Picking winners in the Champions League in August is like trying to clean the house to my wife's standards. I've tried my best, but inevitably it's probably a futile experience. Having said that, please read on otherwise all which follows will have been pointless.
As I'm sure you're aware no team has ever retained the Champions League and whilst the longer a run goes the closer it is to ending, I'm a sucker for these kinds of stats. Real Madrid have certainly strengthened their squad having won the most coveted European trophy for the tenth time, but I’ve heard some worrying rumours about Cristiano Ronaldo's fitness and he has been the competition's leading scorer for the last two seasons. His two goals in the Super Cup didn't look too shabby though. Whatever the truth about his fitness, they have got Gareth Bale and Himmy Rodriguez, plus others of course. The other 'negative' for me is their determination to regain the La Liga title. Winning the big double is very difficult in Spain and England, but not Germany.
It's hardly original but Bayern are my soccer pick to win it. They've replaced Mandzukic with a more prolific striker in Lewandowski, and despite losing Toni Kroos, still have a squad packed with world class talent, a manager who knows how to win the Champions League and a momentum from Germany winning the World Cup that will permeate through the nation's biggest club.
Barcelona profited from Spain's international dominance and I fear they may also falter slightly due to the country's failure in Brazil. When I say failure, I'm not saying they won't make it out of the group stage, because they have got Messi, Suarez and Neymar, but when it gets tough in the knockout stages, I think they may be found wanting.
Chelsea are just ahead of Manchester City in the betting, but I'd go the other way and suggest the Mancunians will go further. Chelsea have a better squad and I think the London Blues will win the Premier League, because that will be their main focus. City have won the title twice now and, while it won't be boring, it's time to progress in the best club Cup competition in the world. They have been unlucky with their group and knockout draws so far, so a bit of luck would help when they pull those balls out. I think they will go better than the round of 16 and once they're in the quarter finals, they're very capable of getting to the final. Here's my key reason why I like City's chances: they have strengthened defensively and strong defensive teams do very well in this competition. Add to that their stellar strikers who can get goals with few chances and that is a good recipe for success. They are also resting their World Cup stars at the start of the Premier League season. When they have had their pre-season and get to match fitness it'll be in time for the group stages and they should be a month fresher than others come the knockouts.
Top Goal Scorers
As I've already mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo has been top scorer for the last two seasons, Lionel Messi was the leading marksmen for the previous three seasons, so I've got to pick one of those two right? Wrong.
I'm going with Robert Lewandowski. He scored 10 goals in Dortmund’s run to the final in 2012/13 and has 17 Champions League goals in 28 appearances. Everyone knows he can score goals and now he is in an even better team, who I think will be in the final come May 2015.
I've identified a couple of points worth noting when placing your top goal scorer bets. The final has produced two of the three top scorers in three of the last five years. Also for each way punters, eight is the magic number. Only in 2011/12 did the third best score more than eight.
Obviously all of the above depends on signings, injuries, the draw and so on, but it’s well worth having a scout around to see what value is around before draws are made. Now I’m off to start cleaning the kitchen!