The Slovenian club Maribor will play host to Israeli team Hapoel Beer Sheva, hoping to draw first blood at home. Italian powerhouse Napoli will welcome Nice to their courtyard, optimistic of the possibility that they will be having a positive influence of the home crowd’s support. Finally, Olympiakos of Greece will entertain the Croatian team Rijeka, mindful of the fact that any slip would probably cost them the ticket to the Champions League group stage.
HAPOEL BEER SHEVA (ISR) vs.MARIBOR (SLO)
Three-way: 1:Hapoel Beer Sheva -154; X: 295Draw; 2: Maribor +668
Spread -1: Hapoel Beer Sheva+118; Maribor-118
Total +2: Over -125; Under +125
HAPOEL BEER SHEVA
Hapoel has continued their position in the top section of the Israeli league, as they managed to win last season’s league title, after a close battle with Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the end, it was Hapoel’s early dominance and consistency that saw them edge out their rivals with a three point lead. Looking at the stats, one would see that it was imperative that they were crowned champions. They had the best attack in the league, as they scored a massive 54 goals in just 26 matches in the league. Not just the attack, Hapoel were solid at the back too. They just conceded 13 goals en route to their second consecutive league title. The club will be hopeful of grabbing another win and making it a hat trick of league titles this year.
Under young manager Barak Bakhar, who has managed to guide them to two league wins in two years, the club will be hoping to continue in the same direction, and they have signed new players to do so. They have managed to grab Spanish winger Isaac Cuenca, as the 26-year-old was out of contract at Granada, and hence add him on a free transfer. Similarly, they have also added Israeli midfielder Dan Einbinder from Jerusalem, along with Tomas Pekhart from AEK FC to add to the firepower of the squad.
The club started their Champions League qualifiers from the second round, where they faced Honved. They won both matches; 2:1 at home, which was followed by a pulsating 2:3 away win. Then in the third round of the Champions League qualifications, they were pitted against Ludogorets. The home leg was an easy 2:0 win, after which, they had to scramble their way to the finish line as they won the tie on away goals after losing 3:1 in that match. These matches show that even though they had the best defense last year, they are still culpable of letting in goals in matches.
The only player, who won’t be available for the match is attacking midfielder Michael Ohoma, who is out with a suspension. There are no injury concerns currently for the manager.
The Slovenian club was at their majestic best in the league, as they managed to reclaim their title after they were dethroned as champions the year before. Through the nine months, Maribor was always a step ahead of the other teams, as they finished the league with a massive 13 point lead ahead of ND Gorica who was second. As the league season is already well underway in Slovenia, it is safe to say Maribor have got off to a good start. Out of their first 5 matches, they have won four, while drawing one. In this duration, they have scored ten goals, while conceding 3.
They haven’t spent any money on new transfers in this transfer window so far. They have recruited French centre-back Jean CluadeBillong from RudarValenje on a free transfer, along with Bosnian Forward Jasmin Mesanovic, who also joins after contract expiry from Zrinjski Mostar. Their third transfer is Martin Milec, who joins from Standard Liege, although his transfer amount is not known yet.
Like their opponents, Maribor also started this year’s Champions League qualifiers from the second round. First, they were facing Zrinjski. They won the away match by 1:2, which was followed by a close 1:1 draw at home. Following this matchup, Maribor went againstHafnafjordur in the next round of the Champions League qualifications. In both the matches, Maribor advanced with a 1:0 win on both the occasions. Looking at the final scores in all the matches, we can infer that Maribor isn’t the most prolific of attackers, but are capable of keeping their lead with some solid defensive work.
HAPOEL BEER SHEVA (ISR) vs.MARIBOR (SLO) -Match Prediction
Looking at the recent matches of the Slovenian team Maribor, it is easy to notice that they aren’t the best when it comes to putting in the ball in the opposition net, they still are very efficient when they have to defend a slender lead. Against a team like Hapoel, they would be happy to get one goal, which doesn’t seem too difficult, and then sit back and wait to hit back on the counter. However, the home team will come out strong looking to score early on and create some sort of an advantage going into the return fixtures. I would take the -1 AH on the home team.
MY PICK: Hapoel Beer Sheva AH -1 (+118)
NAPOLI (ITA) vs. NICE (FRA)
Three-way: 1: Napoli -250; X: +486 Draw; 2: Nice +1200
Spread -1.5: Napoli -105; Nice +104
Total +2.5: Over -139; Under +129
The Nerazzurri put in one of their best seasons last year when it came to performance. They were absolutely wonderful on the attacking, and they had improved on the defensive aspect too, which showed that Maurizio Sarri has been able to galvanize the team and improve them all round. They were the best team offensively in the league, as Mertens and Insigne led the line with aplomb in the absence of Milik. They scored 94 goals in 38 matches and conceded 39 goals, which shows that their defense can still improve.
The club has steadily improved the squad across various areas. They have added Nikola Maksimovic from Torino for a sum of 20 million Euros, which might just prove a steal considering the currently inflated market. They have added a couple of young players in the midfielder with Marko Rog from Dinamo Zagreb and winger Adam Ounas from Bordeaux for 13 and 10 million Euros respectively, with the fans hoping that they can ensure that Napoli remains thrilling to watch.
They had an intense pre season campaign, as they played eight games to prepare for the new season. They only lost once, to Atletico Madrid in the Audi cup, while winning five, including a mad 17:0 win against Anaunia and drawing twice. In total, they scored a massive 36 goals in these matches, while conceding just six goals. It must be noted that they still showed a bit of sloppiness at the back against alert teams, which might not go unpunished in the play-off round of the Champions League. However, they do not have injury concerns, which will allow room for flexibility and new tactics.
Based on the early season signs last year, it was a thought in the minds of many that the club might actually be a contender for the Ligue 1 title, as they, along with Monaco, were constantly beating oppositions. However, they faltered midseason, which was more or less at the same time that Mario Balotelli lost his form, and many times, his composure. Still, they managed to recover, and hence, were able to have a respectable third place finish. The fans will be hoping that the club is able to get into the Champions League group stage, which would be an excellent achievement considering the levels achieved by the club based on recent league finishes.
Nice has been focusing on maintaining the French core of the club, and hence have added three French young players in the current transfer window. Highly rated Monaco prodigy Allan Saint Maximin has joined for a sum of €10 million while joining him on the right wing is 24-year old Pierre Melou who joins from Dijon for €4 million. They have also signed the teenage midfielder Victor Makengo from Caen for €6 million. However, the major transfer headline for the club has to be the signing of Dutch legend Wesley Sneijder from Galatasaray on a free transfer, which has made fans excited as people remember the Balotelli-Sneijder duo from their Milan days.
In the third round of the Champions League qualifiers, Nice managed to overcome last year’s Europa league finalists Ajax, as they won 3:3, on away goals. In their preseason preparations, the French club played five friendlies. They won four of them, losing one. They scored a total of 12 goals in these five matches while conceding eight goals, which shows the leaky nature of their defense.
There are a couple of injury problems for the club ahead of the qualifiers. Star forward Mario Balotelli injured his leg in the preseason, and there is no timetable for his return as of now. Along with the Italian striker, midfielder Wylan Cyprien is also out, as he is working on his recovery after suffering an ACL tear towards the end of the last campaign.
NAPOLI (ITA) vs. NICE (FRA)- Match Prediction:
This Champions League match has all the ingredients to be a cracking tie. Both the teams are capable of scoring goals and putting in really effective attacking moves throughout the game. However, on a closer look, it is clear that Napoli was comparatively consistent than their French opponents. Moreover, the Nerazzurri looked well prepared after their preseason, as they were effectively scoring goals for fun against teams. On the other side, Nice has struggled in the first two round of the new Ligue 1 campaign, losing both games, which only proves that they are not the same team with and without Balotelli.
The books favor the Italian side heavily, offering -250 on the home teams win. I don’t see too much value there, which is why I am going with the total number of goals scored, taking the over 2.5 goals. I suggest you do the same!!!
MY PICK: Over 2.5 goals (-139)
OLYMPIAKOS PIRAEUS (GRE) vs.RIJEKA (CRO)
Three-way: 1: Olympiakos Piraeus -169; X: +305 Draw; 2: Rijeka +670
Spread -1: Olympiakos Piraeus +108; Rijeka -112
Total +2: Over -119; Under +114
By now, the supporters have been used to it by sure, as Olympiakos are literally unchallenged in the Greek top flight, a statement that is supported by the fact that the last seven league titles have gone to the red and white team from Athens. Last year, they finished a comfortable 6 points ahead of second placed PAOK. Olympiakos had the best attack and the best defense in the league. They scored 57 goals in 30 matches while conceding just 16 times. Newly appointed manager Besnik Hasi will want to ensure that his club remains at the top of the league standings come to the end of the season, and has made significant reinforcements at the club.
They have signed the Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike from Fenerbahce, and Belgian Midfielder Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe from Legia Warsawa, for 2.5 million Euros each. They have added the Greek defensive midfielder Tachtsidis from Torino for 700 thousand Euros, while another 4.5 million has allowed them to sign defenders Jagos Vukovic from Konyaspor, Hrvoje Milik from Fiorentina, along with the Belgian midfielder Guillaume Gillet from Nantes.
In their previous round of the Champions League qualifiers (the third round), the Greek club was pitted against Partizan. The first round was a comfortable 1:3 win away for Olympiakos, while the second leg saw them play an entertaining 2:2 draw at home. Apart from these two matches, they have played six preseason friendly matches. The results weren’t really positive, as they lost two, drew three, and managed to win only one. During this time, they scored 9 goals and conceded 5.
Their only player who will be out for this match through injury is new signing Emenike, as he has a tear in his abductor’s muscle.
Rijeka enters this season on the back of a wonderful domestic campaign, both in the league and in the cup competition. They won the league in Croatia after a lengthy tussle against the then champions Dinamo Zagreb, who eventually fell two points short. Rijeka also managed to have the best attack and defense in the league, as they scored a massive 71 goals, and conceded 23 in the league. They also snatched the cup from Zagreb, ending the season as the domestic double winners. Their start to the current season hasn’t been as impressive as one would expect. Of the first five matches, they have won three and lost the other two. During these matches, they managed to score 8 goals, conceding 4.
In the second round of the Champions League qualifiers this year, Rijeka was up against The New Saints. The first leg saw an efficient side winning the home leg 2:0, which was followed by an even better away leg, as Rijeka won the match 1:5. However, the next round wasn’t that easy, Salzburg proved to be a much tougher opponent. The first leg ended 1:1, with Rijeka grabbing the all important away goal, which ensured their passage to the next round.
Their marquee signing this year has to be the young Croatian centre-back Josip Elez, who has joined from Lazio for 500 thousand Euros. Joining him are Brazilian forward Heber and Croatian youngster Tomislav Gomelt who has joined from Bari, for a sum of 450 thousand and 50 thousand Euros respectively.
Their only injury concern currently is Mario Gavranovic, who is having a tear in his abductor’s muscle, and won’t be able to make a recovery in time.
OLYMPIAKOS PIRAEUS (GRE) vs. RIJEKA (CRO) – Match Prediction:
This match sets up two teams who had very impressive seasons last time out. Both the teams will be missing out on a striker due to abductor muscle tear. Rijeka has shown that they can win ties in a beautiful way, scoring goals, and also by the scrambling finish, by holding out on leads.
However, Olympiakos will prove a different type of opposition for the team, and most probably, a tougher one. Therefore, my prediction will be a home win for the Greek side.
MY PICK: Olympiakos AH -1 (+108)
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