We are less than a month away from the opening 2021/22 UEFA Champions League group stages, with the final few places now being decided in the final qualifying round of the competition.
As ever, the Champions League remains the biggest competition in Europe and the biggest prize for club sides on the continent to claim. Once again, the usual suspects will all be in the frame to win the competition and there are two outstanding favourites in the big-spending Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Both sides have had incredible transfer windows, with the Ligue 1 giants acquiring Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Gini Wijnaldum and Achraf Hakimi. Meanwhile, City have already signed Jack Grealish for £100m and remain in hot pursuit of Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Harry Kane.
Those two are clearly the standouts coming into the new season, but they will undoubtedly face stiff competition from a number of other sides. Reigning champions Chelsea will certainly have a big say in the matter, while Bayern Munich, Liverpool and Manchester United will also be contenders.
Noise surrounding La Liga rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid remains particularly quiet for their own standards with many believing each are not as powerful as they once were.
However, when it comes to true outsiders – at least if the oddsmakers are to be believed – there are some quality teams that will fancy their chances of making noise in the competition. The Champions League features the elite of European football and any team wanting to progress will be tested heavily along the way.
That is why we have identified three dark horses for the Champions League this season. If you are interested in betting on this season’s competition then be sure to head over to Max Free Bets first. They are your one-stop resource for all of the best betting offers and free bets from the UK’s best betting sites, online bookmakers and betting apps. Get the best value on Champions League bets!
1. Atletico Madrid – 25/1
Despite winning La Liga last season, Atletico Madrid are priced at bigger odds than both Real Madrid and Barcelona to win the Champions League this season. Diego Simeone’s men finished two and five points ahead of Madrid and Barca respectively and conceded just 25 goals in 38 matches as they went on to be crowned champions of Spain. They have retained the key men from their title-winning season and have also added Rodrigo De Paul and Matheus Cunha to their ranks as they look to compete on multiple fronts this term.
Atletico were knocked out of last season’s Champions League by eventual winners Chelsea and will want to give a better account of themselves than they did against Thomas Tuchel’s side. Led by Joao Felix and Luis Suarez in attack, there are plenty of goals in this team along with their renowned defensive stability that has become a trademark of their success under Simeone. Atletico aren’t always pretty on the eye but you can guarantee their effectiveness and the ability to get under the skin of whoever they are facing. Beaten finalists 2014 and 2016, the Champions League is the only major honour that has escaped Simeone’s grasp during his 10 years in charge.
2. Borussia Dortmund – 50/1
Borussia Dortmund finished third in the Bundesliga last season, finishing just a point behind runners-up RB Leipzig in the table. They are now under the tutelage of new manager Marco Rose, who has enjoyed successful spells at Red Bull Salzburg and Borussia Monchengladbach – though the latter came to a disappointing end after announcing he was heading for Dortmund in February. Despite selling Jadon Sancho, Dortmund still have a strong squad that is spearheaded by one of the most promising talents in world football in Erling Haaland. Haaland scored a hugely impressive 41 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions last season and has netted 57 goals in 59 appearances in his first season-and-a-half.
That includes 10 goals in eight Champions League games last season and having guaranteed goals in your side can only boost their chances. No team will want to see Dortmund and Haaland over two games in the knockout stages and they have also strengthened in the transfer market by adding Gregor Kobel and Donyell Malen to their ranks.
They join an exciting young squad that features huge prospects in Jude Bellingham, Giovanni Reyna and Youssoufa Moukoko. If Dortmund can click and reach the level that they are capable of they could easily make a deep run in this competition. They were beaten in the quarter-finals last season by eventual runners-up Manchester City 4-2 on aggregate and had some unfortunate decisions go against them, including a harshly ruled out Bellingham goal at the Etihad. That highlighted that this team has the capability of competing with the top sides in Europe and look a big price at 50/1.
3. AC Milan – 66/1
AC Milan fans will be chomping at the bit for the return of the Champions League with this being their first appearance in the competition since the 2013/14 season. They were eliminated in the round of 16 on that occasion and it sparked a barren spell for the club during which they added just one Italian Supercup to their trophy collection. However, the 2020/21 season proved to be a turning point for Milan as they finished second in Serie A and ahead of perennial champions Juventus.
They can thank Zlatan Ibrahimovic in large part for their success after he scored 15 goals in just 19 league appearances as injuries prevented him from playing in half of their matches. Though Gianluigi Donnarumma is a big loss for the team, they have signed Mike Maignan as his replacement, as well as turning the loan deals for Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali permanent. Additionally, they have signed Olivier Giroud and Fode Ballo-Toure, as well as Alessandro Florenzi and Brahim Diaz on loan.
Milan were outstanding away from home last season in Serie A and that will likely leave them as one of the most disappointed teams at the removal of the away goals rule from the Champions League knockout stages. They may not be the force they were 15 years ago, but Milan carry huge prestige in this competition having won it seven times and will be a big draw as they make their return.