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Champions League: Two Potential Surprise Packages

The 2022/23 UEFA Champions League campaign has reached its halfway point, and there are already plenty of talking points. English heavyweights and three-time champions Manchester United have struggled, picking up just one win from their three games so far and even that required a 97th minute penalty save. Unheralded sides such as Ligue 1 runners-up Lens and Portuguese outfit Braga have also picked up big victories to start off their respective campaigns. 

However, it is the tournament’s traditional powerhouses that have started in scintillating fashion. Manchester City are the reigning champions and sites that offer soccer betting have made them the overwhelming +200 favorites to retain their crown this season. They have three wins out of three from an easy-looking Group G, and it will be surprising to many if Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable winning machine does not go all the way once again this year. 

Bayern Munich are the second favorites for glory, and they too have started impressively. They brought in England captain Harry Kane in the summer and the former Tottenham hitman has netted 12 games in 13 games so far this term. He has fired the Bavarians to the top of Group A with three wins from three thus four. 

Record 14-time champions Real Madrid brought in an English star of their own in the summer in the form of Jude Bellingham, and the 20-year-old former Borussia Dortmund man looks to be the second coming of Zinedine Zidane. The central midfielder has racked up 11 goals and three assists in 12 games for Los Blancos. They currently sit at the top of Group C with three wins from three games and are positioned as the +700 third favorites for success. 

But outside of those three, the rest of the pack is wide open. Each group has a number of contenders which could progress into the knockout rounds and potentially upset the apple cart. Here are two teams that we consider to be dark horses for Champions League glory this term. 


Many teams shone in the recent transfer window. The aforementioned Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both strengthened, while Chelsea spent a bucketload of cash once more. However, one team that flew under the radar were Turkish champions Galatasaray. The Istanbul club brought in former loanee Mauro Icardi on a permanent deal, as well as the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Hakim Ziyech, Tanguy Ndombélé, Angeliño, Kerem Demirbay, and Davinson Sanchez. 

Galatasaray Champions League

The new additions have seen them win eight of their first nine games in the Turkish Super Lig. But it has been in the Champions League where they have truly shone. They scored two goals in as many minutes on matchday one to steal an unlikely point from FC Copenhagen. On matchday two, they were tasked with heading to Old Trafford to battle it out with Manchester United. 

However, if you thought that they would be over-roared by the occasion, think again. The visitors twice fell behind courtesy of a brace from Danish striker Rasmus Højlund. However, they battled back on both occasions, with former Red Devil Zaha and then Kerem Aktürkoğlu twice dragging their team level. Then, despite missing a penalty just moments earlier, former Inter Milan captain Icardi would net the winner with just ten minutes remaining. 

Gala’s undefeated record would be ended by Bayern on matchday three, but the Turks impressed once more. With a trip to Copenhagen as well as the visit of Manchester United still to come, they are in a great chance of progressing to the knockout stages as runners-up to the German champions. Once there, anything can happen in knockout football, so do not be surprised to see Galatasary in the quarterfinals, or even later in the competition. 

Newcastle United 

Last season, Eddie Howe steered Newcastle United back to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the days of Sir Bobby Robson and Alan Shearer some two decades ago. When the group stage for the tournament was drawn back in August, the Toon Army were dropped straight into the group of death. They were tasked with facing French champions Paris Saint-Germain, German heavyweights Borussia Dortmund, and last year’s Champions League semifinalists AC Milan. However, rather than approaching the task at hand with fear, the Magpies have taken their challenging draw in their stride. 

Fans of the club were salivating at the thought of visiting three of the most iconic stadiums in European football, namely the Parc des Princes, Signal Iduna Park, and the San Siro. But on the pitch, those same fans were hoping for a third-place finish in Group F and a spot in the UEFA Europa League in the new year. However, after the first two games, they are now dreaming of so much more. 

The Tyneside club secured a goalless draw away to Milan on matchday one. But it was on matchday two that they made the rest of the continent sit up and take notice. Goals from Miguel Almirón, Dan Burn, Sean Longstaff, and Fabian Schär secured a stunning 4-1 victory against Kylian Mbappe’s Parisians and now a spot in the knockout stage looks all but sealed already. Who knows where the Toon may go from there?

Times of Sports
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