Two Weeks, Two Ties, One Step From Potential Paradise – What to Expect From the Play-off Qualifying Rounds of UEFA’s Three Club Competitions
August is here, beautifully prepared turf at stadia across countries, clear blue-sky mixes with sizzling hot temperatures and long summer evenings. It’s the time of year again when the European football season rolls into town after a summer’s break.
New signings, new managers, new targets & new expectations fill stadia everywhere amongst fanbases. Pre-season friendlies offer an early glimpse into what new things can be expected tactically, formation-wise and also a first look at young potential new world-class talent from a club’s academy.
However, nestled away under the radar of all the elite clubs’ pre-season schedule across the globe, another equally important part of the pre-season footballing calendar takes place. This is of course the early-round qualification matches for UEFA’s three European club competitions, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Europa Conference League.
For smaller ranked leagues in UEFA’s coefficient rankings qualification for the group stages of European club competition has to be earned, with none of the perks of automatic qualification enjoyed by English, French, German, Italian or Spanish clubs.
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Qualification can be brutal; some teams have to even endure three gruelling qualification rounds before their domestic league season has even started. For those teams in summer league schedules running from March to November, the European qualification games have to be interwoven whilst in the middle of a tight title challenge.
Some big names who have had big runs in Europe in seasons past have already bitten the proverbial dust and are already eliminated from European football for the campaign as we will get onto later. However, the play-off qualification round is now upon us. One more opponent between qualification for the group stage of European club competition for all clubs still remaining standing.
Two weeks, two ties, one step from potential paradise is a perfectly apt description of this qualification round for UEFA’s three club competitions. Here are all the interesting stories, matches and subplots to expect from the play-offs.
Bodo/Glimt Stand on the Verge of History, Yet a Tough Final Obstacle Awaits
The most noteworthy story in the Champions Path of the play-off round is that from last season’s European competition sensation team in the shape of FK Bodo/Glimt. Den Gule Horde (The Yellow Horde) as they are commonly known took all of Europe by storm last campaign with their stunning run in the Europa Conference League.
After an early season elimination from the Champions League qualifiers courtesy of Polish champions Legia Warsaw, Bodo/Glimt rebounded by qualifying for the group stages of the inaugural Conference League competition by seeing off Valur, Prishtina and Zalgiris of Iceland, Kosovo and Lithuania respectively. This sealed a first-ever qualification for a European group stage.
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However, anyone who thought Bodo/Glimt were content with just this seismic achievement were gravely mistaken. The Northern Norwegian outfit emerged unbeaten from their group with three draws and three victories from their six group matches, one of the wins being a staggering 6-1 home win over Jose Mourinho’s AS Roma at home.
A second-place finish in the group and qualification for the knockout round then saw victories over Celtic FC and AZ Alkmaar in the next two rounds before a rematch vs Roma in the Quarter Finals. Despite another superb victory over Mourinho’s Roma by a score of 2-1 in the first leg, Bodo/Glimt ran out of steam in the second leg, losing 4-0 to the eventual winners and going out 5-2 on aggregate.
After thrilling Europe last season, Bodo/Glimt have picked up where they left off this campaign, notwithstanding, it was a slow start to life in the European qualifiers for the Norwegian Eliteserien champions.
In the first round of Champions League qualification, Bodo/Glimt narrowly avoided elimination courtesy of a 4-3 aggregate victory over Faroese champions KI Klaksvik, which included losing the second leg of the tie 3-1. In the second qualification round, Bodo/Glimt were trailing 1-0 from the first leg against Linfield FC of Northern Ireland.
Genuine fears of elimination were in the air, however, Bodo/Glimt from this point transformed into the brilliant side of last season, destroying Linfield 8-0 in the second leg to win 8-1 on aggregate. A familiar opponent, FK Zalgiris were dispatched with ease 6-1 on aggregate in the third qualification round to put Bodo/Glimt into the play-off round and just one victory away from the riches of Champions League group football.
Standing in the way of the team in yellow from inside the Arctic Circle are Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb. A side filled with a vast amount of European qualification experience who only as recently as 2020/21 had reached the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Europa League, seeing off Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur en route.
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Bodo/Glimt are slight underdogs going into this tie given Dinamo Zagreb’s pedigree at this level. However, Dinamo Zagreb have like Bodo/Glimt had their scares in the Champions League qualifiers this season.
They crept through against North Macedonian champions KF Shkupi 3-2 on aggregate after a disappointing 2-2 draw at home in the first leg in Croatia and only a 1-0 margin of victory in the second leg in Skopje, North Macedonia in the second leg. A rather more routine 6-3 victory followed against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad in the third qualification round.
The first leg of the tie takes place at Bodo/Glimt’s 8,270 capacity Aspmyra Stadium in Bodo. If Den Gulde Horde are to progress and achieve the Champions League group stage football dream, taking a lead from the first leg to Dinamo’s Maksimir Stadium for the second leg of the tie will be crucial.
Bodo/Glimt can also take heart that in last season’s playoff round, Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol managed to win the 1st leg of their tie vs Dinamo 3-0 before then going to Croatia and earning a 0-0 draw in the 2nd leg to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the first time.
Can lighting strike twice and lead the ironically named Bodo/Glimt, (Glimt means “flash” in Norwegian) to the Champions League group stages?
Dynamo Kyiv, Benfica, Rangers & PSV Eindhoven and the Dilemma of Champions League Riches vs. Dropping Into the UEFA Europa League and a Better Chance of a Long European Run
The next interesting take away from the play-off round comes from the non-Champions qualifying section, known more commonly as the “Champions Path”. One could make the argument that the four teams in this section are the strongest four that could have advanced from victories in the previous third qualification round, with the caveat of AS Monaco, who PSV Eindhoven defeated over two legs in the third qualification round.
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These four teams are Ukrainian outfit Dynamo Kyiv, who defeated Austria’s SK Sturm Graz, SL Benfica, who comfortably defeated FC Midtjylland 7-2 on aggregate, Rangers FC who defeated Belgian Pro League runners-up Union Saint Gilloise and as aforementioned PSV. The remaining four teams in the League Path are whittled down to just two and the two ties that we will see make the appetite wet, Benfica will face Dynamo Kyiv whereas Rangers will face PSV Eindhoven.
Both ties have fascinating subplots to them, Dynamo Kyiv, who have played their qualification matches in Lodz, Poland due to Russia’s invasion and war in Ukraine could ironically see their group stage qualification hopes derailed by a Ukrainian player in the shape of Benfica’s attacker Roman Yaremchuk.
The other play-off tie pits two Dutch international playing legends of yesteryear against each other as managers with Rangers’ Giovanni van Bronckhorst and PSV’s Ruud van Nistelrooy facing off, but for all four of the clubs involved in the competition, this play-off round represents a dilemma of sorts.
Champions League group stage qualification and the riches it would bring would be most welcome. However, the only side of the four that will avoid the bottom Pot 4 when the Champions League qualification draw takes place are SL Benfica. Who if they win, take the final placing in Pot 3 due to them having the highest points co-efficient of all the clubs in the qualification round (61.000).
If Benfica defeat Dynamo Kyiv then irrespective of whoever of Rangers FC, last season’s Europa League finalists or PSV Eindhoven wins their qualification tie, they will be in Pot 4.
Olympique de Marseille will also be watching with interest and will hope for PSV Eindhoven and Dynamo Kyiv wins here as well as Bodo/Glimt to defeat Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions Path section to ensure that they take the final remaining spot in Pot 3 of the group stage draw.
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Any other combination of results other than the one mentioned above will see a side of Marseille’s history and pedigree in Pot 4. A true reflection of how high standards are in the Champions League now and how cut-throat the qualification rounds are.
Based on all the above, there is the interesting dynamic that missing out on the Champions League group stage for the likes of the four remaining teams in League Path qualification that it might actually be better to drop into the Europa League group stages instead.
In UEFA’s second-tier competition, all four of Benfica, Dynamo Kyiv, Rangers and PSV Eindhoven would at least be second-seeded at minimum with some being top-seeded and would thus have a kinder draw than they would face in the Champions League group stage. This in turn would give them a much better chance of a strong run in European competition to the latter stages of the Europa League.
It’s a dilemma that provokes a lot of debate and controversy, one which probably sees a division between club hierarchies (who would likely favour the money from Champions League group stage qualification) and fanbases (who despite wanting big European nights against the continent’s elite would also likely want to have a strong run in European competition beyond Christmas and into the knockout rounds).
After Two Decades Away From Continental Competition, Could Silkeborg in Just Two Games Enter the Dreamland of the Europa League Group Stage?
The aforementioned debate about Champions League group stage qualification or dropping into the Europa League group stage leads us nicely into discussion of UEFA’s secondary club competition and a brief but nice stories to discuss from it.
For clubs who qualify for continental competition nearly every season, playing in Europe is considered a huge honour, however, when your club is making a return to European qualification for the first time in 21 seasons, it means that much more. This is the scenario that is occurring for Danish Superliga outfit Silkeborg IF.
Founded in 1917, it took Silkeborg 70 years to reach the top flight of Danish football for the first time. However, not so long after their top-flight debut in 1987, Silkeborg had shocked everyone when in 1993/94, they became Danish champions for the first and so-far only time in their history.
A “Golden Era” for their club, Silkeborg then finished as Danish runners-up in 1997/98 and third place in 1994/95 and 2000/01. The 2000/01 season saw them also lift the Danish Cup for the only time in their history.
After a turbulent number of seasons since this glory era, the club finished as Danish Cup runners-up in 2017/18, won the Danish second tier to win promotion back to the Superliga in 2018/19 and last season finished 3rd in the Danish top flight, their best finish since 2000/01, which sealed a return to European club competition for 2022/23.
Silkeborg famously won the Intertoto Cup, a now defunct summer European club competition which served as a qualification tournament for the UEFA Cup/UEFA Europa League back in 1996.
Their last foray into European competition came in 2001/02 when as Danish cup winners the previous campaign, they were handed a challenging first round UEFA Cup tie against then La Liga outfit Real Zaragoza. Faced with such a tough opponent, Silkeborg were easily defeated 5-1 on aggregate over two legs.
Owing to the Danish Superliga’s vast improvement in recent seasons in European competition and high ranking, Silkeborg as the 3rd placed team from last season’s Superliga enter into the play-off round of the Europa League qualification rounds.
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This means that they are only one round away from Europa League group stage qualification. At minimum, Silkeborg are guaranteed Europa Conference League group stage qualification if they lose the play-off round.
However, having been presented with a winnable looking tie versus Finnish champions HJK Helsinki, Silkeborg and their fans will be confident of qualifying for the Europa League group stages. With this comes the dream of landing on Arsenal FC, Manchester United or AS Roma in their Europa League group.
Fenerbahce and Sivasspor, Two Sides Under Pressure, a Country Desperate for Coefficient Points
Cast one’s mind back to the turn of the millennium and the Turkish Super Lig truly looked like a league to watch in the future. Galatasaray had just come off the back of a UEFA Cup victory in 1999/00 and throughout the 2000’s Turkish clubs also proved strong opponents in European competitions.
Following on from their UEFA Cup victory, Gala also won the 2000 UEFA Super Cup, whereas fierce rivals Fenerbahce reached the 2007/08 Champions League Quarter Finals. Even as recently at the early 2010’s Turkish football’s results in European competition gave the league a top ten ranking in the UEFA coefficient.
Galatasaray reached the Quarter Finals of the Champions League in 2012/13, whereas Fenerbahce reached the semi finals of the Europa League in the same season, narrowly losing to Benfica. However, recent seasons have seen the Turkish league plummet in the UEFA Coefficient rankings and now its representatives in European competition in 2022/23 and beyond are under severe pressure to address this worrying slide.
Fenerbahce lost in the second qualifying round of Champions League qualification to Dynamo Kyiv and dropped into the Europa League where they easily saw off Slovacko of the Czech Republic in the Europa League Third Qualification round.
This has set up a play-off tie against Austria Vienna. On paper, Fener are the favourites for this tie, however, it is a match up against a side from a league with overall far less spending power than the Turkish Super Lig in the shape of the Austrian Bundesliga, yet one which punches above its weight in Europe.
Sivasspor, who despite a 10th placed finish in the Turkish Super Lig last season qualified for Europe courtesy of winning the Turkish Cup also have a tricky looking assignment against Swedish Allsvenkan outfit Malmo FF.
The Swedes were surprisingly knocked out of Champions League qualification by Lithuanian outfit Zalgiris, however, still are frequent qualifiers for European competition unlike Sivasspor and it won’t be an easy tie.
During the five-year ranking period between 2012/13 to 2016/17, the Turkish Super Lig was ranked 10th in Europe with the Turkish champions guaranteed a group stage placing in the Champions League. Currently, the Turkish Super Lig is ranked 20th in Europe for the five-year ranking period between 2018/19 and 2022/23.
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This highlights the decline of Turkish club’s performances in Europe and how much pressure Fenerbahce and Sivasspor are under to make the Europa League group stages. Pressure which has only increased after Konyaspor’s shock loss in the Third Round of Conference League qualification to FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein.
European Football Until Christmas Minimum Guaranteed, But Heart of Midlothian Need to Restore Scottish Honour vs FC Zurich
One of the feel-good stories of the UEFA coefficient in recent seasons has been the surge of Scotland up the coefficient rankings to their current position of 8th place. Unsurprisingly, this has been fuelled by the dominant Old Firm duo of Celtic FC and Rangers FC over the past five or so seasons in Europe.
Rangers have been the side to really give the Scottish coefficient its surge with two runs to the UEFA Europa League Round of Sixteen in 2019/20 and 2020/21 and then last season a run to the Europa League final where the Gers lost on penalties to Eintracht Frankfurt.
Such has been the volume of coefficient points accumulated recently to give Scotland its 8th place in the UEFA coefficient ratings, the 3rd placed Scottish side in the Scottish Premiership or alternatively the Scottish Cup winners now enter into European competition at the Europa League play-off round and are guaranteed at minimum Europa Conference League group stage football and thus European football in some capacity until Christmas.
Heart of Midlothian, or Hearts as they are more commonly referred to will thus be the first Scottish club to benefit from this advanced ranking courtesy of their 3rd place finish in the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership. Manager Robbie Neilson and his team finished the 2021/22 Scottish Premiership well clear in 3rd place, 13 points ahead of 4th placed Dundee United.
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The Jambos have strengthened their side with some good-looking signings this summer in preparation for another attempt to finish 3rd in the Scottish Premiership in addition to a European adventure. Arrivals include promising young Australian central defender Kye Rowles from Central Coast Mariners, English midfielder Jorge Grant from Peterborough United and left full-back Alex Cochrane from Brighton & Hove Albion.
Even if Hearts lose their Europa League play-off versus Swiss Super League champions FC Zurich, they will drop into the Conference League group stages, the first non-Celtic or Rangers Scottish club to play group stage football for Scotland since Aberdeen FC in the 2007/08 UEFA Cup.
Whilst Hearts start as underdogs for this tie, they can take comfort from FC Zurich having made a disastrous start to their Swiss title defence and sit bottom of the Swiss Super League. FCZ clearly struggling under new manager Franco Foda after the departure of title winning manager Andre Breitenreiter, who departed for German Bundesliga side 1899 Hoffenheim after last season’s title triumph.
Hearts may be crucial for the Scottish coefficient this season in so many ways, if Rangers join Celtic in the group stage draw of the Champions League, both will likely be 4th seeded sides and with that comes potential for rotten draws in the Champions League group stages.
Furthermore, Motherwell were embarrassed by League of Ireland outfit Sligo Rovers in the Conference League Second qualification round earlier this season. In addition, Dundee United exited the Conference League at the third qualification round after a 7-0 second leg thrashing at the hands of Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.
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Whether Hearts go through at Zurich’s expense or not over the two legs, a good battling performance will be important to restore Scotland’s honour and potentially set a tone for how their European campaign will go, whether that is in the Europa League or the Conference League.
Can Zalgiris Compound Bulgaria’s Misery Further and Conquer Even More New European Club Football Horizons?
Another fascinating tie amongst the ten Europa League play-off games is the match-up between Lithuanian A Lyga champions FK Zalgiris and Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad. Zalgiris are nine times record Lithuanian champions and have already broken new horizons for club football in Lithuania this season regardless of what happens in this tie.
Courtesy of their victory against Malmo FF in the Second Qualification round of Champions League qualification, The Green Whites are guaranteed European group stage football in the Conference League, the first-ever Lithuanian club to achieve this feat.
Ludogorets start the tie against Zalgiris as favourites, however, also under heavy pressure to go through as the future European ranking of Bulgarian club football in the next few years could be heavily dependent on their performances.
Bulgaria mesmerised the world in 1994 when their national team made history by reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup. Just under 30 years on, both Bulgarian club and national team football are in crisis mode.
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The national team recently recorded an embarrassing 1-1 draw with Gibraltar. In the club game, Levski Sofia compounded the recent decline of Bulgarian football further by losing on penalties to Maltese outfit Hamrun Spartans in the second leg of their Conference League Third qualifying round tie despite having a 1-0 lead from the first leg.
Could Zalgiris deliver another devastating blow to Bulgarian football and relegate Ludogorets down to the Conference League qualification rounds whilst sealing for themselves a remarkable qualification for the Europa League group stages?
History Beckons for Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Malta & Northern Ireland — How Many Previously Unrepresented Nations in European Club Competition Will Finally See Debutants?
Shifting focus to the Europa Conference League play-off qualification round now and already in only its 2nd season in existence the new competition is proving a resounding success. One of the goals of the new competition upon its inauguration by UEFA was a desire to see Europe’s lower ranking leagues represented in group stages of European competition.
Last season saw this already become a reality in the Conference League’s inaugural season. Estonia’s Flora Tallinn, Gibraltar’s Lincoln Red Imps and Armenia’s Alashkert qualified for the group stages and became their country’s inaugural representative in a European competition’s group stage.
This season, five nations are currently on the verge of following in Flora Tallinn, Lincoln Red Imps and Alashkert’s footsteps. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Zrinjski Mostar, Kosovo’s Ballkani, Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz, Malta’s Hamrun Spartans and Northern Ireland’s Linfield FC.
📈 Clubs now one round away from becoming the first representative from their country to qualify for a European group stage:
🇧🇦 Zrinjski Mostar
🇲🇹 Ħamrun Spartans
Long live the UEFA Conference League! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/hdcSq8r8u6
— The Sweeper (@SweeperPod) August 12, 2022
Of these five teams, Kosovo’s Ballkani look to have a good chance of progressing against North Macedonia’s KF Shkupi in what looks an even tie. As do Linfield FC, who hold the record for most domestic titles in all UEFA recognised European top flight leagues and face off against Latvia’s FK RFS in another evenly matched tie.
The other three sides face off against tougher and much more established opponents. Zrinjski Mostar face off against SK Slovan Bratislava of Slovakia, winners of the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in 1969. FC Vaduz, who play in the Swiss second tier yet represent Liechtenstein in the UEFA coefficient rankings face off against Rapid Vienna, beaten UEFA Cup Winners Cup finalists in 1985 and 1996.
Finally, Hamrun Spartans face Serbian outfit Partizan Belgrade, beaten finalists in the 1966 European Cup. All three of these sides will be big underdogs in their ties, yet Vaduz stunned Konyaspor, who came third in last season’s Turkish Super Lig with a 4-2 aggregate victory in the previous round of Conference League qualification. Whereas, as aforementioned, Hamrun Spartans shocked Levski Sofia in the last round of qualification on penalties after a 2-2 aggregate score.
So how many new countries will be represented in the group stage of European club competition for the very first time this season? Will last season’s tally of three debutants be equalled or surpassed or will there be fewer or no new nations represented this season? This question adds a fascinating dynamic to the play-off qualification round of UEFA’s third tier club competition.
AZ Alkmaar vs Gil Vicente, an Early Netherlands vs Portugal Encounter and an Early Chance for the Eredivisie to Steal a Powerful Blow in the Race for 6th Place in the UEFA Co-efficient
It became a theme in European competitions last season and will continue to be the case for the next few years, this theme of course is the battle for 6th place in the UEFA co-efficient between Netherlands and Portugal.
Last season was the end of the five-year ranking cycle and it was Portugal who prevailed in this battle and held onto 6th place, thus ensuring a tally of 6 representatives in European competition and crucially 3 participants in the UEFA Champions League. 2022/23 is a reset year for the co-efficients, however, the ranking from the 2017/18 season has now been removed from the five-year tally.
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This means that from 2022/23 onwards in this new five-year cycle, the Netherlands has actually managed to jump ahead of Portugal courtesy of only losing 2.900 co-efficient points compared to Portugal’s 9.666 points in the same year. Netherlands currently has a lead of just under 2.500 coefficient points over Portugal if one includes results in this season’s European club competitions so far this season.
As fellow Breaking the Lines writer David Parkes details in this Twitter thread, the upcoming Europa Conference match between AZ Alkmaar and Gil Vicente is vital in this coefficient battle between Portugal and the Netherlands, as a Gil Vicente win would allow Portugal to claw back some of the near 2.500 deficit.
The summer of qualifying football in the @ChampionsLeague @EuropaLeague and @europacnfleague is almost done. With Q3 all done, there is much to discuss regarding coefficients and where different NAs stand. Let's take a look back at the past week and see the current situation
— David Parkes (@dpnina10) August 13, 2022
However, conversely, if AZ Alkmaar or Kaaskoppen (Cheese Heads) as they are colloquially known as were to emerge victorious over the Portuguese outfit from the city of Barcelos, it could be a substantial blow to the Liga Primeira’s chances of catching the Eredivisie this season. An AZ victory would mean Portugal would only have 4 sides left in Europe this season, as Vitoria SC were eliminated in the previous qualification round against Croatian outfit Hajduk Split.
Portugal may eventually outnumber Netherlands three teams to one in the UEFA Champions League draw should Benfica make it through the UEFA Champions League draw and PSV Eindhoven lose. However, both PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord Rotterdam would be highly seeded in the UEFA Europa League group draw, thus have a good chance of progression to the knockout rounds and a good chance to pick up co-efficient points.
Furthermore, AZ Alkmaar with a victory over Gil Vicente would eliminate any possibility of Portuguese representation in the Europa Conference League group stage and owing to their run to the Round of Sixteen last season, AZ would also be top seeded for the Conference League group stage draw thus increasing their chances of a kind group stage draw and a good haul of coefficient points.
Gil Vicente was dealt a blow before the start of the new season when manager Ricardo Soares who led them to their joint highest 5th placed finish in the Primeira Liga last season left to join Egyptian powerhouse Al-Ahly SC. Galos (Roosters) as Gil Vicente are commonly known as start as underdogs against AZ and will need to be at their best to aid the Portuguese co-efficient effort.
Of the “Big Five” European League Representatives, Are Fiorentina and Nice in Danger of an Early Exit?
The final talking point of note going into the play-off round of the Conference League is how will the representatives from the “Big Five” leagues fair going into the competitions. West Ham United have endured a tough start to the Premier League season with two losses from their opening two Premier League matches.
However, they have a very winnable looking tie against Danish Superliga side Viborg FF. 1 FC Koln of the German Bundesliga have made a strong start domestically and should beat Hungarians Fehervar over two legs. Spanish outfit Villarreal have a harder task than West Ham and Koln in the shape of Croatians Hajduk Split, however, one would think Unai Emery’s outfit will come out victorious from that tie over two legs.
If there is to be the possibility of an upset for any of the “Big Five” representatives, perhaps it could happen in the ties involving Italian outfit AC Fiorentina and French side OGC Nice? Fiorentina have been handed a tricky play-off tie against FC Twente of the Netherlands.
Twente surprised several observers last season by finishing 4th in the Dutch Eredivisie ahead of sides who are more frequent European qualifiers such as AZ Alkmaar and SBC Vitesse. Twente have also started well in the 2022/23 Eredivisie by winning their opening two matches. Fiorentina should still be favourites for the tie but will have to be weary as there were nicer draws on paper in the play-off draw than Twente.
Also having to be careful will be OGC Nice who have endured a very disruptive 2022/23 pre-season campaign. When he arrived on the South Coast last summer on the back of a Ligue 1 title with LOSC Lille in 2020/21, manager Christophe Galtier was considered the golden capture of Nice’s ambitious owners INEOS AG.
Galtier was expected to potentially bring a French Ligue 1 title to Allianz Riviera for the first time since 1959/60 over the next few seasons. However, after firing Mauricio Pochettino after just 18 months in the French capital, Paris St Germain went to Nice and agreed a compensation package for Galtier and announced him as Pochettino’s replacement just weeks before the start of the new season.
Veteran Swiss manager and former Nice gaffer Lucien Favre has been announced as Galtier’s replacement by Nice, however, Favre has slowly been on the wane performance-wise over the past few seasons and it’s a downgrade on having Galtier in the dugout.
Nice’s summer arrivals do still give optimism for a good campaign amongst them including Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey from Juventus and Leicester City’s Premier League winning goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. However, they were courtesy of being unseeded for the Conference League play-off draw handed a tough tie against Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv.
French sides have never had the best history when it comes to European competitions with only Olympique de Marseille in 1992/93 and Paris St Germain in 1995/96 having won a European club competition. Sometimes accused of having a “flaky mentality” when it comes to European competitions, Nice’s mental strength will be tested with this tie.
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Maccabi Tel Aviv are the home tie in the first leg and can put Nice under pressure for the return leg with a positive result in Israel. Israeli sides have achieved positive results over the last five years or so in European competition and as a result of this improvement, the league will be a top 20 ranked league soon in the UEFA coefficients.
By: Richard David Pike / @RichDPike89
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Craig Foy – SNS Group