- First round of the new UEFA Champions League season is complete
- Chelsea suffer shock home defeat to Valencia
- Ajax cruise past Lille
In the opening round of Group H in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea surprisingly lost at home to Valencia. This defeat, coupled with an impressive Ajax home win over Lille, has seen Chelsea drop to third-favorites in the group.
Previously Chelsea were -135 favorites and Ajax +300, but now the Dutch champions are +185 second-favorites while the west Londoners are out to +350. Valencia are now the leading candidates to win Group H at +110.
In terms of outright Champions League odds, the Blues saw their average odds drop from 31-1 to 45-1.
Let’s take a closer look.
2019/20 UEFA Champions League Group H Odds
*Odds taken 9/19/19.
Ajax Focus on Youth
In some ways, the big surprise here is that Chelsea were pitched as favorites to win Group H in the first place. Ajax were the surprise package of the Champions League last season and made it all the way to the semifinal, taking some massive scalps along the way, including Juventus and the mighty Real Madrid. Their style of play is tailor-made for European soccer,
Of course, they have had a difficult summer – as is so often is the case with Ajax – with some of their best players being cherry-picked by European giants, including Matthijs de Ligt going to Juve and Frenkie de Jong going to Barcelona. But the famous production line continues to churn out quality youngsters. Their comfortable 3-0 win over Lille has sent out an early signal.
— Warritatafo (@Tatafo_Tweets) September 19, 2019
Make no mistake, the Amsterdam club has quality running through it, from their academy teams to first XI, and the gaps left by de Ligt and de Jong will be filled by players equipped to play at the top of European soccer. They are capable of going a long way in this tournament and it’s odd that Chelsea were seen as favorites in the group.
Frank Has Hands Tied
For their part, the west Londoners have a tricky season ahead given they are in the midst of a two-window transfer ban – for the way they previously poached young players from other clubs – and new manager Frank Lampard has, therefore, had no ability to bring in new players to replace those who departed over the summer, like Eden Hazard.
Lampard’s approach has been to use the vast array of young talent Chelsea have on their books – players that normally would have been loaned out rather than be offered a first-team opportunity – which has meant first-team starting berths for Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount. When other youngsters get back to full fitness – like Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Reece James – they too will be given the chance.
But what this does is dilute is the amount of European experience in the Chelsea team. The Ajax youngsters will have played more games in the Champions League than their London counterparts, and for this reason, the +185 on offer for Ajax to win the group still offers value.
Valencia Experience European Glory
Equally, the Valencia team that won at Stamford Bridge is a team that is not only packed with quality, but also has plenty of European experience – mainly in the Europa League.
For me, the lack of experience in the Chelsea ranks may not be an issue for Lampard in the Premier League but in Europe is a different matter. I can see Ajax having enough to top this group, with a titanic two-way tussle developing between Valencia and Chelsea for second spot.
My pick: Ajax to win Group H / Valencia as runners-up.