Champions League Qualifying Preview – 21st August
The first legs commence with the second set of fixtures on Wednesday and all eyes will be Arsenal as they aim to reach the group stage for another straight season. Fenerbahce will provide a stern test and with the likes of Schalke and Basel also in action it’s set to be another top night of European football
Schalke vs PAOK Salinoka. 7:45PM. Sky Sports Red Button
Greek side PAOK travel to Germany in what could prove to be a very difficult tie. Whilst they remain a regular inclusion in my weekly European accumulator, I cannot see them causing Schalke any real trouble.
The 2012-13 European Champions League was dominated by German football as Bayern Munich defeated compatriots Borrusia Dortmund in the final at Wembley. Amidst that success, Schalke’s achievements became overshadowed but let’s not forget that they topped a group containing Arsenal.
Schalke are a very decent outfit and boast a squad containing the likes of Huntelaar, Farfan and Barnetta. Meanwhile, the visitors don’t possess the same wealth of talent as the only household name on their books in Liam Lawrence – who with no offence was never a player you thought of as Champions League standard.
We can expect a typically upbeat atmosphere from the German crowd and combined with the gulf in class, the home side should simply be too much for the Greeks. The visitors may prove hard to break down but an early goal could change all that.
The Germans were fantastic on the road in Europe last year but will not want to rely on that this campaign and will be hoping to build a significant lead ahead of the return match in Greece. I think they will achieve this.
Fenerbahce v Arsenal. 7:45PM Sky Sports 1
Truth be told, this is the one game I don’t want to cover. Alas, a European tie involving an English team is simply too exciting to ignore.
In my opinion, the situation being portrayed by both fans and media is quite distanced from the reality. Yes, it was a terrible start to the season for Arsenal (and for those that followed my weekend tip, sorry for that) but it’s hardly doom and gloom at The Emirates.
Chances of silverware will be limited to the domestic cups unless Arsenal make marquee signings and it seems Wenger is the only one that can’t see this; although we shouldn’t be surprised as it’s hardly the first time he hasn’t seen something we all could.
Nevertheless, the Gunners are still a very strong side full of capable players. To suggest the club is in crisis after one match is just ludicrous. However, the loss to Villa does highlight the frailty that leads to their inconsistency.
On the other hand, Fenerbahce hardly find themselves in a great place either. There is still some doubt as to whether the club will be eligible to compete in the group stage regardless of the result as the verdict of their court case regarding match-fixing is not due until after Wednesday’s encounter. If guilty, the Turkish side could be banished from European competition altogether.
With this in mind, you have to wonder which Fenerbahce will turn up. Will they throw in the towel, believing that any effort in this match will be redundant or do they turn up the heat and attempt to restore pride?
The situation surrounding both clubs makes this incredibly difficult to predict. Arsenal would probably settle for a score draw but a win here would not only silence the critics but also make persuading potential transfer targets a hell of a lot easier.
Having said that, I just can’t back them to win in a country where victory is notoriously hard.
Steaua Bucharest vs Legia Warsaw. 7:45PM Sky Sports Red Button
Fully aware that you’ll have as much interest in reading about these sides as I have writing about them; I’ll keep this one short.
Legia Warsaw arrive at this stage having scraped past a ten man Molde side on away goals. Scoring once in two matches against the Norwegian’s doesn’t exactly scream world-beaters.
Steaua aren’t exactly brilliant either but they’re not a bad and I’d consider them the sort of team you expect to see in the Group Stage, if only to make up the numbers. They’ll be confident having started their domestic campaign with three straight wins including Saturday’s 3-0 triumph over CFR Cluj.
The Romanian’s should be too strong and will want to enforce that here ahead of their trip to the Polish capital next week.