The Champions League group stage is over and three of the four English teams have made it through to the knockout phase, with Tottenham and Scottish champions Celtic falling by the wayside.
Arsenal, Leicester and Man City will continue to fly the flag for England in Europe’s premier competition, where they will compete with Europe’s elite.
It is shaping up to be a fascinating battle as standards are exceptionally high this season, so bookmakers are competing heavily to offer the best odds and the most enticing free bets offers, and we have run through some of the leading contenders to help you navigate the field.
An interesting development this year has seen the final 16 teams hail from just six countries – Spain, Portugal, England, France, Germany and Italy. Last season it was much more spread out, with representatives of Belgium, Netherlands, Ukraine and Russia, but it really is just the continent’s elite left this time around.
The Spanish champions won it two seasons ago but were knocked out in the semi-finals last year. Real Madrid went on to win it, and Los Blancos are six points ahead of Barcelona at the top of La Liga, but Barcelona are favourites, as low as 3/1 with some bookmakers, and they are attracting the most action as punters take up free bets offers and steam in with their own hard-earned cash too.
They boast a fearsome attacking triumvirate in Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar, and that makes them able to beat anyone on their day, so they are understandably favourites.
Despite finishing below Atletico Madrid in their group and struggling domestically, where they trail newly promoted RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, Bayern have remained second favourites throughout the Champions League season.
They have a strong defence, bolstered by the summer arrival of Mats Hummels, and up top Robert Lewandowski brings guile and lethal finishing ability, but the odds seem a bit too low to make them attractive right now, given their recent struggles.
Zinedine Zidane has transformed Real Madrid since taking over from Rafa Benitez as manager last season. He steered them to the Champions League title, and on current form they should be considered favourites to win it again. What counts against them is that nobody has ever successfully defended the Champions League.
The last team to win Europe’s top competition was AC Milan in 1989 and 1990, back in its previous iteration, the European Cup.
The great tiki taka Barcelona team, Man Utd at the height of their pomp and Real’s Figo and Zidane-led Galacticos all failed to win it twice on the spin, so it might be worth paying heed of historical trends.
Diego Simeone’s men have already got the better of Bayern in their group and have a strong history of beating Real Madrid and Barcelona, so the 10/1 on them looks a great option right now.
On the negative side, they have twice reached the final in recent years, only to lose to Real in extra-time, but if Real fall victim to the curse that sees nobody able to successfully defend the trophy, that could pave the way for Atletico, who have arguably the best defence in the world and a superstar in Antoine Griezmann.
The English contingent
Man City are fifth favourites for the Champions League and they have a manager in Pep Guardiola who knows how to win it. But he failed to do so with a better squad at Bayern, so this might be a season or two too early for them as he still has a rebuilding job to complete.
Arsenal finished ahead of PSG to top their group, and have real match winners in Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, but you feel that they would falter against a real heavyweight.
The team seeing the most action, aside from Barca, is Leiecester, who defied odds of 5,000/1 to win the Premiership last season. This time they have been awful and are just two points above the relegation zone, but in the Champions League they are on fire and qualified top of their group, making odds of 50/1 tempting for many.