PAOK vs Ajax
This should develop into an open, entertaining Champions League qualification clash in Greece on Tuesday. Ajax went all the way to the Champions League semi-finals last season after vanquishing defending champion Real Madrid. It secured a stunning triumph at the Bernebeu and then went on to topple the mighty Juventus in the quarter-finals. It was 3-0 up against Tottenham on aggregate in the semis, with just 45 minutes left to play, but a Lucas Moura hat-trick put it to the sword. Ajax went on to win the domestic double, so it was a phenomenal season for Erik ten Hat’s men. Since then the vultures have swooped upon the club: Barcelona snapped up star midfielder Frenkie de Jong and captain Matthijs de Ligt went to Juventus, while Real Madrid is trying to sign Donny van de Beek. Yet Ajax retains a strong side and it has brought in Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez and Razvan Marin this summer to bolster ten Hag’s options. It should be able to go to Greece and secure victory over PAOK, which failed to qualify for the Champions League last year after losing 4-1 to Benfica at Stadio Toumbas. It was the unbeaten champion in Greece last season, but it could not get out of the group stage in the Europa League.
Basel vs LASK Linz
Swiss side Basel did well to knock Eredivise runner-up PSV Eindhoven out in the previous qualifying round, and it should head into this game full of confidence. LASK has not won the Austrian Bundesliga since 1965, but last season it finished runner-up for the first time in 20 years and that has given it a crack at qualifying for the Champions League. It has landed a tricky clash with Basel and it is likely to struggle in the first leg. It has been a quiet summer in the transfer window for Basel, but it has a stable, settled team, full of quality players like Noah Okafor, Silvan Widmer, Eder Balanta, Luca Zuffi and Rick van Wolfswinkel. At home it should win this first leg comfortably and surge into the next qualification round.
West Ham vs Man City
Saturday, August 10, at City of London Stadium
Defending EPL champion Man City gets its season underway with a visit to east London to take on West Ham in the early kick-off on Saturday. Pep Guardiola has faced West Ham six times since taking over as Man City boss and he has steered his team to victory every single time. The Hammers simply lack the defensive nous and solidity to live with the fluency of Man City’s passing for 90 minutes, and it typically results in a comfortable win for Guardiola’s side. However, just one of the six meetings has seen more than 4.5 goals. We should be in for a reasonably tentative game here, as it is the first match of the season and players will still be shaking off a big of rust, but Man City should win it without too much trouble.