Sporting Cristal v Huracan
Sporting Cristal’s game plan worked a treat against Huracan in Argentina last week, coming away with a 0-0 draw. Back in Peru, Sporting are more confident in front of their own fans, and are likely to have far more attacking intent.
Sporting Cristal hammered Nacional Asuncion in the last round at home 5-1, who simply couldn’t handle the high press and tempo the Peruvian club forced upon them from the off.
Admittedly, Huracan are a far stronger side than Nacional, but they haven’t impressed during the qualifiers, scoring just once in three matches. Huracan drew 0-0 with Uruguayan outfit Boston River the last time they travelled in this competition which doesn’t bode well against an attacking Sporting.
Sporting Cristal will play with confidence and aggression at home, and I can see Huracan struggling. I’m taking a chance on the Peruvians to complete the job and reach the group stage.
Shamrock Rovers v St Patrick’s
This Dublin derby has suddenly turned into a massive game for both clubs with champions Shamrock Rovers still seeking a first win of the season while Saints boss Tim Clancy is under huge pressure after a string of disappointing results and performances.
While Shamrock Rovers slow start has surprised everyone, there doesn’t seem to be any sense of panic within the ranks and strangely enough given the results some of the Hoops performances have been encouraging.
The same can’t be said for St.Pat’s who have lacked spirit, fight, and any resemblance of togetherness in recent weeks. A 5-0 defeat away to Dundalk has been followed up by a 2-1 loss away to ten man Sligo Rovers and a home defeat against Dublin rivals Bohemians.
Defensively, St.Pat’s have been a shambles and look likely to concede any time the ball enters their penalty area while they’ve played themselves into serious trouble at the back with their goalkeeper making a dreadful error with the ball at his feet for Bohs winner last week. Up front, Pat’s are creating little to nothing and could be in for a right hammering from a Rovers side eager to make up for a slow start.
Shamrock Rovers scored four in their last home game (4-4 v Cork City) and there’s a feeling they may give someone a good beating soon and Pat’s are an ideal candidate with questions over whether the players are still putting in a shift for manager Tim Clancy.
Wexford FC v Kerry FC
Kerry were thumped 9-1 away to Galway United last Friday and now travel to a Wexford side stacked with firepower, even if they haven’t always shown that so far this season. Kerry FC showed their inexperience at this level when they were blown apart by a wiser and classier Galway team and while Wexford probably aren’t on that level, there’s very few teams who won’t really hurt Kerry if they keep defending as they have this season.
Set pieces in particular have killed Kerry and Wexford are sure to be working hard on exposing that on the training ground this week.
Jordan Adeyemo is one of the sharpest marksmen in the division while Aaron Dobbs scored in the recent 3-0 win against Athlone with club legend Danny Furlong another option off the bench. If Wexford have any ambition of getting promoted this season they need to be winning games like this.
Yverdon Sport v Schaffhausen
Yverdon-Sport came out the other side of a difficult period of form in mid-February by returning to winning ways for the first time in three games away at Neuchatel Xamax last Sunday. It was almost a different story, they trailed at the league’s bottom club until the 91st minute before Hautier struck and Kury followed up in the 94th minute to secure the victory. The result was much-needed after a three-game run without victory that included defeat at mid-table Thun and a draw at home with ninth-placed Vaduz. For a side that had won nine of its previous eleven matches in the league, those standards have slipped and for the first time, there seems to be a vulnerability about Yverdon. As the season winds into the final couple of months, it remains to be seen if the surprise promotion contenders, who finished eighth last season, can maintain their charge with both Lausanne and Lausanne-Ouchy bearing down on them recently.
Schaffhausen also have their own questions to answer as we head into the international break. Their mini-revival six-game unbeaten run since the winter break has done enough to move last season’s promotion play-off contenders into seventh and away from any possible relegation play-off roulette this time around, but two defeats in a row to Thun and Lausanne have put the brakes on FCS advancing further up the table. A late penalty consolation was all they could muster in the defeat at home to Lausanne while the less said about the 5-0 hammering to Thun, also at home, the better.
These are two sides in a sort of limbo at the moment. Yverdon seem to have a clearer picture and identity than their opponents, but there is the sense that defeat for either will signal just how the rest of their season will go. However, a victory for Yverdon, especially after they won in miraculous fashion last weekend, could be the catalyst for their final push for promotion. I do think there will still be some more question marks after this one though. Yverdon are free-scoring at home, they’ve found the net in all but one game and scored at least two goals in all but four of their twelve at the Municipal. Schaffhausen score and concede over a goal per away game and while YS have had a strong rearguard for the most part, they are vulnerable these days and have conceded in their last five. The three prior meetings this season, including in the cup, have featured 2.5 Goals and I think it will happen again on Friday.
Jong AZ v FC Eindhoven
Almost a full round of matches this Friday and the first match to look at is Jong AZ vs FC Eindhoven. FC Eindhoven finally ended their five-match losing streak two weeks ago and after two wins and a draw they are still a strong candidate for the play-offs, but they still look a bit shaky. In this game they will be up against Jong AZ and despite the first team playing on Thursday and Sunday, Jong AZ will field a decent team.
That is because they have several players from the under 18 coming in. That in itself doesn’t sound special, but it is interesting when you realise that the AZ under 18 are trashing the UEFA Youth League. This Wednesday, they thumped Real Madrid 4-0 in the Champions League quarter-final and they had already done that with the respected youth teams of FC Barcelona (3-0) and Eintracht Frankfurt (5-0). Mexx Meerdink and Ernest Poku are stars in that team, but have also found a way to Jong AZ and Meerdink already joined the trip to Rome last week with the first team.
A day after the Real Madrid game it is unlikely they’ll feature against Lazio, but they should be available for Maarten Martens side, that has been very difficult to beat this season. In the 2-0 defeat against Roda JC on Monday they had none of the under 18 players and none of the first team fringe players, so not too much should be read into that game. Against FC Eindhoven, Jong AZ should be good enough to get a result.
TOP Oss v Heracles Almelo
Heracles Almelo are on route for direct promotion, especially as their main rival for that second place behind PEC Zwolle, Almere City, lost on Monday. Heracles are generally just a bit too good for this league and, together with PEC, they have been absolutely dominating it.
TOP Oss are close to bottom of the table, but they have actually improved massively over the last weeks, with a new manager and a few new signings like Kay Tejan and Thijs van Leeuwen. They were all attacking signings, and TOP went from being the worst scoring team, to scoring and conceding goals in every game. The attack will be at full strength, but in defence they are missing centre back Roshon van Eijma, who started almost every game for TOP this season. Van Eijma is suspended for this game against Heracles.
The away side on the other hand are at full strength, that includes the Scandinavian attacking line with Nikolai Laursen, Samuel Armenteros and Emil Hansson, all three in the top seven of the top goalscorer ranking. Since attacking midfielder Anas Ouahim returned from injury to the starting line-up they haven’t lost a game and find the goal very easy. Against a TOP Oss side that has left the extremely defensive playing style and are now quite an exciting team to watch, that should guarantee goals.
FC Den Bosch v FC Dordrecht
FC Den Bosch are easily the worst team in the league at the moment. After the 13-0 defeat against FC Zwolle, they sacked manager Jack de Gier, who later said in an interview, that he is happy that it is over. The manager had already been told that this would be his last season, but the embarrassing defeat pushed him out early.
People in Den Bosch weren’t happy with him either, there are rumours that he didn’t really put that much effort in training and that the players are lacking fitness. Apparently he told the players they could get the next day off, while being drunk in the pub during the carnival festivities a couple of weeks ago. The inexperienced assistant William van Overbeek will be the interim-manager until further notice.
They haven’t been lucky either as several of their first team players got injured or ill before the disastrous match against PEC, including goalie Wouter van der Steen, Anass Ahannach, Joey Konings, Victor van den Bogert en Rik Mulders. Defenders Mulders and van der Bogert returned on Monday, but couldn’t prevent another bad defeat, 4-0 at home against VVV. It looks like their confidence is awful and though it isn’t clear if the players who were out against PEC will be back for this game, there is little to think they’ll turn this around.
FC Dordrecht could be the perfect opponent for that, as they aren’t doing much better, they are trying to break a five-match losing streak against Den Bosch. Dordrecht aren’t great either, but have had some decent games and are complete against Den Bosch, so I suspect them to cut their losing streak in this game and at least collect a point here.
FC Wil v Aarau
Given the inconsistent results of Yverdon-Sport and the reemergence of Lausanne in the promotion race, FC Wil ideally would’ve been using the last three weeks to maintain and build the buffer they had over the rest at the top of the Challenge League table. Instead, they are locked level on points with Yverdon and just a single point in front of Lausanne after dropping seven points in three games. A home loss to rivals Lausanne in what was viewed as a decisive game has only been compounded by two straight draws at Yverdon and to mid-table Thun. It isn’t terrible form by any means, Wil have only lost one of their last eleven matches in all competitions, but there will be plenty of frustration and more concern as they try to keep themselves from eventually falling out of the automatic promotion spots. Having faced the three other teams in the top four over the last few weeks, there is a perceived “easier” run coming up for the leaders with five games in a row against teams in the bottom half.
Aarau will almost certainly finish in mid-table at best now as inconsistency continues to plague them. A narrow 3-2 loss at home to Stade Lausanne-Ouchy last weekend was disappointing, but draws with teams below them in Schaffhausen and Neuchatel Xamax in the last few games suggests that they are unable to string enough wins together to make a late dash for the final play-off spot. Perhaps the most credible evidence for that is that Aarau have only been able to win two games in a row once this season. Unsurprisingly, last season they were able to do that multiple times when they were at the top of the table until the final day. The narrative around these parts has definitely changed in the last ten months.
The home side will be keen for a return to winning ways and I think this match against Aarau can help to provide that. Prior to the loss to Lausanne, Wil were unbeaten at home while Aarau haven’t won in seven and have also conceded two goals in each of those games, including a 6-1 loss to Wil back in November. That being said, with the recent form of FC Wil, I’d be more cautious and go for goals. They average over two goals per home game, Aarau concede the same number and the visitors also score over a goal per away game. I’d back 2.5 Goals.
Bohemians v UCD
It’s been a great start to the season by Bohemians who have won four of their opening to go into this latest home game against the league’s bottom side sitting top of the table. The feel good factor is very much back at Dalymount Park with every game so far a sell out, including this one and the home fans may be treated to a goalfest.
UCD conceded 8 goals in the space of a few days recently and while they only lost 1-0 at home to Drogheda last time out it should have been a hell of a lot more. UCD haven’t scored in any of their last three while Bohs have scored in all but one of their games this season.
Jonathan Afolabi has been excellent up front for the Gypsies and was more than deserving of his first goal of the campaign in the win away to St.Pat’s while recent signing Dean Williams also opened his account in the same game. It’s always good for your centre forwards to discover the goalscoring touch as early as possible in the season and UCD may find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time this St.Patrick’s day.
Derry City v Sligo Rovers
Despite dominating the ball and having long spells of extreme pressure at home to Dundalk last time, Derry City were unable to break down the Louth side. Failing to turn possession and pressure into goals has been an on and off problem for the Candystripes in recent seasons, it’s something they’ll have to crack if they want to be champions this season, especially with Shamrock Rovers making such a slow start, it’s key Derry capatilise.
Sligo Rovers have been up and down this season with two wins, two draws and a disappointing defeat in Drogheda. Sligo’s only away win was a fortunate one in UCD where they were awarded two penalties, one that was clearly outside the area while Sligo were bailed out with a late dubious penalty at home to Cork City. City led 2-0 with 79 minutes played on Monday but threw it away late on.
Sligo Rovers will have to up their performance level when they travel to the title favourites Derry. City appeal to me as a team still moving through the gears in the early part of the season while Ruaidhri Higgins has already had to deal with some big injuries to key players.
In saying that, Derry still have one of the strongest squads in the country and won’t be looking for any excuses. Sligo Rovers are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and the way they defended against Cork City was worrying. Derry are a different beast and I expect them to let loose here.
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