As the battle over who controls Europe’s premier club competition continues, the battle for this year’s Champions League spots resumes this week as the third qualifying round kicks off.
While the three Super League champions Real Madrid, Juventus and Barcelona continue to argue that elite clubs should lead the Champions League, 20 of the less elite will fight for a chance to participate in the lucrative group stage.
They include clubs with distinguished track records in the competition, including former winners Benfica and PSV Eindhoven and former finalists Monaco, Malmö and Red Star Belgrade.
PSV, who finished second in the Dutch league last season, welcome Midtjylland, who continued Denmark’s good footballing summer by knocking out former champions Celtic in the second round.
While Midtjylland have already made three league appearances, PSV won’t start their domestic season until next Saturday when they face champions Ajax in the Johan Cruyff Shield, the Dutch Super Cup. Their only competitive action so far this summer was in the previous round, when they beat Galatasaray.
With the delayed return of players who appeared in the Euros and the European transfer deadline until August 31 for most clubs, many teams are still on the move.
For Monaco, which faces Sparta Prague, Wissam Ben Yedder and Kevin Volland, whose countries have reached the last 16 of the Euro, have just returned to the workforce. The club are also negotiating to buy and sell players in a transfer market that sporting director Paul Mitchell calls “unprecedented, uncertain and difficult for many clubs”.
Two-time champions Benfica travel to Moscow on Wednesday to face Spartak after adding Ukrainian striker Roman Yaremchuk and after a turbulent summer. Club president Luis Filipe Vieira resigned on July 16 after being arrested on suspicion of fraud.
All 20 clubs play on a two-lane road. Six of the ties are in what UEFA calls the ‘Champions path’ and four are in the ‘League path’. The only difference is what happens to the losers.
The ten winners advance to the final 12-team qualifying round, the Champions League qualifiers, for a place in the group stage. The draw will take place on Monday, with Brondby and Salzburg added to the mix.
The losers of the League path go directly to the group stages of the Europa League. Those on the path to the champions qualify for a place in the Europa League with a place in the new Europa Conference League as a consolation prize if they lose again.
Third qualifying round, first leg (18:00 GMT unless otherwise specified)
Malmo (SWE) v Rangers (SCO), Sparta Prague (CZE) v Monaco (FRA), CFR Cluj (ROM) v Young Boys (SUI), Genk (BEL) v Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR), PSV Eindhoven (NED) v Midtjylland (DEN), Red Star Belgrade (SER) contre Sheriff Tiraspol (MOL) (1900), Olympiakos (GRE) contre Ludogorets (BUL) (1900)
Spartak Moscow (RUS) v Benfica (POR), Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) v Legia Warsaw (POL), Ferencvaros (HUN) v Slavia Prague (CZE)
© 2021 AFP