MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Tuesday night’s Champions League qualifying coupon.
Ajax v Rostov | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Frank de Boer departed Ajax after five-and-a-half-years at the end of 2015/16 with Peter Bosz quickly installed as the Amsterdammers new head coach.
The capital club had been edged out of the Dutch title race by the tightest of margins and were in need of a pick me up. Despite enjoying a player career away from Amsterdam, Bosz’s admiration of the Ajax school was well-known and his reputation as a forward-thinking boss appealed.
Bosz’s commitment for bold – at times, suicidal – and dynamic football has already been easy to see.
The four-time European Cup winners have seen all four of their fixtures feature Both Teams To Score winners but Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Roda JC was particularly galling as the hosts had out-shot their opponents 24-7 and enjoyed 74% of the ball.
The loss of top marksman Arkadiusz Milik to Napoli over the summer has taken a degree of quality away from the offence and whilst the youthful squad has plenty of promise, Ajax have looked a little too defensively vulnerable in the early stages of the season.
Statistically Ajax boasted the Eredivisie’s best backline during de Boer’s reign, helping the club win four domestic titles in six years. However, after a far from impressive pre-season, questions are already being asked of Bosz’s ability and methods following their unconvincing early displays.
Davy Klaassen’s 88th-minute strike eliminated PAOK 3-2 on aggregate in the last round of Champions League qualifiers but neither match saw the Dutch dominate and although Rostov arrive in relative disarray, there’s a real worry from within the Amsterdam camp.
Rostov defied expectations to finish second in the Russian Premier League last term and plenty of pundits rubbished their chances of a repeat challenge in 2016/17. Why? Well the Selmashi have been in constant financial strife.
Manager Kurban Berdyev came close to resigning in the summer but was persuaded to stay on and Rostov opened their account with a 1-0 win at newly-promoted Orenburg before a 0-0 against Ural Yekaterinburg.
Sandwiched either side of those league encounters, Rostov held Anderlecht to a 2-2 draw in Russia before upsetting the odds to beat the Belgians 2-0 in Brussels to secure their place in the Champions League play-off round. The progress ensured the necessary finances to keep the club afloat.
But Berdyev then announced his unexpected resignation with assistant manager Dmitri Kirichenko stepping into the breach for their weekend trip to Zenit. Despite taking a 2-0 half-time lead, Rostov were reduced to 10 men and eventually lost 3-2, conceding a penalty and an own goal along the way.
Nevertheless, Kirichenko insists the spirit in his small squad is strong and they’re ready to give Ajax a serious test.
Continuing the Selmashi’s 2015/16 approach, the visitors will line-up in a 5-3-2 formation and concentrate on counter-attacking the Dutch when possession has been turned over.
Rostov scored twice away at Zenit and Anderlecht so it’s far from unfeasible to see the Russians notching in Amsterdam. The guests have struck in four of their five fixtures this term, including two or more goals in three of those encounters and I’ll back them to grab an away goal at 8/11 (Betfair) against gung-ho Ajax.
The hosts have won just once in their past six Champions League qualifiers as hosts, losing when welcoming FC Copenhagen, Rapid Vienna and Slavia Prague in that sample so I’ll also oppose a home win by backing Rostov +0.50 on the Asian Handicap at 22/19 with BetVictor.
Young Boys v Borussia Monchengladbach | Tuesday 19.45 | BT Sport Europe
Borussia Monchengladbach kick-off their 2016/17 season with a tricky trip to Berne. It’s only a 295-mile journey south to Switzerland but the Foals might not be up to speed for Tuesday night’s encounter.
The Bundesliga campaign doesn’t begin for another 10 days with the DFB Pokal acting as Germany’s curtain-raiser this coming weekend.
Of course, the Germans have played nine pre-season friendlies, including a 0-0 draw with Lazio on Saturday but Andre Schubert’s troops are unlikely to be match fit.
One of those nine warm-up matches included a 3-3 draw with Young Boys on the 13th July and a similarly high-scoring clash could well be on the cards here.
As well as their undercooked condition, Gladbach must also deal with Young Boys’ notorious artificial surface at the Stade de Suisse. Shakhtar Donetsk couldn’t cope in the third qualifying round and Adi Hutter’s hosts, who finished second in the Swiss Super League last term, could easily take advantage.
Although the Yellows have made a mix start to 2016/17 (W4-D0-L3 across fixtures), Young Boys have built their recent success on their Stade de Suisse efforts. In fact, under Hutter’s charge the Swiss outfit have W12-D3-L2 in domestic action, including scoring six goals in two games against champions Basel.
In 13 (76%) of those aforementioned 17 league matches, the Berne club notched at least two goals, a trick they repeated against Shakhtar here just a fortnight ago. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Young Boys bagged another brace in a goal-filled game and the 29/20 (BetVictor) is worth taking.
Gladbach make the trip without the injured Marvin Schulz, Mamadou Doucoure, Alvaro Dominguez and Josip Drmic and although the visitors participated in the Champions League group stage in 2015/16, the Foals failed to impress on their Bundesliga travels under Schubert (W4-D3-L7), including just W1-D3-L7 in their most recent 11 away days.
I’m surprised to see Young Boys chalked up as clear outsiders here and I’ll count on the match-fit Swiss to avoid defeat by taking the 24/23 (BetVictor) on the +0.25 Asian Handicap on offer.
With this selection, we’ll pick up a half-stakes win should the match end all square and a full-stakes profit should Young Boys take a first leg victory.
Ajax v Rostov – Rostov to score Over 0.5 Goals (3/4 Betfair)
Ajax v Rostov – Rostov +0.50 Asian Handicap (22/19 BetVictor)
Young Boys v Borussia Monchengladbach – Young Boys +0.25 Asian Handicap (24/23 BetVictor)
Young Boys v Borussia Monchengladbach – Young Boys to score Over 1.5 Goals (29/20 BetVictor)
World Cup 2018: The Ultimate Betting Guide
Our 130-page spectacular, World Cup 2018: The Ultimate Betting Guide, is available to buy NOW!
The interactive magazine includes previews, videos, stats and tips for all 32 teams, features on Outright Winners, Top Goalscorer, Refs & Cards, Dark Horses, Flops, Knock-out Betting and much more.
22 football experts contribute to our Ask the Experts feature and there’s over 5 hours of exclusive audio with 5 of the planet’s most respected reporters who discuss the chances of each nation with our very own Mark O’Haire.
And if that wasn’t enough there’s a free bet up for grabs with our partners Ladbrokes.