The UEFA Champions League is one of the premier football tournaments in the world and before the main tournament starts, there is a qualifying round to get through to decide the final 32 teams.
Villarreal are back in the Champions League qualifying stage after being absent for many years and are looking to take on the team from the Principality in France in this qualifying stage with a position in the first round proper at stake. Villarreal have been in turmoil heading into this encounter. They have played 8 friendlies, and won just 2 of them in 90 minutes, with 3 losses on the trot against Deportivo, Porto and Leganes. This poor run of form has seen their manager Marcelino let go due to disharmony in the team and defensive minded coach Escriba has been nominated in his place with his last job seeing Getafe relegated. He also comes with bad news that several key starters like Bakumbu, Dos Santos, Cheryshev, Sansone and Soldado all missing, who would have been extremely instrumental to help them score on the offensive end while Victor Ruiz is suspended. They also lost Alphonse Areola, Eric Bailly and Dennis Suarez in the off-season from their starting lineup of last year.
Monaco on the other hand have had Jardem at the helm for many years now, and he has built the team as a strong defensive unit with good counter-attacking skills. That saw them go back to 3rd place last year, without any major signings. Monaco will be a far more ready squad after playing in the 2nd round qualifying where they beat Fenerbahce over 2 legs by an aggregate score of 4-3. Prior to that they had played enough quality friendlies against teams like Zenit, Sporting, Napoli, Basel before they kicked off their Ligue 1 campaign at the weekend. They came back from a 2-0 deficit to a 2-2 draw, which would have been the ideal result as they rested key players like Bernardo Silva, Joao Coutinho, Adama Traore for this critical mid-week fixture.
Both teams will look to take advantage in this opening leg, but I feel the more organised and better prepared side in Monaco should be worth backing to hold on at least to a draw as compared to the uncertainty that Villarreal posses. I am backing Monaco or Draw in this game.
Porto come into this tie of the 3rd round of qualifying in the Champions League since they finished 3rd in Portugal. Porto had struggled last season due to their defensive issues as well as poor goalkeeping from Iker Casillas. 4 out of their 6 summer signings have been defensive ones in Layun, Felipe, Telles and Ze Manuel. They have started out pre-season in great form by losing just 1 out of their 7 friendly games so far. They have a strong offensive unit led by Andre Silva who has scored in 5 out their last 6 friendly games while also finding the back of the net in their opening Portuguese league game on the weekend. Porto will rely on creativity of Andre Andre, Hector Perreira and Varela to create chances for their offensive unit. They have scored in all but one of their games so far this campaign and will be aiming to replicate similar scoring form in this tie.
Roma have come back to the usual stage of qualifying that they are used to which is the 3rd qualifying round after finishing 3rd in Italy last season. Their issues were their inability to put the ball in the back of the net with consistency. They have bought out 2 of their loanees in el Sharaawy and Salah who will likely start on either side of Dzeko up front. The midfield will look a little different after losing Pjanic to Juventus, but Nainggolan and Strootman should have enough creative efforts to supplement the defensive midfielder Danielle de Rossi in creating chances for the front 3. Roma won 5 out of their 6 friendly games played until now, with most of their key players managing to find the back of the net. On the bench they still have enough experience with the likes of Totti, Florenzi, Perotti, Iturbe to supplement their attacking efforts in case they go a goal down. Defensively, they can be vulnerable and it remains to be seen if some of their loan signings will make it to the starting lineup like Fazio, Vermaelen, Jesus and Mario Rui to supplement their defensive efforts.
This game looks like the tie of the round as both teams will be looking to attack and try to take advantage ahead of the 2nd leg. Roma will be the fresher team while Porto look the most ready; so it will be interesting to see how this match will turn out. I am backing a minimum of 2 Goals on the Asian line, so if its exactly 2 goals, we get a refund.