Man City - Pep's men look false favourites again
Another Champions League campaign; another scratching of the head why Man City should be joint-favourites at 9/25.7. Let's remind ourselves of their past record in the competition:
2019/20 - Lost in quarter-finals to Lyon
2018/19 - Lost in quarter-finals to Tottenham
2017/18 - Lost in quarter-finals to Liverpool
2016/17 - Lost in last 16 to Monaco
It's not even as if City are getting close. Pep won it with Barcelona but trying to prove his worth with a second success seems to be tying him in knots. Prior to City, he lost a trio of semi-finals with Bayern Munich so, despite all the domestic dominance, he can't get his way in Europe again.
Of course, it's easy to make a case for City winning it but the same reasons can be wheeled out ever year and it hasn't happened. Can they make the leap from losing quarter-finalists to winners in one season or will they first need a base camp season of a semi-final or final?
In theory, they'll have a stronger defence this time but it's got to that point where punters are thinking they'll somehow find a way to lose. With the accumulated disappointments that can get in a club's collective head (think PSG), the knee-jerk reaction is to think of them as a 'lay'.
Although that's probably best done after the first phase when they've cruised past Porto, Olympiacos and Marseille in Group C.
Liverpool - Fan return date casts doubt over Reds bid
While Man City have flattered to deceive in this competition, Liverpool have contested two of the last three finals, lifting the trophy against Spurs in the 2019 showpiece in Madrid. Before their defeat in the 2018 final to Real, they'd also prospered in the Europa League, going all the way again before losing to tournament specialists Sevilla when 1-0 up at half-time and with one hand on the trophy.
In short, six-time winners Liverpool have a huge European pedigree and Jurgen Klopp has tapped into it wonderfully. But, of course, part of the dynamic is the crowd. Cliche or not, European nights at Anfield are incredible occasions and it's preposterous to think that the Reds could have turned around a 3-0 first-leg defeat against Barcelona in the 2019 semis without their '12th man'.
However, with fans not allowed into English stadiums, Liverpool will have to plough on without that extra jolt of electricity and that could hurt them. The imponderable is that we don't know when that will change. It's fairly safe to say that there won't be supporters for the group games but if Liverpool go deep into the tournament, could their fans provide the added impetus for say the quarters and semis? The last eight games are scheduled for April 6 and 7, while the semis are on April 27 and 28.
Currently ranked third favourites at 6/17.00, Liverpool will certainly expect to be in the knockout phase again after being drawn with Atalanta, Ajax and Danish makeweights Midtjylland in Group D. Atalanta could cause some fun and games, especially in Italy, but Ajax aren't the side which could easily have been playing Klopp's men in the 2019 final.
In short, it's probably best to play a waiting game with Liverpool. Let them get through the group and then weigh up whether their fans will be back for the latter stages.
Chelsea - Blues may cause some surprises
While Manchester City and Liverpool occupy two of the first three spots in the betting, you'll need to scroll quite a way down to find the name of Chelsea. Frank Lampard's side are ranked joint-ninth favourites and on the evidence of their chastening 7-1 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich, that would seem about right.
However, let's not forget that Bayern went on to lift the trophy. After the Chelsea win, the Germans won their next two matches in the one-legged knockout phase by a combined 11-2. That included the astonishing 8-2 win over Barcelona and the 3-0 victory in the semis over Lyon. Yep, Bayern weren't a bad side.
Chelsea could have drawn a much easier team in the last 16 and then who knows what may have happened. Earlier in the tournament, they'd done well to come out of one of those 'three into two won't go' groups when finishing with 11 points alongside Valencia and a point ahead of Ajax. And, of course, the previous season they'd hoisted the Europa League trophy after cruising past Arsenal in the final.
The Blues won three European titles in the previous decade, including this competition in 2012, so don't have the monkey on the back carried by Man City and PSG. Boss Frank Lampard was part of that team and although the jury is still out he certainly has some weapons to go to war with after Chelsea's big summer spend. Timo Werner hasn't settled fully yet but reached the last four of last season's Champions League with Leipzig and there's always the feeling with the Stamford Bridge outfit that they're just good at winning trophies.
It's a huge leap to expect them to win this again but they should come through a Group E featuring Sevilla, Rennes and Krasnodar. Throw in a favourable draw in the last 16 and they have the potential to be a surprise package. Consider the Blues a decent back-to-trade option at 29/130.00.
Man Utd - Red Devils could struggle
Manchester United return to football's top table after going out in the semis of the Europa League to Sevilla last season. No shame in that although it's the second tier which seems more like their level for now in terms of actually lifting a trophy. They're 39/140.00 to win this.
United did somehow squeeze past PSG in the last 16 in 2018/19 before Barcelona put them to bed 4-0 on aggregate in the quarters. But they haven't been beyond the last eight since 2011 and that doesn't look like changing.
Indeed, there have to be genuine fears of a group exit after they were drawn against two sides who met in last year's semi-finals - PSG and Leipzig. The French outfit won that match before losing to Bayern in the final while Leipzig had shown their rise in stature by easily defeating Spurs (4-0 on aggregate) in the last 16 and then battling past Liverpool's conquerors, Atletico Madrid, in the quarters. United can be laid at 5/71.71 in the To Qualify market.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team are a strange team in that they can oscillate between sending their fans into despair and putting together streaks of results which suggests they're on the rise again. If the latter coincides with Champions League match days, they could potentially do some damage.
Another scenario sees Solskjaer not in charge by the knockout phase and Mauricio Pochettino riding in to do what he did with Spurs and take them to the final. I'm into the realms of enormous speculation with that and, in all honesty, United have too many medicore days to think they can be realistic challengers.