Holders Manchester City go into the tournament as the team to beat, but who are their most likely rivals? Find out as the Opta supercomputer reveals its Champions League predictions for 2023-24.
While the September international break is not always relished by football fans, the UEFA Champions League draw gave us all something to look forward to this month.
Starting with Matchday 1 across September 19 and 20, the Champions League group stage is poised to return and the draw has served up some mouth-watering early fixtures.
The last season under the current format in Europe’s biggest club competition is set to get off to an exciting start, with Bayern Munich and Manchester United paired together in Group A, while Napoli and Real Madrid will do battle in Group C.
Group F looks like the toughest one to call, with Paris Saint-German, AC Milan, Newcastle United and Borussia Dortmund ready to scrap it out in what the Opta Power Rankings rate as the toughest pool in the draw.
While there are sure to be many unexpected twists and turns before we reach the final at Wembley in June 2024, we have asked our AI-powered Opta supercomputer to provide its Champions League predictions ahead of the tournament.
As ever, there are some interesting findings, so let’s look at how Europe’s best teams have fared across our 10,000 simulations.
Champions League Predictions: The Quick Hits
- Holders Manchester City are strong favourites with the Opta supercomputer, with a 38.9% chance of victory.
- Bayern Munich (10.9%) and Arsenal (8.7%) are seen as the strongest rivals to Pep Guardiola’s treble winners.
- After two decades away from the tournament, Newcastle have a higher chance of winning than European heavyweights PSG, Milan and Dortmund.
After securing their first continental crown last season, the supercomputer is in no doubt that Manchester City are the team to beat in Europe once more.
Not that they need the help, but Guardiola’s side – who have won their first four Premier League games so far this season – have been further boosted by being handed the easiest draw of any English club, according to our Power Rankings’ average rating of each team’s three group opponents.
Man City have an enormous 98.5% chance of reaching the last 16. RB Leipzig are seen as the only team who may come close to them in Group G, but the Bundesliga side should not worry City after Erling Haaland scored five times in a 7-0 win over them in the knockout stages last year. In a positive omen, City were also placed in Group G last season before their historic treble success.
City were unbeaten across 13 matches in the competition last time around and tournament history shows the Champions League holders are rarely knocked out early. Indeed, the only time the defending champions have ever not progressed from the first group stage was when Chelsea failed to do so in 2012-13.
Guardiola’s side are European veterans at this point, as they prepare to begin their 13th consecutive season in the Champions League. They have been incredibly consistent, reaching the knockout rounds in each of their last 10 campaigns.
Even making the last eight, an impressive and unlikely feat for the majority of clubs, is seen as a near foregone conclusion at 84.4%.
Man City then have a 69.0% chance of reaching the semi-finals and make the final in over half (55.1%) our simulations. Their overall winning percentages is 38.9%, comprehensively clear of any other side.
Haaland will be a man on a mission once more. He netted 12 goals last season, topping the scoring charts for the second time in this tournament. The Norway international has gone three appearances without a Champions League goal, and has never had a longer dry run, so expect him to race out of the blocks.
What is clear from the tournament predictor is that if a team is going to win the Champions League this season, there is every chance they will have to get past Man City to do so.
Top Contenders to Rival Man City
Much has been made of the Premier League’s dominance of the continent due to the financial power of teams in England.
However, of the five sides deemed most likely to challenge Man City for the trophy, only one of them is a domestic rival, although that is partly because Liverpool, who are second in the Opta Power Rankings, have not qualified for this year’s tournament and will instead play in the UEFA Europa League.
Arsenal are yet to win the Champions League and now they return for another attempt after six seasons away. They are immediately seen as contenders, rated the third favourites to come out on top in 2023-24 with a win percentage of 8.7%.
Mikel Arteta’s side make it through their group containing Sevilla, PSV and Lens on 89.9% of occasions in our model and that is a stage they have rarely had a problem with before, having made it to the knockout stage in each of their last 17 appearances.
Arsenal should also be confident of making the last eight, according to the supercomputer, as they have a 58.5% hope of being in the quarter-final draw.
The Gunners reach the final in 17.9% of our simulations and Gabriel Jesus may be key to their hopes. The former Man City striker has scored at least four times across four separate UCL campaigns and has a strong record of 20 goals in just 38 appearances overall.
Six-time winners Bayern Munich, who have signed Harry Kane in a bid to boost their chances on the continent, are the side who sit in between Man City and Arsenal.
Bayern have a 64.8% chance of topping Man Utd to win the group and they make the last 16 a huge 91.1% of the time. They are in the semi-finals or better for 39.1% of simulations and go all the way to win it at a rate of 10.9%, which is second only to City and their former coach Guardiola.
The other three most likely contenders to lift the trophy are record 14-time European champions Real Madrid (6%) and then two Serie A sides, last season’s UCL runners-up Inter Milan (5.6%) and reigning Italian champions Napoli (4.5%).
Two possible tournament winners will therefore be doing battle in Group C, and the supercomputer interestingly gives Napoli (42.0%) a small edge over Real Madrid (39.4%) in terms of topping that pool.
But as the tournament progresses across the simulations, its predictions begin to favour Real Madrid over the Scudetto winners. Madrid are almost always there or thereabouts in the Champions League and have added Jude Bellingham this season. They have a slightly better chance than Napoli of reaching the quarter-finals (42.7% vs 42.1%), semi-finals (24.4% vs 21.9%) and final (12.5% vs 10.3%). It’s a battle that should be thrilling to watch and both sides start the tournament as live threats to go the distance.
As for Inter, they have made a strong start domestically after pushing Man City all the way just three months ago in Istanbul. They top Group D just under half of the time (49.1%), although there is no obvious weak link in a section containing Benfica, Real Sociedad and Salzburg. Inter have a 75.7% chance of making the knockout stages overall and Simone Inzaghi’s team return to the Champions League final in 12.2% of our simulations, so they will be a team to watch out for as the competition progresses.
The Best of the Rest
We have now looked at the six most likely sides to lift the trophy and are perhaps surprisingly yet to name La Liga winners Barcelona, French champions Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester United.
According to our model, those European heavyweights will have to upset the odds if they are to make it to Wembley.
All three teams are rated as less likely than dark horses RB Leipzig (3.8%) to go all the way, with Man United (3.3%) and Barca (3.2%) coming next and Atletico Madrid (2.4%) rounding out the top 10.
Man Utd were near-certainties to emerge from the group stage in the Alex Ferguson era (successfully doing so 15 times under the Scot), but they should take nothing for granted now and have been eliminated at the first time of asking in two of their last six attempts.
United would probably settle for second place behind Bayern, and that is seen as their most likely group position at (45.9%), though they also finish top (27.7%) of the time while they miss out on the last 16 at a similar rate (26.4%), so there is everything to play for, with Galatasaray (26.0% chance of reaching the knockouts) and Copenhagen (9.2%), who each came through qualifying, the other teams hoping to progress.
Man United will hope Erik ten Hag can boost their continental fortunes. Two seasons ago, the Dutchman impressively won all six of his group-stage games at Ajax by an aggregate score of 20-5. He also famously led them to the semi-finals in the 2018-19 tournament.
Group H is expected to see a fight between Barcelona and Porto to come out on top, with both teams tipped to ease into the last 16 from what our system sees as the second-easiest section.
Xavi’s side, who start at home to Royal Antwerp, reach the knockouts in 85.8% of simulations run by the Opta supercomputer, but that is where they may start to find the going tough, with their percentages dropping rapidly as we move through to the quarter-finals (43.6%), semi-finals (20.2%) and final (8.7%) respectively.
Barca will need Robert Lewandowski – the third-highest UCL scorer of all time with 91 goals behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – to be fit and firing once the knockout matches begin in February.
PSG may have lost Lionel Messi and Neymar, but they still have Kylian Mbappe (40 goals in 61 UCL matches) so it might shock some to see them listed near the middle of the pack, judged to be 13th out of 32 overall by the supercomputer in terms of possible tournament winners.
While it is clear the system is not as keen on PSG as it has been in previous seasons – they are now rated 19th in the overall Opta Power Rankings – the Ligue 1 team’s low percentage is also heavily influenced by their daunting group.
The supercomputer thinks they will just about emerge from Group F to reach the last 16, but that chance is just 52.1%, with seven-time winners AC Milan (48.8%) and Dortmund (44.8%) only behind them by the finest of margins.
PSG are desperate for European glory, but they are only given a 3.6% chance of making it to Wembley and just a 1.4% hope of ending that long wait for European silverware in Luis Enrique’s first season.
Contrasting Draws for Newcastle and Celtic
It’s quite something that Newcastle United are tipped to win a group involving PSG, Dortmund and Milan as they return to the competition for the first time in 20 years.
Whatever happens, it is poised to be an almighty scrap between all four teams. Newcastle top the group 29.1% of the time in our tournament projections and make the last 16 on 54.3% of occasions. But they also finish bottom of the pile in 21.8% of simulations, showing just how tight this Group of Death could be.
Despite their tough draw, the Champions League predictions still give Newcastle fans plenty to get excited about, with a long run to the latter stages not ruled out. The Magpies make into the last eight 29.4% of the time, go all the way to the semis in 13.1% of simulations and make a dream final at Wembley at a rate of 5.4%.
Newcastle may be primed for a memorable campaign, but so much will depend on avoiding a slow start that they simply can’t afford given their intense group competition. They begin away to Milan and, before kick-off in that game, are seen as more likely tournament winners than Stefano Pioli’s men, PSG and Dortmund.
At the other end of the spectrum, the other British club involved this season – Celtic – have been boosted by being placed in the easiest group, per the Opta Power Rankings.
While the draw was kind to them, there is still a huge task facing returning manager Brendan Rodgers. Celtic have won just one of their last 21 UCL games, a run which includes 15 defeats, and it is over 10 years since the Scottish champions last made it past the group stages (2012-13).
They are likely to be up against it and Atlético Madrid (81.1%), who have been runners-up in this competition three times, are likely to be safely through to the last 16 from Group E.
The system struggles to split Lazio (52.8%) and Feyenoord (50.9%) in terms of who may join Atleti in the knockout rounds and Celtic did beat the Italian team home and away in the 2019-20 Europa League.
Celtic only make it through the group 15.2% of the time in our predictive model, but at least that gives them faint hope, and they even lifted the trophy in 0.01% of our simulations!