The grandest stages of club soccer will have its two biggest stars in different venues this season, as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have moved to different parts of Europe, again seeking domestic and continental glory.
Messi provided the largest thunderbolt of the chaotic August transfer window, moving from Barcelona to Paris-Saint Germain. A six-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best player, the 34-year-old Messi won 10 La Liga titles and four UEFA Champions League titles with the Catalan giants, but the years of heavy spending — both for Messi’s salary and high transfer fees from plucking elite players off other clubs — left the Blaugrana in such financial disarray that it could no longer afford the Argentine.
Ronaldo is no stranger to such high-profile transfers, having left Spain in 2018 with a move from Real Madrid to Italian giants Juventus. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner and six-time Champions League winner, the 36-year-old had been tipped to move to Manchester City, only to have those talks break down. City’s loss, however, was arch-rival Manchester United’s gain, as the Portuguese superstar returns to Old Trafford, where he won three Premier League titles and his first Champions League winner’s medal in 2008.
Both moves — along with Kylian Mbappe’s non-departure from PSG — have caused ripples and shifts among multiple sportsbook offerings, as the landscape for domestic league and Champions League futures has been dramatically altered.
Will PSG finally win a Champions League title with Messi?
If Messi wins PSG the UCL this season it will be the greatest achievement in sporting history. pic.twitter.com/yWEFqpLx60
— MC (@CrewsMat10) August 31, 2021
The subplot to Messi’s arrival at PSG was Mbappe’s desire to leave for Real Madrid ahead of Tuesday’s transfer deadline. The 22-year-old — already a World Cup winner with France three years ago — is out of contract in June, which left the Parisian club in a difficult spot: Take a lesser yet still sizable nine-figure transfer fee from Real now or risk letting one of the world’s best talents walk next summer and get nothing in return.
Real, sensing it had leverage, reportedly made a lowball $188 million offer for Mbappe, and PSG promptly rejected it. But weep not for the overwhelming Ligue 1 favorites, as coach Mauricio Pochettino will chart a path for European glory that has one of the best attacking tridents in recent history with Messi, Mbappe, and Brazilian superstar Neymar.
PSG winning Ligue 1 is a fait accompli according to oddsmakers — FanDuel has the “best” offering at -1050, while BetMGM is offering -2000. DraftKings (-1600), Barstool Sportsbook, and BetRivers (both -1667) fall between the two, and Caesars has made the “winner without PSG” option its most prominent Ligue 1 offering.
It is the Champions League markets that offer food for thought when it comes to wagering on Messi and PSG. Put in Group A with Premier League title-holders Manchester City, credible German side RB Leipzig, and Belgian lightweight Club Brugge, Pochettino’s side is a slight favorite over Manchester City in some books and level in others.
The best offerings to win Group A can be found at FanDuel and PointsBet at +105, with DraftKings lurking at +100. Caesars checks in at -105, with BetMGM at -110 and the Kambi-powered trio of BetRivers, Barstool, and Unibet at -118. Oddsmakers are expecting PSG to finish no worse than second in the group, with FanDuel’s -600 the shortest of offerings. For those considering a flyer on the French side flaming out in group play, Caesars has a +500 play for PSG to not make the knockout round.
Messi’s goal-scoring nous in Champions League — he is second to Ronaldo with 120 goals, after all — remains respected by oddsmakers. He is a +800 selection to win the Golden Boot as the tournament’s top scorer on the Kambi platfom, as well as Caesars. Messi is a joint second with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski for Kambi options behind Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland, and third behind the duo at Caesars.
BetRivers has two head-to-head plays for PSG in the Champions League, offering -143/+110 to finish better than Manchester City and -250/+175 to progress further than Messi’s old club, Barcelona.
Can CR7 restore “glory, glory” to Manchester United?
🗣️ "I’m right here! I’m back where I belong! Let’s make it happen once again!"
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) August 31, 2021
While the narrative surrounding Ronaldo’s second stint at Old Trafford is one of a joyful homecoming, it may also be that his return underlines the sea change during which Manchester United has fallen behind its Premier League rivals and is now among the second tier of bluebloods in Europe trying to compete in a radically different financial landscape.
Consider: Manchester City has lifted the league trophy four times since Sir Alex Ferguson rode off into the sunset with United’s 20th title in 2013. Chelsea has not only won the Premier League twice in that span despite numerous managerial changes by mercurial owner Roman Abramovich, but added a second Champions League title this past May by denying City its first taste of European glory.
And even Liverpool — arguably a bigger rival to United fans than City given its historical success in the First Division — finally ended its Premier League hoodoo by winning it for the first time in 2020, adding domestic glory to its sixth European title in 2019.
If anything, oddsmakers considered Ronaldo’s arrival at United more them locking up a top-four spot in the Premier League with City, Chelsea, and Liverpool than beating that trio to lift the trophy. The Red Devils are -400 at DraftKings along with Liverpool to finish among those places, with Tottenham Hotspur the next option at +240.
In terms of winning the Premier League title, United range in offerings from +500 to +650. Champions League offerings are longer, with Caesars the most bullish at +900 and ticking all the way up to +1150 at PointsBet.
One thing Ronaldo’s arrival accomplished was make United a strong favorite to win Group F in Champions League ahead of Spanish side Villarreal, which is the seeded club among a quartet that includes Swiss side Young Boys and Italy’s Atalanta. United has been listed anywhere from -167 (Kambi) to -190 (BetMGM) to win the group, and those offering United to qualify for the knockout round can be grabbed from -365 (PointsBet) to -625 for a top-two finish at Barstool.
Caesars also has a +275 play for United to fail to advance to the final 16. BetRivers is offering two head-to-head matchups in Champions League action against Premier League rivals, with United +190/-286 underdogs to finish better than Manchester City and +140/-200 compared to Liverpool.
For Ronaldo, the all-time leading goal-scorer in Champions League play with 134, he is still a top draw to win the Golden Boot. The Kambi platform has him at +900, a joint fourth with Chelsea (and former United striker) Romelu Lukaku and behind Haaland, Messi, and Lewandowski. Caesars has a slightly better offer of +1000 with the same grouping.
There are also markets for Ronaldo to claim the Premier League Golden Boot, as only four players have three or more goals through the first three matches — two of them being Ronaldo’s new teammates, Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood. Ronaldo is a joint favorite with Lukaku at +300 at BetMGM, a +450 option along with Liverpool’s Mo Salah at DraftKings, and a +500 option at Barstool.
Barstool also lists Ronaldo at -167 to be United’s top scorer in Premier League play.
Photo credit: Shutterstock