Let’s look at the current state of the five major European leagues along with the renowned UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League and make some soccer picks.
It’s About Time We had Some Decent Football League Races in Europe
American Football came to an end on Sunday when the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, so European Football will now be in the spotlight in the rest of the Winter and the Spring as the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League both resume play and the five major European soccer leagues all determine their champions. And at this point in early February, it looks like only France’s Ligue 1 has been decided as we finally have some decent title races in Spain’s La Liga, the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A and Germany’s Fußball-Bundesliga, although the latter is only relatively close on paper (or your tablet) and it’s probably just a (small) matter of Time until the mighty Bavarians Bayern Munich wrap up another league championship.
Whereas the US has the NFL with the Super Bowl being its biggest game annually, Europe has both the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, which also pare down to one highly visible final championship game. The two UEFA Champions League (2-Leg) Semifinal (April 26-May 4) winners will meet in this year’s 61st UEFA Champions League final scheduled to be held on Saturday, May 28 at the historic San Siro Stadium in Milan, Italy (FOX, 2:45 p.m. EST/11:45 a.m. PST) while the UEFA Europa League finals are scheduled to be held 10 days earlier on Wednesday, May 18 at the St. Jakob-Park in Basel, Switzerland (20:45 CEST—2:45 p.m. EST/11:45 a.m. PST). Let’s take a quick odds-oriented look at where the two major tournaments and five major European football leagues are right now and provide some value- and time-oriented soccer picks for our website readership where they seem warranted.
Best Odds to Win UEFA Champions League
Barcelona +254 (888sport)
Bayern Munich +284 (888sport)
Real Madrid +550 (888sport)
Atlético Madrid +1400 (Sky Bet)
Paris Saint-Germain +1400 (Boylesports)
Manchester City +1400 (888sport)
Chelsea +2500 (bet365)
Juventus +3300 (at William Hill)
Arsenal +4000 (888sport)
Wolfsburg +6000 (888sport)
Zenit Saint Petersburg +10,000 (888sport)
AS Roma +12,500 (Ladbrokes)
Benfica +12,500 (Ladbrokes)
PSV Eindhoven +15,000 (888sport)
Dynamo Kiev +50,000 (Sportingbet)
Gent +50,000 (32Red)
UEFA Champions League
The Current Skinny: They begin the Round of 16 next Tuesday (Feb. 16) with Leg 1 matches between Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes in Paris, France (FS1, ESPN Deportes (US), BT Sport Europe (UK), [20.45] 2:45 p.m. EST/11:45 a.m. PST) and Benfica and Zenit Saint Petersburg at Estádio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal (FS2, Fox Deportes (US), BT Sport 2 (UK), [20.45] 2:45 p.m. EST/11:45 a.m. PST). But, quite honestly, there are some lackluster matchups in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 this year except maybe for a couple like Juventus-Bayern Munich and Arsenal-Barcelona. Logic says that Lionel Messi and defending holders Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Wolfsburg and the Zenit Saint Petersburg-Benfica winner will all advance to the Quarterfinals (April 5-13) where things should hopefully get a bit more interesting.
Sports Gambling Perspective: There has never been a repeat winner in the UEFA Champions League, but with the electric Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez, Barcelona has one of the best, if not the best, attacking trios in European football history and will be a very difficult club to beat in this prestigious tournament and it looks like the Catalans could make some history and become the first repeat champions. Banking on Barcelona—which plays Mesut Özi and English Premier League heavyweights Arsenal in this Round of 16—from this distance in a season when some of the bigger names clubs are showing some major flaws seems like a prudent strategy as the prices will never be better and backing Messi always seems like a wise thing.
UEFA Champions League Picks: Barcelona +137 to Reach Final (Coral); Luis Suárez Top Scorer 17/1 (Net Bet UK); Barcelona Highest Scoring Team +600 (BetVictor); Name the Semifinalists: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, 33/1 (Sky Bet); Name the Finalists: Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, 20/1 (Sky Bet); Paris Saint-Germain to Win Champions League 14/1 (32Red)
Best Odds to Win UEFA Europa League
Borussia Dortmund +700 (Sky Bet)
Liverpool +1200 (Paddy Power)
Manchester United +1200 (Paddy Power)
Napoli +1200 (BetVictor)
Sevilla +1400 (BetVictor)
Tottenham Hotspur +1800 (Paddy Power)
Valencia +2000 (Sportingbet)
FC Porto +2000 (William Hill)
Bayer Leverkusen +2500 (Matchbook)
Athletic Bilbao +2500 (Totesport)
Lazio +2500 (Sky Bet)
Villarreal +3000 (888sport)
FC Schalke +3500 (888sport)
Fiorentina +4000 (Matchbook)
Shakhtar Donetsk +4000 (Net Bet UK)
FC Basel +4000 (BetVictor)
Fenerbahçe +4500 (Matchbook)
Sporting Lisbon +5000 (888sport)
Olympiakos +5000 (Stan James)
Galatasaray +5000 (Totesport)
Marseille +6000 (888sport)
Braga +6000 (Unibet)
Saint-Étienne +6600 (Betfred)
Lokomotiv Moscow +7000 (Net Bet UK)
FK Krasnodar +8000 (William Hill)
Anderlecht +8000 (Coral)
Rapid Vienna +10,000 (888sport)
Augsburg +10,000 (888sport)
Sparta Prague +10,000 (888sport)
Sion +11,000 (Matchbook)
Molde +20,000 (BetVictor)
FC Midtjylland +30,000 (32Red)
UEFA Europa League
The Current Skinny: There are 32 clubs left right now in this Little Sister tournament but only about 10 have a legitimate shot of actually winning the Europa League which has been dominated by Spanish La Liga sides with Sevilla winning the last two seasons—and four times in the L10 years—and Spanish clubs winning 3 of the last 4 and 4 of the last 6 Europa League championships. The tournament resumes with Leg 1 matches next Thursday (Feb. 18) with Leg 2 games scheduled to be played on Thursday, February 25. Quarterfinal Leg 1’s will be played on Thursday, April 7 with Leg 2’s to be played on Thursday, May 14 with the Draw for the Quarterfinals Round being held on March 18. The Semifinals Leg will play its Leg 1 matches on Thursday, April 28 with the important Leg 2’s coming on Thursday, May 5 with the Draw for the Semifinals being held on May 5. So now you know.
Sports Gambling Perspective: As mentioned, Spanish sides have dominated in this tournament of late and seem like the only recommendation for Futures Bets, although José Callejón (Top Goalscorer 7/1, 32Red) and Italian side Napoli and German sides Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen may have something to say about that. But it seems that simply getting behind two-time defending champs and Europa League believers Sevilla and Kévin Gameiro, currently 4th-place La Liga club Villarreal and and Aritz Aduriz (Top Goalscorer 2/1, 888sport) and upstart Athletic Bilbao from this distance to try to create a future Hedging possibility—should one of these three Spanish sides (or two) makes the Final—seems like the best idea. Valencia and Harry Kane and Tottenham may surprise too, but outside of Chelsea’s win here three years ago, the EPL has done poorly in the Europa League and 2nd-place Spurs may want to use their energy more on capturing a coveted league crown as opposed to getting Europa silverware although Tottenham has performed very well in this tournament the last couple of years. League-mates Liverpool and Manchester United are bound to disappoint.
UEFA Europa League Picks: Sevilla 14/1 (BetVictor), Athletic Bilbao 25/1 (Totesport), Villarreal 30/1 (888sport)
Who’s in the Race? 1—Barcelona (13-3-2, 54 points), 2—Atlético Madrid (16-3-4, 51 points), 3—Real Madrid (15-5-3, 50 points), 4—Villarreal (13-6-4, 45 points)
Sports Gambling Perspective: Barcelona will probably end up winning La Liga with its troika of superstars and players like Andrés Iniesta, Gerard Piqué, Claudio Bravo, Ivan Rakitic and Arda Turan, among others. This team is as loaded as loaded gets in professional sports. But it is nice to see Atleti barking at the Catalans feet and with the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo (Top Goalscorer +110, bet365), 2013 UEFA Champions league winners Real Madrid are always a threat, especially with four more months left in the season. It’s rare that these three elite clubs have so many Losses at this point in the season, but playing Here, There and Everywhere takes its toll on teams and Spanish giants are not immune to the perils of Time, Travel, Injury and general Apathy. Villarreal (1,000 to win La Liga, bet365) is only 9 points behind Barça, but to leapfrog the Madridistas, Los Rojiblancos and Barcelona is like trying to outplay The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin in a Battle of the Bands. And although a good club and having an admirable season so far, the Yellow Submarine are no Pink Floyd.
Soccer Picks: Valencia -105 over Espanyol, Saturday (Betfred), Sevilla Top 6 Finish -350 (BetVictor)
Who’s in the Race? 1—Leicester City (15-8-2, 53 points), 2—Tottenham Hotspur (13-9-3, 48 points), 3—Arsenal (14-6-5, 48 points), 4—Manchester City (14-5-6, 47 points), 5—Manchester United (11-8-6, 41 points)
Sports Gambling Perspective: Big-name clubs Arsenal and Manchester City have been up-and-down this EPL season, but both the Gunners and the Sky Blues still have to worry about UEFA Champions League play (Arsenal faces Barcelona while Joe Hart and City face Ukrainian powerhouse Dynamo Kiev in the upcoming Round of 16) and the Travel and Time involved in that endeavor. Whereas Soccer odds makers are right to have these two favored so high as we approach the stretch run in this 38-match season, Jamie Vardy and 1st-place Leicester City and Dele Alli and 2nd-place Tottenham Hotspur are the real deal and have been much more consistent both of Offense and Defense to this point. So, can the Foxes or the Spurs actually win the Premier League and are they both worth a Futures shot right now? Yes and maybe. Leicester City just defeated Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Matchday 25, 3-1, and Spurs are right behind them in both the league table and in the Form Guide which sees Tottenham earning 13 points in its L6 games (DLWWWW). With GK Petr Cech, Arsenal is probably the team to beat despite City’s expensive and loaded Roster but the true potential value here lies in taking a shot on both promoted side Leicester City (+240 to win EPL, Matchbook) and Tottenham (5/1, bet365) to win the league is still advised although getting onboard these Futures Book trains about a month or two ago, as we advised here, would have been an even better and possibly more profitable idea. Markets are always moving.
Soccer Pick: Leicester City-Tottenham Hotspur Dual Forecast +650 (Paddy Power)
Who’s in the Race? 1—Bayern Munich (17-2-1, 53 points), 2—Borussia Dortmund (14-3-3, 45 points)
Sports Gambling Perspective: It may look like a close race on paper with Bayern Munich only 8 points above Marco Reus and Borussia Dortmund in the league table, but this league race is over with the Bavarians able to seemingly turn it on when they want and having just 1 Loss, Manuel Neuer as GK and allowing just 9 goals in early February. Typical Bayern lockdown Defense and although game Dortmund is hanging and Hertha Berlin, FC Schalke, Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Monchengladbach are all having quality seasons, the massive chasm between Bayern Munich—which has W3 straight Fußball-Bundesliga championships (and a record 26 overall)—and the rest of the league is still too much to make this league even worth looking at or playing in the Futures Book marketplace. Maybe one day, the rest of the clubs in this top-notch German football league will catch up with Bayern. But probably not. And being able get out to big leads in league play in the late Winter and early Spring gives Thomas Müller, Neuer and perennial powerhouse Bayern the ability to focus more on Champions League play, knowing another hard-earned German title is usually just a matter of being weeks away.
Who’s in the Race? 1—Napoli (17-5-2, 56 points), 2—Juventus (17-3-4, 54 points), 3—Fiorentina (14-4-6, 46 points), 4—Inter Milan (13-6-5, 45 points), 5—AS Roma (12-8-4, 44 points), 6—AC Milan (11-7-6, 40 points)
Sports Gambling Perspective: The European soccer league race with the most potential winners although the 8-point gap between the Old Lady (Juventus) in 2nd place and La Viola (Fiorentina) in 3rd place can’t be overlooked. So, likely defending champions Juventus (45 GF-15 GA) and GK Gianluigi Buffon rally and win this league title again or Gonzalo Higuaín and Napoli (53 GF-19 GA) hold on to the top spot and win Serie A. MF Lorenzo Insigne (10 goals), GK Pepe Reina and the Azzurri are for real, and, out of the Italian Cup, don’t be surprised if this club makes a run at both Serie A and UEFA Europa League silverware this calendar year.
Soccer Pick: Napoli to win Serie A +125 (BetVictor)
Who’s in the Race? 1—Paris Saint-Germain (22-3-0, 69 points)
Sports Gambling Perspective: With the best record overall record of all five of the major European Football (Soccer) leagues, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (21 goals), Edinson Cavani (11 goals) and Paris Saint-Germain (63 GF-12 GA) have run away with France’s Ligue 1 championship establishing a gaudy 24-point lead over AS Monaco (12-9-4, 45 points)—more of a points lead (over 2nd place) than all other four major European leagues have right now combined (18 points). Oh là là. And with all of the Stress of winning a league title far, far behind them, team Captain Thiago Silva, MF Ángel Di María and PSG can concentrate on going as far as possible in the Champions League tournament and for me, Les Rouge-et-Bleu (the Red and Blue) are the team to watch this year in Europe with other heavies slumping and caught up in their own drama. Nobody will want to draw PSG and the 6-5, 210-pound Ibrahimovic from this point on.
Soccer Picks: None
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 LEG 1 PICK: Paris Saint-Germain -133 over Chelsea
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE ROUND OF 32 LEG 1 PICK: Sevilla -1.75 -122 Asian Handicap over Molde