The Georgian champions, Torpedo Kutaisi will carry their country flag into Europe in the Champions Leaugue qualifiers. They will do so against Moldovas recent dominant team, Sheriff Tiraspol.
Torpedo Kutaisi won the league in dramatic fasion last year, after saving a penalty in the 90th minute against rivals Dinamo Tbilisi. However, their champion status did not carry onto the present season where they are currently sitting on 5th place and 11 points behind leaders, Saburtalo. Nonetheless, the European adventure is something they look forward to and they have acted accordingly by strenghtening the squad on a short notice.
Oleksandr Aatsky is a 24 year old central defender who joined on loan from Banik Ostrava to add more defensive qualities ahead of the European matches. Lazar Marin is another defensive wing back aquisition, joining from Botev Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Finally, central midfielder Marek Hlinka joined from Banik Ostrava as well and scored a goal in his first appearance.
Coach Kakhaber Chkhetiani has led Torpedo Kutaisi since 2016 but have very dark memories from European matches. Last season, Trencin from Slovakia dominated completely and defeated Torpedo with 8-1 over two legs.
Form wise, Torpedo have come alive domestically with a recent 3-0 victory against Kolkheti Poti. Nonetheless, the season is a big underachievement so far and the general impression is that a European adventure is the only way to turn the season around. It should be said that the quick new arrivals express somewhat of a desperate approach. They will not have played a full match together prior to this encounter.
Sheriff Tiraspol from Moldova are more known. They have dominated domestically for several seasons and this time it is not different. To begin with, the Croatian manager Goran Sablic joined the club this summer. He is 38 years old and arrived from Bosnian Siroki Brijeg. He has won both his matches in charge with Sheriff.
The Moldovans are not shy to bring in foreign players to have a competitive team. Their squad consist of 15 foreign players (57%) which indicates that they are investing money into this team. A couple of recent example include Croatian midfielder Antun Palic from Dinamo Bucharest. There are also 11 international players in the team, mostly representing Moldova. The strategy has generally been to bring in players from South America, as well as Africa and other South European countries from stronger leagues.
Forward Alhaji Kamara is their go-to goalscorer, while Gerson Rodrigues and Ziguy Badibanga are usually on the flanks. The right back position is the captain, Mateo Susic from Bosnia. Overall, it is a strong team with experiences players who truly go all in for these moments.
In conclusion, Sheriff is a team who are used to dominate in Moldova. They lack competition and direct rivals, so the European qualifiers is what motivates the players the most. Unlike Torpedo Kutaisi, their team is built longer term and no surprises. With a new coach on the sideline, Sheriff are even stronger and truly more invested. This is also noticed when their squad is worth twice the value of Torpedo.
An away game in the city of Kutaisi is not attractive, but the quality difference should be evident. Torpedo have no tools to cope with Sheriff over two legs. The 5th positioned Georgians should have minimal chances against the best team in Moldova. My prediction is a solid away victory, but not excluding the draw due to bad pitch and a careful approach in the first leg.