CHAMPIONS LEAGUE qualifying continues on Wednesday night. Here Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.
Istanbul Basaksehir v Sevilla | Wednesday 16th August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Former Istanbul minnows Basaksehir broke with tradition in Turkey to mount a serious title challenge for large swathes of last season and the Grey Owls are intent on building on their breakout campaign this time around.
Under the astute stewardship of Abdullah Avci, Basaksehir have recruited Gael Clichy, Kerim Frei, Eljero Elia, Aurelien Chedjou and Mevlut Erdinc to a squad that finished runners-up last season and already features the enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor up front.
From the outside it’s easy to dismiss the hosts but scratch beneath the surface and there’s steely resolve alongside an organised and disciplined system that’s seen Basaksehir flourish. It’s been said, Avci has built a machine.
True, wonderkid Cengiz Under left for Roma or €15m – a record fee for a Turkey international leaving the Super Lig – but summer business has provided depth and options to one of the most balanced sides in the division.
This is the biggest tie in the Grey Owls history – they’ve never played in the group-stages of European competition whilst Turkey haven’t contributed more than one side to the group-stage of the Champions League in over a decade. The trends are certainly against Basaksehir.
With centre-backs Chedjou and Egemen Korkmaz sidelined, as well as forward Mehmet Batdal, the hosts won’t be at full strength, either. However, Basaksehir have already played three competitive games this campaign (W2-D1-L0) and come into this contest unbeaten at the Fatih Terim Stadium in over a year (W17-D8-L0).
In contrast, Sevilla arrive up in Istanbul yet to feature in any competitive football this season and there’s a chance they could be caught cold. I, for one, buy into that suggestion.
Why? Well, the Andalusians saw Jorge Sampaoli take-up the Argentina job at the end of last term, renowned sporting director Monchi move on and the likes of Vitolo, Stevan Jovetic, Vicente Iborra, Yehven Konplyanka, Adil Rami and Mariano depart in another hectic summer.
Eduardo Berrizo brought Celta Vigo to the final-four of the Europa League last time out and takes over the reigns whilst Ever Banega, Nolito, Jesus Navas, Simon Kjaer and record signing Luis Muriel are just some of the names to pitch up at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan – decent business on the whole.
Still, I can’t help but assume Sevilla won’t yet be at full tilt for crunch Champions League football. Indeed, their road record in this competition leaves a lot to be desired (W1-D3-L6) and defender Daniel Carrico is injured.
There’s decent value in opposing Sevilla here but I’m bolstering the odds on offer by chucking Both Teams To Score in alongside the home Double Chance with Betfair at a bulbous 9/5.
Basaksehir drew 3-3 here in the previous round of qualification and leaked in eight of their last 12 home outings. In fact, this selection would have returned profit in 15 of their previous 25 encounters here dating back to August 2016.
Sevilla saw Both Teams To Score bank in seven of their final 11 away days in 2016/17, firing blanks in three of their previous 12 fixtures on their travels.
Napoli v Nice | Wednesday 16th August 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport
Around 55,000 fans are expected to cram into the Stadio San Paolo for Napoli’s curtain-raising contest of the 2017/18 campaign on Wednesday night against Nice.
Serie A clubs have traditionally struggled at the Champions League play-off stage – just one of the past seven Italian sides have successfully negotiated their passage from this point to the group-stage – and Maurizio Sarri’s men will be wary having fallen at this hurdle just two years ago.
The Partenopei have yet to kick a competitive ball in anger but are well-fancied to take first leg honours having finished the previous campaign like a train. Napoli haven’t lost since February, only eliminated from Europe by eventual champions Real Madrid following two thrilling ties and look the likeliest challenger to Juventus’ Scudetto crown this season.
Sarri’s charges are well-known for their fluid 4-3-3 system and at their best, they’re one of the most entertaining teams to watch on the continent. With almost a fully fit squad available, the only question mark resides over who will fill the defensive midfield role with Allan in pole position.
Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens and Jose Callejon will lead the attack with Marek Hamsik providing the ammunition from midfield. With Kalidou Koulibaly committing his future to the club, Napoli’s XI is settled enough to suggest they’ll be well prepared for the contest.
Saying that, I can’t ignore the obvious differences in conditioning between the two clubs. Whilst this will be Napoli’s first taste of meaningful football this term, Nice are already four games deep into their campaign.
Sure, Les Aiglons have recorded just W0-D2-L2 – including back-to-back Ligue 1 losses – but Lucien Favre’s troops haven’t been anywhere near as bad as media reports seem to suggest.
Newly-promoted Troyes upset the odds to win 2-1 on the French Riviera this weekend but Nice dominated for large spells of that match with new strikers Bassem Srarfi and Pierre Lees-Melou linking up well and summer signing Allan Saint-Maximin causing problems.
So whilst headline acts Mario Balotelli and Wesley Sneijder have been ruled out, through injury the visitors still have plenty of players capable of causing problems in their ranks; certainly enough to warrant more respect in the pre-match markets.
Les Aiglons ousted Europa League finalists Ajax in the last round on away goals and have netted in all bar one of their matches thus far, I fancy their chances of grabbing a goal on the road here and at least keeping the scoreline competitive.
Napoli may have won 13 of their 19 league games at the Sao Paolo last season but they averaged a goal per-game against and have leaked in nine of their previous 12 home ties in this competition. Immediately, the odds-against 19/17 (188BET) available on Both Teams To Score stands out.
I’ll also have a nibble on the 21/20 (188BET) on Nice with a +1.5 start on the Asian Handicap line. Under Favre the visitors have suffered only 5/50 (10%) – three of which arrived when the French club fielded second-string teams in the Europa League whilst focussing on league football.
Nice remain awkward opponents under the excellent Favre and so I’m happy to oppose a cushy win for potentially rusty hosts Napoli.