Charlie Nicholas provides us with his predictions for the Champions League and Europa League play-offs, tipping Liverpool to struggle in Germany.
The Reds face a trip to Hoffenheim, who were unbeaten at home in the Bundesliga last season, while Celtic host Kazakh side Astana as both sides look to reach the Champions League group stages.
In the Europa League, Everton will look to establish an advantage when Hajduk Split visit Goodison Park, but Charlie is not expecting easy ties for any of the British sides. Here’s what the Celtic and Arsenal legend is predicting…
Hoffenheim v Liverpool
This is a really tough tie for Liverpool. They were defensively questionable again against Watford. Have they improved? Not really.
The Virgil van Dijk cloud was hanging over them and now the Philippe Coutinho cloud is darkening. They need positive resolutions to both deals if they are to be really successful this season.
Why on earth do you spend £10m on Andrew Robertson and then not even put him in the squad? I know he’s due to be a dad, but all of the sudden they play the guy who was supposed to be out of the door in Alberto Moreno.
What have they actually changed from last season? They are a better counter-attacking team with Mohamed Salah, but the issue for Liverpool is not about attacking, it’s about defending just like Arsenal.
Their goalkeeper and centre-backs are questionable, and if Klopp could turn round and say to Mamadou Sakho, ‘You upset me but you could be my centre-back,’ that’s all it would take, but it sounds like he’s too stubborn.
Hoffenheim are a difficult side and have the physical presence to trouble Liverpool’s defence, but I think the visitors will score first with Roberto Firmino – partly because I like these football scripts for players to score against their former clubs. My bet, though, would be for Hoffenheim to come from behind to win.
Charlie predicts: 2-1 (10/1 with Sky Bet)
Celtic v FC Astana
This is a tremendously important and tricky game from Celtic. They won 3-2 on aggregate when they met last season but Celtic are a stronger side now.
Domestically Brendan Rodgers’ side dominated again and there’s an understanding that qualifying for the group stages again is absolutely essential financially.
Celtic will dominate the possession but Astana will be happy to sit in, absorb the pressure and take a one-goal defeat because it will be a long and uncomfortable trip to Kazakhstan, so Celtic need a two-goal lead in my opinion.
Their striker Junior Kabananga is physical, fast and energetic – everything Celtic are not used to facing domestically – so they’ll have to be very wary.
Rodgers is still missing Moussa Dembele still so Leigh Griffiths is the only proper striker but was left out at the weekend. This is a really awkward night for Celtic and I’m going for a 2-1 win, which leaves them in real danger.
Charlie predicts: 2-1 (15/2 with Sky Bet)
Everton v Hajduk Split (Thursday, 8.05pm)
I covered Everton at the weekend and they were very poor. Wayne Rooney was the best player on the pitch by miles – the only player finding his range – and Ronald Koeman’s face was miserable except for when their returning hero scored.
They started with three at the back and then switched to a four. Three central midfield players and three at the back is just too many defensive players and does not make for exciting viewing.
Koeman needs to go out and get another centre-forward because Sandro Ramirez needs a partner. They’ll get rid of Ross Barkley and Gylfi Sigurdsson will probably come in but it doesn’t matter because they need more attacking movement as Rooney has the greatest impact playing deeper.
They were decent at the back and Jordan Pickford was very good on his debut, making some excellent saves, but Everton have not got many goals in them. They should have enough to come through here, though, against a side who don’t have much in terms of attacking threats.Euro Soccer Bonus
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