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Why Aren’t Liverpool Champions League Favourites?

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It has to be said that Liverpool are having the season of their dreams in 2019/20. As I write, they are unbeaten so far in the Premier League, with twelve wins and just a single draw, and a goal difference of +19.

They are also flying high in the Champions League, with three wins out of four, and are progressing well in the EFL Cup, booking their quarter-final place against Aston Villa with a thrilling penalty win against Arsenal after their 5-5 epic in the fourth round.

Manchester City, by contrast, are not going nearly as well as last season, when they pipped Liverpool to the post by a single point in the Premier League. They have already lost three games and drawn one, leaving them nine points adrift of Liverpool in third place, with 2016 surprise package, Leicester City, in between. That said, they are also top of their Champions League group with three wins from four and through to the EFL quarter finals.

Man City are clear favourites

On balance, you would say that Liverpool are having the better season. What’s more, they go into the Champions League as the current Champions, after their 2-0 defeat of Spurs in Madrid. Yet for some reason, despite their strong domestic form, the bookmakers have still got Manchester City as the favourites to win the Champions League, at almost half the odds of their North West rivals.

And it’s not just one bookmaker that has City as favourites; monitoring sites like Oddschecker show that they are favourites with almost all of the bookies, with prices ranging from 11/4 to 3/1. Liverpool, by contrast, are widely available at 6/1, which is twice the price.

Other league leaders left behind

The same can be said for the leaders in the other major European leagues. PSG are running away with French Ligue 1 and top Champions League Group A with four wins from four, yet they are only third favourites.

Similarly, Barcelona, top of both La Liga and Champions League Group F, are only fourth favourites and Juventus, top of both Italy’s Serie A and Group F, are a lowly sixth at around 11/1. The odds for German teams are almost as confusing, with third placed Bayern Munich as short as 8/1, while Bundesliga leaders RB Leipzig, who top Group G, well down the betting with odds as long as 50-1.

Maybe doubles don’t happen?

In many competitions, consecutive winners are a rare occurrence, so you may think that this is the reasoning behind Liverpool’s second place in the betting. However, in the Champions League, as well as its forerunner the European Cup, consecutive wins are almost the rule rather than the exception.

In fact, the tournament began with no less than five consecutive wins by Real Madrid between 1956 and 1960. This was followed by another double by Benfica, and another by Internatzionale a year later.

Ajax have won three on the trot in 71, 72 and 73, which was followed by another hattrick for Bayern Munich in 74,75 and 76. Real also completed a hattrick in 16, 17 and 18. Liverpool themselves completed a double in 77 and 78, as have Nottingham Forest and AC Milan. So there is no reason to think that two wins in a row for Liverpool is that unlikely.

Is it the head to head?

You might wonder if the head to head record is swaying the betting, but again, close analysis simply doesn’t back this up. When the teams last met in the Champions League in 2016, Liverpool took the tie 5-1 over two legs, with Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mane scoring in the first leg and Firmino and Salah again finding the net in the second.

More recently, Liverpool dominated the Premier League champions 3-1 at Anfield, going three up within 51minutes to put the tie out of reach. Quite how this makes City the Champions League favourites is a puzzle.

Is history on their side?

You can’t even look back at the competition and say that history favours Manchester City in the Champions League. Liverpool have won the competition six times in four different decades, with wins in 1977, 78, 81, 84, 2005 and last year in 2019, while Manchester City have never won the tournament.

Liverpool are the reigning champions, third in the table of all-time winners with six wins, and seem to have only got better since they won. What’s more, they had no less than six players selected for the team of the tournament last year, compared to Manchester City’s two.

If nothing else, their history at the venue where the final will be played backs Liverpool.

The 2020 Champions League Final takes place on 30thMay at what can only be described as a historic, almost holy, ground for the Reds. The Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey will live long in the hearts of the Anfield faithful, as the place of perhaps the club’s greatest ever victory.

3-0 down at halftime, Liverpool turned the game around in six dramatic minutes, with goals from Gerrard, Smicer and Alonso levelling the score and leading to Liverpool taking the title on penalties 3-2 on one of the competition’s most dramatic nights. If those memories cannot inspire a team and give them the extra ounce of magic they need to win, then nothing can.

It makes no sense

At the end of the day, the bookmakers work in mysterious ways, and no doubt there is a formula or an algorithm that can explain why Manchester City are half the odds of Liverpool to win the Champions League. But until that formula is released, the rest of us mere mortals will just have to sit and wonder, and maybe take advantage of the apparent anomaly with a small wager before they realise how wrong they are. Either way, it has to be good for English football, after an all-English final in 2019, to have the top two clubs in the betting both playing in the Premier League.

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