Group Stage Awaits for Champions League Hopefuls

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Former champions PSV Eindhoven and Benfica go head-to-head to qualify for the Champions League with the last six places to be determined this week.

Roger Schmidt and Marco van Ginkel

The final six places in this season’s Champions League group stage will be confirmed this week, with the second-leg ties from the playoff round set to be played over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday.

Expect plenty of drama over the coming days as former European champions, competition regulars and sides that are bidding to reach the group stage for the very first time lock horns across the continent.

The winners of each tie will make it through to the group stage where they will come up against the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and reigning champions Chelsea, while the losers can at least take solace from a place in the Europa League proper.

PSV to Overcome First-Leg Deficit

Former champions PSV Eindhoven and Benfica will lock horns at the Philips Stadion on Tuesday, with the Portuguese giants holding a narrow 2-1 advantage from last week’s first leg in Lisbon.

PSV were unfortunate to finish that match on the wrong end of the result, which is the only blemish on their record to date this season, with Roger Schmidt’s side having won their seven other matches across all competitions.

It is the manner of those victories that has been particularly impressive, as PSV have scored a combined eight goals in their two previous home matches in Champions League qualifying against Galatasaray and Midtjylland, while they also thrashed Ajax 4-0 in the Dutch Super Cup.

Benfica have also begun the season in style, winning their opening six matches, but they have lost five of their previous seven Champions League fixtures on the road, with PSV looking well placed at 1/1 to claim a victory on Tuesday that might be enough to send them through to the group stage.

Young Boys to Complete the Job in Hungary

Swiss champions Young Boys hold a narrow 3-2 lead over Hungarian title holders Ferencvaros heading into Tuesday’s second leg in Budapest, but that does not tell the whole story, as they achieved that win despite playing most of the match with 10 men.

The score was 1-1 when Young Boys had Silvan Hefti sent off after just 25 minutes in Bern, which makes their victory all the more impressive and should stand them in good stead to secure another win on Tuesday.

Young Boys are priced at 11/10 to claim the spoils in Hungary and they do appear to be on a roll as they have won three matches on the spin across all competitions, including a 4-1 success in their last away fixture in the Swiss Cup.

Ferencvaros have lost three of their last five games by contrast and a second successive appearance in the Champions League group stage may well be beyond Peter Stoger’s side.

Shakhtar Too Strong for Struggling Monaco

Shakhtar Donetsk have reached the Champions League group stage in 10 of the last 11 years and they look well placed to extend that record after claiming a 1-0 victory at Monaco in last week’s first leg.

Pedrinho’s goal has certainly put Roberto De Zerbi’s side in a strong position heading into Wednesday’s second leg in Kharkiv, especially as Shakhtar are on a four-match winning sequence across all competitions.

Monaco can only dream of enjoying such a run, as they have started the season poorly, picking up just a solitary point from their opening three fixtures in Ligue 1, while last week’s defeat to Shakhtar is one of three successive losses they have suffered.

It is difficult to see Niko Kovac’s side reversing that alarming trend on Wednesday, with Shakhtar looking good value to win the match at 19/10, which would also see the Ukrainians seal their passage through to the group stage.

* All odds correct at time of writing.

A fountain of knowledge on football, Tom offers a particular in-depth expertise in EFL and European leagues.

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