The Olympics have come and gone and there’s now a void in the live sports we’re getting in the afternoon these days. Luckily the UEFA Champions League is here to fill that void with the second leg of the playoff rounds, with the winners qualifying for the group stages and the losers going down to the Europa League.
There weren’t many surprises last week as the big teams did what they normally do and destroyed the smaller teams, but there are still plenty of matchups that are up in the air. The second leg usually provides us with great drama and stories as teams will go all out to avoid the Europa League.
(All times eastern)
AS Roma (ITA) vs. FC Porto (POR) (2:45 PM Tuesday – FS1)
This was always going to be the most even tie of the round and so far it has not failed to deliver. A 1-1 scoreline heading into the second leg leaves this as anyones tie. Porto were fantastic at home last year but on the road it’s a different story. Roma also have the benefit of having started their season last weekend, combine with that with the first leg and that’s two competitive games in a week meaning they’ve shaken off the rust and they’re back in the swing of things. That’s bad news for Porto. Roma win 2-1. Roma advance
AS Monaco (FRA) vs. Villarreal (ESP) (2:45 PM Tuesday – FS2)
(Monaco lead 2-1 on aggregate)
It’s gone from bad to worse for Villarreal. The team slumped through the preseason and then suffered a home loss in the first leg. It’s a big hill for them to climb, especially with an injury crisis hitting the club in the attacking positions. First choice strikers Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado will miss the match, as will pacy wingers Jonathan dos Santos and Denis Cheryshev. On the other side Monaco will welcome back Portuguese midfielder Joao Moutinho. That’s enough to swing the odds in their favor. Monaco win 2-0. Monaco advance
Hapoel Be’er Sheva (ISR) vs. Celtic (SCO) (2:45 PM Tuesday – FSN)
(Celtic lead 5-2 on aggregate)
What a wild match the first leg in this one gave us. Celtic jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead only to immediately concede two goals. While Celtic did eventually pull away and score five goals it always felt like they were barely hanging on, which is insane to say in a three-goal game. Does that give Be’er Sheva any hope coming into the second leg? Sure it can give them hope, but hope can only takes you so far. Celtic are making their return to the Champions League. 2-2 draw. Celtic advance
Manchester City (ENG) vs. Steaua Bucuresti (ROM) (2:45 PM Wednesday – FS1)
(Manchester City lead 5-0 on aggregate)
5-0 and it should have been seven if it weren’t for Sergio Aguero missing not one but two penalties in the first leg. That was an away game for City and it was pretty much exactly the bloodbath we all expected. The second leg should be more of the same, but there’s no chance Pep Guardiola throws out more than three of his first choice starters. He may even let Joe Hart play in this game, maybe. It was always going to be a tough draw for Steaua Bucuresti, hopefully they have more luck in the Europa League. Manchester City win 4-0. City advance
Rostov (RUS) vs. Ajax (NED) (2:45 PM Wednesday – FS2)
(1-1 on aggregate)
Borussia Monchengladbach took care of business last week against Young Boys of Bern, so kudos to Fox for giving us at least one match that’s still up in the air. Ajax are looking to get themselves back into the Champions League and will have to go through Rostov, a small city about 215 km north of Moscow in order to do it.
Rostov finished second in the Russian Premier League last season and come into this game not only having improved on their finishes in each of the past few seasons but also on great current form. This has one of those crazy games that goes back and forth written all over it. Let’s call it a thrilling 3-3 draw that will see Ajax advance on away goals.