Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League Qualifiers Predictions & Best Bets

Andy

Monaco v PSV

Tuesday 2nd August – 7:00PM KO

Monaco and PSV will play an eye-catching Champions League qualifier on Tuesday, with these sides coming into this game having experienced contrasting pre-season form. It is the Dutch side who seem to have gained more momentum in the summer months. After a sluggish start to their friendlies, they beat FC Eindhoven 5-0 and then edged Real Betis 2-1 before overcoming rivals Ajax 5-3 in a spectacular Dutch Super Cup on Saturday.

The Monegasque side, meanwhile, lost their last preparation match 3-1 against Southampton last weekend and have failed to win any of their last three friendlies. They have not looked like the fluid side that charged to third place in Ligue 1 last season with a terrific run of end-of-season form. Interestingly, though, they have scored at least one goal in each of their eight warm-up matches.

Certainly, their performance to date this summer shows some red flags for Philippe Clement’s side, who spent the majority of last season in mediocre form before hitting a real purple patch late on. There has been little evidence that they are close to this level yet, while PSV suggested at the weekend that they are coming back sharp – especially offensively. 

These sides have history, too. Last season, they met in the Europa League, with a scoreless draw in Monaco after the Ligue 1 side had won 2-1 in the Netherlands. That win, though, came against the flow of the game, in which PSV were the better side. Look for the Dutchmen to gain a measure of revenge here.

Prediction: PSV -1 Handicap, 1.62 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


Union Saint-Gilloise v Rangers

Tuesday 2nd August – 7:45PM KO

Union Saint-Gilloise returned to Belgian top-flight football last season with a bang as they finished second in the league in their first campaign among the elite in the best part of 50 years. Their reward is a place in the Champions League, in which they have been paired with Scottish side and Europa League finalists Rangers in the third qualifying round.

Although they have seen their squad stripped of arguably it’s best players in the form of Casper Nielson, they have started the new season well. After beating Charleroi on the opening day of the season they went to Saint-Truiden and picked up a 1-1 draw against a side that was very solid in the middle of the standings last term. Both games were tight and lacked scoring chances

Although Rangers reached the Europa League final, that was due to their home form. They lost three of their four knockout away games, with the exception being a blistering 4-2 success over Borussia Dortmund in February. Indeed, throughout last season’s European run, they won only one of nine on the road, including a defeat at this stage of Champions League qualifying against Malmo. Six of these finished with under 2.5 goals, including three 1-0 defeats.

Saturday’s battling 2-1 win over Livingston did little to reassure them that they are in prime form at present. Moreover, winger Ryan Kent misses this trip because of injury and Alfredo Morelos continues to miss out. 

Everything points to this being a tight match, with the home side having a slight edge.

Prediction: Union Saint-Gilloise Draw no Bet, 1.85 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


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Benfica v Midtyjlland

Tuesday 2nd August – 8:00PM KO

For the third time in four years, Benfica will begin their UEFA Champions League journey in the qualifier stage. In 2018/19, the Lisbon club edged Fenerbahçe 2-1 on aggregate before thrashing PAOK 5-2 to book their ticket to the group stage. Two years later, they would face off against PAOK in the third qualifying round following a summer that saw them invest an unprecedented €105 million in transfers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. PAOK would have the last laugh, however, as goals from current Norwich fullback Dimitris Giannoulis and Andrija Živković paved the way for a 2-1 win, depriving Benfica of vital Champions League funds and forcing them to sell Rúben Dias to Manchester City days later. To add insult to injury, Živković had been released by Benfica a week prior following an uneventful four-year spell, only to score eight minutes after coming on. The following year, Benfica thrashed Spartak Moscow 4-0, then managed by ex Benfica manager Rui Vitória, before facing off against Roger Schmidt’s PSV Eindhoven. After winning 2-1 in Lisbon, Benfica would put in a backs-to-the-wall performance in Eindhoven following Lucas Veríssimo’s sending-off in the 32nd minute – they would hold onto a 0-0 draw, before advancing all the way to the Champions League quarter finals.

One year later, Schmidt has taken charge of Benfica on a two-year deal, and he’ll be looking to get a positive result in his first competitive match as manager. Benfica began the summer by selling top scorer Darwin Núñez to Liverpool, receiving an initial fee of €75 million that has enabled them to bring in six recruits thus far. They have enjoyed an impressive preseason under their new German manager, beating Reading 2-0, Nice 3-0, Fulham 5-1, Girona 4-2 and Newcastle 3-2, and their next match will see them travel to Denmark to face off against FC Midtjylland in the first leg of the third qualifying round. 

Midtjylland (or FCM) have finished in the top two positions in Denmark’s top flight for each of the past five seasons, winning the league in 2017/18 and 2019/20 and qualifying to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the first time in 2020/21, where they would finish bottom of their group with two points. Last season saw them beat Celtic 3-1, winning the second leg 2-1 in extra time, before losing 4-0 to PSV. But despite their consistency as a top two side in Denmark, Midtjylland have gone through four different managers since 2017/18. Five days before their meeting against Benfica, they sacked manager Bo Henriksen, with interim coach Henrik Jensen taking over. The 37-year-old Jensen’s managerial experience has been solely composed of youth team roles, having spent three years working with Midtjylland’s academy and U-19 sides before spending the past season as Henriksen’s assistant coach, and his first game in charge of the first team would see FCM thrash OB 5-1. Speaking to a Danish football expert, he discussed his thoughts on Midtjylland’s chances:

“Because of their managerial changes, FCM are yet to settle into a clear style, although over the last year under Henriksen they went to a 5-2-3 with attacking wing back and outlet wingers either side of a false 9 ahead of 2 box to box midfielders (although quite defensive, especially Raphael Onyedika). Henriksen was criticised for his defensive style and despite some impressive play after a string of losses (all of which they won on xG) at the start of this season, Henriksen was somewhat controversially sacked. Making matters worse, FCM’s star player Evander (who is just magical) is heavily linked with a move away and has been absent from recent squads. He stuck with the 5-2-3 for his first game with the crucial change moving Anders Dreyer (another star man) out of CF and into his natural position on the wing, bringing Sory Kaba, a natural CF, into the position. There’s no clear replacement yet, but it is thought that Jensen’s team are very similar to Henriksen’s from the initial viewing – defensively minded and happy to sit off the ball. The problem with this style so far this season has been a lack of quality in an ageing back line. They’re a bit of an unknown variable but in a rough patch and the loss of Evander is seriously significant – I would definitely price Benfica as favourites.”

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Midtjylland will lose this match, but what evidence is there to suggest that Benfica will win? For one, their track record. Benfica have had to begin their Champions League campaign in the qualifiers on 10 occasions, and they’ve made it to the group stage on seven occasions. From their last seven attempts, they’ve made it to the group stage six times. Apart from 2020/21, when they defeated Ludogorets, Young Boys and Slavia Prague to seal an inaugural Champions League group stage berth, Midtjylland fell to PSV in 2021/22 in the third qualifying round, fell to FC Astana in the second qualifying round of 2018/19 and fell to APOEL in the third qualifying round of 2015/16. Whilst FCM do have the advantage of having played competitive football this season, unlike Benfica, they have failed to convince. A 1-1 draw to Randers was followed by a 3-1 loss to Silkeborg, with FCM narrowly beating Cypriot side AEK Larnaca 4-3 on penalties after drawing both legs 1-1; Henriksen was sacked in the airport shortly after landing in Denmark. Benfica, meanwhile, have been nearly flawless in their preseason, blowing away their opponents with an intense pressing style, fast-paced attacking transitions, and an organised set-up in possession. This attack-minded setup can certainly leave themselves vulnerable to conceding goals, as seen in their 4-2 win against Girona and their 3-2 win over Newcastle, but without Brazilian playmaker Evander, it is unclear whether or not FCM will have enough firepower to exploit this.

Despite selling their top scorer to Liverpool, Benfica look to have improved their squad with the arrival of Schmidt and various signings such as David Neres and Enzo Fernandez, both of whom have already cemented a place in the starting line-up. However, they are under no illusions that they still need several new signings in order to give their squad the boost they need to win their first league title since 2018/19. Not only would a failure to reach the group stage hamstring their ability to sign new players, it would also cast a dark cloud around their new manager and new season, something they were never able to recover from in 2020/21 when PAOK eliminated Jorge Jesus’ side in the qualifiers. Benfica have everything it takes to wrap this tie up in the first leg with a dominant, high-scoring performance, and doing so would allow them to prioritize their efforts for the league opener against Arouca – three days after the first leg and four days before the second leg. I’m expecting Benfica to come out guns blazing and send a strong message in Denmark with a dominant victory.

Prediction: Benfica to Win & Over 2.5 Goals, 1.80 on Betfair (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)


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