We have Champions League football coming up! Okay, it’s only the playoffs to make it into the first round proper, but it’s better than nothing.
And, to make it even better, there are some scorching ties for us to run the rule over…
Hoffenheim v Liverpool
It was the tie Liverpool did not want, and probably the tie Hoffenheim didn’t fancy, either. The Bundesliga side had a season better than anyone could have imagined last term, but are up against it to make it into the Champions League group stages.
Only Bayern Munich lost fewer and conceded less than Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga last season as Julian Nagelsmann’s side shocked Europe to finish fourth. Liverpool, meanwhile, are yet to right the defensive wrongs that cost them so many points last season and still lack guile in the final third.
Should Hoffenheim set up as resolutely as they did for much of last season, an under 2.5 goals bet at 21/20 looks excellent value.
Napoli v Nice
For those not particularly fascinated by Hoffenheim and Liverpool, this is the tie of the round.
Two teams laced with exciting talents will be set up to attack by Maurizio Sarri and Lucien Favre respectively. The news that Wesley Sneijder has joined Mario Balotelli at Nice only adds to the intrigue ahead of this one, too.
Even in a traditionally cagey first leg of a European knockout, these sides will be going for the jugular and Napoli – who scored a mammoth 94 goals in Serie A last season – will be hoping to put the tie to bed. Napoli to win with both teams to score looks a decent bet at 21/10.
Istanbul Basaksehir v Sevilla
Istanbul Basaksehir could be the banana skin of this round. Sevilla’s stellar La Liga season still had flakes of inconsistency throughout and the Turkish club boasted the best defence in the Super Lig as they finished only four points short of champions Besiktas. Even with home advantage in the first leg, Istanbul Basaksehir are way out at 12/5 for victory.
Bolstered by several big name arrivals, however, Sevilla will play on the front foot and look to put the tie out of the hosts’ reach in the first leg here. A poor defensive record last season does make a both teams to score bet particularly appealing at 8/11, mind.
Celtic v FC Astana
Celtic’s European jaunt this year could yet end up in the Europa League. Brendan Rodgers provided some exciting Champions League fixtures last season, though, and will hope for a few more electric Glasgow nights.
Rodgers’ champions overcame Astana in the Champions League playoffs last season – albeit a round earlier – and should have far too much for the club that was founded a mere eight years ago. Astana are three-time Kazakhstani champions and held Celtic to a 1-1 draw in the first leg last season.
While Astana will hope to frustrate Celtic, a home win and over 3.5 goals looks a great price at 4/1 given the free scoring nature of Rodgers’ side.