UEFA Champions League: Who Will Advance to the Group Stage?
The first leg of the Play Off Round of UEFA Champions League has been completed, with the second leg to come this Tuesday and Wednesday as we fill out the remaining spots in the four pots of the main draw. 22 teams are safely in; including powerhouses like Real Madrid, Juventus, PSG, Barca, Bayern, and four EPL giants; Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Tottenham, with Liverpool hoping to join the mix this week. Ten teams in total will round out the field this week – but who??
One is all but certain. Celtic takes a 5-0 advantage to Astana. Barring a “Miracle at Camp Nou” like comeback, the Scottish side will be back in the Pool Stage of the UEFA Champions League. The remaining nine ties still have varying degrees of drama.
Here’s a rundown of the ten ties, in order of uncertainty.
#10: Astana vs. Celtic
- Celtic Leads 5-0
- Astana +165,
- Celtic +150
- Draw +235
- TOTAL 2 ½
This one is all but academic. The Bhoy’s handled their business at home and can run out a squad of seconds and feel rather confident in advancing. Celtic has yet to concede in the league, but don’t be surprised if that streak ends Tuesday. With so little pressure on the Scottish side, a quick lapse and concession seem likely. Counter to that, I’d be surprised if they fail to score themselves. Astana will have to all-out press in order to give themselves any chance of making things interesting, which should open the door for a counter goal or two. I’ve no interest in picking a side in this match but do like the over 2.5 as a strong possibility.
#9: CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys
- CSKA Leads 1-0
- CSKA Moscow -145
- Young Boys +370
- Draw +265
- TOTAL 2 ½
CSKA is the stronger side and already has a one goal advantage after the win at Swiss Young Boys. In order to advance in regular time, Young Boys would need to win score twice in Moscow while conceding just a single goal or less. Tall task. The +370 odds on Young Boys are all you need to know about their chances of advancing into the Main Draw in 2017-2018.
You have to feel slightly for the Young Boys, as a disastrous own-goal has placed them in this predicament, needing a win in Moscow to advance, but the situation is what it is; and the odds are long on toppling the Russian giants who have been in the Group Stage four straight years.
Fun fact: CSKA are unbeaten in three UEFA home games (W1 D2); Young Boys are without a win in nine European away fixtures (D2 L7).
#8: Nice vs. Napoli
- Napoli Leads 2-0
- Nice +32
- Napoli -130
- Draw +270
- TOTAL 3
Usually, a side that only trails 2-0 with the home return leg on the horizon wouldn’t be left for dead. But the talent discrepancy between Serie A Napoli and French side Nice was clearly evident in the first leg in Italy. Nice has a tall task ahead of them, considering they need to win by two goals to nil, and three if they concede to allow for the away goal tiebreaker. All but impossible, especially given the long odds of +325 to merely WIN the game… It was a nice run for the French underdogs, but it ends this week.
#7: Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim
- Liverpool Leads 2-1
- Liverpool -165
- Hoffenheim +385
- Draw +325
- TOTAL 3
Liverpool returns home feeling confident after a nice 2-1 road win at Hoffenheim in the first leg. A simple draw will get them into the Group Stage, and even a loss at 1-0 will be enough. They are -165 favorites to win the match straight up, with Hoffenheim long at +385 to win – to win by two is even more unlikely. Liverpool has been known to concede on occasion, and if the game were on the road a 3-2 wild one wouldn’t be impossible to envision. But with the Reds at home, and Phillip Coutinho and his rumored possible move to Barca now nixed, expect Liverpool to handle their business and send a fifth EPL squad into the Group Stage.
Liverpool is unbeaten at home against German clubs: W11 D3 L0, so that bodes well in their favor as well.
#6: Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir
- Sevilla Leads 2-1
- Sevilla -245
- Istanbul Basaksehir +600
- Draw +360
- TOTAL 3
Sevilla has two away goals, a one goal lead in the leg, and now they get to return home where they are one of the strongest Vegas favorites to win their individual match. The Turkish side has performed admirably in this tournament but is a little out-gunned against the La Liga powerhouse Sevilla.
Istanbul is in the Champions League for the first time, so there is no shame in going home in the Playoff Round after a tough struggle against Sevilla, who is looking to advance to the main draw for the third straight season. Sevilla has scored six times in two home games against Turkish clubs in Champions League play, so don’t be surprised if they cover the -1 goal spread at -145. It is one of my favorite wagers in this week’s matches.
#5. Kobenhavn vs. Qarabag
- Qarabag Leads 1-0
- Kobenhavn -145
- Qarabag +400
- Draw +245
- TOTAL 2
This is another one on the surface that looks dicey, but Kobenhaven is actually in decent shape. They are solid favorites to win at home, though they’d be best suited to win by two on regulation since they failed to score an away goal in the first leg at Qarabag.
If you are at all sentimental, you can’t help but root for the away side. Should they prevail, or even lose by a single goal at any score line other than to nil, Qarabag would be the first ever club from Azerbaijan to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage. Heck, they’d be the first to ever advance in any major European competition. And all they need is a draw!
I’ll be the sentimental fool who will root for them to advance. It may be dramatic, it may require penalties, it may require a late tally to lose 2-1 – something, but at +245, there is some decent value in backing some history.
Kobenhavn (Copenhagen for Americans) has had a flair for the dramatic in this competition, trailing 1—0 in the third round against FK Vardar (Macedonia) but managed to advance with a 4-1 win in the home leg, and was similarly needed a 2-1 win over Sheriff to advance to this current point. They’ve been deadly at home in this competition, and I think they find the two-goal margin they need to advance. I’ll take the on the spread at -1/2 (-140).
#4. Slavia Prava vs. APOEL Nicosia
- APOEL Leads 2-0
- Slavia -170
- APOEL +475
- Draw +285
Slavia has their work cut out for them, especially without an away goal, but they are a heavy favorite at home. However, if they concede even once, things get tricky. 2-0 is a sizable hole. APOEL has been knocked out in this stage of the proceedings for three straight years, but I think they finally advance this Wednesday. Slavia Prague isn’t in great form of late, having dropped four of their last five games, including a bad 2-0 loss to APOEL and their sound dismissal from the Europa Qualifying stages last season in a pair of 3-0 defeats to Anderlecht.
Look for the Cyprus champs to advance, though it wouldn’t surprise me if Slavia wins the game Wednesday.
#3. HNK Rijeka vs. Olympiacos
- Olympiacos Leads 2-1
- Rijeka +165
- Olympiacos +170
- Draw +210
- TOTAL 2
Given this is a virtual pick ‘em, there is some value in backing Olympiacos to advance to the Champions League Group Stage for the 19th time. The Greek squad did concede a goal in the first leg, giving Rijeka an advantage in a 1-0 game – substantial given the low total of 2 indicating a tight defensive-minded affair.
Olympiacos is 7-0-1 in their last eight matches and enters the contest in good form and confident. They will have their work cut out for them in Croatia, but have a good chance to advance, even if it is on the back of a hard-fought scoreless draw on the road. Rijeka has only lost once in their last 16 home games in European competition, but five of their last seven have been draws, and this is only their second time in the elite Champions League competition – so many of those results were against lesser squads than the venerable Greek champs.
#2. Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
- Hapoel leads 2-1
- Maribor +160
- Hapoel +165
- Draw +210
- TOTAL 2 ½
As the line would indicate, this one is a big toss-up. Hapoel is looking for a first ever Group Stage appearance and needs only a draw or a loss at 1-0 to achieve their goal. Maribor has been unbeaten in their last six European contests but needs to do more than draw to advance.
The Slovenian side has advanced to the Group Stage in 2014-2015, but only one other time prior (91) so neither side is accustomed to having quite this much on the line. It should be a fun and very tense game. It isn’t the one MOST television eyes will be drawn to – I get that – especially given that Napoli and Sevilla both play at the same time, but this is easily the most competitive and evenly matched game of the Tuesday slate of action. It should be good, but not as good as #1…
#1. FCSB (Steaua Bucuresti) vs. Sporting CP
- Even at 0-0
- FCSB +310
- Sporting CP -110
- Draw +235
Of the ten ties, this is the only one that enters even and the only one not to feature a single goal. It is also (with the possible exception of Celtic tallying five times) is the biggest surprise of the first leg. It was surprising that the Portuguese side failed to win at home, and even more surprising they failed to find the net a single time. They are large favorites to overcome that deficient performance, but being on the road is tough, and they can expect a feverish crowd awaiting them in the Romanian capital. There are some trends working against CP; the Romanian side hasn’t ever lost at home to a Portuguese opponent, and CP is 0-3 in their previous trips to Romania.
But ancient history aside, Sporting CP is the better side. They SHOULD win, and they have an edge in that any scoreline aside from nil to nil will see them through to the place they expected to arrive; especially after the draw was announced. FCSB would be one of the biggest surprises if they can advance, and you can’t even completely discount the home side in the Playoff Stage of Champions League, but I’ll take Sporting to figure it out and reach the Group Stage for the third time in four years.