We'll find out about the match-ups for the Champions League group stage on August 27th, but in the meantime, UEFA have officially announced the Champions League Play-Off Round Draw 2015 - 2016. As usual, the play-offs will see 20 teams competing against one another in two-leg match-ups. The winning football clubs from each of the 10 match-ups will be added to the draw fro the Champions League group stage. The losing soccer squads, meanwhile, will enter the group stage for the 2015 2016 Europa League.

The Champions Route

The play-off round for the Champions League is always split up into two sections: the Champions Route and the League Route. The Champions Route is comprised of division champions from countries whose football leagues are too small and not quite competitive enough to earn an automatic UCL qualification. The League Route, meanwhile, is made up of second, third, or fourth-placed teams from more competitive divisions.

The following teams will play one another in the Champions Route:

    • Astana (Kazakhstan) vs. APOEL (Cyprus)


    • Skënderbeu Korçë (Albania) vs. Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)


    • Celtic (Scotland) vs. Malmo FF (Sweden)


    • Basel (Switzerland) vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)


    • BATE Borisov (Belarus) vs. Partizan (Serbia)

Of these 10 soccer squads, three of them (BATE Borisov, Malmo FF, and APOEL) all qualified for the UCL last year, but lost in the group stage. Meanwhile, Celtic reached the play-off, but missed out on a UCL berth thanks to a second-leg defeat by Slovenia. Basel qualified directly for the group stage in 2014 2015, and reached the round of 16 before being eliminated by Porto. Skënderbeu Korçë, finally, have been impressive in the UCL qualifying rounds so far.

So what are our predictions? We'd bet on APOEL, Skënderbeu Korçë, Basel, and BATE Borisov to qualify. Both Celtic and Malmo FF are solid teams with good chances, so while we'd give the latter the edge based on recent history, Celtic are certainly a solid choice as well.

The League Route

The League Route, meanwhile, consists of more that the average soccer fan will recognize. The draw for
this segment of the play-offs includes the following match-ups:

    • Lazio (Italy) vs. Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)


    • Manchester United (England) vs. Club Brugge (Belgium)


    • Sporting CP (Portugal) vs. CSKA Moscow (Russia)


    • Rapid Vienna (Austria) vs. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)


    • Valencia (Spain) vs. Monaco (France)

Manchester United are looking to return to the Champions League after having missed out on the tournament last year for the first time since 1996. Bayer Leverkusen, will look to qualify for the UCL via the Champions Route for the second year in a row, while Valencia will look to convert their semifinal run in last year's Europa League into similar success in the UCL.

These fixtures are tough to predict, simply because most of these teams don't have recent head-to-head history against one another. We'd bet on Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester United to clinch the first two match-ups, but what about the next three? Both Sporting CP and CSKA Moscow played in the group stage of last year's UCL, and either could get the upper hand here.

Valencia, meanwhile, might have had a good run in last year's UEL, but Monaco were dynamite in the Champions League. Indeed, Monaco won their group stage draw (which included Bayer Leverkusen, Zenit St. Petersburg, and Benfica) and defeated Arsenal in the round of 16, before losing narrowly to Juventus in a 0-1 aggregate quarterfinal. Juventus were ultimately the tournament runners-up, behind FC Barcelona,
but Monaco almost ended their chances much earlier. Bottom line, it's tough not to bet on Monaco here.

It's also tough to predict what might happen with Shakhtar Donetsk, another soccer team that made a surprising splash in last year's Champions League. The Ukranian football club were eliminated decisively in the round of 16, losing on a 0-7 aggregate against Bayern Munich. However, Shakhtar came out swinging in the group stage, with striker Luiz Adriano scoring nine goals in six matches to boost his team past the likes of BATE Borisov and Athletic Bilbao. But Adriano is gone this year, having transferred to AC Milan over the summer-a fact that might be enough to give Rapid Vienna the advantage.