Malmö v Vikingur Reykjavik (Champions League)
Since the departure of Jon Dahl Thomason in the Swedish off-season, Malmo have struggled for rhythm and fluency in the Allsvenskan.
The reigning champions edged out AIK on goal difference to win the league title in 2021 but so far in 2022, they sit fifth in the table having won just six of their opening 13 matches. Their slow start has been characterised by an inefficiency in front of goal, having notched just 14 times in those aforementioned 13 games. They were the league’s top scorers last season so the drop off is quite remarkable.
They now come up against a Vikingur Reykjavik side that progressed through the preliminary round of the UEFA Champions League in impressive fashion. The Icelanders did have the home advantage in both their semi-final and final but they deserve a lot of credit. Their semi-final dismantling of FCI Levadia saw them hammer the Estonians 6-1 before edging past Inter Club d’Escaldes of Andorra in the final.
The visitors in this first-leg are coached by former Bolton striker Arnar Gunnlaugsson and they have been attacking in all competitions in recent months. They come into this one on the back of a 3-0 defeat of city rivals KR at the weekend in the Urvalsdeild, where they sit second-in-the-table.
Unlike most of the teams entering the UEFA Champions League at the first qualifying round stage, these are two sides that are mid-season so they should produce a competitive clash.
Malmo remain the overwhelming favourites, particularly with their first-leg home advantage. However, their lack of form and the attacking potential of their opponents does suggest an upset could be on the cards; that is what it would be, though – a major upset.
Given that they are favourites but have some deficiencies, a low-scoring home win would likely offer some good value.
St Josephs v Larne (Europa Conference League)
Larne embark on only their second ever European campaign hoping to emulate last season’s achievements of reaching the third qualifying round of the Europa Conference League.
Manager Tiernan Lynch goes into the new campaign with both of last season’s top scorers Ronan Hale (19 goals) and David McDaid (15 goals) missing following their moves to Cliftonville and Ballymena United respectively. There have been a number of notable arrivals though at Inver Park in the shape of former Ballymena United skipper Leroy Millar, experienced midfielder Daniel Kearns, defender Aaron Donnelly and 24-year-old Shea Gordon who was released by Partick Thistle at the end of last season.
Larne played three warm up games in the build up to tomorrow’s tie, losing 2-1 to Dundalk and 3-0 to Scottish side Hamilton Academicals, though they did end their preparations on a high when they defeated Welsh champions TNS 2-0 at home last week.
St Joseph’s FC, who are Gibraltar’s oldest club, finished third in league last term and this season will be the sixth time they will have been involved in European competition. The Saints have only ever tasted victory in one of their previous 11 Europa League games when the defeated Kosovan outfit Prishtina 2-0 at home and 3-1 overall on aggregate back in 2019.
Tiernan Lynch’s side won four of their six European matches last season which included a hugely impressive 2-1 home success over Danish side AGF Aarhus. They also scored in five of those ties, and despite currently being a bit lightweight up front I fully expect Larne, who are one of only three full-time teams in Northern Ireland, to find the target at least once against the part-timers from Gibraltar.
The Irish League side’s experienced squad and full-time status should ensure they leave the Victoria Ground with a victory.
TNS v Linfield (Champions League)
Northern Ireland champions Linfield make the short trip across the Irish sea to face TNS in the opening qualifying round of the Champions League in what will be their first ever contest against a Welsh side in Europe.
Manager David Healy has seen several departures from the club over the close season, the most-high profile being Christy Manzinga who was the club’s top scorer last term with 20 goals. However, Healy has recruited well having brought St Johnstone striker Eetu Vertainen back to Windsor Park for a second loan spell, while Northern Ireland under-21 international Chris McKee has also returned to the club on a permanent deal from Rangers. He has further bolstered his attacking options with the signing of Robbie McDaid from Glentoran and Oxford United winger Joel Cooper.
For Tuesday’s encounter the Blues will be without the influential defender Jimmy Callacher who is injured but will have on loan signing from St Mirren, Daniel Finlayson, deputising at the heart of the defence.
In the build up to the game Linfield surprisingly defeated the Qatar national team 1-0, played out a scoreless draw with another Welsh side Newtown AFC and lost 2-1 at home to St Mirren.
Last season TNS, who have won the Welsh title a record 14 times, disposed of the challenge of Glentoran in the opening qualifying round of the Europa Conference League and only missed out on a place in the play-off’s after losing on penalties to Czech outfit Viktoria Plzen. The Welsh champions played two pre-season games against Irish League opposition winning 2-1 at home against Cliftonville, though their trip to Larne ended in a 2-0 defeat.
Linfield have won just one and lost six of their last eight European ties, while TNS are unbeaten in their last four games in Europe at home scoring an impressive 14 goals. It should be an evenly matched encounter with both teams to score and a low scoring draw looking the most likely outcome.
Shamrock Rovers v Hibernians (Champions League)
It’s that time of the year again when Irish clubs start to dream of breaking the glass ceiling and joining Europe’s elite. League of Ireland Champions Shamrock Rovers look to have all the credentials for a deep run in European competition this year given they have a squad filled with quality, experience of playing in big European games and the fact as a league champion the Hoops have a couple of security blankets in terms of the Europa League and UEFA Conference League should they stumble in the Champions League qualifiers.
However, the Hoops preparation for this two-legged Champions League clash with Hibernians of Malta could hardly have been more disastrous with Rovers boss Stephen Bradley likely to be without a number of his key operators. Irish international Jack Byrne was brought back to the Tallaght Stadium from a failed spell in Cyprus with a view to Byrne being a key clog in the wheel if Rovers were going to give it a good crack in Europe this year, however, Byrne has been plagued with niggling injuries for a number of weeks now which means even if the former Man City midfielder does feature, he’s unlikely to be 100% right.
Graham Burke is another who was brought back to the club following a disappointing spell in the UK and having scored big goals in Europe in the past, Stephen Bradley really could have done with his services but he’s also a doubt.
A player Bradley will certainly be without is Rovers joint-top goalscorer this season, Danny Mandriou who is set to make the move to English club Lincoln. If you had asked any Rovers fans what players they simply couldn’t be without going into a European campaign Byrne, Burke and Mandriou would have been very high up on the shortlist.
Shamrock Rovers did manage to win without such stars in Friday’s trip to Finn Harps and while it was only a 1-0 win for the Hoops, they were extremely comfortable throughout. It goes without saying, Hibernians of Malta will be an entirely different test to relegation threatened Finn Harps but at least Rovers are in good form having won three games on the spin and currently sit ten points clear at the top of the league they have won the last two years in a row.
League of Ireland teams enjoy a distinct advantage at this time of year given the League of Ireland season is already in its final third while Hibernians come into this game out of season, relying on friendlies to prepare for their trip to Ireland.
Hibernians will also be without some key personnel with their Captain, Vice-Captain and Manager all suspended by UEFA following a controversial conclusion to their Europa Conference League exit against Riga last season.
With both sides missing so many important individuals this could be a fairly cagey affair.
Inter v KF Drita (Conference League)
just a week after beating the same side at a canter. The loss of striker Benjamin Kallman to Poland has left a gaping hole up front which they’ll struggle to find a replacement of such calibre.
Qualifying for the Conference League only because of KuPS winning the Suomen Cup, Inter will hope for a better start than last season when they exited tamely to Hungarian side Puskas Akademia. This week’s opponents Drita meanwhile got past round one and were unfortunate to be drawn against eventual runners-up Feyenoord (and only lost 2-3 on aggregate). But Drita haven’t played in six weeks and this may be Inter’s best opportunity to get a headstart. Drita striker Marko Simonovski will be hoping for a happy return to the Veritas Stadium – in 2017, he played for FC Lahti and scored a hat-trick in a 1-6 win away to Inter.
Inter’s main attacking threat continues to be Petteri Forsell, who will shoot from anywhere in the opposition half and put some very dangerous set pieces into the box, mainly for the head of skipper Rick Ketting. Spanish forward David Haro has four league goals so far, but has looked underwhelming otherwise and needs a lot of support.
It’s hard to see what Inter’s strategy is this season – they’ve lost their best player for free, their new coaching team have failed to move on from last year and they are too inconsistent to mount a credible threat to the top of the table. Their only progress in the Suomen Cup has been via penalty shootouts and beating their own reserve team. This competition is perfect for clubs like Inter to boost their season but on recent form it’s unlikely to be this year.
Bodø/Glimt v Klaksvkik (Champions League)
The first round of the Champions League qualifiers for the 2022/23 season is upon us. In what is quite an interesting matchup, the Norwegian Champions take on the Faroese Champions over two legs. Bodø/Glimt had a great run to the Quarter Finals of the Europa Conference League last season and would love to make the group stages of the UCL. Perhaps they can take some inspiration from Swedish side Malmö who managed to achieve such a feat last year. It is a long road though for those at this stage of the Champions path. Glimt must progress through four rounds of qualifying which overall is a brutal run over eight legs. There is some consolation that losing in any of these rounds does at least enable a drop down to Europa League or Conference qualifying. For Bodø/Glimt, these European matches probably have to take priority right now and they need something to kick start their season following a disappointing start to the Eliteserien which sees them down in 6th place after 12 games.
Travelling here for the first leg are Klaksvíkar Ítróttarfelag, or KÍ for short. The champions of the Faroe Islands have had no such domestic worries this season, winning 14 out of 15 league games with a huge 43:4 goal differential. The part time outfit last featured in the Champions League back in the summer of 2020 when they got knocked out in a one off match by Young Boys 3-1. Expectations will not be high for a long European run. It is very difficult for a Faroese club to progress deep into the qualification rounds. They are a dominant team in their own domestic league but the level in the Faroe Islands is not very good. KÍ are however a free scoring team so Glimt will have to keep an eye on strikers Pall Klettskard and Joannes Bjartalid who have been in excellent touch this season.
There is a slight injury doubt to Bodø/Glimt defender Brede Moe who might not be fit enough to feature. If he is absent, then Japhet Sery will likely take his place in the XI. Glimt are close to full strength in attack with all eyes on Ola Solbakken who recently travelled to Italy and is rumoured to be in talks with Roma or Napoli for a potential transfer. The home side are understandably a short price favourite at 1.07. They should win the match comfortably but KÍ look to have plenty of scoring power and are likely to try and catch their opponents on the break. Bodø/Glimt have only kept two clean sheets all season which is a slight concern. I think backing over 2.5 goals at 1.47 looks like the best bet. Glimt could cover this line on their own, but it is possible KÍ could contribute as well. Rather than worrying about any specific home handicap or team total then taking a straight over 2.5 makes sense here.
HJK v Rigas FS (Champions League)
HJK begin their Champions League qualifying campaign at the first qualifying round again but in one of their weakest positions for many years.
After reaching the group stage of the Europa Conference League in 2021, after defeats to Malmo (UCL) and Fenerbahce (EL), they had the rare experience of matches into December as well as a significant boost to income. But the period that followed has not gone to plan – the retirement of Finland captain Tim Sparv, long term injuries to Roope Riski and Valtteri Moren and the unavailability of experienced players like Joona Toivio, Perpa Hetemaj and Riku Riski has put significant pressure on an ageing spine and a number of new faces.
On-loan Celtic goalkeeper Conor Hazard has performed well, but striker Fabian Serrarens has failed to score a league goal while Schalke loanee Nassim Boujellab has been indisciplined and inefficient ( unavailable for this fixture due to FIFA loan rules). The only realistic goal threat is Bojan Radulovic, who scored from the penalty spot against KuPS last weekend. In the last six weeks, HJK have only scored twice and look ponderous without their bigger names. There are good young Finns on the cusp of the first XI but one expects players like Tanaka, Hostikka and Soiri to start on Wednesday.
Playing Rigas FS this week provides a new focus for the season – the club are honest in their objectives at the start of each season, that is to win the league title and to reach the group stage of one of the three European competitions. The addition of the Conference League makes that far more realistic, although RFS are coming into this tie off the back of two wins after a minor blip in an otherwise good season.
HJK usually progresses past this round in Europe, but this is likely to be a low scoring first leg.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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