UEFA Champions League Playoffs Round Preview: Who Will Qualify?
Before some of the domestic leagues have even begun their 2017/18 campaigns, 20 teams must battle it out across Europe and fight for their place in the UEFA Champions League group stage. Only ten of the teams in this playoffs round will progress, so, can the big teams hold their nerve?
Tuesday, August 15: Liverpool and Sporting Lisbon
After FK Qarabag kick-off the playoffs round by hosting FC Copenhagen, the other four Tuesday games get underway. Liverpool must travel to Germany to face Hoffenheim and must do it without the injured want-away, Philippe Coutinho. It looks to be a testing game for the Premier League club, who are only given 13/10 odds to win in this first leg.
Then there are Liga NOS giants Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese outfit host FCSB, of Romania, in what looks to be a cut-and-dry win for Sporting at 2/9. But, then again, bigger upsets have occurred at this stage of the UEFA Champions League before.
Also on Tuesday, Cyprus’ Apoel Nicosia host Slavia Praha of Czechia and CSKA Moscow will fly over to Switzerland to face Young Boys – both contests should be closely contested affairs.
Wednesday, August 16: Celtic, Napoli, and Sevilla
Poor FC Astana have to make their way all the way from Kazakhstan to face Celtic in Scotland and look set to get whooped, with odds of 13/2 for the travellers to get the win. When Astana and Celtic met in the third qualifying round last season, the Scottish side won just 3-2 on aggregate, so a win for the Kazakhs may not be so far-fetched.
Despite Nice doing rather well in Ligue 1 last season, SSC Napoli are expected to trample them in this first leg of the playoffs. The Serie A giants are 27/100 to beat their French opponents, who are at 10/1 to escape Italy with a win.
Then there’s Sevilla, who have been regular conquerors of the second-tier European competition, the Europa League, in recent years. Sevilla will want to get their tie with Istanbul Basakshir all but wrapped up before the start of the La Liga season, but with the Spanish club travelling to Turkey for the first leg, they’re at 23/20 to return victorious.
Wednesday also sees the much favoured Olympiakos Piraeus host Rijeka of Croatia, as well as Israel’s Hapoel Beer Sheva welcoming Maribor all the way from Slovenia for what looks to be a home win at 8/15.
Tuesday, August 22 and Wednesday, August 23 see the second legs of the UEFA Champions League playoffs round – will any of the big clubs be in need of a comeback after the first leg?