Even though the vibrations from Liverpool’s stunning Champions League Final triumph in Madrid on June 1st are still being felt across Europe, UEFA’s preparations for the 2019/20 iteration of the competition have already begun.
The preliminary qualification rounds of this season’s tournament have been playing out since early July, and this week, 12 teams will contest the first of their two-legged Champions League playoff ties for a place in the Group Stage proper.
Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting matches to look out for the in the Champions League’s Play-off round this week. Remember, you can find the rest of our predictions for the Play-offs on our Champions League homepage.
APOEL Nicosia vs Ajax – Tuesday 20th
Dutch champions Ajax’s journey to the Champions League semi-finals last season was one of the competition’s most compelling plotlines and a heroic tale of sporting overachievement.
De Godenzonen had to come through a gruelling Champions League pre-qualification program in 2018/19, and this year they will have to repeat that process – with Cypriot outfit APOEL Nicosia the only team standing between Ajax and the UCL Group Stage.
APOEL are battle-hardened continental competitors, though they have made the Champions League Group Stage just 3 times since 2010.
Ajax will be favourites to progress at Nicosia’s expense, though the club from the Dutch capital have already shown enough vulnerabilities this season to suggest that their advancement might not be plain sailing.
Erik ten Hag’s men scraped past PAOK in the last qualification side, beating the Greek side 5-4 on aggregate, and our experts have tipped APOEL to make life equally tough for their most illustrious visitors in Cyprus this week in our match preview.
LASK Linz vs Club Brugge – Tuesday 20th
Austrian club LASK Linz have enjoyed an incredible 12 months, following up their first ever appearance in the Europa League a year ago, with their first venture into Champions League territory in 2019.
Linz, who finished as runners up in last season’s Austrian Bundesliga, have started the new campaign in terrific form, winning 6 of their first 7 competitive matches overall since late July.
During the impressive run of performances, LASK produced one of the most surprising results in the Champions League 3rd qualification round, ousting Swiss club and competition regulars FC Basel over two dramatic legs.
Their Play-off opponents Club Brugge will have been studying those performances with interest this week, and the Belgians will need to draw upon all the experience they gained in last season’s UCL Group Stage to qualify again this time around.
Our Champions League experts are backing LASK Linz to make the most of their recent momentum in the first leg however – check out our match preview to read the rest of our predictions and betting tips for the game.
Young Boys vs Red Star Belgrade – Wednesday 21st
Swiss club Young Boys and Serbian powerhouses Red Star Belgrade both enjoyed eventful campaigns in the Group Stage of the Champions League in 2018/19.
Young Boys shared a group with Juventus, Manchester United and Valencia, and although they ended up propping up the rest, the tournament newcomers gave a good account of themselves, closing out their fixtures with a famous 2-1 win over the Old Lady.
Red Star Belgrade also did themselves proud in last season’s Champions League, competing well in an extremely tough group alongside PSG, Liverpool and Napoli. Red Star recorded a historically significant result on match-day four, beating eventual tournament winners Liverpool in Belgrade.
As luck would have it, just one of Young Boys and Red Star Belgrade will be afforded the opportunity to repeat the heroics of last season, and our experts have tipped the Swiss champions to secure a vital first leg lead this week.
Dinamo Zagreb vs Rosenborg
Dinamo Zagreb and Rosenborg will be hoping to go one better this year and make the Champions League Group Stage having both been eliminated from the qualification stage of the competition in 2018/19.
Dinamo fell at the final hurdle a year ago, losing out 3-2 over two legs to Young Boys after a compelling double-header that neither club deserved to lose.
Rosenborg were dispatched by Scottish champions Celtic in last season’s qualification round – though failing to make the cut for the Champions League is something that the Norwegians will be horribly familiar with.
The Troillongan were dumped out of the qualifiers in each of the last three seasons (2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19), though Rosenborg have already improved on their recent endeavours by reaching the Play-off round this year.
Rosenborg’s wins over BATE and Maribor in qualification rounds two and three hinted that they might finally be ready to make the final leap to the Champions League Group Stage, however, beating a determined Dinamo Zagreb side, eager to make up for last year’s disappointment, certainly won’t be easy.
Our Champions League analysts opted to tip Rosenborg +1 in their main prediction for Wednesdays fixture in Croatia – make sure to read the rest of their betting tips for the fixture in our match preview.
You’ll be able to find out betting tips and predictions for Dinamo’s meeting with Rosenborg as well as all of Wednesday’s other Champions League action in our match preview section.