Champions League Play-Offs: 21 August
Champions League Play-Offs
The Champions League play-offs start today with 20 teams vying for a further 10 places in the group stage of the competition.
There are no English representatives in the play-offs this year, owing to Chelsea eliminating the fourth placed Champions League domestic qualifier (sorry Spurs fans), with all four Premier League sides going straight through to the groups.
Celtic face a tricky tie in Helsingborg this evening, on the first day of action, but they are tipped to struggle today, with the Swedish outfit 17/10 favourites to win. Both clubs bestow hero status upon the Sweden striker, Henrik Larsson, who scored 50 in 56 games early in his career at Helsingborg and there is a statue of the Swedish great in the town. Another familiar face to watch out for is Helsingborg left-back , Erik Edman, who graced the Premier League in spells with Tottenham and Wigan, including this screamer versus Liverpool.
There are competitive ties wherever you look in the play-offs. Fenerbahce v Spartak Moskow promises to be a belter, Kobenhaven face Lille and Borussia Monchengladbach host a strong Dynamo Kiev side on Tuesday.
Monchengladach return to European competition for the first time since their golden era in the 1970′s (other than Bayern, they are the only German club to win three successive titles) but despite having finished an impressive fourth they have lost their three best players. Marco Reus left for champions Dortmund, Bayern flexed their muscle to sign defender Dante and young defensive midfielder Roman Neustadter joined Schalke. But the traditionally attacking German outfit have invested in youth, Dutch striker Luuk De Jong comes in for big money and exciting Swiss prospect Granit Xhaka should continue to impress.
Wednesday has some more classics lined up, the pick of the bunch being Braga versus Udinese. Braga were competing in the Europa League final two seasons ago, only to be beaten by a Falcao inspired Porto side in Dublin and Udinese really ought to have eliminated Arsenal at this stage of the competition, squandering a penalty to send them through on aggregate.
The Italian side finished fourth last season, but have been raided by Juventus for their two best midfielders Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah and have been tipped to struggle domestically. They are 23/10 to win tonight and will find the three tiered Estadio Municipal a daunting prospect. Braga slipped to third domestically last season, with Porto and Benfica starting to run away with the league.
When the teams are finalised for the group stages be sure to check back with Mr Sportsbook as we are running a free Champions League predictor game! Sign-up and make your predictions and you could win an iPad, iPhone and win a free bet!
Barcelona start as 7/2 favourites to lift the Champions League under new manager, Tito Vilanova, as Guardiola did in his first year Real are close behind at 4/1 and could take advantage of a changing Barcelona side. Defending Champions Chelsea are way out at 14/1 despite heavily strengthening this summer and they now have the crucial experience of delivering on the European stage.
Spartak Moskva v Fenerbahçe
Basel v CFR Cluj
Helsingborg v Celtic
Mönchengladbach v Dynamo Kyiv
København v LOSC
Braga v Udinese
Dinamo Zagreb v Maribor
Málaga v Panathinaikos
BATE v H. Kiryat Shmona
AEL v Anderlecht
Read our review of every Champions League final, in its current format here: Champions League Finals