Champions League Qualifier Preview – Ferencváros vs Ludogorets

Less than forty days ago we all saw Liverpool lift the European Cup for the 6th time in their history, ending another epic UEFA Champions League season.  Ten days ago the Preliminary Round for this season’s Champions League was completed in Kosovo, sending us on another voyage of continental football that will end with the final in Istanbul next May.

For now, hope abounds in teams across Europe who enter the brutal struggle of qualification – 3 rounds of qualifying and then a playoff round – which will wrap up at the end of August to complete the final six spots in the Group Stage draw.  

The First Qualifying Round starts this week and Ferencváros will be Hungary’s representative in the Europe’s top club competition after winning their 30th NB1 title this spring and first in three years.  They were drawn against Bulgarian champions Ludogorets who are looking for a measure of revenge as they fell to Hungarian opposition last year. 

Have won the last 8 Bulgarian League titles

LUDOGORETS

Since returning to the top flight of Bulgarian football in 2012, Ludogorets have become a fixture at the top of the Parva Liga.  According to Bulgarian football expert Metodi Shumanov, “after winning 8 league titles in a row, Ludogorets are fully focused on their European campaign.”  Since the 2013-14 season, the Bulgarian giants have failed to make the group stage of either European competition just once (2015-16). They have twice played in the Champions League group stage.  They’ve reached the Europa League group stage three times, advancing to the last 16 in 2014 where they lost to semifinalists Valencia 5-0 on aggregate. 

Shumanov – “after last season’s early Champions League exit the hand of another Hungarian team (MOL Vidi), Ludogorets have no room for error this time; the club bosses have invested heavily into rebuilding the team. Champions League group stage participation is a top priority; if not, then a Europa League group stage campaign is the bare minimum.”

Manager – Stoycho Stoev: The architect of their 2013-14 season which saw them reach the last 16 in the Europa League, Stoev is back after a five-year hiatus.  The 56 year-old native of Razgrad has returned to guide the Eagles back into the knockout rounds. 

Players: Part of their €2.5M spending spree this summer includes winger Mavis Tchibota from Israeli League side Bnei Yehuda.  There are high hopes for the 23 year-old who scored a goal and an assist in his debut as Ludogorets beat Cup holders Lokomotiv Plovdiv 2-0 in last week’s Bulgarian Super Cup clash.

MOL Vidi defeated Ludogorets in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League last August

Ludogorets are an experienced continental side and have legitimate attacking threats in Brazilian midfielder Marcelinho (14 goals and 16 assists in 68 UCL/UEL appearances), and Romanian striker Claudiu Keseru (14 goals and 8 assists in 44 UCL/UEL appearances).

Midfielder Svetoslav Dyakov is cautiously optimistic according to Shumanov.  The 35 year-old captain was quoted saying, “We have to make sure we don’t lose the first leg in Hungary.  Then we’ll beat them in the 2nd leg.”

Ferencváros won their 30th league title last season

Ferencváros

It’s been almost 25 years since Ferencváros qualified for the group stage of the Champions League.  They have not won more than one round in continental competition in any year since that season.  It’s been three years since Fradi last won the Hungarian championship, but they’re now back in the top European competition with high hopes.  Ludogorets aren’t the only team entering this season with a chip on their shoulder.  The previous season’s runners-up were knocked out of the Europa League at the first hurdle last summer under Thomas Doll and supporter criticism started before the domestic season began.  Now, after some significant additions the the squad and domestic title under their belt they can enter this summer’s qualifiers with some confidence.  Pressure will be mounting, however, as Fradi supporters have voiced their displeasure over their team’s inability to progress in Europe.

Rebrov brings Champions League experience to Fradi

Manager: Sergei Rebrov:  The Ukrainian supremo joined the champions after the aforementioned Doll “stepped down” at the end of August despite starting the season unbeaten and at the top of the table.  Rebrov came in and had them 7 points clear by the end of September and, despite a few hiccups along the way, the rest (as they say) is history.  Rebrov is ambitious and has guided Dynamo Kiev to the quarterfinals of the Europa League in 2015 and then through consecutive Champions League group stages in the following seasons.  Dynamo reached the Round of 16 in 2016, losing to Manchester City. 

Players: In contrast to Ludogorets, Ferencváros have been a bit more thrifty this summer. They are working with a surplus after pulling in over £2M for midfield maestro Fernando Gorriarán who left for Liga MX side Santos Laguna.  After stealing Honvéd’s Dávid Gróf on a free transfer, they now have two of the best goalkeepers in the league.  Rebrov plundered the Ukrainian loan market and picked up two more Shakhtar Donetsk castoffs while shelling out some cash for Bosnian left back Eldar Civic from Sparta Prague.  Leading goal-scorer and media “darling” Davide Lanzafame has struggled with a knee injury and, despite being named to the 22-man squad, will realistically be available for the second leg only.  Rui Pedro had a successful loan at Haladás in the spring and looks set to replace Gorriarán in midfield – a position he’s no stranger to.

Prediction

Rebrov has brought discipline and a strong work ethic to Ferencváros and the current squad has responded well.  They expect to win and have typically found a way, especially at home.  They’ve won eight of nine pre-season friendlies, conceding just three goals.  Against a team like Ludogorets they will need to score at home and the absence of Gorriarán and Lanzafame will make it much more difficult for them. 

The experience that Ludogorets carries into this tie is important as the pressure to succeed will be sky high.  There is no doubt that they have the ability to score, but there are concerns that their defense could be an issue. 

First leg: at Groupama Aréna in Budapest ( 10 July – 20:00 CET)

Ferencváros 2-0 Ludogorets

Second leg: at Ludogorets Arena in Razgrad (17 July – 19:30 CET)

Ludogorets 2-1 Ferencváros

(Ferencváros advance 3-2 on aggregate)

Special thanks to Metodi Shumanov for his input on Ludogorets – check out his blog “The Football Methods Incidentally he thinks Ludogorets will win the second leg after a first leg draw. I respectfully disagree 🙂