Ludogorets is overpriced to beat Crvena Zvezda on the road and qualify for the UEFA Champions League play-offs round, one step away from the luxurious riches of the group stage.
Crvena Zvezda won the UEFA European Cup predecessor to the UEFA Champions League 25 years ago but never has it made it through to the group stage of the competition that we know and love today and its UEFA Europa League record is equally poor having not reached its group stage since the 2007-2008 season in which it lost all four of its divisional matches.
Ludogorets and Crvena Zvezda will meet for the second time in eight days when they clash at the latter’s stadium in Belgrade and what attracts one to the former is that their odds do not reflect how the first leg played out in Razgrad.
The 2-2 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first leg draw between Ludogorets and Crvena Zvezda was one of those games in which the result did not mirror the match itself, a view that UEFA’s statisticians support. According to UEFA, Ludogorets had 19 attempts to Crvena Zvezda’s four but that the home team failed to convert their dominance into victory due to two factors: wayward shooting from its strikers and defiant defending from its rival’s defenders. Incredibly, Ludogorets managed just two attempts on target with 11 missing the goal and six of them being blocked en route to their destination. That Ludogorets was so wasteful probably had a lot to do with its top goal scorer from last term, Claudiu Keseru, only appearing midway through the second half. Keseru replaced Jody Lukoki in the 67th minute and he equalised for Ludogorets nine minutes later, catching Crvena Zvezda napping following a quickly taken free kick.
Keseru is likely to fill the void created by the suspension of Marcelinho, one of several Brazil-born players in the Ludogorets camp. Crvena Zvezda’s disciplinary issues are greater than those of Ludogorets, though, with Mitchell Donald and Guelor Kanga banned having picked up two UEFA Champions League yellow cards as well. Donald is a product of the famous Ajax academy who has been starting at central defensive midfield for Crvena Zvezda, while Kanga has been playing in a more advanced midfield role since the Serbian side acquired him at the behest of Miodrag Bozovic. Kanga starred for Russian team Rostov when Bozovic was its boss.
Ludogorets qualified for the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round with a 5-0 aggregate win over Mladost Podgorica that included a 3-0 away success. Crvena Zvezda made it to the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round less impressively than Ludogorets, defeating Valletta 4-2 on aggregate but trailing both legs 0-1 early on. Crvena Zvezda has two away goals in its locker but it has not kept a clean sheet in any of its five competitive matches this season and its defence was porous throughout its warm-up games that included a 4-2 loss to Pandurii Targu Jiu, of Romania.
The days of visiting sides being scared senseless at Crvena Zvezda are ancient history so Ludogorets has nothing to fear and, because of the state of the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round tie, Bozovic’s boys know that they have to score at least one goal in normal time to have any chance of progressing. Therefore, one can back Ludogorets at odds of +230 with Bet365 and confidently expect that the winner of each of the last five Bulgarian First League titles is not going to stand on ceremony. Ludogorets are going to attack Crvena Zvezda in their quest to mix it with the UEFA Champions League heavyweights for the second time.
Ludogorets to beat Crvena Zvezda
Tuesday 2nd August, 19:30 GMT