite Eduardo Camavinga’s predictable masterclasses, there shouldn’t be too much trouble with Rennes (or Krasnodar) so Chelsea can expect to qualify, perhaps even come first if they can do the business against Sevilla.

Loser: Manchester United

All that fighting, effort, blood, sweat, tears and penalties to get back into the Champions League, only to be dropped into the Group of Death featuring two of last season’s semi-finalists. United will feel they hold a psychological edge on PSG, but they’ll need an all-world showing from Aaron Wan-Bissaka to keep Neymar in check and Kylian Mbappé will want revenge for 2019. Meanwhile Dayot Upamecano is all but guaranteed to devour the United attackers as Julian Nagelsmann coaches circles around Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The lone bright spot for United is that they’ll get to see Rafael da Silva again as they meet Istanbul Basaksehir, but otherwise this group is a string of Ls hanging on Ed Woodward’s mantelpiece underneath a framed photo of Jadon Sancho in the 2020/21 Dortmund kit.

Winner: Borussia Dortmund

Speaking of Dortmund, not only have they kept hold of Jadon Sancho (ensuring that they can form one of the most fearsome forward lines in the world this season with Sancho, Erling Haaland and Marco Reus) but they’ve been drawn into a group that they really should finish top of. Obviously anything can happen but they’re a better side than Zenit and Lazio, so barring some Ciro Immobile sniping you’d fancy them to make the knockouts, and from there anything’s possible.

Loser: Ajax

Everyone loves Ajax. In fact, they love them so much they keep on signing their players. The four best players from Ajax’s run to the semi-finals in 2018 have all now left the club. That Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech all played for the same side will one day be regarded as incredible, but the fact is they don’t play for them anymore and as good as Erik Ten Hag is, he now has to contend with a powerhouse Liverpool and an utterly spellbinding Atalanta side without anything like his best possible squad. It doesn’t look good.


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