The final line-up for the Champions League and Europa League will be determined in the next three days as the final play-off matches are played. Here are five things to look out for.
Ajax to complete return to Champions League
It has been three years since Ajax were involved in the Champions League. Despite reaching the final of the Europa League two seasons ago, such an extended absence from Europe’s premier competition is considered a failure for a side that have four Champions League titles to their name.
The club invested heavily in the transfer market over the summer and are now on the cusp of qualifying for the 2018/19 group stage. Erik ten Hag’s men beat Dinamo Kiev 3-1 in the first leg last week, a margin that could have been even wider. It is going to take a catastrophic collapse for the Dutch side to fail to progress in Amsterdam tonight.
Acid test for Gerrard & Rangers
Steven Gerrard and his Rangers team will carry a narrow 1-0 lead as they head into Thursday night’s second leg of their Europa League play-off tie against Russian side FC Ufa. As an experienced Champions League winner himself, Gerrard will know the size of the task that faces his side in terms of navigating a gruelling trip and then getting a favourable result in front of a hostile crowd.
A win would however be great validation for the Gers, whose appointment of the former Liverpool man was made with the idea of achieving a return to European football, among other things.
Sevilla to seal qualification at home
After two seasons in the Champions League, Sevilla are close to a return to the Europa League proper. The Spanish side tend to thrive in the lesser of the two continental champions, as proven by their record five titles.
A late goal from Pablo Sarabia helped them overcome Sigma Olomouc in the Czech Republic last week. Despite the narrow advantage, it is unlikely that Sigma will cause an upset on Sevilla’s backyard. The Andalusians should be in the pot for the group stage on Friday, and gunning for title number six.
End of the road for Burnley’s European dream?
Burnley fans spent most of the summer dreaming of a life of balancing Premier League and European duties for their club this season. That dream is however now in danger of being shattered into pieces after Sean Dyche’s team lost 3-1 to Olympiacos last Thursday. All is not lost though, as a 2-0 win would see the Clarets qualify, but it will be a tall order against a team as experienced as the Greeks.
Managerial farce to cost Bordeaux?
Confusion continues to reign at Bordeaux as their apparent search for a manager to replace Gus Poyet continues. The Uruguayan is still in charge of the club, but the club is said to have already made the decision to get rid of him. Thierry Henry was strongly touted for the job last week, but that move seems to have broken down.
Les Girondins beat Monaco in Ligue 1 at the weekend, but have lost two and drawn one of their last five matches in all competitions. The question of who will be in charge moving forward will not be helpful as they prepare to face Gent in the Europa League on Thursday. The first leg of that tie ended 0-0 in Belgium last week.