Despite winning the first leg, Linfield’s European hopes hang by a thread thanks to the concession of a last-minute penalty in Windsor Park last week.
A slender one-goal lead puts an entirely different perspective on Thursday night’s game in Azerbaijan. Had Linfield held out for a 3-1 victory, the prospects of them qualifying for the Europa League proper would have been quite good.
As it happens, however, the concession of two away goals makes it exceedingly difficult for the Northern Irish side. Qarabag vanquished League of Ireland champions Dundalk after a similarly close away leg and something similar could happen to Linfield on Thursday, although they have shown far more cohesion than Dundalk in Europe this summer.
Linfield will need to score, but it still might not be enough. Qarabag are a side of genuine quality and only missed out on the Champions League play-off round thanks to the concession of a last-minute goal at home to Apoel Nicosia.
In stifling conditions in Azerbaijan, against an opponent with European pedigree, Linfield will struggle.
Pick: Qarabag (-1) – 2/5
Celtic are in the driving seat in this tie following a comprehensive 2-0 in Celtic Park last week. The Scottish champions dominated against their Swedish opponents who adopted a safety-first, damage limitation kind of approach in Scotland. However, it has done them little good.
A two-goal deficit without scoring an away goal is one of the worst possible defeats a team can incur and they now leave themselves susceptible to the concession of a killer blow on Thursday night. The Swedish club will, at some point, have to chase the game and leave themselves open to the counter attack, which will suit Celtic perfectly.
The Bhoys seem to have recovered from that setback against Cluj in the Champions League and have now recorded three wins on the spin. They should make it four in what will be a more open game than last week.
Pick: Celtic to win – 6/5
Legia Warsaw have now played seven European qualifiers this summer. They are still yet to concede a goal in any of them.
The Polish side’s run to the play-off round has been dull though, and they have recorded four 0-0 draws in seven games. On only one occasion did Legia manage to score more than two goals in a game and that was against the mighty Europa FC from Gibraltar when they managed a hugely impressive tally of three. They also failed to score in the away leg against the Gibraltar giants.
It’s fair to say that Legia Warsaw haven’t been amongst the goals in their qualifying run, yet stand just 90 minutes from the Europa League group stages. Rangers, on the other hand, have been a trifle more free scoring and scored more goals in two legs against FC Midtjylland than Legia have managed in seven games.
Their lack of an away goal will make things slightly nervy at Ibrox but, with home advantage, Rangers should have enough and should shut their opponents out.
Wolves made a statement of intent with their win in Italy last week. After getting a favourable draw to make the play-off round, it was interesting to see how Wolves fared against a team of genuine quality and they passed the test with flying colours.
As usual, the English side conceded vast amounts of possession in Turin last week and looked to inflict a maximum amount of damage from their short periods of possession.
It was interesting that Wolves struggled to break down a team that employed a tactic that they use so often on Sunday. Wolves probed and probed but couldn’t find a way through the Burnley rearguard until the seventh minute of additional time.
However, their 3-2 aggregate lead lends itself perfectly to Wolves’ favoured approach of sitting in and striking on the break and they should have just about enough to record another impressive victory.
Pick: Wolves to win- 5/6
- Qarabag vs Linfield: Qarabag (-1) – 2/5
- AIK vs Celtic: Celtic to win – 6/5
- Rangers vs Legia Warsaw: Rangers to win to nil – EVS
- Wolves vs Torino: Wolves to win- 5/6
A £/€1 four-fold acca on these selections returns £/€11.29 including stake on paddypower.com. Odds correct at time of posting, subject to change.