Nantes vs. Lille

Following an impressive start to their Ligue 1 campaign, Lille will travel to Stade de la Beaujoire for a weekend date with Nantes.

The Coupe de France champions from a season ago drew their opening fixture 0-0 at Angers, while Les Dogues easily defeated newly-promoted Auxerre 4-1.

Match preview

Nantes' Andrei Girotto and Pedro Chirivella celebrate after winning the French Cup on May 7, 2022

After finishing the previous campaign with 55 points, their highest total in the top-flight since 2003/04 (60), Nantes struggled in their opener, failing to create much at Stade Raymond Kopa, extending their winless run in opening league encounters to six games.

Defensively, their backline have sustained a ton of pressure this month, conceding eight shots on target in their defeat at the Trophee des Champions against Paris Saint-Germain (4-0) and allowing another six efforts on target to Angers.

Manager Antoine Kombouare praised his goalkeeper for helping them maintain a clean sheet last weekend, though he was not pleased with the lack of organisation among his players, who were often positioned too far apart on the field, allowing plenty of openings.

Last season, 11 of the 15 domestic triumphs for La Maison Jaune came on home soil, as they conceded a goal or fewer in eight of those victories.

The departure of top goalscorer Randal Kolo Muani has left a massive hole in their attack, and they lacked potency in their pre-season friendlies, failing to find the back of the net in two of their three home fixtures last month.

When tallying first in 2022, they have proven to be a tough team to keep up with, winning all nine of their matches in all competitions after drawing first blood, while maintaining a shutout in seven of those games.

Lille's Jonathan David during the warm up before the match on January 22, 2022

Over in Hauts-de-France, the Paulo Fonseca era began with a bang as Lille extended their unbeaten run in opening Ligue 1 fixtures to six games, scoring four goals on matchday one for the first time since the 1978-79 season when they edged Nancy 4-3.

They became the first side since Les Canaris in 1993 to score twice in a Ligue 1 encounter within the opening three minutes as their ball movement was sensational, putting up a pass accuracy of 91%.

Under a 4-2-3-1 approach, we saw an effective system that enabled this team to thrive, which was not often the case last season as their dynamic attackers lacked service in the traditional 4-4-2 formation employed by Jocelyn Gourvennec, often looking stale and easy to defend.

With the former Roma boss now at the helm, we can expect a Lille side with much more intentional and meticulous build-up play than we saw last season when they finished 10th after winning the league in 2020-21.

Despite earning at least, a point in 12 of their domestic away matches last season, they struggled to keep the ball out of their goal, conceding in all but three of their road fixtures, although one of those shutouts took place at Stade de la Beaujoire when they blanked Les Canaris 1-0 in March.

It is still early, but this edition of Les Dogues look fresher and more aggressive while involving their fullbacks in the play, which has added another dimension to their attack.

Team News

Nantes coach Antoine Kombouare reacts on March 2, 2022

Alban Lafont made six stops for Nantes in their opener to earn his first clean sheet of the campaign, while Ludovic Blas and Moses Simon will be counted upon to get their names on the scoresheet as Blas tallied 10 times last season, while Simon led them with eight assists.

Evann Guessand had a difficult opening match for La Maison Jaune , as the man on loan from Nice rarely touched the ball and was taken off in favour of Mostafa Mohamed in the second half against Angers, while Moussa Sissoko played his first game for his new squad after leaving Watford over the summer.

Kombouare made only one change to his starting 11 against Angers from the team who began their Trophee des Champions encounter versus Les Parisienss, as Jean-Charles Castelletto sat out, while Quentin Merlin started in midfield with Dennis Appiah slotting in at the back.

Jonathan David got his season off to an excellent start, as the Canadian, who led Lille with 15 goals in 2021-22, picked a brace in their opening game along with an assist, while Akim Zedadka scored his first strike for his new club with the winner coming courtesy of Benjamin Andre.

Remy Cabella set up both of David’s goals, Jonathan Bamba assisted on their fourth strike, while Bafode Diakite made his debut for Les Dogues, replacing Tiago Djalo.

Alexsandro Ribeiro started at the back for Lille in their previous encounter, while Timothy Weah, who had three goals and four assists for them during the previous campaign, was unavailable.

Nantes possible starting lineup:
Lafont; Castelletto, Girotto, Pallois; Coco, Sissoko, Chirivella, Merlin; Blas; Guessand, Simon

Lille possible starting lineup:
Jardim; Zedadka, Fonte, Ribeiro, Djalo; Andre, Gomes; David, Cabella, Bamba; Bayo

Preview: F91 Dudelange vs. Malmo

With one foot already in the Europa League’s playoff round, Malmo travel to Luxembourg on Thursday, to conclude their third qualifying round tie against F91 Dudelange.

Following their 3-0 victory in Sweden last week, the Allsvenskan champions are now 90 minutes away from meeting Sivasspor in a clash to reach the group stage.

Match preview

Anders Christiansen scores for Malmo against Chelsea in the Europa League on February 14, 2019.

Already favourites to progress past their more modest opponents, last Thursday’s first leg at Eleda Stadion swung further in Malmo’s favour when Dudelange went down to 10 men with only half an hour on the clock.

Though it took some time, Di Blae took full advantage of their numerical superiority to rattle in three second-half goals, with substitutes Ola Toivonen and Veljko Birmancevic both scoring inside the final 10 minutes.

As a result, the Swedish champions – who were previously dumped out of Champions League qualifying by Lithuania’s FK Zalgiris – are well-placed for a return to Europe’s second-tier competition, in which they reached the knockout rounds two years ago after going through as group winners.

However, Milos Milojevic’s side are already playing catch-up in defence of their domestic title, and fell five points adrift of the Allsvenskan summit following Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Sirius – they sit sixth in the standings, over halfway through the 2022 campaign.

Since Milojevic took over from former coach Jon Dahl Tomasson – who led the club to successive league titles and last year’s Champions League group stage before joining Blackburn Rovers – star striker Antonio Colak and centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic have also departed for British clubs, which has not made for a smooth transition.

Nonetheless, the 22-times national champions and former European Cup runners-up still boast a continental pedigree that minnows F91 Dudelange – who, as their name suggests, were only formed in 1991 – can only dream of.

Like Malmo, last season’s Luxembourg National Division winners harboured hopes of progressing in the Champions League but were eliminated by FC Pyunik of Armenia, and now need a miracle to continue their presence in the Europa League qualifiers.

Carlos Fangueiro’s men kicked off their domestic campaign on Sunday with a 5-0 crushing of Jeunesse Esch, and now require a similar result against far tougher opposition.

Dudelange were the first club from Luxembourg ever to make it through the Europa League’s preliminary process back in 2018, also competing in the group stage the following season, but repeating such a feat seems beyond them even before kickoff at the tiny Stade Jos Nosbaum.

Team News

Malmo FF's Soren Rieks celebrates scoring their first goal with Antonio Colak and Veljko Birmancevic on November 23, 2021

Both surprisingly benched for the first leg, veteran forward Ola Toivonen and Serbian winger Veljko Birmancevic could feature from the start on Thursday night, following their goals last week.

However, with the odds of progress stacked heavily in their favour, the hosts may field a less than full-strength side, given the pressure to pick up three Allsvenskan points against Sundsvall on Sunday.

Recent recruit Mahame Siby was seriously injured at the end of last month and has since undergone surgery, so will miss the rest of the season. Captain Anders Christiansen is back from suspension, though, and could join Moustafa Zeidan in midfield, as Oscar Lewicki also remains sidelined through injury.

Dudelange, meanwhile, tend to favour a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Samir Hadji and Brazilian striker Joao Magno joining forces up front and last season’s top scorer Dejvid Sinani providing support from behind.

Due to his dismissal in Malmo, Charles Morren will miss out through suspension, so Croatian midfielder Filip Bojic could come into the visitors’ starting XI.

F91 Dudelange possible starting lineup:
Fox; Diouf, Da Costa, Skenderovic; Ouassiero, Bojic, Fernandes, Kirch; Sinani; Hadji, Magno

Malmo possible starting lineup:
Dahlin; Nielsen, Moisander, Olsson; Berget, Pena, Rakip, Zeidan, Turay; Birmancevic, Toivonen

Ceara vs. Sao Paulo

Ceara host Sao Paulo on Wednesday in the second leg of their Copa Sudamericana quarter-final clash.

The tie still hangs in the balance after Sao Paulo won 1-0 at home last week.

Match preview

Ceara's Vina celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on June 6, 2021

After having six shots on target to Ceara’s two across 90 minutes, Sao Paulo may have felt aggrieved to have only claimed a one-goal lead in the tie.

However, Ceara showed excellent defensive resilience to shut out their more illustrious opponents until substitute Nikao’s 70th-minute strike finally broke the deadlock.

Indeed, Marquinhos Santos has made Vozao more defensively assured since taking over as head coach in June, with only Palmeiras and Fluminense – who occupy two of the top three positions in Brazil’s Serie A table – scoring more than one goal past them in their last 12 matches.

Should this continue on Wednesday, Ceara will have every chance of progressing into the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana as they look to win a continental competition for the first time in the club’s history.

Marcos Guilherme in action for Sao Paulo on August 6, 2022

Sao Paulo, of course, dwarf their forthcoming opponents in terms of historical achievements, having won this competition in 2012 to add to their three Copa Libertadores triumphs and six league titles.

However, the last of those came in 2008 as Tricolor Paulista wrapped up a third successive title, with them falling to 13th last season, hardly bettered by currently sitting 11th after 21 matches.

Rogerio Ceni, who is in his second managerial spell with the club after lasting six months between January and July 2017, does boast a more than reasonable 48% win rate from his 65 games in charge, with last week’s 1-0 win over Ceara putting them in a strong position in the tie.

Clearly, with their league form significantly stuttering after the weekend’s 2-0 home defeat to Flamengo extended their winless run to six games, the pressure is on the 49-year-old to deliver in this competition.

Team News

Sao Paulo boss Rogerio Ceni on August 6, 2022

Ceara appear to have no injury or suspension issues heading into Wednesday’s big clash.

Santos surprisingly only made three changes for the weekend’s 1-1 draw away to Botafogo, with midfield playmaker Diego likely to return to the side having been rested.

Sao Paulo, on the other hand, have several injury concerns, including attacking midfielder Andre Anderson with a muscle strain.

Jandrei, Robert Arboleda, Walce, Luan and Caio will all stay at home on the treatment table, too, significantly restricting Ceni’s options to choose from.

The former Brazil goalkeeper made seven changes for the 2-0 defeat to Flamengo, which clearly shows his hands in terms of prioritising the Copa Sudamericana this season.

As such, Luciano and Jonathan Calleri should return in tandem in attack after a solid showing in the first leg last week.

Ceara possible starting lineup:
Ricardo; Nino, Messias, Otavio, Luis; Richard, Richardson, Diego; Iury, Vinicius, Mendoza

Sao Paulo possible starting lineup:
Alves; Costa, Miranda, Leo; Igor Vinicius, Gomes, Neves, Nestor, Welington; Luciano, Calleri

FC Midtjylland vs. Benfica

FC Midtjylland host Benfica in the third-round of Champions League Qualifying on Tuesday.

The Danes lost 4-1 in Portugal in the first leg last week, so have it all to do if they are to remain in Europe’s elite competition.

Match preview

Midtjylland's Charles celebrates with Erik Sviatchenko after the match on February 17, 2022

Indeed, Rasmus Ankersen’s side were second best throughout the 90 minutes at Estadio da Luz last Tuesday, with their only shot on target across the game being Pione Sisto’s converted penalty in the 77th minute.

Had the Danish winger failed to tuck the ball away from 12 yards, there is little doubt that Midtjylland would effectively have been dumped out of the competition after Goncalo Ramos had completed his hat-trick after the break to add to his side’s three unanswered first-half strikes.

Midtjylland finished second for the second successive season in the Danish Superliga last time around, but they did manage to lift the Danish Cup for only the second time in their history having missed out on the Europa League knockout stage by a point.

The Wolves have only once made it to the Champions League group stage, when they finished bottom with only two points in the 2020-21 season, and that tally looks unlikely to be added to this campaign unless they can pull off a remarkable result against Benfica on Tuesday.

Enzo Fernandez celebrates scoring for Benfica on August 5, 2022

Benfica, of course, reached the last eight of the Champions League for the first time in six years last season, when they ran eventual runners-up Liverpool very close over two legs.

Domestically, though, there was major disappointment, with a third-placed finish in the Portuguese Primeira Liga coming alongside a runners-up medal in the League Cup and a fifth-round exit in the Taca de Portugal.

With top goalscorer Darwin Nunez departing for Liverpool in a move which could rise to £85m, it remains to be seen whether Roger Schmidt’s side can push champions Porto closer in the German boss’s first season in charge of the club.

On the evidence of last week’s first leg, Ramos looks set to fill the goalscoring void of the Uruguayan, with Schmidt likely to be keen for his side to avoid any complacency in Denmark given their heavy lead.

Team News

Benfica boss Roger Schmidt on August 5, 2022

Midtjylland will be without Evander, with the midfielder likely to return from a torn muscle towards the end of August.

Raphael Onyedika returned to the starting XI in the weekend’s 3-3 draw at Lyngby, with the 21-year-old likely to start again in order to provide more midfield steel.

Benfica, meanwhile, will travel without Lucas Verissimo as the defender continues his rehabilitation from a ruptured cruciate ligament.

Schmidt named an unchanged side at the weekend, with his side repaying their manager’s faith in them by thrashing Arouca 4-0.

It seems unlikely the 55-year-old would feel the need to freshen things up, then, but he may look towards the bench in the second half providing the tie looks to be wrapped up.

FC Midtjylland possible starting lineup:
Olafsson; Dalsgaard, Sviatchenko, Juninho; Andersson, Onyedika, Sorensen, Dyhr; Dreyer, Kaba, Sisto

Benfica possible starting lineup:
Vlachodimos; Gilberto, Otamendi, Morato, Grimaldo; Luis, Fernandez; Neres, Silva, Mario; Ramos

West Bromwich Albion vs. Watford

West Bromwich Albion and Watford square off at The Hawthorns on Monday evening looking to build on their positive starts to the season.

While the Baggies earned a draw away at Middlesbrough on the opening weekend, recently-relegated Watford came out on top against Sheffield United.

Match preview

West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Bruce before the match on April 6, 2022

Given their struggles during 2021-22, Steve Bruce would have hoped for an easier beginning to the season than making the long trip to face Middlesbrough.

Nevertheless, a comeback 1-1 draw at the Riverside Stadium should only benefit the Baggies going forward as they bid to launch a sustained bid for promotion.

Bruce had spoken highly of new arrivals John Swift and Jed Wallace in the build-up to the contest in the North East, and the pair combined for West Brom’s equaliser shortly after the break.

Providing that the forwards in front of them can find some form, the West Midlands outfit have every chance of lasting the pace this season, particularly if Daryl Dike can stay fit and produce the kind of imposing displays that enhanced his reputation at Barnsley.

Despite their drop off in form since the turn of the year, West Brom possess a strong home record since last August, and that will be put to the test on Monday night.

New Watford boss Rob Edwards on August 1, 2022

Rob Edwards made the decision to swap gradual progression with Forest Green Rovers to catapult himself into the limelight with Watford over the summer, the risk being that he will become yet another Hornets boss who fails to last a year.

However, beating a team with the quality of Sheffield United represented the best possible start for a manager who will constantly find himself under pressure at Vicarage Road.

If reports are to be believed, Watford have had chances to cash in on Joao Pedro this summer, but the young Brazilian came up with the goal which proved to be the difference against the Blades.

While the likes of Ismaila Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis may depart Watford before the end of the summer transfer window, the foundations appear to be in place for Watford to potentially emerge as the frontrunners for the title over the coming weeks and months.

Team News

West Bromwich Albion's Daryl Dike reacts after the match on January 2, 2022

While Bruce would have taken enough positives from the draw with Middlesbrough, there is scope for a couple of changes being made to the Baggies XI.

Alex Mowatt could be preferred to Jayson Molumby in the middle of the pitch, while Bruce may be prepared to unleash Dike down the middle of the attack.

Bruce has also confirmed that Okay Yokuslu is in contention to make his first appearance since returning to the club.

Edwards may be prepared to stick with the same Watford starting lineup from the win over Sheffield United.

That would see new arrivals Rey Manaj and Vakoun Issouf Bayo have to make do with a place on the substitutes’ bench.

West Bromwich Albion possible starting lineup:
Button; Furlong, Ajayi, O’Shea, Townsend; Molumby, Livermore; Wallace, Swift, Phillips; Dike

Watford possible starting lineup:
Bachmann; Kabasele, Sierralta, Cathcart; Kamara, Cleverley; Kayembe, Sema; Sarr, Dennis; Pedro

Crystal Palace vs. Arsenal

As was the case last year, the 2022-23 Premier League season kicks off with a London derby, as Crystal Palace welcome Arsenal to Selhurst Park on Friday night.

Patrick Vieira’s side thumped the Gunners 3-0 in this fixture only a few months ago, but Mikel Arteta has worked to plug the gaps in his Gunners XI during a productive summer.

Match preview

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira acknowledges fans during the lap of appreciation after the match on May 22, 2022

Taking four points from a possible six against his former club last season, Patrick Vieira slammed the Emirates turf in frustration when his side gave away two points in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal before witnessing his side outclass the Gunners in April.

By leading the Eagles to a 12th-placed finish last season, as well as reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, former Invincibles captain Vieira earned a manager of the season nomination, and optimism is high around Selhurst Park under the Frenchman.

While witnessing Conor Gallagher return to Chelsea was a bitter blow, Cheick Doucoure and Malcolm Ebiowei are ready to make their mark in the English capital, and the end of pre-season was largely positive for Vieira’s side.

The Eagles enter this game after back-to-back wins over Queens Park Rangers and Montpellier HSC in friendly battles, and their only defeats of the exhibition period came at the hands of Liverpool and Manchester United.

Kicking off the season at Selhurst Park is just what the doctor ordered for Palace, who went unbeaten in their last six home games last season and remarkably managed to keep clean sheets in each of their last five – no mean feat with Arsenal, Man United and Manchester City all featuring in that list.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta pictured on July 30, 2022

Fans will soon be able to get a glimpse of what went down at Arsenal during the 2021-22 season when their All Or Nothing Amazon Prime documentary is released, including that forgettable encounter at Selhurst Park for Mikel Arteta.

While returning to continental competition in the form of the Europa League constituted a successful season for the Gunners, there was a palpable sense of disappointment after their end-of-campaign collapse allowed Tottenham Hotspur to swoop in and nick the fourth and final Champions League spot.

However, if Arsenal’s pre-season is anything to go by, the Gunners will be a force to be reckoned with in the new season, as Chelsea fell victim to a 4-0 defeat to their London rivals in Orlando before a six-goal thumping of Sevilla in the Emirates Cup.

Gabriel Jesus scored a hat-trick on that day and represents one of two big-money acquisitions from Manchester City this summer, with Oleksandr Zinchenko also reuniting with Arteta in North London, but the Gunners boss has urged fans and players alike not to get carried away with pre-season results.

For the third season in a row, Arsenal will begin their new campaign with a London derby; the Gunners eased to a 3-0 success at Fulham behind closed doors in 2020, but Brentford ran out convincing 2-0 winners over Arteta’s side in their first-ever Premier League fixture last term.

Team News

Emile Smith Rowe in action for Arsenal on February 19, 2022

Crystal Palace’s goalkeeping ranks have taken a couple of hits in pre-season, with new signing Sam Johnstone nursing a quadriceps injury and set to miss the opening day, while Jack Butland is out with a broken hand.

Vicente Guaita should act as the last line of defence for the hosts on Friday, while James McArthur and Michael Olise are expected to miss out with groin and ankle injuries respectively, and James Tomkins is also sidelined by a muscular problem.

McArthur’s absence only increases Doucoure’s chance of earning a first competitive start for the Eagles, while a front three of Jordan Ayew, Wilfried Zaha and Odsonne Edouard started against Montpellier and could do so again here.

Arsenal’s treatment room is not empty either, as Emile Smith Rowe’s groin strain is reportedly set to keep him sidelined, while Fabio Vieira, Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu have all been dealing with minor issues in pre-season but could make the squad either way.

It would be a surprise to see any member of the trio make the starting lineup on Friday, so Ben White could very well resume his duties at right-back, allowing William Saliba to finally make his competitive debut alongside Gabriel Magalhaes in the heart of defence.

Jesus and Zinchenko are also primed to feature in the first XI, while Martin Odegaard will start in his number 10 role after being confirmed as Arsenal’s new captain.

Crystal Palace possible starting lineup:
Guaita; Clyne, Andersen, Guehi, Mitchell; Schlupp, Doucoure, Eze; Ayew, Edouard, Zaha

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Xhaka, Partey; Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli; Jesus

 Dynamo Kiev vs. Sturm Graz 

The Stadion Miejski im. Wladyslawa Krola in Poland plays host to a Champions League qualifying third-round first-leg tie on Tuesday, as Dynamo Kiev take on Sturm Graz.

The Ukrainian powerhouses made it past Fenerbahce in the second round of qualifying, while their Austrian counterparts are entering at this stage of the tournament.

Match preview

Dynamo Kiev coach Mircea Lucescu on September 14, 2021

Even amid the devastating scenes of conflict across their homeland, Dynamo Kiev – led by steadfast veteran Mircea Lucescu – harnessed all of their continental experience to dump Fenerbahce out of the Champions League in the second round of qualifying.

Neither side could make the breakthrough in the first leg, but a particularly bad-tempered second leg went the way of the Ukrainians after extra time, as Vitaliy Buyalskyi and Oleksandr Karavaev netted against the 10 men of Fenerbahce.

While a plethora of players have fled Ukraine under new legislation from FIFA allowing them to do so, Lucescu has retained the core of his first-team players, and they are building up to the start of the new Ukrainian Premier League season on August 20.

The Ukrainian side were welcomed with open arms by Everton for a friendly encounter on Friday, during which they lost 3-0, but the scoreline was insignificant when the Toffees allowed supporter Paul Stratton – who has been delivering supplies to Ukrainian refugees – to come on and score a penalty.

Dynamo Kiev have progressed to the group stage of the Champions League in each of the last two seasons but have only progressed past that point once since the turn of the millennium, and Sturm Graz will have no room for sentimentality here.

This week’s visitors could not stop the Red Bull Salzburg juggernaut from storming to the Austrian Bundesliga title in the 2021-22 campaign, but they have already thrown the cat amongst the pigeons during the embryonic stages of the current season.

Christian Ilzer’s side played host to the champions in Saturday’s league encounter and ran out 2-1 winners, with 19-year-old Danish starlet Rasmus Hojlund netting twice before his compatriot Maurits Kjaergaard grabbed a consolation for Salzburg.

Four points from their opening two games has propelled Sturm Graz to the top of the Austrian Bundesliga rankings early doors, and victory over the holders has set Ilzer’s side up perfectly for their return to continental action.

Die Schwoazn made the Champions League group stage three years in a row between 1999 and 2001 but have not done so since, and they were also unable to progress to the knockout rounds of the Europa League last season.

Team News

Dynamo Kiev's Mykola Shaparenko celebrates scoring a goal that is later disallowed after a VAR review on September 14, 2021

Dynamo Kiev striker Ibrahim Kargbo is still on the long road to recovery from a tibia and fibula fracture, while left-back Volodymyr Kostevych will also remain absent for the continental encounter.

After scoring the crucial 114th-minute winner against Fenerbahce, Karavaev is challenging Tomasz Kedziora for the right-back spot, but the Pole will want to start in his homeland.

The hosts have managed to keep hold of highly-rated centre-back Ilya Zabarnyi for the time being, and all eyes should be on the 19-year-old this week.

Meanwhile, Sturm Graz striker Jakob Jantscher is undergoing rehabilitation for a turn muscle, but the 33-year-old would have had very little chance of displacing a man 14 years his junior in Hojlund.

Otar Kiteishvili and Niklas Geyrhofer also occupy spots in the treatment room, but Ilzer will be reluctant to alter the winning formula from the weekend either way.

Dynamo Kiev possible starting lineup:
Bushchan; Kedziora, Zabarnyi, Popov, Dubinchak; Sydorchuk, Shaparenko; Tsygankov, Buyalskyi, Verbic; Besedin

Sturm Graz possible starting lineup:
Siebenhandl; Gazibegovic, Wuthrich, Borkovic, Dante; Hierlander, Gorenc Stankovic, Prass; Horvat; Hojlund, Sarkaria

Sheriff Tiraspol vs. Viktoria Plzen

Sheriff Tiraspol and Viktoria Plzen will both aim to take one step closer to the Champions League group stages during Tuesday’s qualifying third round first-leg tie at the Zimbru Stadium.

The hosts scraped past Maribor to make it this far, while the Czech giants ran out 7-1 aggregate winners over Finland’s HJK Helsinki.

Match preview

Sheriff Tiraspol's Sebastien Thill celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on September 28, 2021

History repeated itself for Sheriff Tiraspol in the second round of Champions League qualifying, as they only needed the one goal to get the job done against Maribor in the second leg after a goalless stalemate away from home.

Not until the 88th minute was the deadlock broken by substitute Momo Yansane, as the Moldovan champions – who also beat Zrinjski 1-0 in the first qualifying round after drawing the first leg away from home – kept up their stellar streak of defensive resilience to advance.

Stjepan Tomas’s side have now gone four Champions League games without conceding a goal this term, but their defence was breached on the opening matchday in the Moldovan Super Liga on Saturday, being forced to accept a 1-1 draw with Zimbru away from home.

Nevertheless, that stalemate extended Sheriff’s unbeaten run in all tournaments to a whopping 16 matches, and the 2021-22 group stage participants can boast eight wins from their last 10 Champions League home matches, only losing to Real Madrid and Inter Milan in that time.

Sheriff Tiraspol could not demonstrate a sense of ruthlessness in their battle with Maribor, but there was no hint of profligacy when Viktoria Plzen played host to HJK, as the Czech powerhouses hit the Finnish champions for five to advance with ease.

Michal Bilek’s side already had a 2-1 lead to boast from the first leg and scored three of their five goals in the return leg during the opening 45 minutes, with Jan Sykora bagging a brace while both centre-backs in Ludek Pernica and Lukas Hejda also netted.

As is the case with their upcoming third-round opponents, Viktoria Plzen also opened their league campaign with a draw at the weekend – playing out a 2-2 stalemate away to Teplice – meaning that they are already playing catch-up in the race to defend their title.

Plzen have three Champions League group-stage appearances to their name but failed to even make the Europa Conference League proper in 2021-22, and Belik’s side are therefore in no mood to see their European journey come to another early end here.

Team News

Sheriff Tiraspol's Sebastien Thill celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on October 19, 2021

Sheriff Tiraspol midfielder Steve Ambri was withdrawn at half time in the draw with Zimbru at the weekend, which could further restrict Tomas’s options on the left while Iyayi Atiemwen remains out with a knock.

Atiemwen’s Nigerian counterpart Rasheed Akanbi should therefore earn a start in the final third, and Yansane certainly ought to displace Kay Tejan at the tip of the attack.

Regi Lushkja and Stjepan Radeljic will both miss the second leg if they pick up bookings, but that is unlikely to come into Tomas’s thinking for Tuesday’s encounter.

Meanwhile, Viktoria Plzen captain Hejda was sent off in the dying embers of the weekend’s 2-2 draw with Teplice, but the centre-back will be fine to line up in the Champions League.

Petr Pejsa is still recovering from a long-term knee injury and will not be available, but the visitors should otherwise be working with a fully-fit squad on Tuesday.

Jan Kliment netted off the bench in the 5-0 win over HJK and followed that up with his side’s first goal in the weekend’s clash with Teplice, and Belik should consider the 28-year-old for a starting role here.

Sheriff Tiraspol possible starting lineup:
Abalora; Guedes, Kiki, Radeljic, Kpozo; Badolo, Kyabou, Lushkja; Pernambuco, Yansane, Akanbi

Viktoria Plzen possible starting lineup:
Stanek; Reznik, Pernica, Hejda, Havel; Bucha, Kalvach; Kopic, Sykora, Mosquera; Kliment

Watford vs. Sheffield United

Gameweek one of the 2022-23 Championship season comes to a close at Vicarage Road on Monday, with Watford playing host to Sheffield United.

The Hornets are aiming to return to the pinnacle of English football at the first time of asking, while the Blades are preparing for a second consecutive year in the second tier.

Match preview

Forest Green Rovers manager Rob Edwards celebrates after the match on March 20, 2022

Forest Green Rovers did not make any effort to hide their displeasure at Rob Edwards’s departure for Watford, and the 39-year-old is now aiming to avoid becoming the next victim of the Hornets’ trigger-happy board.

Xisco Munoz, Claudio Ranieri and wily veteran Roy Hodgson all tried and failed to keep Watford afloat in the Premier League last season, and competing at the top end of the Championship table this time around is a prerequisite for Edwards.

However, only one of Watford’s five pre-season fixtures ended in victory – a 4-1 thrashing of Wycombe Wanderers – as they drew with Panathinaikos and Southampton while losing to Cambridge United and Bolton Wanderers.

Still searching for their first home league win of 2022, Watford can take solace in the fact that only one of their last 15 opening-day matches has ended in defeat, which is more than can be said for the Blades.

Sheffield United's Sander Berge celebrates scoring their third goal on May 7, 2022

Seeking to avoid even more playoff heartache in 2022-23, Sheffield United came so close yet so far to an immediate return to the top tier last term, finishing fifth in the regular season and booking their spot in the playoffs in the process.

Rewarded for their efforts with a tie against Nottingham Forest, Paul Heckingbottom’s side drew 3-3 with the Tricky Trees after extra time in their two-legged tie, but Morgan Gibbs-White – who netted in the 2-1 second-leg win – went from hero to zero as he missed the crucial penalty in the shootout.

The summer exhibition period has not been kind to Sheffield United, who enter their opening Championship clash having lost three of their last four friendlies away to Scunthorpe United, Mansfield Town and Barnsley, but victories over Lincoln City, Casa Pia and Burton Albion did come their way.

While Watford have developed a penchant for opening-day performances, Sheffield United can only boast one win from their last eight such matches – losing the other six – and both meetings between the sides in the 2019-20 Premier League season ended all square.

Team News

 Watford's Cucho Hernandez celebrates scoring their second goal with Imran Louza on March 13, 2022

Only midfielder Imran Louza should be absent for Watford on the opening day, with the former Nantes man yet to recover from a knee injury, but the Hornets are otherwise fit and raring to go.

A mass exodus occurred at Vicarage Road in the wake of their relegation, but Edwards has so far managed to keep hold of Emmanuel Dennis, Ismaila Sarr and Manchester United-linked Daniel Bachmann.

New signing Mario Gaspar has had little time to get acquainted with his new teammates and may therefore not be involved from the off, while Rey Manaj and Vakoun Issouf Bayo are ready to make their mark in the final third.

In contrast, Blades boss Heckingbottom must work around a number of injury absentees, as Jack O’Connell, Jayden Bogle, Adam Davies and Tommy Doyle are set to watch this one from the sidelines.

It remains to be seen if Billy Sharp and Oli McBurnie will be cleared to play, so Rhian Brewster ought to lead the line after building up his fitness in pre-season, potentially alongside Reda Khadra.

Ciaran Clark and Anel Ahmedhodzic can expect to be handed their competitive debuts for the visitors, and Sander Berge remains on the books at Bramall Lane and should start in the engine room.

Watford possible starting lineup:
Bachmann; Ngakia, Kabasele, Cathcart, Kamara; Cleverley, Kayembe, Gosling; Sarr, Pedro, Dennis

Sheffield United possible starting lineup:
Foderingham; Clark, Egan, Ahmedhodzic; Baldock, Norwood, Fleck, Berge, Norrington-Davies; Brewster, Khadra

Huddersfield Town vs. Burnley

Huddersfield Town and Burnley get the new Championship campaign underway with a showdown at the John Smith’s Stadium on Friday night.

Both clubs have appointed new managers during the summer, with Danny Schofield and Vincent Kompany in charge of the Terriers and Clarets respectively.

Match preview

Huddersfield Town's Danny Ward celebrates scoring their second goal on March 11, 2022

There was a time when everyone associated with Huddersfield would have envisaged preparing for a return to the Premier League given their efforts during 2021-22.

However, a Championship playoff final defeat to Nottingham Forest has led to another campaign in the second tier and head coach Carlos Corberan opting to resign from his position.

Rather than bring in a fresh face, the Terriers hierarchy decided to hand Schofield his first full-time opportunity as the senior man in the dugout, reward for his influence behind the scenes during Corberan’s reign.

As it stands, the appointment will naturally divide opinion, but Huddersfield chiefs cannot be criticised too heavily with Corberan’s decision coming as late as July 7.

Supporters will also be wary of a slow start in the wake of Harry Toffolo and Lewis O’Brien having both signed for Nottingham Forest, and first-day-of-the-season enthusiasm may be required to challenge their opening opponents.

Vincent Kompany waves during his testimonial on September 11, 2019

That is despite the upheaval which has taken place at Turf Moor, a natural occurrence with Sean Dyche now long gone from the dugout and the club losing their Premier League status.

Nevertheless, while a ball is yet to be kicked in a competitive game, Vincent Kompany has made an array of eye-catching signings, focusing on youth and up-and-coming EFL players.

The departures of Nick Pope, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee and Nathan Collins means that the defence will have a considerably different look to it during what feel like a marathon campaign back in the Championship.

However, there is also excitement about the fresh start that many fans will feel was required, particularly under a figure like Kompany who will not settle for second best.

Team News

Huddersfield Town's Matty Pearson celebrates scoring their second goal on September 14, 2021

With Schofield overseeing the first-team friendly with Bolton Wanderers last weekend while another Huddersfield XI faced Tranmere Rovers, the expectation is that the majority of the team from that game will start on Friday.

However, Matty Pearson sustained an injury during the early stages versus the Trotters and may not be passed fit for this fixture.

On Saturday, Jonathan Hogg dropped back into the middle of defence, and that is an option here with Connor Mahoney potentially being brought into the midfield.

As an alternative, Rarmani Edmonds-Green could act as a straight replacement for Pearson, allowing for Hogg to remain in midfield.

Burnley’s starting lineup is more of an unknown given the amount of fresh faces which have made their way to the club.

Goalkeeper Arijanet Muric may be named between the sticks after his arrival from Manchester City, with Taylor Harwood-Bellis, CJ Egan-Riley, Josh Cullen and Samuel Bastien also in line to make their debuts.

Huddersfield Town possible starting lineup:
Nicholls; Turton, Edmonds-Green, Lees, Ruffels; Hogg, Russell; Thomas, Holmes, Koroma; Ward

Burnley possible starting lineup:
Muric; Roberts, Egan-Riley, Harwood-Bellis, Taylor; Cork, Cullen; Brownhill, Bastien; Barnes, Rodriguez