Ludogorets Razgrad will be looking to secure a first-leg advantage when they take on Sutjeska Niksic in the first leg of their Champions League first qualifying round contest on Tuesday night.
The home side, who played in the group stage of the Europa League last term, are the reigning Bulgarian champions, while Sutjeska became champions of Montenegro’s top flight for the fifth time last season.
Ludogorets Razgrad’s Kiril Despodov pictured in December 2020
Ludogorets secured their spot in the first qualifying round of the Champions League courtesy of winning Bulgaria’s top flight for the 11th time in their history last season.
The Eagles played in the group stage of the 2014-15 Champions League, taking on Real Madrid, Basel and Liverpool, while they also made the groups of the 2016-17 competition.
Last term, Ludogorets went all the way to the playoff round in their bid to make the group stage of the European Cup, but they lost to Malmo 3-2 on aggregate, which saw them drop into the Europa League, finishing fourth in a section which also included Braga, Red Star Belgrade and FC Midtjylland.
Ante Simundza’s side will be confident of progressing through this two-legged affair, and they will take on either Shamrock Rovers or Hibernians in the second qualifying round, should Sutjeska be overcome.
Ludogorets have played four friendlies this summer in preparation for the return of competitive action, the last of which was a 3-0 success over Nurnberg on June 26, but they were beaten 3-0 by Ferencvaros one day earlier.
Sutjeska, meanwhile, have never played in the group stage of the Champions League, so it would be a huge shock if they managed to navigate their way through all of the qualifying rounds.
Last term, the Blue and Whites fell at the second qualifying round for the Europa Conference League, losing 3-1 on aggregate to Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Sutjeska also went out in the first qualifying round of the Europa League in 2020-21, but they managed to secure a spot at this stage of the Champions League by winning the Montenegrin First League in 2021-22, finishing with 75 points from their 36 matches.
Milija Savovic’s side are certainly the underdogs heading into the two-legged affair with Ludogorets, but a positive result in the first leg of the contest would leave them feeling confident ahead of the return match on July 12.
Ludogorets Razgrad form (all competitions):
Sutjeska Niksic form (all competitions):
Ludogorets have no confirmed injury problems leading into this match, although head coach Simundza will need to assess the fitness of his players ahead of kickoff here.
The Bulgarian side start their league season against Septemvri Sofia on July 8, with this two-legged affair coming either side of their first domestic fixture of the 2022-23 campaign.
Ludogorets will have their strongest available XI on the field for this game, though, with Pieros Sotiriou set to lead the line for the home team with support from Bernard Tekpetey and Kiril Despodov in the wide areas.
Sutjeska also do not have any fresh injury concerns ahead of this game, and they can fully focus on the two-legged affair, with their league season not starting until July 23.
The visitors have played three friendlies this summer, and head coach Savovic will need to make sure that his most important players are fully fit to take to the field here.
Vladan Giljen is set to start between the sticks for Sutjeska, while Yuliyan Nenov could play alongside fellow new arrival Tyrone Conraad in a front two.
Ludogorets Razgrad possible starting lineup:
Padt; Cicinho, Nedyalkov, Plastun, Verdon; Show, Goncalves; Tekpetey; Yankov, Despodov; Sotiriou
Sutjeska Niksic possible starting lineup:
Giljen; Vlahovic, Babic, Rudovic; Grivic, Alharaish, Pajovic, Erakovic, Knezevic; Nenov, Conraad