Qualification for the biggest club competition in world football really heats up this week as we see the first leg games in the playoff round of the UEFA Champions League. The biggest teams in the qualifying draw have now entered and Liverpool, Sevilla and Napoli have all been handed potential banana skins. I’ve taken a look at the games coming up this week and put together a 4 Fold that I think represents a good balance between risk and reward.
TSG Hoffenheim vs Liverpool
TSG Hoffenheim achieved their highest ever placing in the Bundesliga last season after finishing in fourth place and this game will mark their first ever European match. The club lost two star men to Bayern Munich this summer after Niklas Sule and Sebastian Rudy departed for the champions, but they still have a team capable of causing Liverpool problems. Liverpool are in a difficult position at the moment with Phillipe Coutinho likely to leave the club following Barcelona’s interest and Jurgen Klopp has found it difficult to bring in his targets. The club know that they must qualify for the Champions League if they are to bring in their primary targets, so this game is absolutely huge for Klopp and all of Liverpool. TSG Hoffenheim are sure to have watched Liverpool’s first Premier League match of the season on Saturday when they drew 3-3 with Watford and they will be looking to expose the same aerial weaknesses that Watford did. Overall though, I think Liverpool will come away with a narrow victory here on Tuesday night.
Liverpool to win 5/4 (Ladbrokes)
Celtic vs FC Astana
Celtic edged past Rosenberg 1-0 on aggregate in the last round of qualifying, but the reigning Scottish champions have begun their domestic season well, beating Hearts 4-1, Kilmarnock 5-0 and Partick Thistle 1-0. Brendan Rodgers will be desperate for another crack at Champions League football and it is Kazakhstani champions FC Astana who stand in their way. The club are currently ten points clear at the top of their domestic league and will be high on confidence heading into the clash. Looking at the teams, you would expect Celtic to have too much for FC Astana though and I’m backing them to pick up a victory here.
Celtic to win 2/5 (Ladbrokes)
Istanbul Basakeshir vs Sevilla
Turkish side Istanbul Basakeshir overcame Club Brugge in the last round of qualifying and will be hoping to upset the odds again this week by beating Spanish giants Sevilla. The club were only officially established in 2014 but finished as runners up in both the Super Lig and Turkish Cup last season. Sevilla will have to have their wits about them as many have underestimated Basakeshir before, but a side with the European pedigree of Sevilla should have too much for their plucky Turkish opponents.
Sevilla to win 11/10 (Ladbrokes)
Napoli vs Nice
This is arguably the biggest tie of the round and two fairly evenly matched sides face off against each other for a place in Europe’s elite competition. Napoli have an extremely talented squad and will start this tie as favourites but it will not be easy going up against a Nice side featuring the likes of Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder. Nice have started the season poorly with back to back defeats in Ligue Un and they will desperate for Balotelli and Sneijder to be fit enough to make their first appearances of this season this Wednesday.
Napoli to win 1/3 (Ladbrokes)
4 Fold – 7.82/1 (Ladbrokes)