The 4 League of Ireland sides in European competition learned who they will face on the road to European glory.
LOI champions Dundalk will face Slovenian champions Nogometni klub Celje. Celje won the Slovenian First League for the first time last season to progress to the Champions League qualifiers. The game will be held in Hungary. If Dundalk win this tie they will face the winner of the game between Norwegian champions Molde and Finnish champions Kuopion Palloseura. Molde have won the Eliteserien 4 times, while Kuopion Palloseura won their 6th Funnish top tier title last year, their first since 1976. Whether or not the winner of the 2nd round tie between these teams in will be seeded in the 3rd round will be determined based on the coefficient of the sides who reach that stage.
Last seasons FAI Cup winners Shamrock Rovers will face Finnish Cup champions Ilves Tampere. Whether the winner of that game will be seeded or not is yet to be determined.
Bohemians qualified by finishing 3rd in the league last season. They will be away to Fehérvár of Hungary. Derry City finished 4th last season. They will be away to Lithuanian side Riteriai. Both Bohs and Derry could potentially be seeded if they progress.
The preliminary round of qualifiers for the Champions League is already underway, while the Preliminary round of Europa League qualifiers gets started next week.
Dundalk will play their first game on August 19th.
The draw for the Champions League was made on Friday, with the path to the final now revealed. There are 4 remaining last 16 ties to play, and then it’s on to the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals, and Final. The games will take place n Lisbon between the stadiums of Benfica and Sporting Lisbon between August 7th and August 23rd.
We’ve put together three of our pundits predictions, with Rodg, Sebastien, and Ron giving their thoughts on how the path to the final will look.
Real Madrid – City: City look good but inconsistent while Madrid seem to be propelled to La Liga success by Sergio Ramos. City should have enough to secure their place in quarter final quite comfortably but I would still leave some room for the possibility of Sergio Ramos providing late drama, but ultimately hard to look past City.
Lyon – Juve: Juve seemingly the biggest most consistent champions league team who’ve never really had their big days and nights out crowned with a title. Ronaldo will be looking to set that straight this year however. Lyon of course will be hampered by Ligue 1 being cancelled but I do fancy a surprise on the cards, it’s the year for the smaller teams. Lyon to push on from first leg and surprise us all. (No surprising me, you heard it here first)
Napoli – Barca: Barcelona have conquered their greatest demon. Not conceding far too many goals in the away tie and actually grabbing an away goal. They don’t have a traditional home game to go which might switch up the dynamics of the tie but I expect Barcelona to just scrape through. Not expecting a classic in this but Barca just about should have enough.
Chelsea – Bayern: Chelsea struggling at the back, and Bayern dominating all before them in Germany once more. With the 3 nil lead Bayern should use this game to try and find some rhythm after their break. Expect an exciting second leg with potentially lots of goals especially if Chelsea open up and push for goals at any stage if they feel they can get result they need but Bayern should get through comfortably
Leipzig – Atletico: Atletico certainly look back to a stronger level recently and could be dark horses but I think Leipzig might just have too much for them. I’m not a big fan of experience and I think in this case the youthful energy of Leipzig and naivety perhaps to a sense will benefit them. Leipzig will play their game and that’s necessary to do against Atletico but if Atletico dictate the game it becomes much different. Over two and in one game I think Leipzig would just have too much enthusiasm for Atletico.
Atalanta – PSG: Atalanta have returned to Serie A in wonderful form and in the brief moments I’ve watched them this season they’re the most exciting team in Europe. Again PSG will lack match fitness presumably and not having any competitive game before this against this Atalanta team might work against them. Atalanta I think will just have too much firepower as a team that could overwhelm PSGs individual firepower. The year of the little guy!
Man City – Lyon: Sadly I cant look past Man City. Lyon are a good team but it’s against good teams that City seem to come off better sometimes when they’re allowed to play their football to a degree. Over 90 minutes I think it will be harder for teams to get the balance of attacking and defending against this city side who will likely dominate the ball. City might score a few but just how their defense copes will be the big question.
Bayern – Barca: Messi is the key for Barca. Bayern certainly are a better team and have a better balance but as we have seen with Barca over 90 minutes they can be brilliant, their problem has been 180 minutes and even though they have been less than sensational since the return I think Messi will do everuthing to win this year which might make the difference. Messi and Ter Stegen the keys for Barca. Bayern will certainly fancy themselves and this tie is likely going to be decided by individuals, I just think Messi has the advantage but Lewandoski will have something to say
Leipzig – Atalanta: A fairy tale of a semi final. Expect goals and drama. I think Leipzig just edge it out due to a slight more balance and perhaps intensity throughout their team but I think this is a game everyone wants to see and would be a magical semi final with two of the best teams in Europe battling it out. Europe’s two most exciting teams perhaps but Leipzig continue in my opinion but this would be a welcome break from the monopoly of certain clubs at this stage.
Barca – City: Two teams who have struggled in the champions league and two teams who look likely to miss out on league titles. Both teams desperately need this especially if City get banned. Two similar teams, great to watch attacking but defended sorely lacking that steel that they need. Messi or De Bruyne to decide this? Again I choose Messi but like the other Semi I predict this game would be likely full of goals and excitement and the one everyone wants to see. Barca judt slightky edge this one I think.
Barca – Leipzig: Barca usually save their best for champions league finals. Leipzig are still the team I think. This is the year for the smaller clubs. Barca might run out of steam and I think Leipzig just might outrun them and dominate them to an extent. It would be great to see a new winner crowned too and that’s what I’m going for here. A year for the champions league to be broken up and inspire every team to show that the dominance of Barca/Bayern/Madrid is coming to an end.
Man City v Real Madrid: Champions League is the main goal for Manchester City since they don’t expect anything in the Premier League. In La Liga, Real is still battling for the title. In the first leg we saw a spectacular match, we expect another great game and goals from both sides. City to win 3-2.
Juve v OL: After the win 1-0 in the first leg, a draw would qualify the french side. The come back of Memphis Depay after ACL will be the X Factor. Also the Brazilian starlet Bruno Guimares arrived in January and changed the face of the team. Juve is always a strong opponent but Lyon is able to protect the short win from the first leg with a draw 1-1.
Barcelona v Napoli: After the first leg draw, Napoli will face a lack of experience in the Champions League. It seems that Quique Setien finally found the good tactic to play with Griezman. The attack Griezman, Messi Suarez, no chance for the Italian back four. Last season for Barcelona was the same situation, they draw the first leg in the last 16 against Lyon and they won 5-1 in Camp Nou. Barca to win 3-0.
Bayern v Chelsea: The easiest to predict after the first leg 3-0. Bayern is in the form of the season, they are already crowned champions and the coach Hans-Dieter Flick is only focused in the Champions League. Bayern is unbeatable at the moment and they won’t loose by 4 goals against Chelsea. The Lampard’s boys is good young team and for sure they need a couple of more season to pretend lifting the European trophy. Draw 1-1
Leipzig v Atletico: That’s a tough one to predict. Two opposite football mentalities. Atletico with years of experience, Simeone charisma and fighting spirit versus the Leipzig very methodic new generation football approach. Atletico proved again in the last against Liverpool 16 they never give up until the last minute even if they have lost their best player Griezman. Atletico to win on penalties.
Atalanta v PSG: the Parisians had a click in march by winning Dortmund in the last 16. They won’t miss the chance, they will play the 2 french national cups (League cup and French cup) to warm up. Thiago Silva extend his contract until August to play the end of the European Campaign. Atalanta manager Gasperini plays fancy football without superstar, but an extremely developed tactical intelligence. They are in exceptional form in the Serie A. However, PSG with Mbappe, Neymar, Thiago Silva, Icardi etc are favorite. PSG to win 2-1
Man City v OL: Last season they played each other in the group stage and Lyon won the first leg and draw the second leg. It was only group stage and did not affect the qualification of City for the last 16. This season, no chance for Lyon, the gap between the two squads is too big. Lyon has very talented midfield players like Aouar, Guimares, the young Caqueret, and the attack with Memphis Depay and the Striker Moussa Dembele are able to score any time. However the defence is the weak point. City with have Aguero, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Jesus, Phil Foden etc, they definitely score at least 2 goals. City to win 3-1.
Barcelona v Bayern: Hans-Dieter Flick hugely successful spell in charge that Bayern has combined young talents like Alfonso Davies, Benjamin Pavard and club legends like Lewandovski and Alaba. In Barcelona is a bit of storm behind the scene. Bayern to win 3-0 (Lewandovski hat-trick).
Atletico v PSG: Atletico already tasted the champions League final, but for PSG it is a dream for the past decade, especially since the Qatar came onboard. Neymar has been criticised since he signed for the french champions because of on going injuries. It’s the best time to prove that he made the right move to sign for PSG. Paris St Germain to win 1-0.
Man City v Bayern: Possibly the best 2 teams in Europe with Liverpool. The bench in Man City will make the difference. Also Bayern finished the Bundesliga earlier and the lack of competition could be an issue. That would be a beautiful game to watch. Man City to win 2-1
Man City v PSG: The moment City has been waiting for. Since they won multiple Premier League titles in the recent years, Pep Guardiola side built a team to lift Trophies. They signed Pep as a Champions League winner and they have are just favorite on this game. The players are individually better and as a team they are stronger than Paris. PSG bench is too young and not experienced to make the difference in such a big game. At this stage, Manchester City has all the skills and tools to lift the Trophy.
Real Madrid – Man City: Both teams have been rejuvenated in their respective leagues since the restart. Real Madrid are on course to win La Liga, but the effort of a title challenge may be to their detriment. Man City have only the UCL and FA Cup to play for, and you know Pep wants to get his hands on the big one. City have 2 away goals, I can see them conceding but I can see them scoring too. I’ll say 2 – 2 on the night with City going through 4 – 3 on aggregate. Jesus is on top form and De Bruyne looks like the current best midfielder in the world.
Lyon – Juventus: Despite being sluggish straight after the return, Juve look like their old selves and should go on to claim the Scudetto. Lyon on the other hand will only have played one competitive game, the league cup final. If Lyon fail to win the league cup winning the Champions League will be the French sides only hope of European qualification for next season. I can see the former potentially happen, but not the latter. Juve to win comfortably due to Lyon’s lack of game time, Ronaldo to take his shirt off while celebrating.
Napoli – Barcelona: It may seem like a shock to say Napoli go through, but Barca are a bit of a mess. Messi isn’t happy according to reports, if he is not up for it this Barca team are good not great. Napoli have played good football with the team looking united in lifting the Coppa ITalia, their first major honor since 2014. Koulibaly to put in a masterclass that sees him finally get a move to a bigger club. Napoli to frustrate Barca and win 1 – 0, with Mertens scoring to continue an Indian Summer.
Chelsea – Bayern: German efficiency may actually come back to haunt the Bundesliga sides remaining in Europe with about 6 weeks between games. But Bayern’s 3 goal lead should be enough against this young Chelsea team who still have defensive problems. Lewandowski to continue his goal scoring form, Bayern to get through comfortably.
RB Leipzig – Atleti: RB Leipzig have been outstanding in this seasons champions league. However they will be without their top scorer Werner and against a stubborn defense. Not to mention their lengthy gap between games. Atleti will frustrate Leipzig after scoring early and sitting back, before scoring one on a break. Leipzig won’t have the quality to break down Simeone’s men.
Atalanta – PSG: If Ligue 1 had continued as normal I would think this would finally be PSG’s year. But instead, having only two games, both cup finals, will take it’s effect on the French Champions, and a free-flowing fearless Atalanta will blow them away. I could see this being a goal fest with Neymar, Mbappe, and Icardi getting on the scoresheet for PSG but Atalanta still getting through by virtue of scoring a ridiculous amount of goals. This game seems like it will be loser to 8 – 4 then 0 – 0, with the entertaining Italians making history for themselves.
Manchester City – Juventus: A well-organized Juventus team will end City’s hopes of finally claiming the European Cup. Juve have the attacking quality to overwhelm City’s defense with Ronaldo, Dybala, and Costa. And last seasons (and surely this seasons) Italian champions know how to hold a league and close out a game. Juve to win 2 – 0, Pep to go with a beige cardigan, Ronaldo to take his shirt off.
Bayern – Napoli: As much as the break may make it difficult for Bayern, they showed when the Bundesliga returned they are an extremely efficient side who can batter teams at will. 3 – 1 Bayern, with Napoli running out of steam in the 2nd half. The only concern for Bayern is injuries in midfield, but they won’t feel that until the next round.
Atleti – Atalanta: Atalanta have been an incredible attacking side this season, which means Atleti will do to them what they did to Liverpool. Atalanta don’t have the experience of being here, Atleti know how to function and see games out at this stage. Atleti to shut down Atalanta with bodies behind the ball and hit them with a sucker punch late on.
Juventus – Bayern: Two teams I would have called favorites before the draw was made. This is where the lengthy break between games may cost Bayern, as well as fitness concerns in midfield. Juve could well do something similar to what Jose’s Inter did to Barca in 2010. Juve to shutout Bayern and make the final. Ronaldo will again inevitably take his shirt off.
Atleti – Juventus: Two teams that know defeat at this stage very well. Atleti lost two finals in 3 seasons last decade, Juve have lost the most European Cup finals of anybody. It will be an incredible battle of shithousery. A tactical shithousery masterclass. But ultimately, Atleti don’t have the fire power to break down Juve’s brick wall at the back, and Juve have Ronaldo. I an see the game going to extra time, either 0 – 0 or 1 – 1, and possibly even penalties. But Atleti aren’t the team that should have lifted two European Cups last season, and Juve will manage the nervy part of the game better. Juventus will finally lift another Champions League this season., Buffon and Chiellini will finally get European Cup winning medals. Inevitably, Ronaldo will score the winner and take his shirt off.
Who do you think will win the Champions League? Let us know on our social channels.