Girona v Espanyol
The first match of Saturday sees Espanyol make the short trip to northern Catalonia to take on Girona and we should see a lot of goals in this game. These are the two teams to have been involved in the most matches this LaLiga season in which both teams have scored, as this has happened in 73% of Girona matches and in 73% of Espanyol matches too.
Both sides play attack-minded football, which sees them score a lot and concede a lot. On average, each Girona game produces 3.12 goals this season, the highest average in all of LaLiga, while each game Espanyol are involved in is producing 2.85, the third-most in the division.
We shouldn’t expect anything different this weekend and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this match turns out to be just as entertaining as their 2-2 draw was earlier in the season. Espanyol striker Joselu is in good form, with five goals in nine games since the World Cup and a brace on his Spain debut last Saturday, while Girona have a more collective attack but are really starting to unlock the offensive brilliance of January signing Viktor Tsyhankov, who scored both their goals in their 2-2 draw at Rayo Vallecano just before the international break.
Paulo Gazzaniga and Fernando Pacheco are two of the weaker goalkeepers in the competition and both could be picking the ball out of their nets this Saturday.
GIF Sundsvall v Landskrona
Last season, GIF Sundsvall finished at the bottom-of-the-table in the Swedish top-flight, just one season after they had been promoted back to the Allsvenskan. Landskrona, on the other hand, narrowly missed out on the Allsvenskan/Superettan relegation/promotion playoff, finishing sixth in the table and four points behind third place Osters.
Henrik Ahnstrand, until July, and then Brian Clarhaut were in charge of GIF Sundsvall’s relegation but Douglas Jakobsen is the new man in post ahead of the 2023 campaign in the Superettan.
The weakest part about GIF Sundsvall’s relegation last year was their defensive performances. In their 30 matches in the top-flight last season, they conceded a staggering 80 goals. They also conceded well over a goal per game in their two seasons in the Superettan before their 2021 promotion to the Allsvenskan.
Landskrona will be slightly frustrated to have missed out on the top three by such a narrow margin but their form towards the end of the season was extremely impressive and was what gave them an opportunity to feel that frustration.
Their 2-0 win at home to Utsiktens on the final day of the campaign meant they finished the 2022 Superettan season without a loss in their final seven matches and just one defeat in 13 games in all competitions with that one loss coming against eventual league winners, Brommapojkarna.
GIF Sundsvall have spent some money in the off-season with both Lucas Forsberg and Dusan Jajic arriving for undisclosed fees from AIK and Vasteras respectively. Landskrona have also been ambitious with players arriving from Malmo, AIK, Djurgarden and Copenhagen over the winter.
These are two sides that are expecting to challenge towards the top end of the division and it could be a relatively entertaining way to kick off the new Superettan season. With that in mind, both teams scoring looks a good bet.
Schalke v Bayer Leverkusen
Schalke welcome Bayer Leverkusen to the VELTINS Arena on Saturday afternoon with both teams in relatively good form. The Royal Blues are unbeaten in their last eight Bundesliga games and are now in an excellent position to secure their top flight status – they sit just one point behind guaranteed safety with a favourable run of fixtures. European football is still a possibility for Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen after they beat then leaders Bayern Munich 2-1 prior to the international break.
Following a 6-1 defeat against RB Leipzig in January, Schalke looked destined for relegation before four successive 0-0 draws and wins against relegation rivals Stuttgart and Bochum. They also took points off Borussia Dortmund before picking up another crucial point against Augsburg, a team that have improved of late under Enrico Maassen. Schalke’s recent form doesn’t come as a surprise.
An emphasis on defence, Schalke remain tight at the back in a 4-5-1 formation. They allowed Augsburg just 4 chances in their previous fixture, whilst Marius Bulter provides S04 with a goal threat from the wide areas – he’s their top scorer with 7 Bundesliga goals. If there’s a criticism of Schalke, it’s that they don’t score enough. No team has scored fewer than Schalke (21) this season, whilst they’ve also conceded the most goals at home (28). Coming into this game following a morale boosting win against Bayern Munich, expect to see Alonso’s Leverkusen continuing to develop.
Bayer Leverkusen have won 6 of their last 7 games across all competitions. They perhaps had a bit of luck against Bayern Munich with two penalties that originally weren’t awarded until consultation with VAR, but the pace of Moussa Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong proved a threat. It’s a duo that has the ability to cause Schalke problems. The emergence of Robert Andrich as a Libero has benefitted the team and it also allows Exequiel Palacios to shuttle between the boxes. Florian Wirtz is slowly getting back to his best and Bayer Leverkusen are continuing to improve.
Bayer Leverkusen have won their last three against Schalke and typically have a good record against the Royal Blues. Schalke may score, but I fancy B04 to outscore their opponents on Saturday afternoon. Alonso’s side also have an excellent away record with just 1 defeat in their last 8 games away from the BayArena. I feel comfortable backing Bayer Leverkusen for the win here.
Rangers v Dundee United
Rangers should have few problems dispatching Dundee United when they meet the Tangerines at Ibrox on Saturday. Michael Beale’s men have won both previous matches against the struggling visiting side this season and it really should just be a case of how many the home team win by.
Judging by the form that Rangers were displaying prior to the international break, it should be a game in which there are plenty of goals. Rangers, after all, have scored at least three goals in each of their last four league matches, while they have won all of their last six in games that have produced at least three goals.
Meanwhile, the prospect of the visiting team getting on the scoresheet is not something that could be discounted. Rangers have only kept one clean sheet in their last four league matches, notably conceding against Ross County, Kilmarnock and Motherwell, who are all in the bottom four of the league table.
Dundee United, meanwhile, are toiling. Manager Jim Goodwin uttered a now infamous claim that sorting his side’s defence would be the easy part of his role. Instead, the Tannadice club have conceded 13 in their last five matches. They have proven themselves capable of finding the net, only being shut out once in the last four, suggesting a Rangers win and both teams to score at 2.8 could be worth a shot, particularly since the last match at Ibrox finished 2-1 to the Gers.
Rangers to win in a match that has at least three goals is a more conservative bet, though.
Kilmarnock v Hearts
Although the league table suggests that Hearts should be favourites in this game, the respective home and away form of the two clubs says something rather different as the Edinburgh sides travels to Rugby Park.
Hearts have won only three away matches this season in the Premiership, with that last of those victories coming on December 28, when they won 3-2 against St Johnstone. Subsequently, they draw against St Mirren and Livingston before losing against Motherwell, Celtic and Aberdeen.
The Edinburgh side are continuing to battle a string of injury problems that have blighted their season, with regulars like Craig Gordon, Cammy Devlin and, probably, Peter Haring all set to miss this game.
The recent head-to-head of this fixture, meanwhile, has been dominated by Kilmarnock. Indeed, the Ayrshire side have won five of the last seven between the clubs, albeit neither of the last two, including a 2-2 draw at Rugby Park in October.
Derek McInnes’ side, meanwhile, have been labouring in terms of their recent form but they have lost only one of their last eight home fixtures, which was a narrow loss against Rangers at home.
There are two ways to approach this match, either by backing Kilmarnock on a draw-no-bet basis at 2.2 or by avoiding defeat at 1.53. Given Kilmarnock’s recent tendency to draw matches, the latter is a likelier win yet the former offers a higher reward for a relatively limited risk given the poor away form Hearts have shown this season. However, 1.53 still offers great value for the home side to avoid defeat.
Cove Rangers v Partick Thistle
The form of Cove Rangers has been catastrophic in recent weeks, with the Aberdeen club on a run that suggests that they are heading for relegation. Not only are Paul Hartley’s side losing matches, they are doing so in a stunning fashion. They have lost all of their last five while 10 of their last 13 have ended in defeats. Recent games have seen them lose heavily against Queen’s Park, Raith Rovers and Ayr United. These games have produced an aggregate loss of 15-1.
Cove may have a decent home record on paper, five wins and four draws in 15 matches, but this is skewed significantly by their early season form. They have failed to win any of their last five at home, while their only success since a shock 2-0 win over Queen’s Park in November came against bottom side Hamilton.
For Partick, this fixture comes at an opportune moment. They are in need of a lift after going three matches without a goal. Aside from this, though, their form is not terrible. Thistle’s 1-0 loss against Inverness away from home last time out was their first defeat in six, a run that included a victory away to a strong Dundee side.
The only note of caution for the Glasgow club before Saturday’s trip north is their inability to beat Cove this season. They have drawn two and lost the other against Hartley’s men, though two of these games came under Cove’s former manager. Partick should have enough to get the win in this match.
Queen of the South v Peterhead
It’s taken a long time, but Queen of the South are finally starting to look the part of the pre-season title favourites that they were among. The Dumfries side have left it late to make a push for promotion, but remain in with an outside chance of making the playoffs if they finish the season strongly. That means overcoming Peterhead on Saturday. It is a match they should win – and comfortably so.
Peterhead are clearly the weakest side in the league, they have lost 21 of their 29 league matches this season and have been particularly poor on the road. Their total of 15 away matches have produced three points by way of three draws while they have scored only six goals and have conceded an alarming 45. Lately, they have lost 5-0 and 7-0 against Falkirk and Airdrie away from home.
Since those two heavy road defeats, they have sacked manager Davie Robertson and have appointed interim co-managers, but their reign started with a 2-0 home loss against Alloa last time out. Making the long trip to Dumfries on Saturday represents arguably an even harder challenge against a team on a roll.
The head-to-head record, meanwhile, points towards a one-sided home win. These sides have already met three times this season, with Queen of the South winning by at least two goals on each occasion by an aggregate scoreline of 9-2. Expect the dominance of the Doonhamers, who won 2-0 at home earlier this season, to continue in this clash.
Dumbarton v Stenhousemuir
Dumbarton’s title challenge in League Two is faltering, with their latest setback a disappointing 1-0 home defeat against Forfar in midweek. They must get back on track on Saturday else face the prospect of first place sliding away from them decisively, yet they will face a major challenge against a Stenhousemuir team pushing to reach the playoffs.
The Sons might have deserved a better fate on Wednesday against the Loons, but it represented a third home loss in succession. Previously, they had been defeated 2-1 by Elgin in January and surprisingly smashed 5-1 by Albion Rovers. They have now won only two of their last seven, albeit one of those was a narrow 1-0 home win over Stenhousemuir.
The home side also have an abject injury situation to cope with. Such is their position, they were able to name only three outfielders on their bench in midweek and manager Stevie Farrell warned after the match that it could be two to three weeks before the situation eases. It is a problematic situation, particularly after two high intensity matches and the fact that their pitch is bound to be heavy and energy sapping.
Stenhousemuir, meanwhile, have lost only two of their last 11 league matches while their only loss in their last five away from home was that narrow defeat in Dumbarton little over a month ago. They are capable of avenging that defeat in the circumstances.
Djurgården v Brommapojkarna
One of the title favourites Djurgården kick-off their league campaign with a Stockholm derby against a newly promoted Brommapojkarna, with the home side hotly tipped to rival Malmö and Häcken at the top of Allsvenskan. BP enjoyed a fruitful 2022, getting promoted for the second consecutive season, winning Superettan in style with a young and exciting team. Unfortunately for them, three of the breakout stars – the brothers Theo and Lucal Bergvall and Wilmer Odefalk – were snapped up by their first round opponents in the off-season. None of them will be starters right away for Djurgården but promise much for the future.
The home team have looked somewhat shaky in pre-season as well as the Swedish cup, crashing out with a heavy 3-0 battering by last season’s title winners Häcken. The UECL playoff games against Lech Poznan were a disappointment too, losing 5-0 on aggregate. There are some questions surrounding the defence after the departure of the assured Hjalmar Ekdal, soon a Premier League player with Burnley. Moros Gracia has come in from Mjällby but has struggled initially, while Marcus Danielson has some way to go to rediscover his form of old. Nonetheless, there is plenty of firepower in this team, and the addition of Oliver Berg, a versatile and potent attacking threat, is encouraging. There is more depth too, with Jacob Bergström rivalling Edvardsen for the striker position.
Both teams have been involved in high-scoring affairs in pre-season and that should continue here. Djurgården will want to turn the page after the cup letdown and should show their attacking prowess, while BP want to return to Allsvenskan in the best way possible. Olof Mellberg’s side may be somewhat pragmatic, but once Djurgården turn the heat up they will have to go for it too.
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