THE Champions League moves into the second qualifying round. Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) shares his best bets.
Molde v Pyunik | Tuesday 19:00
Not the easiest set of fixtures to find an attractively priced bet in all honesty. There’s a gulf in class between a number of the sides but most of the superior teams are playing at home, meaning the odds are incredibly cramped.
The only way to turn is to the handicap markets but even then it’s difficult to find attractive odds. I really like APOEL Nicosia to do a job on Vardar Skopje but they’re only 4/6 conceding a goal. I’m also expecting Ludogorets to lord it all over FC Milsami but again it’s 4/6 -1. Seems a bit short to be posting on here.
Instead I’ve backed Molde -1 at Evens with Sportingbet against Armenian side Pyunik. It was a great week last week for Armenian football with three of their four sides reaching the next phase of European competition. St Johnstone and Zrinjski Mostar were among the sides knocked out.
Pyunik were one of the three to go through, but while Alashkert and Shirak took the plaudits, they were shuffled off stage-left after struggling to knock out San Marino minnows Folgore.
Job done of course, but now the Norwegian side should prove a far stiffer test. Pyunik were dumped out the Europa League last season 6-1 on aggregate by Kazakh side FC Astana and before that Folgore win had lost eight of their last nine European away games.
Molde are halfway through their season in Norway and should be much sharper than Pyunik. Champions last year, they’re down in sixth in the Eliteserien this season but you’d like to believe they’ll be totally focussed on this tie. Last season they crushed Slovenian side ND Gorica (a better side than Pyunik I would guess) and drew in the Ukraine with Zorya Luhansk. The season before they drew in Warsaw with Legia. It’s decent form.
I’m happy to back Molde -1 here at Evens. They’re a huge 186 places higher in the UEFA club rankings than Pyunik, they’re in the middle of their season and the Armenians were distinctly average against Folgore (a side in the bottom 10 of the UEFA rankings).
Maribor v FC Astana | Tuesday 19:30
Maribor are 4/5 to beat FC Astana at home. On last year’s European form that looks too good to be true, and when something looks too good to be true it usually is eh? So I’m a bit nervous.
Let’s start with the Kazakhs. They had a very promising run of form in the Europa League last season knocking out Pyunik, Hapoel Tel Aviv and AIK Stockholm before succumbing to a battering from Villarreal in the play-off round.
They look a side on the up. They won their first ever domestic title last year and sit third in the current table. But when you compare it to Maribor’s form last season it doesn’t come close.
The Slovenian’s have been improving for the last decade but this is where things went up another level. Zrinjski Mostar and Maccabi Tel Aviv were beaten in the qualifying rounds of the Champions League before an excellent 1-0 win in Glasgow over Celtic saw them reach the group stages for the first time since 1999.
In the group they emerged with huge credit. Draws against all their opponents (Chelsea, Schalke and Sporting Lisbon) raised their profile in Europe and while their adventure ended there it must stand them in good stead for this match.
My view is that 4/5 at home is too big for Maribor. They’re almost 200 places higher in the UEFA Club rankings than FC Astana and are veterans of playing in Europe in July and August. It’s now 12 years since they fell at the first hurdle. I can’t see it occurring here. Or is that price too good to be true?
Molde v Pyunik – Molde -1 (Evens Sportingbet)
Maribor v FC Astana – Maribor to win (4/5 Coral)