Great Friday for the football fans as we have the Premier League finally starting! And as if that was not enough, Ligue 1 (France) Eredivisie (Netherlands) and the Portuguese Primeira Liga are also having their start today.
In England Manchester United receives Leicester after a depressing transfer window. The Red Devils were desperately looking for a defender but in the end they did not manage to get a deal done.
The big game of this first round will be played in London next Sunday, when Arsenal receives the Champions Manchester City. The Citizens are again the favorites to win the League but they should have high competition from Liverpool this season.
Walk in the park for PSG, Benfica and Porto in a close race. PSV and Ajax doing the same in the Netherlands
In France PSG should win the title again despite the fact that Ligue 1 is getting better and better every year. With Monaco and Lyon selling some of their stars, I think this might be a good year for Olympique Marseille and I can see them finishing second this year.
In Portugal we should have a race between Benfica and Porto. Sporting is having a though summer, they lost William Carvalho, Rui Patrico and Gelson. Jorge Jesus also left his coaching position, so I don’t see them strong enough to fight for the title. In my opinion Benfica will be champion and Porto the runner-up.
Just like in Portugal, we traditionally have a race with 3 candidates where Feyenoord is the underdog. I look to the Ajax team this season and there is so much talent that is almost an obligation for them to become champions. PSV will need to make sure they don’t lose points with the smaller teams so they can follow Ajax and maybe surprise them. I don’t see that happening and i believe Ajax will be first and PSV second.
The road to the Champions League group stage continues and today we had 7 exciting games. In Lisbon we had the top match of the day between Benfica and Fenerbahce, in a game where the Turkish side was completely outclassed and must feel satisfied with this 1-0 defeat. The Argentinean Emanuel Cervi scored the winning goal in the 69th minute after an assist from Eduardo Salvio.
In Liege we saw Ajax having an impressive start, scoring 2 goals in the first half (Huntelaar and Tadic) but St. Liege reacted in the second half. Carcela-Gonzalez scored in the 67th minute and a penalty score by Renaud Emond gave the home side more hopes of qualifying.
In the other games highlight to the 0-2 away victory from Dinamo Zagreb against Astana and one more impressive result from the Hungarians MOL Vidi, who got a 1-1 draw away from home against Malmo. BATE Borisov is also in good shape to qualify after beating Qarabag in Azerbaijan by a single goal.
Tomorrow we have more 3 games. PAOK receives the Russians Spartak Moscow, Shkendija travels to Austria to play against Red Bull Salzburg and Celtic plays at home against AEK Athens
In the first year where teams from Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France do not need to go through the qualifiers, we have 6 open spots for the group stage.
In the League path we have 3 of the top teams in the same bracket, as from Benfica, Fenerbahce and Spartak Moscow only one team might reach the group stage. PAOK was also quite impressive in the last qualifying so is not out of question they can upset two of those teams.
In the Champions Path everything looks quite open, with only PSV looking to be a clear favorite. Celtic has a complicated way to the group stage as they have to face AEK Athens and most probably Malmo.
The 3rd qualifying stage will be played on 7/8 August and 14 August. The final playoff will be on 21 and 28 August.
PAOK had a very dominant win this evening, beating Basel 3-0. The Greek side was traveling to Switzerland with a short advantage after the 2-1 win at home but on the 7th minute a Petkas corner found the Cape Verdean Fernando Varela who opened the score.
After that the game went on a very typical way, with Basel pushing with everything but giving space for the counters. And was from one of those moves that Prijovic scored the second in the beginning of the second half and killed the game. 6 minutes later El Kaddouri with a nice shot from outside the box scored the 3rd. PAOK will now face Spartak Moscow in the next round.
On the other games the only surprise was the elimination of Ludogorets in the hands of the Hungarian side MOL Vidi. After the 0-0 of the first hand, a Hadzic goal was enough to seal the qualifying for the next round. Maybe the name MOL Vidi does not tell you a lot as this club was until recently known as Videoton. Their main sponsor is the Hungarian oil and gas multinational MOL, so for this reason they had to change their name.
Completed this round we now know the 10 games of the third qualifying round of the Champions League:
Celtic (SCO) v AEK Athens (GRE)
Salzburg (AUT) v Shkëndija (MKD)
Crvena zvezda (SRB) v Spartak Trnava (SVK)
Qarabağ (AZE) v BATE Borisov (BLR)
Astana (KAZ) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
Malmö (SWE) v Vidi (HUN)
Standard Liège (BEL) v Ajax (NED)
Benfica (POR) v Fenerbahçe (TUR)
Slavia Praha (CZE) v Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
PAOK (GRE) v Spartak Moskva (RUS)
Dinamo Zagreb, Shkendija and Trnava already guaranteed their place in the next round of qualifiers for the Champions League and today we have 9 more matches.
Our attention will be in Switzerland where Basel receives PAOK after a 2-1 defeat in Greece. That game caused big changes with Basel’s head coach Raphael Wicky losing his job.
Celtic, Ajax and Red Star are in a good position to advance after their home wins, with Malmo also in a favorable position after their away win again Cluj. The next round will be played on the 7th/8th and 14th of August and we will have a few extra high rated teams such as Benfica, Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Kyiv and Fenerbahce.