The long anticipation usually ends in mid-September when the UEFA Champions League returns to action after an intensive qualifying campaign over the summer months and the best 32 soccer teams in Europe all share a common goal – to reach the final match at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey on 30 May 2020.
This is the 65th season of Europe's premier club soccer competition organized by UEFA, and the 28th season since it was rebranded from the European Champion Clubs' Cup to the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool are the reigning champions after winning their sixth title on 1 June 2019, thanks to an effective display in the all-English Final against Tottenham Hotspur at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid.
Well, Madrid 2019 is already in the history books and the Champions League contenders will be enthusiastic to chase one of the two spots available for Istanbul 2020, which is just a few weeks before the upcoming European Championship.
Since the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage draw has already been made, we from Spooky Express offer a full breakdown and our thoughts on each group, plus our betting predictions on the upcoming campaign.
Group A: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Club Brugge, Galatasaray
In Group A we have two of the biggest spenders and consequently pretenders – Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid, alongside the Champions of Turkey – Galatasaray – as well as the Belgian runners-up Club Brugge.
PSG and Real Madrid will most likely snatch the top two spots here, unless we don't witness a shocking surprise, and they'll be in contention for the first place. Galatasaray and Club Brugge, however, won't give up without a proper fight and they'll both try to benefit of the schedule which meets the two giants in the first round.
Even if the two underdogs (Galatasaray and Club Brugge) fail to put the two favorites under pressure, they'll still be involved in a competition for the third spot which would extend one's European campaign to the Europa League knockout phase in 2020.
Group B: Bayern Munich, Tottenham Hotspur, Olympiacos, Red Star Belgrade
Bayern Munich were drawn from Pot 1 but the Bavarians will be challenged by the Champions League runners-up Tottenham Hotspurs, who will hope to build on after a memorable performance all the way to the final in Madrid.
Meanwhile, if we assume that their home games shouldn't be an issue, the two favorites will have two visits to the Balkans where the teams of Olympiacos and Red Star Belgrade, who both came through qualifying, will do their best to beat the odds.
We shouldn't forget that the Serbs (Red Star) were in the same group with Liverpool, Napoli and PSG in last season's group stage, and they lost only to PSG at home, beating Liverpool 2-0 and drawing 0-0 against Napoli.
Olympiacos, on the other hand, have a decent European history and have made it to the last 16 on six occasions (last in 2013-14), as well as reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 1998-99 when the Greeks lost 3-2 on aggregate to Juventus.
Group C: Manchester City, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, Atalanta
Coming after back-to-back Premier League titles, Pep Guardiola's Man City target the next objective which is the Champions League trophy. Despite all investments and big ambitions of the owners, the Citizens fail to leave a mark in Europe as they have reached the Champions League final four just once – in 2015-16 – and their last two attempts have been ceased by other English sides.
They're plotting another attempt and Manchester City are the main favorites of the bookies to win the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League (+325 @ BetOnline), according to the pre-tournament odds. Nevertheless, considering Aymeric Laporte's injury, Guardiola is surely pleased that City were drawn in an acceptable group where they can (or at least they should) easily outscore the other contenders.
Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb and the debutants Atalanta all have their hopes to claim the second spot, though the bookies are backing Italian Atalanta to finish second in Group C.
Group D: Juventus, Atletico Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Lokomotiv Moscow
The Bianconeri and Diego Simeone's Colchoneros (-160 and +165 respectively @ BetOnline) are favored to claim the top two spots here, though Bayer Leverkusen would pull their best effort to impress, while you simply cannot underestimate these long journeys to the Russian cold, which could be a massive advantage to Lokomotiv Moscow in their home games.
In fact, the first round matchup between Bayer Leverkusen and Lokomotiv Moscow will be an early test to their ability to challenge the two favorites in Group D, as either side could experience a blow if they lose the opening match before a run of three matches against Juventus and Atletico Madrid.
Group E: Liverpool, Napoli, RB Salzburg, Genk
Napoli will seek revenge for last season's failure when they have a second chance against a well-oiled Liverpool side, but this time there isn't a third side of PSG's quality, which makes their head-to-head matchups less decisive, yet important. These two sides are firm favorites to make it out of the group stage and everything else would be a massive upset to their ability.
The Red Bulls of Salzburg have finally joined the Champions League groups for the second time after numerous attempts over the past two decades and the Austrian Champions will have a wonderful opportunity to lock horns with the reigning champions Liverpool and Carlo Ancelotti's Napoli.
Genk have won the Belgian League for the fourth time in their history and in addition to the glorious happiness, The Smurfs will return to the Champions League and will face some of the most ambitious clubs across Europe. Their last Champions League appearance was in the 2011-12 group stage when Genk finished fourth in a group alongside Bayer Leverkusen, Valencia and Chelsea, yet they didn't lost a home game as all three ended in a draw.
Group F: Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, Slavia Prague
Barcelona (red hot favorites to win the group and one of the main favorites to win the competition) and Inter Milan are in the same group again and they have Borussia Dortmund instead of Tottenham Hotspur, who were next to them in last season's group stage. This won't make things easier, not at all, as we have a strengthened Dortmund side that will be keen to build on their last performance and coach Lucien Favre could be pleased with all the summer signings.
Mats Hummels returned to his former club Borussia Dortmund and the experienced German centre-back should add stability to their back line, while Nico Schulz's presence will improve their left-back. Furthermore, the arrival of both Thorgan Hazard and Julian Brandt will inevitably increase Dortmund's firepower and we will know more about it after matchday one when The Black and Yellows take on Barcelona.
Inter Milan suffered a setback, but also an important lesson, one year ago when they failed to beat an already eliminated PSV Eindhoven side at home and thereby dropped the second place which Tottenham Hotspur eventually scooped. Just imagine, the future runners-up would've been eliminated in the groups if The Nerazzurri were more clinical in a game everyone expected them to win.
Now, under Antonio Conte, Inter look stronger than in the last couple of years and the three-time champions will be keen to reach the knockout phase for the first time since 2011-12.
Slavia Prague is the fourth team in this group as the Czech Champions qualified for the Champions League group stage for the second time in their history. They'll hope to prove they're not pushovers here, though it would be extremely difficult to succeed in a group alongside Barcelona, Dortmund and Inter Milan.
To sum things up, the Catalans would probably finish on top, Dortmund and Inter Milan will compete for the second place, while every point would be a decent achievement to the Czech side.
Group G: Zenit Saint Petersburg, Benfica, Lyon, RB Leipzig
This is one of the balanced groups, with all four sides having their realistic hopes to reach the knockout phase and everything else would be considered a disappointment at the same time.
Although they were drawn from Pot 1, the Russian Premier League Champions Zenit St. Petersburg are those with the least chance to qualify (+150 @ BetOnline, according to the betting odds) but they can rely on the Russian weather in the home games.
Moreover, Zenit topped their group in a similar situation during their last Champions League appearance (in 2015-16) when they won five consecutive matches in a group alongside Lyon (again), Valencia and Gent. However, they were beaten by Benfica in the round of 16 so they surely have some old scores to settle.
Benfica won the Primeira Liga for a record 37th time in a dramatic race with rivals Porto, while equalling their own record of 103 goals in the 1963-64 season. The Eagles will try to defend their domestic title but they must improve their Champions League form as they have won just two of their last 13 main stage games, apart from qualifying.
Lyon managed to finish unbeaten in last season's group stage, beating Manchester City 2-1 in England and drawing the other five, before a 5-1 loss to Barcelona in the round of 16. Anyway, no one could blame the French side and they'll hope to carry over their unbeaten form to the upcoming campaign under new coach Sylvinho.
However, after a promising beginning to the new Ligue 1 season (winning the first two games, scoring 9 goals in them), Lyon failed to win in the following three games (1 loss, 2 draws) so Sylvinho's men must awake and chase a victory when they take on Zenit in the opening round, as they have consecutive away games to RB Leipzig and Benfica thereafter.
After its foundation 10 years ago, RB Leipzig became a synonym to modern football in Europe while the Red Bulls are improving. They return to the Champions League after their debut appearance in 2017-18, when the Germans finished third in a group alongside AS Monaco, Besiktas and Porto. Two years later the Leipzig outfit looks more powerful under the new 32-years-old coach Julian Nagelsmann, who is well-known for his excellent work at Hoffenheim.
Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen are two great strikers who can score a lot of goals together and the Red Bulls will be dependent on their form. Perhaps that's the reason why the bookmakers are backing RB Leipzig to win Group G at +165 @ BetOnline.
Group H: Chelsea, Ajax, Valencia, Lille
Chelsea will need some time to adapt to new life under Frank Lampard but the Blues have shown signs of improvement of late and the 2019 UEFA Europa League Champions should be pleased with their group, at least in our opinion. They're -105 favorites @ BetOnline to finish above the other three contenders, though they'll encounter last season's semifinalists Ajax, as well as other strong sides coming from the Spanish La Liga and French Ligue 1 – Valencia and Lille respectively.
The Amsterdammers are second in the list when it comes to odds to win the group +260 @ BetOnline, though Ajax will have to defend their reputation without the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Frankie de Jong, who both had pivotal roles in the remarkable 2018-19 campaign. Nevertheless, Nicolas Tagliafico, Daley Blind, Donny van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, and Dusan Tadic all remained at Johan Cruijff ArenA, so Erik ten Hag's side should not be underestimated here.
Valencia finished fourth in a highly competitive championship like the Spanish La Liga and The Bats will once again represent Spain in the UEFA Champions League groups. It would be interesting to follow how will they perform after the surprising dismissal of Marcelino Garcia Toral only a few days ago, which could turn into a breaking point for their form. We've seen many ups and downs after such actions and Albert Celades' first match wasn't quite an inspiration as Valencia lost 5-2 at Barcelona over the last weekend.
Coming as the biggest underdog in Group H, Lille return to the Champions League groups for the first time since 2012-13 when they finished last in a rocky group with Bayern Munich, Valencia and BATE Borisov. Seven years later Les Dogues are one of the 32 group stage members again but Christophe Galtier will have to set his formation without the top goalscorer Nicolas Pepe, who joined Arsenal for a club-record fee of nearly 80 million euro.
Pepe wasn't the only one to depart from Stade Pierre-Mauroy over the summer as the forward Rafael Leão joined Italian AC Milan, while left-back Youssouf Kone and defensive midfielder Thiago Mendes joined Lyon.
Of course, the French club used some of the funds to boost its squad so some of the interesting summer arrivals are of the midfielder Renato Sanches, as well as Nigerian center-forward Victor Osimhen and Turkish attacking midfielder Yusuf Yazici.
Real Madrid to win 2019/20 UEFA Champions League +850 @ BetOnline
Real Madrid's European hegemony has been ended but Los Blancos didn't wait long to re-appoint Zinedine Zidane who won the Champions League trophy in three consecutive seasons between 2016-2018.
Zizou will also have to experience the setback of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure from the very beginning, since despite a busy transfer summer, the Spanish club doesn't look quite convincing in the first weeks of the season.
Anyway, Real Madrid are always among the favorites in this competition and BetOnline rate them +850 to win “la decimocuarta” (the 14th Champions League title).
Atalanta To Qualify from Group C -160 @ BetOnline
Atalanta are the only side to make their debut appearance in the UEFA Champions League group stage but the Bergamese outfit won't be able to host at their own ground.
Barcelona to win 2019/20 UEFA Champions League +500 @ BetOnline
After another nightmarish exit in last season's semi-finals, Barcelona will be eager to reach their first Champions League final since the triumphant 2014-15 campaign. Despite the back-to-back shocking setbacks against Roma and Liverpool, Ernesto Valverde remains in charge (for now) but we doubt that Barca's board will be willing to wait longer so it's most likely now or never for the 55-years-old Spaniard.
While the whole world was focused on Neymar's transfer saga, Blaugrana have strengthened their pack with several good signings. Neto, Junior Firpo, Frenkie de Jong and Antoine Griezmann are the players who arrived at Camp Nou this summer and if we assume that the first two of them will be backups to proven figures such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jordi Alba, respectively, De Jong and Griezmann should be ready to play an important role into Ernesto Valverde's formation.
However, most importantly, La Masia (Barcelona's Academy) finally produced some exciting new names to admire, with the likes of Carles Perez and the 16-years-old Bissau-Guinean winger Ansu Fati both grabbing the opportunity they had in the first few weeks of the season.
The latter even became the youngest player to both score and assist in a La Liga game in the 21st century during Barcelona's 5 win against Valencia on 14 September.
It's yet to be seen whether Barcelona can handle the pressure and claim its sixth Champions League title. Nevertheless, the Catalans with Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi in their lines are definitely one of the top favorites to lift the trophy in Istanbul.
Juventus to win 2019/20 UEFA Champions League +1000 @ BetOnline
Cristiano Ronaldo suffered a Champions League setback in his first year at Juventus Stadium but the ambitious Portugal international is always impassioned when it comes to this competition and considering Juventus' domestic hegemony, The Old Lady will surely be more focused on the Champions League front this time.
The Bianconeri captured one of their executioners from last season's quarter-finals as Matthijs de Ligt, who scored the winning goal for Ajax in Turin, has been successfully tempted by the Italians, being flattered by many major European clubs at the same time.
The Dutch talent, who recently turned 20, will have an incredible opportunity to develop under the leadership of some of the best defenders like Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, and he'll also be mentored by a living soccer legend as Juve's goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Having so many experience at his disposal, Maurizio Sarri would have to adapt to a completely different atmosphere as the 60-years-old Naples-born coach will have to command a squad full of accomplished players, whose ego could be quite a challenge even to the biggest names in the profession.
Indeed, Sarri will have to manage the likes of Gigi Buffon, Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Miralem Pjanic, Paulo Dybala, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain and many others.
The lack of significant honours in Sarri's CV could possibly affect his reputation around so many successful players at Juventus, but it's interesting to note that after a controversial spell in England, the Italian left Stamford Bridge by winning his first ever trophy as a coach following Chelsea's Europa League triumph just a couple of months ago. This would boost his confidence and he'll need some of it while working with so many prominent figures at Juventus Stadium.
One is certain – this time Sarri has an exceptional squad depth with one of the world's best ever goalkeepers (despite his advanced age), a reliable and well-oiled back line, smashing midfield, some dedicated and hard-working attackers, and last but not least, he has a proven winner like Cristiano Ronaldo. With all that said, Juventus cannot be underestimated as one of the possible favorites to win the Champions League race.
Liverpool to win 2019/20 UEFA Champions League +650 @ BetOnline
You’ll bet on tempting odds if you expect Jurgen Klopp’s side to retain the Champions League title and proceed to add the seventh to their trophy cabinet. However, we believe that the Merseysiders would be more focused on their Premier League dream, which doesn’t mean that they will underestimate another Champions League opportunity.
The attacking trio Salah-Firmino-Mane looks sharp again but the lack of squad depth, compared with Man City’s, could be an issue later in the season and we all know how loaded the Premier League schedule really is.