The football season may be over in America, but across the pond it’s just heating up.
The 2023-24 Champions League will begin the knockout portion of the competition Tuesday with 16 teams still in the hunt to lift the trophy.
There are plenty of heavyweights like Manchester City, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Real Madrid still in the field, but there are also a couple of sleeper teams that could provide bettors a great sweat.
Experienced bettors and soccer fans will tell you that long shots don’t win the Champions League, but the rebuttal to that argument is to point out that they have come close in recent years.
In 2019, we saw Ajax gatecrash its way into the semifinals. One year later, Lyon and RB Leipzig made a run to the final four. Villareal was a 200/1 long shot when it made it to the semifinals two seasons ago.
This year, there seem to be two big-time long shots that can cause a ruckus and make a run to the semifinals or beyond: Real Sociedad and PSV Eindhoven.
Real Sociedad (80/1, DraftKings)
We’ll start with Sociedad, who went unbeaten and finished in first place ahead of Inter Milan in Group D.
A defensive stalwart out of La Liga, Sociedad tick almost every box you look for in a sleeper in a tournament setting. Sociedad is a well-structured unit that is used to playing in tight, defensive games and finding a way to get results. The White and Blue only allowed two goals in the group stages and they have one of the most impressive statistical profiles in La Liga, especially on defense.
Sociedad may not have the offensive firepower to overrun the best teams in this field, but its defensive prowess makes it a live underdog against any club in the world.
The downside to this bet (and one of the reasons you can still get a great price on Sociedad) is that they play Paris Saint-Germain in the Round of 16.
That’s not an ideal matchup, but Sociedad’s ability to grind down more talented teams gives them a decent chance at pulling the upset and putting the rest of the competition on notice.
PSV Eindhoven (150/1, bet365)
It’s been quite the season for PSV Eindhoven.
The Red and Whites have yet to lose a match in the Eredivisie (the top division in the Netherlands) and they qualified for the Round of 16 of the Champions League for the first time since 2016.
PSV did get fortunate by getting drawn into a pretty soft group, but it was able to take care of its business and get through ahead of Lens and Sevilla.
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And while things could have gotten really tricky if PSV got drawn into a Round of 16 matchup with one of the favorites, the soccer gods smiled down on the Dutch side by putting it in a two-leg fixture with Borussia Dortmund, who have been unremarkable for most of the season so far.
Whether or not PSV can hang with the stalwarts of the Champions League is a legitimate concern, but there’s very little not to like about this price on a team that is 18-2-0 (W-D-L) with a +54 goal difference (63 GF, 9 GA) in its domestic league.
There’s also the added bonus that PSV has a couple of Americans (Malik Tillman and Ricardo Pepi) on their roster.