Benfica v Dynamo Kyiv
Five games, five wins, 14 goals scored, two conceded. Benfica have enjoyed a seamless start to life under new manager Roger Schmidt that has seen them defeat Arouca, Casa Pia, and FC Midtjylland. And after defeating Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 in Poland, Benfica are now 90 minutes away from reaching the promised land: the UEFA Champions League group stage. They will be well aware of the financial ramifications – a group stage berth lands teams an $18.6 million payout – and it could be the difference between losing a key player like Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica sold Rúben Dias shortly after their elimination in the qualifiers to PAOK in 2020) or not. It could also be the difference between bolstering their squad in the final days of the window or not; whilst Feyenoord’s Norwegian midfielder Fredrik Aursnes looks set to join for an initial fee of €15 million, a move for Braga captain Ricardo Horta has failed to materialize, and it appears that the incessant transfer saga will bear no fruit, forcing them to invest in a different attacker.
One game is separating them from Europe’s elite competition as they get set to host Dynamo Kyiv at the Estádio da Luz. Let’s take a look at some of their recent European qualifiers: last season, after beating Spartak Moscow 2-0 on back-to-back occasions, Benfica beat PSV Eindhoven 2-1 in Lisbon, before holding onto a 0-0 draw against Schmidt’s PSV despite playing with 10 men for an hour. Three years prior to that, they beat Fenerbahçe 1-0, drew 1-1 in Istanbul, and followed up a 1-1 draw against PAOK with a 4-1 win in Greece to secure their passage to the group stage. And in 2011/12, after beating Trabzonspor 2-0, they would go on to draw 1-1 in the second leg before beating Twente 5-3 on aggregate.
History tells us that, after securing an advantageous result in the first leg, Benfica typically enjoy a low-scoring result in the second leg of their European qualifier. I’m expecting a similar result in Lisboa. Dynamo Kyiv have been a pleasant surprise in Europe, with their first competitive match in seven months seeing them draw 0-0 to Fenerbahçe before winning 2-1 in the second leg, as well as beating Sturm Graz 1-0 and 2-1 to progress to the final round of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers. Mircea Lucescu has done well to energize the squad in adverse circumstances, but I think the Ukrainian side’s Cinderella story will come to an end in Lisboa. Both of Benfica’s group stage matches against Dynamo Kyiv last season resulted in under 2.5 goals — a 0-0 draw in Ukraine and a 2-0 win in Portugal — and I think Benfica will be looking to control possession, prevent Dynamo from getting into dangerous areas, and comfortably progress into the group stage. They will be conserving energy for Saturday’s trip to Boavista and next Tuesday’s match against Paços de Ferreira, but they should have enough in the tank to prevent Dynamo Kyiv from erasing their two-goal deficit and pulling off a historic upset in Lisbon. Expect a low-scoring, ‘cruise control’ performance from Benfica as they book their ticket to the Champions League group stage.
Trabzonspor v FC Copenhangen
FC Copenhagen won 2-1 in the first match at home, and the Danes are now favourites to advance at the bookmakers.
The first fixture between the two clubs was an even affair. FC Copenhagen dominated in the first half, and went up 1-0 early. They scored to make it 2-0 in the beginning of the second half, but the Turks were better after the break. The game finished with the Turks having 62 % ball possession and have 11 shots to the Danes 8.
Trabzonspor had a disappointing warm up to this crucial fixture. Saturday, they lost 5-2 away to Antalyaspor, which broke their streak of three consecutive league victories. Now, instead, they enter this match with two defeats in a row, and they are under pressure. It would be a massive failure for Trabzonspor not to reach the Champions League group stage, and the fans expect the team to win and advance.
FC Copenhagen is in the opposite situation of the Turks. Where Trabzonspor started well and then have lost recently, Copenhagen lost at the beginning of the season, but have won their previous two matches. Friday evening, they defeated Lyngby 3-0 away in the Superliga, and their offensive players are really beginning to connect and build a cohesive attacking unit. To make things even better, winger Mohamed Daramy is slowly getting back into match form, and while he remains unable to play 90 minutes, he has enough x factor in the tank to turn games against any team around in a shorter time.
Both Copenhagen and Trabzonspor are teams with many great offensive players. Both teams need to score goals, and they don’t have the defensive capabilities to just defend in this fixture. Our pick for this game is both teams to score at odds 1.66 at Betfair Sportsbook.
PSV Eindhoven v Rangers
Rangers secured a 2-2 draw against PSV at Ibrox last week, but their away record in European football suggests that will not be enough to see them through to the group stages of the Champions League when they meet again in Eindhoven.
The first leg was an evenly balanced affair, with both teams having their periods of pressure, and a draw was a fair outcome. PSV, though, will feel good about their prospects of closing the tie out, although they have drawn all three of their European fixtures so far this season.
The hosts were inactive at the weekend and lost only two of 10 home European fixtures last season. Already this term, they have overcome Monaco 3-2 at the Philips Stadion, albeit after extra-time following a goal very late in normal time.
By contrast, Rangers do not travel well in Europe. Indeed, they have already lost 2-0 on the road to Union SG this season, while last term their run to the Europa League final was predicated on their strong home form. Aside from a blistering 4-2 win away at Borussia Dortmund, which was the highlight of their run, they went winless on their travels in the competition, losing four of their six other away games.
Meanwhile, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side have made a sluggish start domestically in terms of their performances levels, if not necessarily their results. A 2-2 draw against Hibs at the weekend only saw them make two changes, and it proved a draining match as they finished with nine men and conceded a late equaliser. It does not bode well for this key trip.
Dinamo Zagreb v Bodø/Glimt
The first leg resulted in a tight 1-0 victory for the Norwegian champions. Key man Amahl Pellegrino got the only goal of the game as he headed home a Joel Mvuka cross into the back of the net. Most expectations from the first leg were that it would be a wide open contest containing several goals. However, it was the complete opposite. The xG numbers of 1.20 vs 0.74 demonstrate how tight and cagey the first leg was played out. I think it shows just how important this tie is for both teams. The dangling carrot is a place in the Champions League group stage which is worth at least £10m or more to each club. It was evident that both teams were generally feeling each other out and eventually a 1-0 Glimt win probably kept them happy enough despite wanting more from the home leg. Dinamo Zagreb will probably be delighted to only lose by a one goal margin away at a difficult location on an artificial surface.
They now welcome Bodø/Glimt to Maksimir Stadium which is a known fortress. As with any major footballing stadium in Eastern Europe the atmosphere can be very intense, electric, and difficult for the away side to get to grips with. The Croatian champions warmed up for this game with a 5-2 victory at home to Osijek at the weekend and previously they beat arch-rivals Hajduk Split 4-1 here a couple of weeks ago. In Champions League qualifying they registered a 4-2 success vs Ludogorets in the second leg after they had won 2-1 in Bulgaria. The home side will be without key midfielder Josip Misic who picked up yet another yellow card last week and will be suspended as a result. It will be interesting to see if they start Bruno Petkovic upfront. He made an impact after coming off the bench in Norway and the target man caused Glimt several problems in the air with his strong physique. Petkovic scored vs Osijek at the weekend and would seem a prime candidate to get into the XI.
My feeling surrounding this tie has always been potentially going the whole distance to extra time or even penalties. For that to happen then Dinamo Zagreb must win this match inside 90 mins and I think that will occur. Bodø/Glimt have not been as convincing on the road in Europe and even lost in the Faroe Islands and to Northern Irish side Lindfield. This is a much tougher fixture, and they will need to play better to avoid defeat. There is a good chance that Zagreb will win this match by exactly one goal and now that away goals don’t count then it definitely helps out the Croatians. They are best priced 1.75 to win inside 90 mins and I think they will have enough to take the tie to at least extra time.
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