APOEL was the hard-luck story of the UEFA Champions League play-offs first legs, losing 0-1 at Astana in a match that it deserved to at least draw based on the balance of play.
Sixty-one per cent possession is an extraordinary statistic for an away team in a UEFA Champions League game in which neither side had a player sent off. APOEL enjoyed nearly two-thirds of the ball in Kazakhstan and had more goal attempts and corner kicks than its host. Where APOEL fell down was that its striker missed the target too often and did not force Astana goalkeeper Nenad Eric to work hard.
One has witnessed a couple of Astana’s UEFA Champions League matches and not been impressed. Astana was flattered by its 3-1 home win over Maribor and it required a 90-minute goal to beat HJK 4-3 in Kazakhstan. APOEL is a level above both Maribor and HJK – Cypriot football has been on the rise in recent years – and now it has a domestic league game under its belt following its 5-1 road defeat of Ermis on Saturday.
APOEL is available at odds of -105 with several bookmakers, including Bwin and Totesport, to defeat Astana in Cyprus. APOEL will have the backing of its vociferous home crowd and Astana failed to score a goal away to either Maribor (lost 0-1) or HJK (drew 0-0) in earlier UEFA Champions League rounds. APOEL should be shorter odds.
Another UEFA Champions League team that did not get its just reward in last week’s batch of matches was Basel, which had enough chances to win a handful of games but wasted most of them and fell victim to a 96th-minute Maccabi Tel Aviv sucker punch. Basel had 68 per cent possession at home to Maccabi and its other impressive numbers included winning the corner-kick count 10-1 and having 16 goal attempts.
Basel has posted a perfect six wins from six matches in the Swiss Super League and its greatest strength is hitting the back of the net – it has scored at least two goals in all bar one of its 10 games across all competitions this term, averaging 2.70 goals per match. The UEFA Champions League play-offs rules mean that Basel must score at least one normal-time goal versus Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel to have any chance of reaching the group stage and, judging by Maccabi’s recent defensive performances, that should occur. Maccabi has kept just one clean sheet in its 10 games across all tournaments, including conceding three goals in its UEFA Champions League tie against Maltese minnow Hibernians.
Bookmakers have Basel as the favourite for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League play-offs second leg in Israel but still one likes the look of it at odds against – Coral and William Hill are among the layer quoting Basel at +130 .
Finally, Club Brugge did not do enough in its UEFA Champions League play-offs first leg versus Manchester United to hint at anything other than a Red Devils win in the second leg.
Club Brugge managed only one goal attempt against Manchester United at Old Trafford last week – at least it was on target – and it was Michael Carrick’s own goal. Carrick stuck out a foot and diverted Victor Vazquez’s free kick past Manchester United goalkeeper Sergio Romero, thereby handing a lead to Club Brugge that it did not merit and did not hold for long.
The state of the UEFA Champions League play-offs tie demands that Club Brugge commits bodies forward from the opening whistle and that should provide Manchester United with the freedom to expose its opponent on the counter attack. So far this season Manchester United has played four matches across all competitions in which it has had to force the pace – the Red Devils are likely to relish the reversal of roles on Wednesday as Club Brugge try to score at least two goals.
Manchester United is a work in progress and regaining the English Premier League is going to take a few more years but, at odds of -110 with several bookmakers, including Boylesports and PaddyPower, they are too big to beat a Club Brugge side that is not up to its standard.
APOEL v Astana
26th August 19:45 GMT
Basel to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv
25th August 19:45 GMT
Man Utd to beat Club Brugge
26th August 19:45 GMT
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