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Who can challenge Real Madrid for the Champions League this season?

Source: Real Madrid official Twitter page

The 2016-17 Champions League campaign was one of the best and most exciting in recent years. Real Madrid won it for the second season in a row and did so quite comfortably. Zinedine Zidane’s side failed to finish top of their group, but they overcame Napoli, Bayern Munich, and Atletico Madrid in the knockout stages with relative ease before hammering Juventus in the final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

There were some great matches in the knockout stages in the competition last season, such as Manchester City winning 5-3 at home against AS Monaco and losing 3-1 away, Barcelona suffering a 4-0 away loss against Paris Saint-Germain before overcoming the French giants 6-1 at Camp Nou, and Madrid getting the better of Bayern Munich 4-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The 2017-18 Champions League season is in its early stages, but the signs are already there for the campaign to be as good, if not better than the previous season. The big teams, such as Bayern Munich, PSG, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, and Madrid all won their opening game in the group stage, while teams such as Besiktas, Sporting Lisbon and CSKA Moscow’s performances have been encouraging enough to suggest that there could be surprises in store as the season progresses.

The big question on everyone’s mind in regard to the winners of the Champions League this season is whether Madrid can make it thrice in a row. As unlikely as it may sound, one should not forget that Zidane’s side created a record last season by winning the most prestigious club competition in the world back-to-back, and they are very much capable of setting another record.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Madrid are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the Champions League yet again this season. The Spanish giants’ odds of lifting the trophy at the Olimpiyskiy National Sports Complex in Kiev in May are 4/1. Given the start that Los Blancos have made – they beat Cypriot side Apoel Nicosia 3-0 at the Bernabeu on Matchday 1 – and the players they have, it would not be a bad idea to sign up to some of the websites listed on Oddschecker.com and take advantage of the free bets on offer by wagering on the Spanish club to go all the way.

Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored twice against Apoel, is as good as ever and should win the Ballon d’Or this year again, while Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale are stunning players. Isco has established himself as one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, while Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane are arguably the best center-back pairing on the planet.

Madrid, though, are not going to find it plain sailing in the Champions League this season. Although one would expect them to progress to the last 16 as Group H winners, Los Blancos are going to find it tough in the knockout rounds. English teams have struggled to make an impact in the Champions League over the past few seasons, but things could change this time around.

Source: Neymar official Twitter page

Manchester City have one of the best squads in the world, and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager who has won the competition with Barcelona before. Manchester United have a very balanced squad, and one should be surprised if they go all the way in the tournament playing effective football. Then there is Chelsea, who have a strong squad with serial winners in Alvaro Morata and Eden Hazard.

Barcelona have Lionel Messi and will always be a threat in the Champions League. The Blaugrana have been disappointing in Europe in recent years, and they must still be smarting by the way they were knocked out by Juventus last season having almost miraculously got past PSG in the previous round. Juventus themselves will consider themselves among the favourites for the title, and so will PSG.

PSG have dominated in France in recent years, but the Parisian club have failed to make inroads into Europe. Just like Premier League outfit Manchester City, the Ligue 1 side have long wanted to win the Champions League. After all, until and unless a club have lifted Europe’s most premier club trophy, they cannot truly be considered among the elites. PSG spent a lot of money in the summer transfer window, splashing out as much as £200 million to sign Neymar from Barcelona. The Brazil international forward has hit the ground running at PSG, and the 25-year-old will have to be on top of his game for Unai Emery’s side to create history this season.

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Who will challenge Leeds United for automatic promotion from the Championship?

Source: Hadi Sacko official Twitter page

The Championship is one of the most competitive and rigorous domestic football leagues in the world, and the 2017-18 campaign is shaping up to be one of the best in recent years. The second tier of English football is replete with historic and big clubs, and it would take a brave man to predict the winners of the title this season. Leeds United, Sheffield Wednesday, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Middlesbrough all are the in the mix; in fact, even Cardiff City will fancy their chances of automatic promotion given the start they have made.

It’s early days in the 2017-18 Championship season, but the signs are looking very promising for Leeds. Not only have the Whites played the best football in the division so far this season, but they have also been defensively solid. Just three goals conceded in eight league fixtures underline the great partnership Pontus Jansson and Liam Cooper have forged at the back for the West Yorkshire outfit. Then there is Felix Wiedwald, a goalkeeper who has experience of playing top-flight football in Germany with Werder Bremen and who has been brilliant for the Whites so far this season.

Leeds may have lost New Zealand international striker Chris Wood to Premier League club Burnley in the summer transfer window, but they are not missing the 25-year-old at the moment. Pierre-Michel Lasogga, signed on a season-long loan deal from Hamburg in the summer transfer window, has hit the ground running, while there have been goals from players such as Stuart Dallas, Kemar Roofe, Samuel Saiz and Kalvin Phillips. It seems that this season under head coach Thomas Christiansen, who was appointed in his role in the summer following the departure of Garry Monk (who is now in charge of Championship rivals Middlesbrough), the team’s policy is to not to rely on one particular player to score the bulk of the goals but to spread them across several players.

Source: Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s official Twitter page

Given the start that Leeds have made and their current league position, it is not hard to understand why they are 8/13 to finish in the top six this season according to the latest Championship betting odds on bet365.com. However, interestingly, it is Wolverhampton Wanderers who are bookmaker’s top favourites to win the Championship title with odds of 5/2 in their favour. Middlesbrough, who got relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, are third favourites with odds of 6/1 despite not having made a great start to the season.

One team that punters could wager some decent money on is Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls have finished in the top six of the Championship for the past two seasons, and they do have the squad and the mentality to launch yet another challenge for the playoffs. Carlos Carvalhal’s side seem to have recovered from their slow start to the season, and it is only a matter of time before they get into their full rhythm. Given the experience that the likes of Barry Bannan, Keiren Westwood, Gary Hooper and Tom Lees have in the Championship, placing a bet on them to finish in the top two would not be a bad idea, especially as the odds are enticing enough at 7/1.

 

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September 2017 Pro Predictions

September 2017 Soccer predictions from World Football Leagues

03.09.2017

FROSINONE – CITTADELLA – home win – 1.95

ASCOLI – PRO VRCELLI – home win – 2.25    total odds: 4.39

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04.09.2017

ATVIDABERG – VERNAMO – over 2.5 – 1.75

SALERNITANA – TERNANA – over 2.5 – 2.25   total odds 3.93

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