Champions League second qualifying round preview
The new club season hasn’t started yet, but the Champions League is already in full swing, with the second qualifying round ready to start and the third qualifying round draw taking place, leaving clubs with a clearer path to the group stage.
All second qualifying round matches begin Wednesday save one, with Cypriot side APOEL meeting Montenegrin champions Sutjska Niksic on Tuesday.
The majority of the clubs still come from the Champions Path, having qualified by winning their leagues. Out of the League Path - teams who qualified without winning their league - PSV Eindhoven meets Basel while Olympiacos takes on Viktoria Plzen. The PSV roster is changing from the side that challenged for the Eredivisie title last season, with top scorer Luuk de Jong having moved to Sevilla and Mexican playmaker Hirving Lozano still with the club but likely on the move eventually. Lozano is with the club for preseason but came off their friendly against Wolfsburg limping, so his status for the Champions League prelims is unknown.
Neil Lennon and Celtic will take on Estonian side Nomme Kalju with the first leg in Scotland. They knocked off Bosnian side FK Sarajevo in the previous round, with Lennon rotating the squad for the two matches and is likely to do so again against inferior opposition with the season so young.
Serbian champions Red Star Belgrade meets Finnish side HJK. Red Star blitzed through the qualifying rounds and made it to the group stage last season, and now look to do so again. Continued solid performance in the qualifying rounds could help future Serbian champions enter the competition further down the road.
Hungarian side BATE Borisov will meet Norwegian club Rosenborg, looking to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2015/16 season. BATE has won the Hungarian league 13 seasons in a row, leaving them as consistent European participants, but always entering the competition in the playoff stages.
Cypriot club APOEL will meet Montenegrin club Sutjeska Niksic, hoping to make the group stage for the second time in three years, having played Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, and Real Madrid in the 2017/18 group stage. Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb will meet Georgian club Saburtalo Tbilisi, featuring highly-rated 21-year-old Spanish youth international Dani Olmo who joined Dinamo Zagreb’s youth setup after leaving Barcelona in 2014.
All losers from the second qualifying round will enter the Europa League third qualifying round, while the winners are guaranteed at least a place in the Europa League playoff round.
The draw for the third qualifying round also took place, giving teams their potential opponents should they progress. The only set matchup for the Champions path is Ajax and PAOK, who were interestingly drawn together as the only two Champions path teams entering at this part of the preliminary stage.
In the League path, Porto will meet Russian side FC Krasnodar, and Belgian side Club Brugge takes on Ukranian giants Dynamo Kiev. Turkish club Istanbul Basaksehir and Austrian club LASK are both forced to wait for solidified opponents, drawing winners from the PSV vs Basel and Olympiacos vs. Viktoria Plzen games.