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Barca can start with a win while Milan should beat Celtic

| 18.09.2013

With a collective 16 European Cups between the four sides that compromise Group H, it is arguably the glamour group of this year’s Champions League.

Once again, all eyes will be on Barcelona, who are 4/1 to lift the cup, to see if they can reproduce the sort of magical football that has seen them crowned champions of Europe twice in the last five years.

And so far there is no reason to believe they cannot. They have been their usual imperious self in La Liga so far and top the table after winning all four of their opening league fixtures. It is 1/7 that Gerardo Martino’s men start this year’s Champions League with a win against Ajax.

Lionel Messi continues to warrant the tag of the best player in the world with six goals in just three league appearances. It is no surprise then that the Argentine maestro is as short as 7/4 to score first and just 1/4 to net anytime.

In a side of such abundant talent, value seekers may choose to look elsewhere in the goalscorer’s market. Club record signing Neymar looks likely to make his debut in the competition but again is just 11/4 to get the opener and it is compatriot Dani Alves who offers an interesting alternative.

The dynamic full-back did not manage a La Liga goal last season, but already has two domestically this campaign, including the first against Sevilla last time. It could be worth backing him at 14/1 to continue in this form and score first this time.

Ajax, who surprisingly have never faced Barca before, have found their title defence far less straight forward and are currently fourth in the league having lost a host of talent in the summer including Miralem Sulejmani, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld.

They have instead relied on the goals of Icelandic hot prospect Kolbeinn Sigthorsson who has three strikes in six Eredivisie games this year. The 23-year-old is 14/1 to open the scoring in this fixture.

Milan and Celtic make up the other half of the group and with the Scots seemingly capable of anything on a big European night and the Rossoneri missing several big players, it could prove a potential banana skin.

If the Italians win as many will expect them to do so, the 1/2 on offer will look very generous in hindsight, but they have not been playing well at all. After losing to Hellas Verona in their opening fixture, a late salvo saw them rescue a point against Torino last time after trailing by two goals up until the 88th minute.

Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio, Matias Silvestre, Daniele Bonera, Giampaolo Pazzini and Stephen El Shaarawy all missed that game while Ricardo Montolivo and Kaka were forced to withdraw. It leaves the Milan goalscorer markets slightly sparse, but many will still see talismanic centre forward Mario Balotelli a banker to score anytime at 4/6.

Andrea Poli also looks a very tempting price at 16/1 to score first. The 23-year-old who signed from Sampdoria this summer marked his debut against Verona with a goal and replaced Montolivo last time out so is likely to be deployed in an advanced role.

While defending the SPL title should be little but a formality for Celtic, they have done little so far to suggest you can be at all confident about backing them in Milan, priced at 6/1.

The Bhoys stuttered to a 2-2 draw against Inverness CT and lost 2-0 in the first qualifying leg against Khazakstani minnows Shakhter Karagandy and although a remarkable 3-0 turnaround at home ensured they took their place at Europe’s top dining table, it is difficult to see a similar performance against the quality of Milan without a bellowing Celtic Park behind them.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matthew Mower