Champions League 2018/19: Are you ready for the big kick-off?

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Will Real Madrid win a fourth consecutive Champions League?
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It's possible that, amid all the World Cup excitement, you might have forgotten that the first qualifying round of the Champions League is about to get underway. So here's Max Liu with a quick reminder of the fixtures taking place this week...

"Manchester City [6.6] are favourites in the tournament winner market, ahead of the likes of current holders Real Madrid [8.2] and Barcelona [7.8]."

Across Tuesday and Wednesday, fixtures of enormous significance will be played by teams who know that a lot is riding on how they perform. The hopes and dreams of millions are carried by those lucky enough to be walking out in their teams' colours, and the winners will be those who handle the high stakes with the most aplomb.

I'm talking of course about the first round of Champions League 2018/19 which kicks off this week, even while the World Cup semi-finals are taking place in Russia. The likes of FC Astana from Kazakhstan and Spartaks Jurmala of Latvia are among those who will be starting on the long road to glory in Europe's most prestigious competition.

Across the furthest reaches of European football, it promises to be two nights of dry pitches, circling midges and maybe, just maybe, some quality play from rare talents.

Celtic expected to cruise through first round tie

In recent years, Celtic have played the likes of Barcelona and Juventus in the Champions League. On Tuesday night, however, they face a different kind of assignment as Brendan Rogers takes his team to Armenia to play Alashkert.

The Scottish Champions are [1.31] to win the first leg of their tie. Alashkert, though, are the champions of the Armenian Premier League and shouldn't be taken lightly. The second leg will be played at Celtic Park the following Wednesday.

The other famous club involved in this round are Crvena Zvezda, aka Red Star Belgrade. They're expected to win their first leg away to the aforementioned Spartaks Jurmala on Wednesday.

Bettors back City to win first Champions League in 2018/19

The Champions League proper gets underway with September's Group stages. That's when the current giants of European football enter the mix and, an early look at the betting, makes good reading for fans of the English Premier League champions.

Manchester City [6.6] are favourites in the tournament winner market, ahead of the likes of current holders Real Madrid [8.2] and Barcelona [7.8].

Last season, City were outclassed over two legs by eventual runners-up Liverpool, but bettors believe that this time Pep Guardiola's team will be ready to go all the way. It will be fascinating to find out, but there's a long way to go yet, as the likes of Celtic know all too well.

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