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Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Atletico Madrid and Barcelona look like a rock-solid double

Napoli could fall short against Liverpool and PSG

Barcelona fans at the International Champions Cup
1 of 1

Group A
Atletico Madrid made a mess of last term's Champions League campaign and they have also started La Liga in shoddy fashion this season, but they should still justify odds-on favouritism.

Missing out to Chelsea and Roma did not read too badly anyway as the Italians reached the semi-finals, while Diego Simeone's side gained some compensation by reigning supreme in the Europa League.

Atletico have already beaten Real Madrid in the European Super Cup and are capable of reaching a level beyond their chief group rivals Borussia Dortmund and Monaco, while Club Brugge booked for bottom spot.

The Dortmund-Monaco tussles will bring back memories of their 2017 quarter-final clash which was postponed for 24 hours following a bomb attack on the Borussia team bus which injured Marc Bartra.

Both sides have changed plenty since then and Monaco, who finished bottom of their Champions League group last season, have been harder hit by the departures of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho and more besides.

Dortmund have not been at their fluent best in this season's Bundesliga but the arrival of Axel Witsel and Thomas Delaney has made them a more reliable defensive unit.

Brugge have never qualified for the Champions League knockout stages and the teams look set to finish in market order.

Recommendation
Atletico (1-2) & Barcelona (4-7)
1pt double Coral, Ladbrokes

Group B
Few teams can match Barcelona's brilliance when it comes to finishing top of their Champions League group. The five-time European winners have won their section in each of the last 11 seasons and they can do so again.

This group will be trickier than most with Tottenham and Inter capable opponents while Dutch champions PSV Eindhoven could pick up points after maintaining the services of Hirving Lozano.

However, last season Barca breezed past Juventus, a team who subsequently eliminated Tottenham at the last-16 stage and the Old Lady also finished 23 points ahead of Inter in Serie A.

Barca, with Lionel Messi at the heart of all their best work, have started their La Liga title defence with 12 points from four matches and are consistently able to perform at this level having reached 11 straight Champions League quarter-finals.

Spurs overcame Real Madrid in last season's group stage, although the eventual champions were in a mess at the time, and Mauricio Pochettino's team have already suffered defeats to Watford and Liverpool in the Premier League.

Inter have also started slowly, with defeats to Sassuolo and Parma, and may be at a disadvantage to Spurs, who head to Barcelona on matchday six.

Recommendation
Atletico (1-2) & Barcelona (4-7)
1pt double Coral, Ladbrokes

Group C
Napoli have brought in triple European Cup-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti in a bid to improve on their average Champions League record but they could fall short in a hot section alongside Paris St-Germain and Liverpool.

This will be Napoli's fifth Champions League attempt in the last eight years, reaching the last 16 twice but never going further, and Ancelotti's arrival may actually be a problem as the team move away from the style of play adopted by former boss Maurizio Sarri.

Napoli have a lively front three to choose from with Lorenzo Insigne, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens and Arkadiusz Milik jostling for the forward positions, but it is nowhere near the standard set by their chief rivals for two qualifying spots.

Paris St-Germain are built to attack with Neymar and Kylian Mbappe either side of Edinson Cavani and Liverpool's forward line of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino set the competition alight last season, scoring ten goals each.

Ancelotti's team look booked for third place and a journey to the Europa League. Red Star Belgrade are a dominant domestic force in Serbia but a long way out of their depth. They were outplayed by Salzburg in the last of their four qualifying successes.

Recommendation
Napoli to finish third
1pt 4-5 Sky Bet

Group D
From the group of death to the group of life and this shocking section of weak outfits looks at the mercy of Porto, who at least come with some European pedigree in recent campaigns.

No team have played in the Champions League more often than Porto, who are at this level for the 23rd time, and they have progressed through to the last 16 in three of their last four attempts.

The Portuguese champions suffered a surprise defeat to Vitoria Guimaraes early in the season but they remain a dangerous outfit with Hector Herrera and Yacine Brahimi in their ranks.

Top seeds Lokomotiv surprised many by claiming the Russian title last season but they have failed to build on that, winning only twice in seven league matches this season.

They also lost the Russian Super Cup to CSKA Moscow and don't appear to have strengthened to make an assault on Europe. 

Schalke were fortunate to sneak second in last term's Bundesliga and have regressed in this campaign with just two goals and no points on the board in their opening three league fixtures following the key departure of Leon Goretzka to Bayern Munich.

If Schalke don't wake up sharpish Galatasaray, who are scoring for fun in Turkey, could even push them for qualification.

Recommendation
Porto
1pt 17-10 Betfair


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Five-time European winners Barcelona have won their section in each of the last 11 seasons
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