MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Wednesday night’s Champions League qualifying coupon.
Porto v Roma | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport/ESPN
Three trophy-less seasons have left Porto looking up at Lisbon-based rivals Benfica and Sporting domestically but the Dragons began life under new boss Nuno Espirito Santo with a 3-1 triumph at Rio Ave on Friday night and are determined to bounce back in 2016/17.
Nuno dropped last season’s top scorer Vincent Aboubakar from the squad for that opening day victory as he attempts to stamp his authority over the side but the ex-Porto goalkeeper couldn’t have asked for a tougher opponent in the Champions League play-off phase of qualifying.
Nevertheless, Porto boast a tremendous record at their Estadio do Dragao home and should be counted upon to enhance that return on Wednesday night.
Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Manchester United and Atletico Madrid have all fallen in Oporto in recent memory, whilst the hosts have claimed top honours in seven of their last nine home encounters with Champions League opposition and at 11/8 (Bet365) the Portuguese outfit look a decent price to take a first leg lead here.
Porto have only once failed to reach the group-stages of the Champions League since their memorable 2004 triumph with the hosts notching at least twice in each of those aforementioned seven wins in this competition.
Roma stormed into third-place last season after a fabulous rally under Luciano Spaletti’s watch. The Giallorossi won 14 of 17 unbeaten games at the end of the season and finished Serie A as the division’s top goal-getters (83).
However, the capital club struggled defensively, shopping 41 goals – more than any other top-four rival. Although Roma lost just four league games all season, Wednesday’s guests kept their sheets clean on just eight occasions, including in only three fixtures on their travels.
The Wolves have W1-D4-L4 in nine Champions League away days and last term the visitors shipped two goals or more in each of their four trips to the continent.
And with only one Italian representative progressing from this phase of the Champions League in six seasons, the Italians are understandably concerned about their tough draw.
Dead-ball specialist Miralem Pjanic has left for Juventus – a big blow – but Mo Salah, Stephen El Shaarawy and Edin Dzeko have all sighed permanently and Roma have been racking up the goals (27) in six friendly matches.
The guests also began pre-season early in preparation but I can’t help feel that this encounter could come too early.
I’ll take the home win but I’ll also stick in the Both Teams To Score angle alongside a Porto success, after all Roma have netted in seven of their last nine away days in Europe at 9/2 (Bet365).
Villarreal v Monaco | Wednesday 19.45 | BT Sport Extra
Villarreal enjoyed their best La Liga finish since 2010/11 last term but the Yellow Submarine have endured a dreadful off-season and look very vulnerable hosts at El Madrigal here.
The Spaniards saw impressive head coach Marcelinho depart after a disagreement over transfer strategy just last week whilst the squad has been hit very hard by departures and injuries since May too.
Fran Escriba has taken charge – he was sacked by Getafe just weeks before they suffered relegation – and although the defensively-minded boss suits Villarreal’s style, plenty of pundits were queuing up to criticise the appointment.
Last year’s top goalscorer Cedric Bakambu is absent, as is Roberto Soldado, Jonathan Dos Santos and new addition Dennis Cheryshev. Nicola Sansone is ineligible, Victor Ruiz is suspended and Mateo Musacchio, his centre-back partner, has had his head turned by AC Milan for much of the summer. Meanwhile, first team regulars Alphonse Areola, Eric Bailly and Dennis Suarez have all departed the Yellow Submarine this summer.
Defensive midfielder Alfred N’Diaye and Chelsea flop Alexandre Pato are arguably the highlights of Villarreal’s incoming business and a 3-2 friendly loss to La Liga newcomers Leganes in their last outing has only added further fuel to an unhappy fire quelling amongst the club’s support.
In 2015/16, Marcelinho built his XI on solid foundations, a clinical counter-attacking game and their excellent home form. Villarreal kept 17 clean sheets overall with 23 matches featuring fewer than three goals. Meanwhile, both Madrid clubs were beaten at El Madrigal (W12-D4-L3)
But how on earth can we realistically invest our cash on the hosts here in such a sticky situation? I just can’t justify any pro-Villarreal bet and therefore they must be opposed.
Monaco might have started their season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with Guingamp on Friday night but the principality club have had one eye on this contest since progressing past Fenerbahce 4-3 in the previous qualification round.
A rejuvenated Falcao is injured but Valere Germain’s impressed on his return to Les Monagesques and the visitors appear decent value at 6/5 with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start from 188BET.
This selection would see us pick up a full-stakes profit should Monaco win but we’ll also enjoy a half-stakes win should the game end all-square.
The Monaco project is constantly rebooting and rebuilding – they’ve been dubbed the new Porto or Sevilla – and head coach Leonardo Jardim has been forced to drastically alter his typically conservative style of play to a more risk-taking approach, owing to a lack of proficient defensive options.
However, Polish international Kamil Glik was a shrewd capture at centre-half following the departures of Wallace and Ricardo Carvalho over the summer and although right-back Djibril Sidibe is a doubt, Monaco’s W3-D3-L4 return in continental away days over the last two seasons suggests they’ll be good enough to pick up a positive result.
Porto v Roma – Porto to win (11/8 Bet365)
Porto v Roma – Porto to win and Both Teams To Score (9/2 Bet365)
Villarreal v Monaco – Monaco +0.25 Asian Handicap (6/5 188BET)