Real Madrid and Barcelona lead betting for the 2012-13 Champions League title, as the competition prepares for the beginning of the group stages
|By PAUL GOUGH
They may have sensationally bombed out in the semi-finals last season, but Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate the early markets to win this year's European Champions League.
After four gruelling rounds of qualifying, the final 32 teams have now been drawn into eight groups of four, with the group stages of the world's most prestigious club tournament to get underway on September 18.
And while English Premier League club Chelsea might be the reigning champions - after first knocking Barcelona out in the semi-finals last season before then beating Germany's Bayern Munich on penalties in the final - the Blues have only been installed as sixth favourites to retain their title this season.
The two Manchester clubs are next in betting, with United third favourites at $8.50 followed by reigning EPL champions Manchester City at $9, with Bayern Munich on the fifth line of betting at $12.
The bookies clearly expect this season's winner to come from those six clubs, with a big gap then to Italian champions Juventus in betting at $19, followed by Arsenal and big-spending French club Paris Saint-Germain at $21.
|Barcelona to win the Champions League at $3.50 at Luxbet
||Paris Saint-Germain to win the Champions League at $21 at Luxbet|
Barcelona have won the Champions League in three of the past seven seasons and - with the world's greatest player in Lionel Messi in their ranks - are clearly the team to beat again, despite last season's shock semi-final loss to Chelsea.
Real Madrid have won the competition on a record nine occasions but have not triumphed since 2002, though they again shape as Barcelona's main challengers, with the exciting Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks.
However, Madrid have been drawn in the group of death alongside Manchester City, Borussia Dortmund and Dutch giants Ajax.
And while Jose Mourinho's side should still progress to the knockout stages by finishing in the top two in the group, they will face a tough task to finish top of the group and ensure the best possible draw for the Round of 16.
Barcelona, in contrast, have been drawn in a far easier group alongside Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Scottish giants Celtic, and should have little trouble topping the group.
Celtic - appearing in the group stages for the first time since 2008 - face a tough task to progress and are at $301 at Luxbet to win the competition.
Manchester United, winners of this competition in 1999 and 2008, received arguably the softest draw amongst the eight groups up against Braga, Galatasaray and CFR Cluj, while PSG - tipped to be the big improvers in Europe this season following their massive off-season spending spree - have been drawn in a tough group against Porto, Dynamo Kiev and Dinamo Zagreb.
Luxbet's Andy Scott said the draw for the group stages had resulted in some changes to the market, with Barcelona firming from $4 to $3.50 and United firming from $12 to $8.50 as a result of their kind draws.