Champions League // Qualifying Preview


We are now down to the last stage before the Groups are drawn, and with that the big guns have entered! Man City, Villarreal, Monchengladbach, Porto and Roma – to name a handful. The only thing that still stinks to me is that the loser of each of these games will automatically get a place in the Europa League group stage…very unfair to those who have worked so hard last season!

There are four games I like the look of over the next two days:

Young Boys vs Monchengladbach: Monchengladbach Win @ 11/10 (1945 KO)

Young Boys shocked many by dumping out Shakhtar in the last round – a team who have made the groups in most, if not all of the last decades’ worth of campaigns! Against Gladbach though, they come up against one of few teams who have taken points off Bayern and Dortmund regularly!

With the likes of Hahn, Dahoud, Kramer, Johnson, Sommer and more – they are one of the best teams in Europe in my eyes with a lot of solid, yet underrated players like Lars Stindl. Even though they have lost Granit Xhaka, they have signed well to replace – Kramer joining permanently, while Tobias Strobl has also joined. So, a solid back four and keeper, a strong central midfield with the flair of Hazard, Traore and Dahoud and a forward line that includes the likes of Raffael, Drmic and Stindl – YB are often conceding in numbers in the Swiss league, so I’m not going to be too surprised if the Germans rack up 2-3 goals today!

Steaua Bucharest vs Man City: Man City -1 Goal Handicap @ 5/4 (1945 KO)

Guardiola is taking this deadly serious! They don’t want to mess this up, and are leaving behind those that are not going to be staying much longer, like Mangala, Toure, Nasri and Bony. Sane and Gundogan also don’t travel to Romania, but they are injured.

Steaua have the weapons to trouble City – they have signed the likes of Florin Tanase, who has impressed at Viitorul for the last season or two, while Bogdan Stanciu remains a huge threat. I can certainly see parrallels between the two – both have a tendancy to try an buy their way to trophies – Steaua struggling last season, so buying three or four of the main competitions best players in Tanase, Amorim, Boldrin and Momčilović.

Given the seriousness of Guardiola, I still think with the quality they have on the pitch they will win fairly easily – scoring 2/3 goals and potentially conceding. A few of their top youngsters have travelled, but I don’t think we will see them unless they are very far ahead.

Dinamo Zagreb vs Salzburg: BTTS + Over 2.5 Goals @ 6/4 (1945 KO)

Last season, these two in their respective leagues were low value bets for any game really, but this season, with both losing key players – the prices have come up, and in Salzburg’s case, results have started to wane a little. Zagreb are in fine form – but rarely are challenged in their Croatian league – and rarely concede. Against a better European side, with attacking talent like Salzburg’s, I think this market is the value for the game!

The three to watch out for, for me at least – are Marko Rog, Ante Coric and Armin Hodzic – all very young talents that are doing the business – Hodzic with 18 in 33 last season, and 21 in 43 overall (he actually played for Liverpool as a youth player). Rog has a modest 5 in 38 league games, but has 4 in 8 this season – taking over from a few that have left. Coric, at 19 – has 8 goals in 62 – but it is his pace and flair as a winger that is catching attention from admirers all around Europe! He played for Salzburg a few years ago, but returned when Zagreb’s youth system improved.

Salzburg have some of the most talented players around! Yordy Reina and Valentin Lazaro are two top prospects that will no doubt move up the leagues in the coming years…Takumi Minamino is another – all three around the 20/21 mark, and match-winners on their day! Dabbur and Soriano make for two strikers that can put away chances, and combine the wingers, strikers and average back fours on both sides – and I feel this is cracking bet!

Villarreal vs Monaco: BTTS @ 11/10 (1945 KO, Wednesday)

Tomorrow’s only game I can see good value and a good chance of winning is this one – BTTS between two sides that are offensively decent, and defensively questionable, since both have lost key members of their back four.

I have no doubt over the prowess of both, but in the case of Monaco – multiple South Americans in the back four always sets alarm bells ringing – they usually have a tendancy to make a howler or two, and try to play it out once too often. They conceded two in their opening game against one of Ligue 1’s poorer teams – but came back to draw 2-2 thanks to their offensive power. Falcao, Moutinho, Lemar, Carillo and Silva – 5 players that are unplayable at times.

Villarreal too lost key players – Denis Suarez to Barcelona, Eric Bailly to Man Utd…But they have signed well. Nicola Sansone from Sassuolo, Alex Pato from Corinthians, Denis Cheryshev from Real Madrid, Roberto Soriano from Sampdoria. Four very good signings! More than making up for what they lost. Add in class acts such as Trigueros, Castillejo, Musacchio and Victor Ruiz – they have the makings of a Champions League quality side!

BTTS is the value to me @ 11/10 – even with Villarreal’s strong back four I struggle seeing them keep Monaco at bay.