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4 big stories from the Champions League playoffs

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We're halfway through the Champions League playoff qualifying round, and the teams vying for spots in the group stage are teaching us a lot about them.

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The first leg of the Champions League playoff ties are over, and while most of the matches worked out more or less as expected there was still a lot to learn from what we saw. So with the second legs coming up in a week and the group stage draw looming, what did these matches teach us about the teams vying for a place in the Champions League proper?

1. Take Borussia Mönchengladbach seriously

Now, Young Boys isn't a high-powered side by any means, but they've proven over the last few years that they know how to play in Europe and get positive results. They've beaten and scared some pretty good teams, so many fans and analysts expected Gladbach to have a rough time of things in the first leg of the tie in Switzerland. The reality was anything but -- they swept Young Boys aside easily in a 3-1 win that could even have seen a much wider margin of victory. They controlled the Swiss side and proved that, despite their summer losses, Gladbach is still a side to be reckoned with.

2. Thomas Vermaelen had a nightmarish debut for AS Roma

Vermaelen was signed by Roma recently to great acclaim. The former Arsenal and Barcelona defender was seen as the big piece Roma needed to stabilize their defense. They'll be hoping that things will be brighter after his debut, though, after a disastrous 40-minute spell on the pitch saw him sent off and his team left in a big lurch. It's obviously very early in the process for Vermaelen to adapt to his new teammates and system, but the early results were not promising and it's looking like it's going to take a long time for the Belgian defender to actually start showing his full potential for his new club.

3. Ajax is still struggling to adapt to the modern game

We wrote about this a year ago, and it's still true today: the changes to the modern transfer market, stacked on top of their academy not producing elite talent like it once did, has seriously hamstrung Ajax and left them a shell of what they once were. That sad truth reared its ugly head again on Tuesday when they couldn't beat Russian side Rostov at home, a team they should be much better than in theory. The away goal they gave up was a serious blow to their hopes to make it back to the group stage, and we have a very real chance of the fallen Dutch power not being in the Champions League proper for a second straight year.

4. Villarreal is a mess

Villarreal have made an impressive climb back up the La Liga table after getting promoted back into the top division a few years ago. But with that success has come recent off-field strife and turmoil, and now that's having an impact on the pitch as well. They looked completely out of sorts against a Monaco side that played far from its best, with a heavily rebuilt side looking largely unmotivated and not up to the task of competing at this level. They lost 2-1 at home, and unless they can find a way to play vastly better next week, it doesn't seem terribly likely that we'll be seeing the Yellow Submarine in the group stage this season.

Scores

Tuesday

FC Copenhagen 1-0 APOEL

Ajax 1-1 FC Rostov

Dinamo Zagreb 1-1 RB Salzburg

Young Boys 1-3 Borussia Mönchengladbach

Steaua Bucharest 0-5 Manchester City -- Recap

Wednesday

Celtic 5-2 Hapoel Be'er Sheva

Villarreal 1-2 Monaco

Dundalk 0-2 Legia Warsaw

Ludogorets 2-0 Viktoria Plzen

Porto 1-1 AS Roma