With the Premier League returning to our T.V. screens this past weekend, it’s now time for the return of the Champions League. We’re on to the final round of Champions League qualifying.
The playoff round has a very interesting set up in that it’s broken down in to two different brackets or “routes” as they call it. There’s the “Winners Route,” which features league champions from many of UEFA’s smaller countries playing each other and ensuring that some of them will actually make it to the Champions League group stage. Then there’s the “League Route” that features the big boys who qualified via league position. This group will feature some of the big boys going through the motions while they destroy a smaller club, or two big boys playing each other to ensure that some of the better teams in Europe don’t actually make it to the Champions League but instead get bounced into the Europa League.
For the first leg of the two-legged playoff, we’ll focus on the games that will be on T.V. In other words, the ones involving the big boys.
FC Steaua Bucuresti (ROM) vs. Manchester City (ENG) (2:45 PM Tuesday – FS1)
The fourth-place team from England takes on the Romanian runners up who are by far the most successful team Romania has ever had. They’ve won the Romanian league 26 times and the Romanian cup 22 times. Their success has transferred into Europe as well, with a European cup win in 1986 and finishing runners up in 1989.
Does that success from the 80s translate to success these days? Absolutely not. Let’s be honest, Manchester City are coming off a poor game against a bad Sunderland team. They’re not going to look poor in this one. They won’t look like world beaters though either as they’ll likely just go through the motions during the away leg. Steaua Bucuresti will either sit back and try to defend the City onslaught, which won’t end well for them, or they’ll try to attack City leaving them open at the back, which will also not end well for them. Manchester City win 3-0
Young Boys of Bern (SWI) vs. Borussia Monchengladbach (GER) (2:45 PM Tuesday – FS2)
The last time Young Boys made it this far in the Champions League they jumped out to 3-0 lead within the first 30 minutes of the first leg, only to watch a Gareth Bale-led Tottenham score five unanswered goals. This time they get the fourth-place team from Germany, who earned their spot by having a tremendous second half of the season last year after a slow start to the season.
The Bundesliga doesn’t get started until after the Champions League playoff round, so ‘Gladbach enters this match having not played a competitive game yet. That doesn’t mean they’ve been idle as the Germans have already played in 10 pre-season friendlies with overall positive results.
While the results don’t matter, what’s important is the players have been playing in some matches, so they should have their legs under them enough to hit the ground running. Borussia Monchengladbach win 2-1
FC Porto (POR) vs. AS Roma (ITA) (2:45 PM Wednesday – FS2)
Two teams that based on name, history, and likely merit deserve to be in the Champions League but thanks to UEFA’s dumb rules one of them will be playing in the Europa League this year.
This will by far be the most competitive tie of the round as both teams will not only be going all out but they both have a legitimate shot at winning this tie. The teams had very interesting experiences in the Champions League last season with Porto picking up 10 points in the group stage and failing to advance, while Roma got just six, but went on to lose to Real Madrid in the round of 16.
The home team will likely win both legs of this tie, with goal difference and away goals likely being the difference. FC Porto win 1-0