The first legs of all eight champions league ties are in the books. Manchester City holds the title of betting favorite, with 18/5 odds to win the competition. They hold this position by a pretty wide margin over Barcelona whose odds are 5/1. After one 4-0 and two 5-0 shutouts, why is there such an odds disparity between City and 12/1 Liverpool? And who is the true favorite to win the competition?
The first and probably most obvious reason for City’s short odds is their performance in the Premier League. They have dominated the world’s most visible competition with an English spin on Pep Guardiola’s classic possession-first, tiki-taka soccer. Kevin De Bruyne has probably influenced more play than any other player this season, and has 14 PL and four CL assists to show for it. Sergio Aguero is having yet another career season with 25 goals in those two competitions.
Manchester City showed in their 4-0 victory over Basel that they will not be an early exit like last season. Their constant attack wore the Basel defense down quickly and led to four goals from three different scorers. The Citizens kept 74 percent of possession and their unrelenting pressure could continue to wear down teams for a deep run.
But teams who go far in this tournament usually have a history of deep runs. Real Madrid are twice defending champions and have won three of the last four competitions. Barcelona has won three titles since 2008. The other two recent champions, Chelsea and Bayern Munich, also usually go deep in the tournament. Only one English club has won a CL title since 2009, and Manchester City has only advanced to the semifinals once.
Real Madrid may only be the fourth favorite in the books, but with their pedigree they cannot be overlooked. Zinedine Zidane’s team have had a hard go of it in La Liga, sitting 17 points adrift of Barcelona. They did the double (Champions League and La Liga) last season, but their two other CL titles came in relative down years domestically. The most successful team in this competition is built to win it.
Real Madrid have also been hampered by injuries this season. The long season that comes with deep Champions League runs took its toll and jeopardized their chances in La Liga. Seven players in the starting 11 against PSG on the 14th have missed at least four matches with an injury this season. However, they are now close to full strength and have almost the same team that won the Champions League last season.
Losing their group to an upstart Tottenham team was also a bit embarrassing. After so much Spring 2017 glory, Real Madrid had one of the worst Autumns in their recent history. But they already look back to themselves in the knockout stage. Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace and a powerful shot from Marcelo led to a 3-1 lead. They also won the match over a terrific PSG team that won all but one Champions League Group Stage match and won their group on aggregate head-to-head over late Champions league regular Bayern Munich.
Los Blancos still have a return leg in Paris, but they have all but sealed qualification to the quarterfinals. Out of contention in both La Liga and Copa del Rey, Zinedine Zidane’s men have one competition to focus on that will likely save the legend’s job.
Real Madrid have proven over the last two seasons that they can defeat any team they come up against. Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City may lead their leagues. But none of these teams advanced beyond the quarterfinals last season. Real Madrid have proven that they have the potent attack, stellar defense, and fight to win three two-legged knockout rounds and a one game final. Zidane and his men know the task at hand and what it takes. Don’t be surprised if they lift the trophy in May.
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