AEK Athens vs CSKA MOSCOW
On their day, AEK Athens are a decent outfit – especially on home soil. The Greek side have lost just three home fixtures since last September; an incredible feat considering the volume of matches. If they grab the opener, AEK will fancy their chances but the hosts must be wary of CSKA’s threat in attack – it could get out of hand if the Greek side are too aggressive.
The Russian outfit won’t have everything their own way but AEK Athens shouldn’t pose the visitors too many problems. An early goal could settle a few nerves and CSKA will be looking to build on their solid pre-season form. I’m backing European experience to show here and the away side will be quietly confident of taking a lead into the second leg in Moscow.
TIP: CSKA Moscow to win @ 27/20
Vardar Skopje vs FC COPENHAGEN
Who are Vardar Skopje? They were a relatively unknown quantity just a fortnight or so ago but now, everybody knows who they are. The Macedonian side defeated Malmo, arguably much stronger opponents on paper, in the previous round so FC Copenhagen must be wary of a potential shock defeat – take Vardar lightly at your peril.
A simple choice. FC Copenhagen deserve their spot in the Champions League – they have featured regularly in Europe’s elite competition in recent years. The Danish side were a class above in their away fixture against MSK Zilina in the previous qualifying round and punters should consider backing Copenhagen at what is a very appealing price.
TIP: FC Copenhagen to win @ 3/5
CELTIC vs Rosenborg
Celtic breezed past Linfield in the second round but Rosenborg will provide a much tougher test for the Scottish champions. Brendan Rodgers’ men should take a lead into the second leg but the Hoops will be wary of taking their opponents for granted. Celtic could run away with this one if they click into top gear in the first half.
If the going gets tough, Celtic might struggle to get going. Rosenborg are no slouches and an early away goal will give the visitors something to sit on. There’s no doubting that Celtic have the greater pedigree and talent but they cannot just assume that it is going to be an easy contest – Rodgers’ men will need to cope with Rosenborg’s physicality.
TIP: Celtic to win @ 2/5
OGC NICE vs AJAX
Arguably the tie of the round. Nice, Ligue 1 leaders for the most part of last season, failed in their bid to win the French title but they can be proud of their efforts. Can they hold their own against some of the top teams in European football? Unlikely but they will fancy their chances against Ajax – especially in the first leg on home soil.
Ajax were outclassed in all departments in May’s Europa League final against Manchester United but that European run will benefit the younger members of their squad ahead of the new campaign. Goals could be on the cards here; both sides are capable of scoring a hatful of goals and both teams to score landed in a number of Ajax’s European fixtures last year.
TIP: Both teams to score @ 41/50