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Champions League Play-Off Preview

The final hurdle on the path to this season's Champions League group stage has been set but who will be the final ten clubs to enter the Champions League?

For many, the lucrative rewards on offer are key to a season's planning while, for some, returning to the big stage is paramount.

Manchester United fall into the latter category while Scottish champions Celtic are firmly in the former.

Both clubs will be quietly confident following the draw in Nyon, with the ties to be played between the 18th and 26th August.

So let's take a look ahead to what is in store.

Lazio (ITA) v Bayer Leverkusen (GER) - 18th & 26th August

This is a clash between the sides that finished third and fourth respectively in Serie A and the Bundesliga last season. However, the German side have enjoyed more Champions League exposure in recent times, with Lazio's last appearance in the group stage coming in 2007/08. Roger Schmidt's side will be confident they can get the job done in the second leg at their intimidating Bay Arena. Leverkusen have reached the last 16 in three of the last four seasons and have never lost a UEFA Champions League qualifying tie.

Manchester United (ENG) v Club Brugge (BEL) - 18th & 26th August

Considering the options that were available for Manchester United in the draw, Louis van Gaal will have been elated with this tie.

Van Gaal's primary aim on taking over at Old Trafford was returning the club to this competition and facing Belgian opposition he should now do that at the first attempt.

It is ten years since Brugge last qualified for the group stage, whereas United's European pedigree meant last season was the first in 25 years the Red Devils did not compete. It would be a monumental shock should United fail to come through over two legs.

Sporting CP (POR) v CSKA Moscow (RUS) - 18th & 26th August

There ought to plenty of bite in this tie, with CSKA having become the first Russian side to win a European trophy when they landed the UEFA Cup at Sporting's expense in their own stadium ten years ago.

CSKA overcame Sparta Prague in a nine-goal thriller in the previous round but there is unlikely to be the same number of goals in this clash as Sporting were stubborn domestically last season, losing just two of 34 games.

Both teams were involved last season but CSKA may be slightly ahead of Sporting in terms of nous in this competition and they may have enough to inflict further pain on their long-standing rivals.

Rapid Vienna (AUT) v Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) - 19th & 25th August

Big-spending Shakhtar Donetsk will fully expect to come through this tie and book their spot in the group stage. The Ukrainians overcame Fenerbahce in the previous round courtesy of a 3-0 home win in the second leg having drawn in Turkey, but will however have noted Rapid's impressive victory over Ajax at the same stage.

The Dutch side must still be wondering how that happened. Ajax led 2-0 in Vienna before going home with a draw and then trailed 2-0 in Amsterdam before battling back to level the tie. Ajax dominated both games but conceded a late goal to Louis Schaub and paid the price.

That was an impressive win for Rapid, but having thumped 12 goals past BATE in the group stage home and away last year, Shakhtar will be confident once more.

Valencia (ESP) v AS Monaco (FRA) - 19th & 25th August

Certainly one of the most appealing ties of the round on paper, as last year's quarter finalists Monaco will lock horns with Valencia, who were fourth in La Liga last season.

Monaco returned to European action last season in impressive style, stunning Arsenal in the last 16. The Ligue 1 side's success was based on a stubborn defence and they did not score many goals, but they did hit Young Boys for seven over two legs in the previous round.

Valencia missed out on European action for the first time since 1997/98 last time around but, having finished just behind Atletico Madrid in Spain last season, they will be a real test for Monaco now.

Astana (KAZ) v APOEL (CYP) - 18th & 26th August

Kazakhstani outfit Astana take their first plunge into the deep waters of the Champions League this season in what is just their third ever European campaign. They reached the Europa League playoff last time around and look to be up against it here to progress.

APOEL have been in the group stage three times in the past six seasons. They were dealt a cruel draw last year, being placed alongside Barcelona, Paris St Germain and Ajax in the group stage, and edged their way into this despite losing the second leg at home to Midtjylland in the last round.

Skenderbeu (ALB) v Dinamo Zagreb (CRO) - 19th & 25th August

Rightly or wrongly, Skenderbeu were probably the team that most sides in the draw fancied facing as they become the first Albanian side to compete at this stage of the competition. They overcame Milsami of Moldova with a minimum of fuss to get here, winning 2-0 both home and away.

Dynamo have have lost in qualifying in the last two seasons but do have experience of playing in the group stage. They showed two sides to their game in ousting Molde last time out, rushing into a 3-0 lead in the second leg in Norway before ultimately clinging on for a draw to prevail on away goals.

Celtic (SCO) v Malmo (SWE) - 19th & 25th August

This has been greeted as a favourable draw for Celtic and, with manager Ronny Deila's knowledge of Scandinavian football, they have a good chance.

The Glasgow side showed real composure to eliminate Qarabag last time out but there will be immense pressure for the first leg at Celtic Park to take a lead to Sweden.

Celtic have been knocked out in the playoffs in the last two seasons, having progressed under Neil Lennon in the two years before.

Malmo made their first group stage appearance a year ago, taking three points from six games. Having lost 2-0 in Salzburg in the last round they turned things around dramatically with a 3-0 win at home.

Celtic could scarcely have hoped for a better chance to progress, however, and Deila's side have looked steady enough in four games so far to suggest they will take advantage of the draw.

FC Basel (SUI) v Maccabi Tel-Aviv (ISR) - 19th & 25th August

These two clubs will be meeting for the third time in a year in European competition. Basel knocked Maccabi out by the odd goal in seven in the Champions League qualifiers but things were more straightforward when their paths crossed again in the UEFA Europa League round of 32. After a goalless draw in Tel Aviv, Basel triumphed 3-0 Basel at St. Jakob-Park in the return game.

Basel have reached the group stage in four of the past five seasons and went onto the last 16 on two of those occasions. Their experience should help them in this tie.

BATE Borisov (BLR) v Partizan (SRB) - 18th & 26th August

BATE have been on the scene for a number of seasons now but there were signs last year that their star is starting to fall after some initial success in the group stage.

They were heavily beaten by both Porto and Shakhtar last season and victories over Dundalk and Videoton have done little to inspire confidence.

Partizan scored four times against Steaua Bucharest in Belgrade to reach this stage 5-3 on aggregate. The Serbian champions may end four years of defeats in the Champions League playoffs to get back among the elite this time.

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