Last week we took a look at the opening games for the UEFA Champions League 2018-19 campaign, kicking off Tuesday, September 18 with 8 games featuring the clubs in groups A, B, C, and D. Matchday 1 of 6 concludes Wednesday, September 19 with games between teams in groups E, F, G, and H. If you are a fan of European football these two days are like Christmas and Christmas Eve, so make plans to find a way to either be in front of your television or set that DVR to ensure you don’t miss any of the action! This week we preview the second half of games played on 9/19 to make sure you know the true prime gifts from the white elephant imposters to avoid. (NOTE: the First team listed is the home team, times eastern)
Group E – Ajax (NED) vs AEK Athens (GRE), 12:55 pm
These two playoff qualifiers face off in Amsterdam to get the day started, and Ajax looks to be the clear-cut favorites to bag the full points. AEK is a nice story of a club that faced horrible financial problems in 2013 and has just recently risen from the ashes of self-regulation, so any points they can win for their faithful will be seen as a major victory. In Group E, however, if they don’t do it against Ajax the fans will go wanting.
Group E – Benfica (POR) vs Bayern Munich (GER), 3:00 pm
Benfica, in my opinion, drew the most favorable road to dates in the second round when their ball plopped into the Group E fishbowl. A quality side leading the competitive Portuguese Primeira Liga, the Eagles are a proud outfit making their 39th appearance in Europe’s top flight competition. They will have no problem handling Ajax and AEK in future weeks, but Matchday 1 brings a visit from Bayern Munich. Bayern. Munich. Enough said. Sometimes you are the fish that eats, and sometimes you can’t hide in the ocean.
Group F – Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) vs Hoffenheim (GER), 12:55 pm
This is the game I am most looking forward to watching this opening Matchday. The Ukrainians are historically fearless in European play, always advancing and causing headaches for the finest teams in the UCL. I would think this year’s high-scoring Donetsk will be no different, and Hoffenheim is my sleeper team to advance to the Quarterfinals – the Bundesliga upstarts gave Bayern Munich all they could handle in a game this August, and there is always a shock to shake things up early. Shakhtar is favored, but I am rolling with Hoffenheim here…and beyond.
Group F – Manchester City (ENG) vs Lyon (FRA), 3:00 pm
On paper, this is a walk in the park for the Citizens at home versus Lyon. After all, City is the opening favorite to win the entire tournament, they are loaded with names from Aguero to Fernandinho to Sterling, and they are managed by the mercurial Pep Guardiola. Yet, there are signs of humanity following an EPL draw versus Wolves and a narrow victory over Newcastle – so don’t overlook Lyon’s chances to at least nab a share of the points. After all, Lyon is a veteran squad led by the superstar nobody talks about in Memphis Depay, so City may want to check for English rain before spreading out the picnic blanket and tea set Wednesday afternoon.
Group G – Real Madrid (ESP) vs Roma (ITA), 3:00 pm
The cream of Group G faces off to get the UCL started on Wednesday, and the biggest upset of 2018/19 will be if both do not advance after group play. Madrid is at home and is the Kings of Europe three seasons in a row, but they are going to be coming off a tough game on the road versus rivals Atletico Madrid in La Liga. Roma could take advantage but they will be without star Javier Pastore, according to numerous reports. So Madrid is the slam dunk, right? Maybe not so easy, but the three points will indeed go to Los Blancos.
Group G – Viktoria Plzen (CZE) vs CSKA Moscow (RUS), 3:00 pm
Two of the tournament’s biggest longshots face off with the knowledge that the loser is likely already out of the race for second round play. The winner, however, at least has hope as they graduate to games against Madrid and Roma in coming weeks. A draw basically dooms both, so I look for both sides to come out wide open in this game that is as much a coin flip as any on Matchday 1. A fun game to watch, a nightmare to predict; but I will go with CSKA on a hunch.
Group H – Valencia (ESP) vs Juventus (ITA), 3:00 pm
Just how much does Cristiano Ronaldo mean to Juventus? While his worth on the pitch has yet to be determined, in the minds of the public the 33-year-old megastar is enough to make the Italian side the second choice to win the entire Champions League. Without him, they are the ninth or tenth choice at best – in order for Juve backers to cash, a win against Valencia is almost a must first step toward a date in Madrid on June 1, 2019. The home Bats have stumbled out of the gate this season but will look to make a stand in front of the raucous Mestalla faithful.
Group H – Young Boys (SUI) vs Manchester United (ENG), 3:00 pm
Quick – name two players from the Swiss side….no? Me neither, but a quick search shows this Young Boys squad a dominant leader in the Swiss Super League, winning 6 of 6 with a +15 goal differential. Impressive, but they are being visited by Man U….yes, that Manchester United, and even with recent EPL drama weighing the Red Devils down, the Young Boys will be too green to romp against one of Europe’s elite.
Next week we will recap all the games from Matchday 1. In the meantime, I am again listing the opening odds for each team to win the UCL 2018/19 (as provided by Bovada through Oddssharks). Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment or hit me up @DitonEdwards to talk some UEFA Champions League or soccer in general. Merry Football Christmas!
Manchester City +450
Paris Saint-Germain +700
Real Madrid +800
Bayern Munich +900
Atletico Madrid +1200
Tottenham Hotspur +2000
Manchester United +2500
AS Roma +5000
Inter Milan +5000
Borussia Dortmund +6600
Schalke 04 +10000
FC Porto +10000
FC Porto +10000
FC Shakhtar Donetsk +20000
CSKA Moscow +25000
Lokomotiv Moscow +25000
PSV Eindhoven +25000
Club Brugge +50000
FC Viktoria Plzen +50000
AEK Athens +50000
Young Boys FC +100000
Odds as of August 31 at Bovada, Courtesy of Oddssharks