PAOK value to upset Schalke

  • By: Ian Brindle
  • Last Updated: August 26 2013, 12:01 BST

Ian Brindle previews Tuesday's Champions League qualifiers and likes the look of PAOK Salonika to beat Schalke.

Schalke: Poor in first leg and opposable
Schalke: Poor in first leg and opposable

Arsene Wenger may have arrested some of his critics with back-to-back victories last week but a lack of activity in the transfer market has yet to convince some Arsenal fans and he'll be hoping that his current crop of players can qualify them for the Champions League.

A visit to the Sukru Saracoglu is likely to have been the last thing that Wenger wanted after such a disappointing performance against Aston Villa, but his team acquitted themselves well, and it would be a major shock if the Gunners could somehow find themselves in the position of not achieving their 16th successive qualification for Europe's premier club competition having brought a 3-0 lead into the second leg.

Fenerbahce have had the misfortune of being sat in the shadow of their bitter rivals Galatasaray for some time and the "yellow canaries" replaced Aykut Kocaman with former national boss, Ersun Yanal, this summer.

It's been a baptism of fire for much-travelled manager as he has had to deal with the fallout of the "match-fixing" scandal that has seen the club banned from the Champions League (this match is being played while the punishment is under appeal) and slump to a defeat by newcomers Konyaspor in the first week of the Turkish Super League.

Saturday saw them gain a 1-0 verdict over Eskisehirspor and Dirk Kuyt provided the goal that separated the teams.

Kuyt is no stranger to scoring at the Emirates having scored a penalty for Liverpool when the teams met in the Premier League in 2011, though he faces an uphill battle to see his current employer through on this occasion.

Injuries could predictably influence some of Wenger's selection policy, although Laurent Koscielny, who had to leave the first game with a horrific-looking head injury, could well return as there is no other recognised centre-back available at the club.

Lukas Podolski reminded Wenger of the reason why he joined them from Cologne with a brace against Fulham at the weekend and with the Pole linked with a possible move back to the Bundesliga with Schalke, his place in the pecking order would be under threat were Arsenal to make a marquee signing before the close of the transfer window.

All things considered, with Arsenal firmly in command but set to field a much-changed side with a key game with Tottenham to look forward to on Sunday, this is a game which doesn't appeal from a betting perspective.

Somewhat more interestingly poised is the match between PAOK Salonika and the aforementioned Schalke.

The Greeks were reinstated into the Champions League following the expulsion of Metalist following the third qualifying round.

Losing only one of their last nine European fixtures at the Stadio Toumba, they are managed by Huub Stevens, who guided the Germans to glory in the 1997 UEFA Cup.

Jens Keller may have been rewarded with a new contract in May but elimination from this competition could well seal his fate after a wretched start in the Bundesliga and his predicament was not helped by another defeat at the weekend.

He will again be without their star striker, Klass-Jan Huntelaar but that really didn't excuse them surrendering the advantage at the Stadion Gelsenkirchen.

Schalke had almost double the possession of their rivals and posted 14 attempts to their eight and their new Hungarian signing, Adam Szalai, will be looking to put down a marker here.

But PAOK are priced as underdogs here and given the state of both sides, they look worth a small bet.

Austria Vienna proved to be something of a coupon buster as they gained a 2-0 victory away at Dinamo Zagreb last week as Ante Rukavina saw red in the second half.

The Croatians were made odds-on favourites for the home leg having won their domestic league by 20 points last season, and made it to the Group stages of the Champions League during the last two years.

Defeat clearly didn't impress the directors as Krunoslav Jurcic was fired following what they described as a "pitiful display".

Jurcic's former assistant, Damir Krznar has been handed the reins and the match will have plenty of financial implications for the club.

Junior Fernandes could be a key player in attempting to address the deficit. The Chilean joined on loan from Bayer Leverkusen at the start of the season and has been in good form on the domestic front.

Steaua Bucharest went into their home leg against Legia Warsaw with an unbeaten run in the Romanian First division and having gone 1-0 up through a Federico Piovaccari strike, it was something of a surprise to see them held to a 1-1 draw.

Victory for Warsaw would see them reach the Champions League for the first time in 18 years but it's worth noting that Steaua have won both of their away legs of their two previous qualifiers, and according to the UEFA ratings, they sit some 62 places ahead of their Polish counterparts.

An inability to convert chances cost them dear last week, and the game is likely to be a finale for defender, Vlad Chiriches, as he is reportedly heading for Tottenham.

Steau can take care of business here.

The bookmakers were in surprisingly generous mood last week as Basel were offered at odds-against for their visit to Ludogrets and predictably the layers are not repeating the offer for the return leg.

With their rich European pedigree (they have beaten Manchester United and Bayern Munich in the Champions League and were UEFA Europa League semi-finalists last year), the Swiss club were certainly given something to think about but they came back to win 4-2 having been 2-1 down early in the second half.

Win, lose or draw, it's been a fantastic journey for the Bulgarians on their maiden voyage into the European competition, and while the current state of the tie allows them plenty of freedom about how they'll play they can look back upon a couple of famous victories against Slovan Bratislava and Partizan Belgrade along the way.

  • Posted at 1155 BST on 26/08/2013.