Winners and Losers from Champions League Qualifiers
With domestic league football almost in full swing around Europe, the Champions League qualifying rounds are approaching their end as well, with the first legs of the play-offs played on August 19 and 20.
No fixture threw up any big scoreline deficit—the five-goal thriller between FC Copenhagen and Bayer Leverkusen was about the most action of the first legs—and all ties are thinly balanced.
With the second legs played next week on August 26 and 27, we will soon know who will be taking the remaining slots of the Champions League group stages.
Here are the winners and the losers from the first leg of the Champions League qualifying play-offs.
French side Lille, who finished third in Ligue 1 last season, may have beaten Grasshoppers 3-1 on aggregate in the third qualifying round, but they found their play-off opposition just a bit tougher.
Hector Herrera scored the winning goal for FC Porto right on the hour mark on Wednesday as the Portuguese side, who also finished third last season, managed to subdue Lille's attacks.
With the strength in depth that Porto have and an away goal in their hands, Porto look likely to progress through to the Champions League this season. Relying on a 19-year-old on loan from Liverpool (Divock Origi) might not be enough for Lille.
Loser: Olivier Giroud
Arsenal can consider their goalless draw at Besiktas to be a decent result, as they prepare for a second-leg tie at home against the Turkish side next week.
The Gunners were unfortunate to have Aaron Ramsey sent off for the first time in his career, but that wasn't the only blight on an otherwise solid display: If it weren't for Olivier Giroud's profligate finishing, Arsene Wenger could perhaps have traveled home at much greater ease.
Increasingly criticised by Arsenal fans for seemingly not providing the top-class quality their team needs to complete their transformation to genuine title contenders, Giroud will once again come under fire.
Loser: Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez used to be known as a master of the knockout competition, and he indeed scaled great heights in Europe while in charge of Liverpool, but he didn't seem to have the answers on Tuesday against Athletic Bilbao.
Napoli had Gonzalo Higuain to thank for an equaliser, as they ended their first leg at home having conceded a valuable away goal to Athletic. The Serie A side will travel to San Mames next week in an attempt to go through to the group stages.
With new signing Michu, on loan from Premier League side Swansea City, deciding to pass rather than shoot when clean through, Benitez will hope his players and new signings turn up to save the day next week.
Winner: Andre Villas-Boas
One manager that will have ended the first leg a happy man, however, is Andre Villas-Boas, now in charge at Zenit St. Petersburg after a whirlwind year that saw him depart Tottenham Hotspur in dramatic circumstances.
Struggling to lead Spurs into Europe's premier cup competition, Villas-Boas secured a second-place finish in the Russian Premier League last season and looks set to take them into the group stages of the Champions League.
He'd be forgiven for feeling a bit smug if he does; his old employers will be taking part in the Europa League this season.
Winner: Callum McGregor
Whatever your views on Celtic's progression into the play-offs after the Legia Warsaw fiasco in the third round, you'd have to be impressed by the Hoops' new star, Callum McGregor.
On Wednesday, he scored his third goal of Celtic's Champions League qualifying campaign early in the match to secure the Scottish champions a draw at NK Maribor in Slovenia.
With Celtic taking a precious away goal back to Glasgow, they will go into next week's second leg as favourites.
Winner: Calum Chambers
Our last name on this list (almost) shares a name with Celtic's McGregor, and he has a future arguably as bright, if not brighter, than his Scottish namesake.
Calum Chambers has started the season in Wenger's starting line-up, with Per Mertesacker enjoying an extended holiday after his exploits in the World Cup with Germany earlier this summer, and it's safe to say he's impressed.
That's not to say Chambers will be a first-choice central defender at the Emirates, but his potential is certainly encouraging and exciting for Gunners fans.