Tuesday’s Champions League Matches

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Updated: July 26, 2016

BATE (Belarus) vs Dundalk (Ireland)

A rematch of last year’s second round qualifier sees the Belarusian champions take on the the Irish champions. The Irish unfortunately missed out last year due to an unlucky deflected goal making the difference for the Belarusians. They will probably be hoping for a draw and causing a shock win at home but BATE are showing to be a good side with an unfortunate fourth place finish in their Champions league group with 5 points out of 6 games. The re-signing of Aleksandr Hleb, familiar to Arsenal fans will help bolster their chances. BATE should be expected to win this tie but Dundalk could cause an upset.

Ludogorets (Bulgaria) vs FK Crvena zvezda (Serbia)

Ludogorets come into this match in fine form with convincing wins over Montenegrin side Mladost Podgorica 3-0 and 2-0 in very dominating fashion, winger Lukoki will be looking to continue his great spell of form scoring 3 in the last two matches. Liverpool fans will remember this side from the 2014 to 2015 Champions League group stage, getting a win against Basel and a merited draw against Liverpool. On their website it is written “The best is yet to come” insisting their ambitions to regain a Champions League spot. FK Crvena zvezda should not be underestimated in this tie. The Serbian side might be even less known that Ludogorets but they have players with bags of potential and have been busy in the summer transfer window. Well known for starting the career of Manchester United legend Nemaja Vidic, the Serbian side are not the best defensively keeping only one clean sheet in their last 7 games. Ludogorets should come out of this victorious having a defence that can keep the Serbs quiet and attacking power that will be overwhelming.

Ludogorets

Sparta Prague (Czech Republic) vs Steaua Bucuresti (Romania)

Two names that are more well known that others in this third round tie but none of them surprisingly champions of their respective leagues. Sparta Prague didn’t manage to make it through to the Champions League group stages but performed above all expectations in the Europa League going to the quarter finals knocking out Lazio in the process. Prague’s form has been dreadful in the past months, they finished in second place in the league. Steaua Bucuresti are in decent form having won 8 of their last 10 away games and have a better recent record of qualifying for the Champions League group stages than their opponent, which will be a worrying sign for the home supporters. Steaua Bucuresti will be on a high having won just won the Romanian cup. Sparta’s poor form and Steaua’s excellent form makes me think the Czechs may just miss out in this match.

Partizani (Albania) vs Salzburg (Austria)

Partizani feel quite fortunate to be in this position as they started the campaign trying to qualify for the Europa League but the match fixing of Skenderbeu saw Patizani take their place in this competition. It was the first time they made the second round of Champions League qualifications since 1993, but they didn’t make it easy getting through on penalties against Ferencvaros. This is the fifth year in a row Salzburg have made the Champions League qualifiers after dominating the Austrian League. They haven’t been prolific when it comes to making the Champions League group stages often or even performing when they get there, but they have had very impressive performances in the Europa League in recent years being the top scorers in the group stages in the 2014-15 edition. Salzburg were on fine form before the start of their title defence on Saturday, losing 3-1 to Sturm Graz. Salzburg are strong favourites as expected, they are a much more experienced team and have made easier work of their qualifiers.

Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs Qarabag (Azerbaijan) 

In the last 5 years the Czech champions have managed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League and they’ve made it to the last 16 of the Europa League twice. Qarabag out-performed the whole Azerbaijani league by winning it with a 22 point margin and conceding 21 goals in 36 games. They haven’t got much European experience only making it into the Europa League group stages in the past two seasons and not really progressing from there. Both teams have a tendency to keep the score low and holding onto leads. That being the case, I can see Viktoria dominating this game having played at this level a lot more than Qarabag.

FK Rostov (Russia) vs Anderlecht (Belgium) 

At some stages of last season FK Rostov were given the name “The Leicester of Russia”, which in itself indicates what their story is. But unfortunately they just missed out by 2 points from winning the Russian league behind CSKA Moscow one year after just avoiding relegation. FK Rostov have never qualified for a Champions League qualifier so this is new territory for the Russians. On the other hand, Anderlecht underachieved last season meaning that they have to go through a rare qualifier. FK Rostov’s style will suit this match being reasonably defensive and not scoring very often, they finished having scored 20 less goals than Zenit who finished in 3rd place and their top scorer last season, Azmoun, only scored 9 goals. I can see this game ending in a draw, Rostov frustrating the Belgian side.

Ajax (Netherlands) vs PAOK (Greece)

Ajax aren’t unfamiliar with the Champions League group stages being regulars being there in five of the last six seasons. Ajax are still a strong European team and have not lost a competitive match since December 2015 and not losing at home since October 2015. Panathinaikos would usually be happy with a second place finish behind regular champion Olympiakos but having finished 30 points behind is a massive disappointment. Ajax may be undefeated but they don’t win many matches either, they have drawn 5 of their last 15 matches at home and PAOK’s last game away at Ajax ended in a draw. A frustrating night is awaiting the Dutch tonight and I think they will fail to capitalise with the home advantage.

Ajax

Dinamo Zagreb (Crotia) vs Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) 

The Croatian champions have made Champions League qualifying a regular fixture of theirs along with their opponents, but Dinamo Tbilisi have never made it past the 3rd round qualifying. Zagreb are currently 15 matches undefeated and won their 2nd round qualifier 5-3 on aggregate but their star man in that tie, Marko Pjaca, has just completed his transfer to Juventus. Although they have lost one of their best players, Dinamo Zagreb are by far the better team and with home advantage should beat the Georgian champions.

Shaktar Donestsk (Ukraine) vs BSC Young Boys (Switzerland) 

Both teams finished second place in their domestic leagues but both with different expectations. Shaktar had a great European campaign reaching the semi-final of the Europa League and losing to eventual winners Sevilla. On the other hand they would have been extremely disappointed to not win the Ukrainian title behind Dinamo Kiev. Young Boys never really expect to knock Basel from the top so second place was seen as a success. Shaktar usually qualify for the Champions League, but more often automatically. Young Boys have never got passed the 3rd round having in recent times lost to Monaco and Tottenham Hotspurs. Shaktar should win this easily but it will be interesting to see how the Ukrainians plays on the artificial pitch in Berne.

10 Mar 2016, Kiev, Ukraine --- epa05204896 Shakhtar players celebrate after Olexandr Kucher (C) scored a goal during the UEFA Europa League round of 16, first leg soccer match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Anderlecht at the Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, Ukraine, 10 March 2016. EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO --- Image by © SERGEY DOLZHENKO/epa/Corbis


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