(Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP/ Getty Images)
With the Champions League getting underway once again this month, many of Europe’s clubs will be hoping to make their mark on the continent’s premier club competition. English champions Manchester City are the favourites to lift the trophy along with a host of other elite European clubs, but there are a few teams who may yet cause a shock or two in this season’s competition, be it through a run to the latter stages or even going all the way and lifting the famous European Cup.
Here is a look at five teams who could be dark horses for this upcoming Champions League campaign, and some reasons why each might be worth a flutter in Champions League betting.
Last season, Benfica wrestled the Portuguese league title back out of the hands of Porto. While Porto have enjoyed some relative Champions League success in recent years, reaching the quarter-finals last season, Benfica are undoubtedly due a good run in the competition.
The Lisbon side haven’t reached the knockout phase since 2016/17, but on the back of last year’s title win, the squad will be full of confidence and eager to summon the spirit of the team that won back-to-back European Cups in 1961 and 1962.
A kind draw in Group G with Zenit Saint Petersburg, Lyon, and RB Leipzig means that Benfica will be in confident mood that they can make it to the second round. From there, another favourable draw could be the start of something special.
While it may seem strange to consider Chelsea as a dark horse, the reality is that their performances in the Champions League in recent seasons have been of a poor standard. Having not been present in the tournament last season, Chelsea’s victory in the Europa League has re-galvanised the club and given them a taste for European glory once again.
That triumph meant that Chelsea were in Pot 1 for the group stage draw and as such have been given a reasonably winnable group with Ajax, Valencia and Lille. Frank Lampard’s side have had a slightly shaky start to the Premier League season, but they are a team full of goals, and full of the youthful exuberance of striker Tammy Abraham and midfielder Mason Mount.
While they may be defensively suspect, it looks to be clear that at any rate Chelsea will not be boring this season. With a club legend like Lampard at the helm, who helped lead the club to their only previous Champions League triumph in 2012, who’s to say that Chelsea couldn’t have a major say in the competition’s latter stages.
RB Leipzig have enjoyed a good start to the Bundesliga season, and having made their Champions League debut two seasons ago, this could be the year the club kicks on and performs to their true potential in Europe. They have been drawn in what many regard as the weakest group with Zenit, Lyon and Benfica, but few groups will be as competitive and every point will be hard-earned.
In Timo Werner, they possess one of Europe’s most coveted forwards. If he can stay fit and find his form on European nights, the German outfit will cause problems to many sides in Europe. Although they finished third in their group in 2017/18, that experience will stand them in good stead heading into this campaign, and could make all the difference in such a tight group.
Inter have been languishing somewhat further down the Serie A table than they would have liked in recent seasons, and their European form has suffered accordingly. This season could see a change in fortunes, however. The Italian giants have brought in Manchester United outcasts Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, and if those two can hit the form we all know they’re capable of then there could be sunnier times ahead at the San Siro.
This season will mark ten years since Inter won the Champions League under the stewardship of José Mourinho, so perhaps it would be fitting if this was the year that the club re-established themselves as one of Europe’s major players.
Valencia made an impressive run to the semi-finals of the Europa League last season, missing out on the final after defeat to Arsenal, and this season’s Champions League could offer the chance for the Spanish side to continue that form and progress deep in the competition.
Like Inter, Valencia have had some challenging times domestically, but seem to be on the up once again, and when the Mestalla is full and bouncing, there are few more difficult places for opposition sides to play. Much will rely on the form of forwards Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro, who both possess the talents to make a big impact in Europe.
Despite having to face Chelsea and last year’s semi-finalists Ajax in the group stage, Valencia will be quietly optimistic of upsetting the odds and making a stab towards the knockout phase.