Today the Champions League Qualification Continues, and These are the Match Reviews.
ROSENBURG VS NORRKOPING
Rosenborg are enjoying another dominant season so far this campaign. They are yet to lose domestically since the Norwegian season began back in March and they find themselves leading the table yet again.
This makes it 21 matches unbeaten for them, and a huge 17 of those have ended in victory to give them a formidable record as they look to progress in the Champions League. Unfortunately for their opponents, all of their dropped points have come away from home, leaving them with nine competitive wins on the bounce on home turf. They haven’t lost at home since they were beaten by Lazio in the Europa League last November.
Rosenborg are regulars in Europe’s top competitions due to their regular high finishing positions in the Norway Eliteserien. However, this is their first appearance in the Champions League since 2011, when they were knocked out in the 3rd qualifying round by Viktoria Plzen.
It may have been a long five year wait for Rosenborg, but this is Norrkoping’s first foray into the Champions League. Their last continental campaign was a UEFA Cup qualifying match in the 2000/01 season, where they were knocked out by Slovan Liberec.
But Norrkoping’s victory in the Swedish Allsvenskan last season has allowed them a taste of top tier action. They are also in good form, although not quite as good as Rosenborg. They are unbeaten in eight and have won five of these, and they’ve won eight of their last 12 in all competitions to put them level on points with Allsvenskan leaders Malmo
We predict Norrkoping’s unbeaten streak to come to an end on Wednesday. They have been slipping domestically in recent weeks and simply don’thave the European pedigree and experience that Rosenborg have. Also, fully expecting the hosts to get a first leg win here, and odds of 4/5 for this outcome look good value to me. I’m going for a 2-0 correct score prediction at 17/2 as well.
LUDOGORETS VS FK MLADOST
Ludogorets are regular participants in the early rounds of the Champions League having won the Bulgarian League in each of the last 5 seasons and they do have some European pedigree. They reached the play-off round in 2013-14 but fell to Basel although they went on to have a very impressive run in the Europa League reaching the last 16 thanks to victories over the likes of Lazio and PSV. They made the Champions League groups stage the following season but suffered a shock defeat to Moldovan side FC Milsami Orhei at this stage last year so they’ll be desperate to put that right here.
The Bulgarians appear to be taking no chances this time around and have played 5 friendlies in preparation for this game and they’ve won 3 of them against the likes of Dinamo Tbilisi and Slavia Prague. They did though lose their final 2 competitive games last season although they’d already sealed the league title by then.
Their opponents FK Mladost Podgorica are the champions of Montenegro and are making their Champions League debuts here. They have played in Europe twice before, going out in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League on both occasions and they are the clear underdogs here. Mladost also ended the last campaign poorly, losing 4 of their final 7 league fixtures but they still hung on to see off city rivals Budućnost to clinch the crown.
Ludogorets have the more quality and judging by their lengthy preparation for this game seem to have learnt from the mistakes of last year where they thought they’d cruise past Moldovan opposition. Mladost aren’t great travellers even in their own league and are likely to be very defensive here so the Bulgarians may have to be patient to get their openings. Mladost have only won 1 of their last 9 away fixtures in Montenegro and have failed to score in 5 of those games. It’s hard to see them causing their opponents many problems here so consider backing Ludogorets to Win 2-0 at 4/1
DUNDALK VS FH
Dundalk have been absolutely dominant in the League of Ireland Premier Division for the past couple of seasons. They won the league for the first time in nearly 20 years in 2014, and then romped to the title again last season. This season is still underway, but they sit six points clear at the top of the table with a huge 46 points from their opening 18 matches.
Due to this, their form record looks impressive. They have won ten of their last 11 matches in all competitions and have won six on the bounce at Oriel Park.
Dundalk’s European record is a little less impressive though. Their foray into the Champions League last season saw them eliminated at this stage of the competitions after they lost 2-1 to BATE, but prior to that their only recent continental appearance was a Europa League first qualifying round win in 2010.
FH have had a more consistent recent involvement with Europe’s top competitions thanks to their continued success in the Iceland Urvalsdeild. They won the Iceland top flight title for the first time since 2012 last season though, meaning they qualified for the Champions League rather than the Europa League.
Their last foray into the Champions League saw them eliminated in this round against Ekranas, and despite six attempts at Champions League qualifying they have never made it past the second round of qualifying.
But FH are in decent form at the moment. They are unbeaten in ten matches in all competitions and have won seven of them, leaving them atop the Urvalsdeild table with 21 points from ten matches.
These two sides are fairly well matched, and our prediction is that it will come down to the home advantage of Dundalk on Wednesday. The Irish champions are in sensational form at home and will be high on confidence after scoring a huge 11 goals in their last three matches, so we are backing a Dundalk win at 4/6 alongside a 2-1 correct score prediction at 15/2.
OLIMPIJA VS TRENCIN
This should be a competitive tie with not a great deal to choose between the teams. Olimpija won the Slovenian League last year for the 1st time and this is their first ever game in the Champions League. They have played in the Europa League 4 times before but even their best effort in the competition saw them knocked out in the 3rd Qualifying Round. Their most recent game in Europe was against Slovak opposition when they exited on away goals against MŠK Žilina in the Europa League 3 years ago. They have clearly improved since then though and finished 6 points clear of Maribor to win the Slovenian top flight last term. They were beaten 2-1 by Celtic in a friendly last week as they prepared for this game.
Trenčín are the slight favourites to progress over 2 legs but are also relative novices in the competition. They’ve only played 1 Champions League tie previously and that was last season when they lost 4-3 on aggregate to Steaua Bucharest at this stage. They do look a stronger side now though and won the Slovakian League again last season with 7 more points than they managed in the previous campaign. Dutch forward Gino van Kessel was their main goal threat and could be their biggest weapon here.
Trenčín have played 5 friendlies ahead of this game and both teams scored in 4 of them. Both teams also scored in 4 of their last 5 competitive matches so there are usually goals when they play and they scored 23 more goals than 2nd place Slovan Bratislava in the Slovakian top flight last term. Olimpija Ljubljana also averaged over 2 goals per game in their domestic league last term and both teams scored in 5 of their final 9 games.
These teams are quite evenly matched with the visitors on paper slightly stronger so it is highly unlikely to be one of those games where one team parks the bus, which are relatively common in the early rounds in Europe, particularly in 1st Legs. Olimpija will see this as their best chance of winning the tie but Trencin will be hungry for an away goal to take back to Slovakia so backing both teams to score at Evens looks to offer value here.
CRUSADERS VS COPENHAGEN
Crusaders managed to retain their Northern Irish Premiership for the first time in their history last year after picking up an incredible 91 points in 38 games, eight more than their closest rivals Linfield.
This saw them qualify for the Champions League qualifying stages for just the second time this millennium, and this is the stage at which their campaign ended last season after Skenderbeu beat them 6-4 on aggregate.
Crusaders European record in general paints a chequered picture. They have never made it past the 2nd qualifying round in the UEFA Cup, Europa League, or Champions League, and in all honesty they’re unlikely to do so against Copenhagen despite their excellent run of six wins and one draw in their last seven games.
Copenhagen won back their Danish Superliga crown last season with a dominant performance which saw them pick up 71 points from their 33 games and beat SonderjyskE to the title by nine points.
This has allowed them passage back into Europe’s elite competition, and they will be looking to get to the group stages just as they did in the 2013/14 season. They followed this campaign by being eliminated in the playoff round next season, and then finished last in their Europa League group.
However, their European record is generally pretty good, especially when compared to Crusaders. They made it to the round of 16 in the Champions League back in 2010/11 and haven’t been eliminated at this stage of the tournament since the 2004/05 season.
I’m fully expecting Copenhagen to get the win on Wednesday, but my prediction is for it to be a high scoring match as well. Copenhagen have scored 23 goals in their last ten matches and could very well bang in a few against Crusaders. But the visitors have only kept one clean sheet in their last five outings, so Crusaders have a great chance of getting on the scoresheet.
I’m backing a Copenhagen Win and Over 2.5 Goals at 10/11 along with a 3-1 win for Copenhagen for my correct score prediction.
PARTIZANI VS FERENCVAROS
Partizani Tirana are late entrants into the competition after Albanian champions Skënderbeu Korçë were kicked out for match-fixing. They finished 7 points behind Skenderbeu last season but did lose 3 fewer games so they are a tough side to beat. They’ve already played in the Europa League, drawing their 1st Leg at home to Slovan Bratislava 0-0 a fortnight ago only for the 2nd Leg to be cancelled after their promotion into this competition. This should be a tougher game but Albanian football is clearly on the rise with Skenderbeu making the play-off round of this competition last year and becoming the first Albanian side to play in the group phase of a European competition while Albania’s qualification and solid showing at Euro 2016 shows their football is in a good state.
The same could be said of Hungary for that matter and Ferencváros do have a proud tradition in this competition. They won the Hungarian League for the 1st time in 12 years last term to enter the Champions League for the first time since 2004-05 when they overcame KF Tirana at this stage. Their recent record in Europe is not great though and their last 3 European campaigns have all ended in the 2nd Qualifying Round of the Europa League against fairly undistinguished opponents.
The Hungarians are a well organised unit and pretty solid at the back. They’ve played two friendlies ahead of this game and both finished 0-0 with Standard Liège their most recent opponents. Their last 2 competitive games both ended in 1-0 wins and they are likely to try and keep things tight here and hope to win the tie in the 2nd Leg in Budapest.
Partizani games don’t tend to attract many goals either. Last season 24 of their 36 league games had under 2.5 goals. They had the best defensive record in Albania but scored 22 fewer goals than the champions and may struggle to break down their well-organised opponents here, who are also a little short in terms of cutting edge.
Therefore backing there to be under 2.5 goals at 4/5 looks good here.