Beginning with three knockout qualifying rounds in July before most domestic European leagues have even laced their boots, the UEFA Champions League is quickly whittled down to 32 elite teams who compete for the most coveted annual crown on the continent.
Heralded as the most elite club football tournament on the planet, it's no surprise the Champions League is one of the most highly bet events each year with millions of eyes turned to each match.
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Picking a tournament winner is no mean feat. Since it was founded in 1952, 22 teams have triumphed, and even since its rebranding in 1992 there have been 13 different winners. In fact, the UEFA Champions League is so competitive that no team has retained the title since AC Milan won in 1989 and 1990.
Between 2005 and 2015, the winner has come from either Spain, England, Germany or Italy; and six of the last nine winning managers had already won the competition – several with different clubs.
Over the past two decades, 80% of winners were either winners or runners-up in their domestic league during the preceding season. Interestingly though, every Champions League winner between 2012 and 2015 had finished runners-up in the preceding domestic season: so it seems talent and hunger is a useful combination.
If you’re not quite ready to pick a tournament winner, backing a team to reach the final, or to exit at a specific stage of the tournament, can be a better way to capitalise on your knowledge.
Unlike domestic leagues, deciding on who will score the most goals in the Champions League comes down to two key factors: weak opposition in the group stages and the potential for the team to progress.
Sometimes this means backing the big names, but surprises aren't uncommon. For example, in 2014/15 Luiz Adriano of Shakhtar Donetsk (who went out to Bayern Munich in the last 16, losing 7-0 on aggregate) finished just one goal behind joint top scorers Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar. An each-way bet on underdog Adriano would have paid out handsomely.
With fewer teams involved in each group, betting in the group winner market and backing teams to qualify (or not) have far fewer variables than the tournament market on the whole. As a result, odds will be slightly lower, but you have a good chance of earning small, regular returns.
If you think you’ve spotted a particularly divided group, or a striker who could surprise, but perhaps not last the distance to finish as top goal scorer in the tournament, many online gambling sites also allow you to bet on group and team top goal scorers.
The group stages are also better indicators of the ultimate winner than you may think. The last eight Champions League winners (up to and including 2014/2015) all won their groups on their way to the final, so don’t be afraid to make bold predictions based on success early on.
Individual match betting in the UEFA Champions League also has a distinct flavour. As well as assessing the usual mix of form, strengths, weaknesses and strategy, there are additional considerations to factor in.
Talk of a ‘Champions League hangover’ dominates domestic leagues following midweek Champions League fixtures, and there can be no doubt that this factors into managers' calculations. With key matches approaching in domestic leagues, you may want to consider whether a manager will rest his best players players: particularly against weaker opposition. This can have an effect on numerous markets, from the final result to more specific markets, including total goals scored.
Once the tournament reaches the knockout phases, match tactics are also affected by the fact that matchups are contested over two legs. Reluctance to concede away goals, the advantage of playing the home leg first and the need to overcome aggregate scores should all be factored into gamblers’ betting strategies.
If you’re considering betting on the Champions League, the chances are you’ll want to get right into the action. In-play betting is the best way to do just that. When betting on player markets, such as first, last, or next goal scorer, it’s worth tracking a player’s domestic form to see if there’s been a dip since their last Champions League outing.
On the broader markets, tracking the ebb and flow of a game is vital. Watch for key changes like cards, substitutions and changing formations, which can give an indication that a team is about to switch up their game. Live statistics, shown in the in-play betting console of top gambling sites like Coral, are also vital in obtaining an objective overview and monitoring tricky stats.
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