At 7-2, Manchester City have been dubbed this season’s Champions League favorites.
Pep Guardiola’s side has been starved of European success, but it should be able to navigate its way to the top of Group C, leaving Shakhtar Donetsk, Dinamo Zagreb, and Atalanta to bid for second.
|TEAM||TO WIN GROUP||TO QUALIFY||NOT TO QUALIFY|
This is Manchester City’s group to lose. The Citizens have topped their Champions League pool in three of the past four seasons, only finishing behind Barcelona in 2016-17. And with all due respect to the other Group C clubs, they’re no Barcelona.
All of those sides possess the quality to spring an upset over Guardiola’s team, but they also lack the depth and overall talent needed to truly push for the top spot. City are in a class of their own and should have no issues cruising to the summit of Group C.
However, playing them at 1-6 to win the group is an exercise in futility, so it’s best to lay off this market altogether.
This is where things get interesting.
Atalanta, participating in the Champions League for the first time ever, are a popular pick to join Manchester City in the knockout stage following an exceptional 2018-19 season that saw them finish third in Serie A – above Inter, AC Milan, and Roma. The 77 goals Atalanta scored last season were most in the Italian top flight, ahead of Juventus (70) and Napoli (74).
There’s no doubt they belong, but the question is whether inexperience will hold them back in their debut campaign. It’s an area where Shakhtar hold a significant edge. The Ukrainian outfit is participating in the group stage for the ninth time in the past 10 years, and for the 14th time since the turn of the century.
Ukraine is a daunting place to travel for opposing clubs, and that home-pitch advantage could prove vital for Shakhtar. Zagreb is also difficult, but Dinamo lack the high-end talent to get points away from home, leaving them with little chance to make any real noise in Group C.
Shakhtar finished third in their group last season, but it was something of a transition year after losing Fred, Bernard, Facundo Ferreyra, and longtime captain Darijo Srna. They managed to avoid selling any first-team players this summer while adding to their squad with the signings of Vitao and Yevhen Konoplyanka.
Atalanta had an impressive summer as well, and just because they’ve never participated in the Champions League does not mean they have no European experience. They reached the knockout stage of the Europa League in 2017-18, narrowly losing out to Borrusia Dortmund after going unbeaten through the group stage, which included a pair of impressive 3-0 and 5-1 wins over Everton.
The Champions League is a whole other beast, though. Atalanta are a joy to watch under Gian Piero Gasperini, but success in this tournament is a right of passage. This club should produce some great results over the course of the group stage, but when push comes to shove, Shakhtar’s experience and stability should be enough to see them through to the round of 16.
Overall, this group appears eerily similar to Group F in 2017-18, which featured City, Shakhtar, and another free-scoring Serie A side in Napoli. Everyone had Napoli qualifying as runner-up behind City, but Shakhtar’s Champions League experience proved to be the difference as they cruised to 12 points – double Napoli’s tally – en route to second place and a spot in the knockout stage.
Pick: Shakhtar to qualify (11-10)
Alex is a sports betting writer for theScore. A journalism graduate from Guelph-Humber University, he has worked in sports media for over a decade. He will bet on anything from the Super Bowl to amateur soccer, is too impatient for futures, and will never trust a kicker. Find him on Twitter @alexjmoretto.