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August's Champions League football feast is edging ever closer, will rested Bayern have the upper hand?

Are Bayern Munich the value selection at 3/1?
Are Bayern Munich the value selection at 3/1?

The last ball kicked in the Champions League came way back on 11 March but after a four-and-half-month hiatus, Europe’s premier club competition will be returning to our screens in August.

While four of the teams competing in the tournament have already qualified for the quarter-finals, there are still four matches left to play in the last-16 phase to determine which teams will face Atletico Madrid, PSG, RB Leipzig and Atalanta.

Barcelona and Napoli drew the first leg of their last-16 clash 1-1 and Juventus trail Lyon by a goal to nil in theirs but have the benefit of playing the second leg on home soil, while Manchester City take a slender advantage into their second leg bout against 13-time European champions Real Madrid after beating Los Blancos 2-1 at the Bernabeu before the break. 

Meanwhile, Bayern Munich look as good as qualified following a routine 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, with the return leg at the Allianz expected to be another one-sided affair resulting in qualification for the Bundesliga champions.

Each of those games will take place on Friday 7 August, with the quarter-finals taking place between Wednesday 12 August and Saturday 15 August. The draws for the quarter and semi-finals will take place this Friday in Nyon, Switzerland to determine who plays who in the next round of the prestigious competition. 

Champions League Odds

Manchester City are 11/4 favourites to go the distance and win it for the first time in their history (an implied probability of 27%), and find themselves in pole position to qualify following a 2-1 win away at Madrid in March. 

Indeed, Zinedine Zidane’s side are in fantastic form at present, winning all seven of their returning league fixtures to propel themselves to the top of La Liga and look as though they will end the campaign as domestic champions ahead of Barcelona, so will certainly prove a huge challenge when they come to visit the Etihad in a month’s time. 

Bayern Munich won their eighth consecutive Bundesliga title last month, and are 3/1 shots to go the distance and win the Champions League in August. Hans Dieter-Flik’s men endured another terrific campaign in Germany’s top-flight, in the end winning the division by a huge 13 points despite chasers Borussia Dortmund looking as if they would potentially overthrow them from their perch at the top of the Bundesliga for large parts of the season.

Normally when engulfed in the continuous goings on in the Premier League, a quick glance at the weekend’s Bundesliga results and the odd clip of Robert Lewandowski scoring his ninth goal of the game against Paderborn on Twitter is the limit of my German football intake. 

However, with no Premier League action to watch prior to the English top-flight resuming in mid-June, I turned my attention to the earlier-returning Bundesliga and, within a matter of weeks, miraculously transformed into an expert on the league(…) I watched pretty much every Bayern game and, as obvious as this may sound, was incredibly impressed. 

Lewandowski is not just a goalscorer, but the focal point of the team who makes selfless off-ball runs to create space for the plethora of attacking talent bursting from the Bavarians’ midfield. 

Thomas Muller seems as though he has been around since the birth of time, though amazingly the German is actually only 30 years old, and this season enjoyed one of the most successful campaigns of his career by registering 21 assists - in doing so breaking the Bundesliga’s single-season assist record set by Kevin De Bruyne in 2014-15.

Joshua Kimmich has flourished in central midfield this season despite playing the most part of his career to date at right-back, and blew me away with his composure on the ball, spatial awareness and range of passing each time I sat down to watch him control games in empty stadiums, against inferior teams all gasping for the final whistle to be blown. 

Champions League Winner Odds

Real Madrid
Odds correct as of 2022-05-17 00:34 Odds subject to change.

Defensively Bayern were typically resolute this term, conceding only 32 goals in 34 games, while Robert Lewandowski, the free-scoring goal addicted machine up-front played his part by netting 34 of the club’s 100 league goals this season and a further 17 in the Champions League and DFB Pokal combined (another title Bayern retained after beating Bayer Leverkusen 4-2 in the final last weekend).

The Pole is the overwhelming favourite (1/20) to finish as the Champions League top scorer this season, with his 11 goals in the competition dwarfing the rest of the chasing pack now that Erling Braut Haaland and Borussia Dortmund have been eliminated.

Serge Gnabry found himself wasting away on West Brom’s substitutes bench just four years ago, but the young Germany international is now one of the most sought after players in Europe thanks to his scintillating performances this season.

Twelve goals in the Bundesliga have partnered a further six in Europe (the second-highest goalscorer still left in the competiton), and the 24-year-old has been the standout performer during Bayern’s emphatic wins over English opponents in the Champions League this time out, netting four goals in the 7-2 drubbing over Spurs in October, and two in the 3-0 win over Chelsea just before the break.

Above all else, though, it is the fact that Bayern will have had the biggest lay-off between their domestic campaign ending and the Champions League restarting which could prove to give them the biggest advantage.

The Premier League’s final date is on 26 July, meaning that there are only 12 days between the league finishing and the UCL resuming, allowing little time for rest and preparation for players competing in the English top-flight.

The same can be said for La Liga, with the final day in Spain penned in for 19 July - just a week before England’s conclusion - while Atalanta’s last league game falls on 2 August, allowing a maximum downtime of 13 days should their quarter-final clash be played on the 15th, but potentially less than that if it is played on either the 12th, 13th, or 14th. 

In summary, alongside having arguably the most complete all-round squad at their disposal, containing world-class players alongside proven workhorses with unfathomable talents, the fact that Bayern will have had over a month to prepare for their first Champions League match can only be viewed as a hugely distinct advantage. 

With the return leg of their last-16 clash against Chelsea effectively a box which just needs ticking thanks to such a convincing lead being held by the German champions after the first leg, their real focus will already be on the quarter-finals in mid-August and sizing up who they need to beat to win the whole tournament next month. 

With all things considered, it is hard to look past them going the distance this year, and at odds of 3/1, I feel that there are certainly much worse bets to be had...

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