FC Twente v NEC Nijmegen
FC Twente are looking to finish a satisfying campaign strongly and hold on to fifth place, whilst NEC are playing catch up in the hunt for the final European play-off berth.
Many may have seen NEC goalkeeper – and former Netherlands #1 – Jasper Cillessen’s awful mistake last weekend. NEC were leading 2-1 but ended up losing a big game 2-3 which may have seen them take control of eighth place for the play-offs if they had won.
Cillessen looked very frustrated with himself, but this seems to be the issue for this mid-table side; they have plenty of talented players, but they are not consistent enough to be up there with the top six.
Undoubtedly, Twente will dominate this game for long periods, and NEC’s best opportunities will be from set pieces and on the counter attack.
When you remember that Twente have won 37 points at home from a possible 45 in Enschede, and they have the best defensive record in the league with a goalkeeper in Lars Unnerstall who has kept the most clean sheets in the Eredivisie, it is difficult to back against another win for Ron Jans’ men.
MVV Maastricht v Telstar
There are only two rounds to go in the Dutch second division and only a few decisions are left to be made coming up to the promotion play-offs. Two big games still matter on this packed Friday, including this one. MVV need a point to qualify, but only a victory can keep Telstar in the running for a play-off spot, so all to play for here.
MVV Maastricht have had one of their best seasons in recent history and a lot of that is down to Ruben van Bommel, the son of former Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona midfielder Mark van Bommel. The 18-year-old winger is not even on a professional contract at MVV, so will leave the club after this season, but he has been brilliant for MVV and will surely want to reach the play-offs. MVV has some problems in defence, as fullbacks Lars Schenk and Clint Essers are both suspended. Leroy Labylle is usually the starting left back, but he struggles with a back injury and it is not clear whether he’ll be ready for this game.
Telstar have their own issues as manager Mike Snoei is not allowed to be on the bench because of a suspension. Strangely, he also missed the last match against MVV due to a suspension. That match ended in a 5-3 Telstar victory. Telstar aren’t the best team going forward, but against MVV with problems in defence and lots of quality going forward, a game with lots of goals is on the cards again.
VVV Venlo v De Graafschap
The other important match for the promotion play-offs is the game between VVV Venlo and De Graafschap. Only a victory can keep De Graafschap in the race for the play-offs and the side is in good form. They are still without manager Adrie Poldervaart, who has been out with health problems since the start of the year. However, since assistant Richard Roelofsen took over, the side started winning games with good football and that is the reason they still have a chance to make the play-offs.
VVV are pretty much the opposite to De Graafschap when it comes to recent form. They were one of the best teams in the first half of the season, but with the play-offs in sight, they hit a terrible run. VVV failed to win any of the last seven games and dropped down the table. They had a bit of a cushion, so they are still favourite to qualify for the season finale, but De Graafschap are a direct rival in decent form and not to be sniffed at.
De Graafschap are playing with several teenagers and sometimes that makes them a bit inconsistent, but it clearly added quality to the side. Balance is added with the decades of experience from 4-time Dutch Champion Siem de Jong and former Man United left-back Alexander Buttner, and that makes it a steep task for VVV. It is why I’d put my money on a result for the away side that would keep the play-offs exciting until the last round.
NAC Breda v Heracles Almelo
Last week, NAC Breda qualified for the promotion play-offs, so they don’t really have much to play for in this game. They have been on a good run since the eccentric manager Peter Hyballa took charge in January, winning five from the last six games. Hyballa surely won’t want them to give away the good streak going into the play-offs, but I suspect that is exactly what will happen against one of the best sides of the second division.
Heracles already achieved their main goal to get promoted to the top flight, but they still have something important going on, as they are fighting with PEC Zwolle for the league title. The title isn’t as important as promotion, but with the end in sight, there is no way they’ll easily settle for second place. They’ll still be without winger Nikolai Laursen, who did his ACL a month ago, but other than that Heracles seem to have their full squad available.
NAC Breda, on the other hand, will be without midfielder Javier Vet. Vet was sent off against Almere City last game and will sit out the last two matches of the regular season. For Heracles these two matches will decide the title, but NAC will be looking at, at least, two and possibly four matches after that are far more important and I suspect that will cost them in this game when it comes to focus, so I suspect Heracles will claim the victory here.
Jong Ajax v Jong AZ
Jong Ajax vs Jong AZ is a match that doesn’t really have any impact on the league, but there is some pride involved as to which of the two will end the season as the best academy team. AZ will already feel that they have that title in the pocket, as they won the prestigious UEFA Youth League recently, but that should motivate the in-form Jong Ajax side even more for this one.
Jong Ajax won six of the last eight matches and that catapulted them from almost the bottom of the table, to possibly finishing in the top half. The recent touch of form came with a lot of goals, as Ajax scored 23 times in those eight games, more than any other team in that time period.
AZ have been a bit inconsistent recently, and that is probably down to the full schedule that the flagship team has. Several of the Jong AZ players are involved in the first team as well and that is exactly what is going to happen this week. The first team play West Ham in London in the Conference League on Thursday and then league football on Sunday and several of the best youth players will be involved in that. I suspect that makes Jong Ajax strong favourites to win this game.
UCD AFC v Shamrock Rovers
While UCD have shown improved levels of performance in recent weeks, Shamrock Rovers are currently operating on a different level to the rest of the league with the Hoops on an 11-match unbeaten streak, winning their last 4.
Rovers have won 3 of their last 4 games to nil and with UCD only managing a goal every two games at present, it’s difficult to see anything other than the Champions continuing this rich vein of form.
Shamrock Rovers have won their last 8 H2H’s against the Students to nil, including a 7-0 thrashing of UCD back in 2019. Overall, Stephen Bradley’s men have won their last 14 meetings (including one friendly) against their fellow Dubliners.
Despite UCD putting up some brave efforts of late, it’s hard to see where points are coming from at the moment with the Students winless in their last 4, losing 3 of those.
These two teams may be in the same division but they may as well be in different universes.
Queen’s Park v Partick Thistle
It’s been an eventful week for Queen’s Park, with two vital games finishing in the favour of their opponents. Neither of these fixtures has wanted for drama, and the probability of another entertaining, high-scoring match at Ochilview on Friday night is very high indeed.
Queen’s Park last played at their adopted home against Dundee a week ago in a match that finished 5-3 against the Glasgow club. On Tuesday, the first leg of their playoff semi-final against Partick went against them 4-3.
Queen’s are not a side particularly comfortable when defending against strong opponents, as the last two matches have demonstrated, while their strength is undoubtedly offensive. It is likely that they will try to exploit that on Friday by once again playing in Owen Coyle’s trademark open style.
Partick, meanwhile, are a side that are also often involved in high-scoring affairs. Like their opponents, they are better going forward than defending. They have conceded at least two goals in their last two away fixtures, which were against relatively weak opponents in the form of Hamilton and Raith.
The head-to-head also suggests an entertaining match. Of the five previous encounters between these sides this season, four have produced at least four goals. The other was a 2-0 Queen’s Park home win.
With so much on the line in this game, expect Queen’s Park to adopt an attacking stance, and expect that to result in the type of exciting end-to-end affair we have already seen twice from the Spiders in the last week.
Lens v Reims
Lens have got their sights on a Champions League spot, and unlike last season, when they faded in a disappointing style at the end of the campaign, they are going full steam ahead. Look for them to earn a 16th home win in just 18 matches when they hosts Reims on Friday night.
The home side have been rampant in recent weeks, winning seven of their last eight matches, while the exception was a 3-1 loss against PSG away from home that they were dominating before Salis Abdul Samed was sent off. Had they won that night, they would be level on points with the defending champions, underlining what a remarkable campaign they are enjoying.
Franck Haise’s side have been particularly good at home, where the support of a vibrant home crowd has proven to be a bonus rather than a weight. They are clear of meaningful selection problems with the exception of long-term concerns prior to this match.
Reims, meanwhile, have enjoyed a remarkable campaign but have found recent weeks more difficult, losing their last two away matches against Rennes and Clermont. Although they beat Lille 1-0 at home last weekend, largely thanks to an ingenious setup from head coach Will Still, they rode their luck a little as their opponents were inefficient in the final third.
Although the Champagne side picked up a point when the clubs met at Stade Auguste-Delaune earlier this season, look for them to be outgunned in this encounter by a Lens side that is playing with the wind at its back.
Gil Vicente v Boasvista
Only three matchdays of the 2022/23 Primeira Liga season remain, and one of the few teams with nothing left to play for is Boavista. The Axadrezados have coasted towards a midtable finish and have never been in danger of relegation under the management of Petit. Petit played a key role in Boavista’s 2000/01 title – the only team to win the Primeira Liga title outside of Portugal’s Big Three alongside Beleneneses in 1945/46 – and finished his career with a one-year spell at Boavista before returning to Porto and managing the Panteras from 2012 to 2015, returning in November 2021 and replacing João Pedro Sousa following a turbulent start to the campaign. He led them to a comfortable 12th-place finish and is looking to better that with the Axadrezados currently 10th in the league, 17 points clear of the relegation play-off spot and seven away from the final European position. Despite being clear of the drop and behind Chaves, Vitória and Arouca in the race for Europe, Boavista have impressed as of late, beating Vitória 2-1, drawing 1-1 at Vizela, beating Rio Ave 3-2, losing 1-0 at Porto before opening May with a 1-0 win at home against Estoril Praia, and they’ll be looking to close out the season on a strong note as they travel to Gil Vicente before hosting Braga and traveling to Chaves on the final day.
Gil Vicente found themselves down 3-0 to Santa Clara within 51 minutes, only to pull one back from the penalty spot in the 77th minute via Fran Navarro – their first goal since March 12 – and add another via Bilel Aouacheria shortly after, but they were unable to find a third and fell to a 3-2 defeat in the Azores to last-placed Santa Clara, who picked up their first win since November. Gil squandered another opportunity to secure their top-flight status and currently sit eight points clear of the relegation play-off spot, but they may have to wait a little longer as they host a Boavista side that is clicking on all cylinders at the moment and that boasts a unique combination of physical power and technical prowess ranging from Nigerian defender Bruno Onyemaechi, Congolese midfielder Gaius Makouta and Portuguese wingback Pedro Malheiro.
The star of the show has been Yusupha Njie, who has scored 12 goals – only Navarro, Pedro Gonçalves, Mehdi Taremi, Gonçalo Ramos and João Mário have scored more in the Primeira. The Gambian striker scored in a 1-1 draw against Vizela before grabbing a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win against Rio Ave, before getting booked vs. Porto and missing the following match due to suspension. He’ll be looking to make use of his fresh legs and exploit a Gil side that has not kept a clean sheet since April 10 and that has not won since March 5. I’m expecting Boavista to pick up a point, at the very least, and extend Gil’s poor run of form, and I’m expecting Njie to have a big role. Njie scored a brace as Boavista pulled off a comeback 2-1 win at Gil on May 19, 2021, and on January 8, he opened the scoring within 31 minutes as Boavista beat Gil 1-0 at the Bessa.
Universitario de Vinto v Municipal Vinto Palmaflor
Despite Atletico Palmaflor being in freefall following four defeats on the trot, the new owners continue to stand behind manager Brizuela. They have also worryingly only scored once in the last four. When the goals do come they are almost exclusively scored by Alvarez or Cañete. Universitario for their part have also lost three of their last five games. That being said they nearly stole a famous win in La Paz against Bolivar, it took a last-minute penalty to deny them. Logic would be that this factor leans the tie in their favour, as well as the fact that Palmaflor have lost four of their six away games.
Looking back, these teams have met three times with two Palmaflor 1-0 wins and a 1-1 draw all in 2022. This points to a very low goal average of 1.33 per game.
Although this was a derby last season, Palmaflor have moved to the Tropics this season so the team will be visiting Cochabamba. Taking recent form into account the sense is that there will be a narrow home win with few goals.
Sportivo Ameliano v Tacuary
The Barrio Jara clásico is an old rivalry and Sportivo Ameliano are looking to bounce back from their 1-0 defeat to Nacional against a buoyant Tacuary; who followed up an impressive Sudamericana win with a surprise 3-0 thrashing of leaders Libertad.
Humberto Garcia’s team failed to find the net against Nacional, it was the first time since they had drawn 0-0 with the same opponent some 11 games ago back in February. Despite the result the coach is expected to field a similar side with Blas Cáceres conducting from the middle and winger Elvio Vera providing the main goal threat alongside striker Elías Sarquis. There are no new injury concerns nor suspensions.
Iván Almeida has done a fantastic job with Tacuary, his high intensity style has reaped rewards in the last two games as they scored three goals in each encounter. It was more goals than their previous 11 matches, with wingers Oscar Ruiz and Elias Alfonso key features on the counter attack.
The previous meeting was a 3-1 victory for Sportivo Ameliano, and the only time these two managers met last year it was also the V Azulada that came out on top – a 2-0 win that time. But with Tacuary riding high and both sets of players very different to last season the home win is by no means a guarantee. We are more likely to see goal action with Tacuary games seeing an average of 2.3 in the last six matches and Ameliano an average of 2.8.
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