The playoff round in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League begins on Tuesday with five matches taking place across Europe.
Liverpool’s trip to Hoffenheim headlines the draw, as the Reds look to advance to the group stage of the competition. Jurgen Klopp’s men are coming off a 3-3 opening weekend draw at Watford last Saturday in the English Premier League. The Reds received goals from Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and summer signing Mohamed Salah. Hoffenheim has yet to start their Bundesliga campaign, but are coming off a slim 1-0 victory in last Saturday’s German DFB-Pokal opener at FC Rot-Weiß Erfurt. Julian Nagelsmann’s side was a huge surprise in the German top flight a season ago, and will look for strikers Sandro Wagner and Andrei Kramaric to steal the show in Tuesday’s first leg.
Elsewhere, this week Napoli welcome Nice to town on Wednesday, while Scottish champs Celtic face Astana at Celtic Park.
Here is a preview of this week’s UEFA Champions League first legs:
NAPOLI VS. NICE (2:45 P.M. Wednesday, Fox Sports 1)
Napoli faces off with Nice in a battle of two teams that went third in their respective leagues a year ago. Napoli was one of the hottest teams in all of Europe to close out last season, unbeaten in the final 12 matches across all competitions. Maurizio Sarri’s side brings back four double-digit scorers from a year ago, whom can all change the game in an instant. Dries Martens had 34 goals and 11 assists across all competitions, while Lorenzo Insigne had 20 goals and 12 assists. These two are the main threats for the Italian side.
Nice may have lost their opening two matches in Ligue 1 play this season, but that doesn’t count them out of this tie at all. Striker Mario Balotelli scored 16 goals last season, but will not be available for the first leg due to an injury that has kept him out so far this season. Striker Alessane Plea added 12 goals and will be the main player to watch for the visitors on Wednesday. Newly-acquired midfielder Wesley Sneijder also will be missing due to injury.
CELTIC VS. FC ASTANA (2:45 P.M. Wednesday, Fox Sports 2 Go)
Also on Wednesday, defending Scottish champs Celtic face off with FC Astana at Celtic Park. Brendan Rodgers’ side used a 1-0 aggregate in the last round to edge Rosenborg away from home. The Hoops are coming off a 1-0 road win in league play last Friday, and will be favorites to advance this round. Scott Sinclair and Tom Rogic both have two goals apiece so far in UCL qualifying, while defensively Celtic have kept four clean sheets out of a possible four matches.
Astana pulled a shock last round, eliminating Legia Warsaw by a 3-2 aggregate. A trio of goals in the home first leg, was all Stanimir Stoilov’s side needed to advance into the playoff round. Striker Junior Kabananga is the main man up top for Astana, while Patrick Twumasi and Ivan Maevski also added goals last round. In their four matches already, Astana have allowed three goals and will need to tighten up defensively for a chance at advancing.
BSC YOUNG BOYS VS. CSKA MOSCOW (2:45 P.M. Tuesday, Fox Sports 2 Go)
One of the more intriguing ties in the playoff round, kicks off on Tuesday from Bern. Hosts BSC Young Boys eliminated Ukrainian outfit Dinamo Kiev last round, advancing via the away goals tiebreaker. Goals from Guillaume Hoarau and Mvula Lotomba was all the hosts needed to oust Kiev in the second leg. Hoarau scored five goals for Young Boys in the Europa League last season, and will be relied on to come up with the goods again this round.
CSKA Moscow made their way past AEK Athens last round, cruising thanks to a 3-0 aggregate. Alan Dzagoev and Pontus Wernblom found the back of the net in the away leg, before Natcho sealed the deal scoring the lone goal in the 1-0 second leg victory. The visitors are no stranger to this competition, and would like to get back into the group stage. A pair of league victories have CSKA in good form heading into Tuesday’s first leg in Bern.
Here’s a look at all of the UEFA Champions League Playoff fixtures:
FK Qarabag vs. FC Kobenhavn
Apoel Nicosia vs. Slavia Prague
BSC Young Boys vs. CSKA Moscow
1899 Hoffenheim vs. Liverpool
Sporting Lisbon vs. Steaua Bucharest
Olympiakos vs. HNK Rijeka
Celtic vs. FC Astana
Hapoel Be’er Sheva vs. NK Maribor
Istanbul Basakseh vs. Sevilla
Napoli vs. Nice