Portland Timbers v Sporting Kansas City
The final match to kick off in week one of the new season comes from Providence Park where the Portland Timbers will look to begin their return to the playoffs when they host Sporting Kansas City in an all-Western Conference clash.
The Timbers went from MLS Cup final to missing out on the postseason completely last term and will be looking to get back among the elite in MLS this term. They sent out their intentions to do exactly that when they made arguably the best close season signing in the talented playmaker Evander.
Very rarely does a player in his prime come from Europe to MLS but Evander has done that and the man who led the Europa League for assists in the first part of the campaign is sure to be a huge player for the Timbers, one which could very well turn them from contenders to challengers for the title.
Sporting Kansas City didn’t sign anyone quite as appealing over the winter but they did their best work in the summer window last year and actually finished the season very well once Willy Agada and Erik Thommy had arrived.
They start the new season with star DPs Alan Pulido and Gadi Kinda fit and from their point of view hopefully ready to fire and a bold start to the campaign should be expected here.
I’m not sure Sporting KC have the tools to go to Portland and win but I do think they will play their part in an entertaining contest. There are goals all over this Timbers side but the loss of Bill Tuiloma has left them light defensively so over 2.5 goals looks a natural bet here.
Cremonese v Roma
Cremonese host a buzzing Roma side on Tuesday night on a run so poor that it’s hard to even believe. Their recent draw at Torino meant that they are now on the longest-ever winless run in Serie A – not claiming a victory in 30 matches. Twenty-three games into this season, they’re rock bottom of the table.
Although the Grigiorossi somehow eliminated both Roma and Napoli to reach the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia, Roma have won each of their last four Serie A games against them, and haven’t even conceded a goal in three of those. The 2-1 win for Cremonese in the Coppa Italia was very much a freak result.
With just 17 goals scored this season, the Cremona side have the second-worst attack in the Italian top flight, with only Sampdoria (11) scoring fewer than them. As well, Jose Mourinho’s Roma love a 1-0 win. Mourinho’s men have won 11 Serie A matches 1-0, including the reverse fixture against Cremonese this term, and only Barcelona and Real Sociedad (each 12) have won more games by that scoreline this season in Europe’s top-five leagues.
The last Roma game to see over 2.5 goals in Serie A was their 2-1 loss to Napoli on January 29, and before that it was their 2-2 comeback draw against Milan on January 8. Generally, at least one side doesn’t score when Roma play.
Juventus v Torino
The Derby della Mole is one of Italian football’s most one-sided derbies in recent years, despite it not always having been that way. Juventus will want to continue to flex their muscle against their cross-city rivals Torino as they play hosts on Tuesday night.
Juve have lost just one of their last 33 games against Torino in Serie A, and that came all the way back in April 2015 when Matteo Darmian and Fabio Quagliarella scored to complete a comeback for Toro after Andrea Pirlo had opened the scoring. Since, Juventus have gone unbeaten in their last 17 of these fixtures – they’ve won 13 of those and the points have been shared on four occasions.
The earlier meeting this season was a close contest and it took a late Dusan Vlahovic strike to settle it. If last season is anything to go by, though, a draw shouldn’t be ruled out. Juve won 1-0 in the first Derby last term only to draw 1-1 at home, and the two drew 2-2 in the season’s second Derby in 2020/21.
Now, though, Juventus are more determined than they’ve been for a long time following their 15-point deduction in Serie A, and they’ve hit a decent run of form domestically. Since their shock loss to Monza in January, Juve have beaten Lazio 1-0 in the Coppa Italia, Salernitana 3-0, Fiorentina 1-0, Spezia 2-0, and Nantes 4-1 on aggregate in the Europa League.
Although Torino will likely be tricky opponents and could even leapfrog Juventus with a win at the Allianz Stadium, it’s hard not to side with recent history in this fixture and expect Juventus to get the job done.
Preston North End v Coventry City
The Preston North End faithful were ready to give their biggest vocal protest yet about the state of their club and the managerial performance of Ryan Lowe when they were 1-0 down to Wigan on Saturday.
As it was, a turnaround with the help of a controversial penalty and then Tom Cannon’s first professional league goal saved the boos and potentially saved Lowe’s job. Personally, I am not an advocate for Lowe to go, but the fact that he is certain to be in the dugout for Tuesday night’s match means that it does potentially help work out what the tactical set-up will be and how the match might go.
There was nothing in the display on Saturday, other than the goals themselves, that suggested there had been some big change in the performance levels of Preston. The Lilywhites’ home form has been a concern all season, they are the joint-lowest scorers at home in the league with just 12, which has contributed to them being 23rd in the home league table with only 4 wins from 17 matches.
Looking at more recent form the xG performances haven’t been good at Deepdale. They have lost seven of of the last ten xG battles at home, including the last five consecutive, until Wigan on Saturday, but that relied on a penalty to boost the numbers. Relying on young loanees out of PL2 to create your attack is not ideal by any means and Preston have an abundance of them. Their most reliable attacking force this season has been 34-year-old Ched Evans, with Troy Parrott, Tom Cannon, and Liam Delap forming an attack which is short on goals.
Coventry haven’t done much to light up the division this season, but at least have quite a high floor when it comes to performances. Looking at their recent away form, none of their last ten matches has seen a difference of greater than 1xG either in their favour or their opponents’ favour, i.e. every match has been competitive. The Sky Blues avoided defeat in six of those ten, albeit there was a run of four consecutive defeats ended by a 2-0 victory at Rotherham a week ago.
At worst I would expect Coventry to go to Deepdale and keep this tight. In Viktor Gyokeres they carry a threat of immense proportions who is in good scoring and assisting form so there is always the chance of a Coventry goal with the big Swede around. To be able to take the Draw No Bet price at the same price as Preston, this doesn’t seem to be right with me and the form that I am reading so I am happy to recommend a bet on Coventry Draw No Bet here.
Peterborough United v Charlton Athletic
Peterborough United closed the gap to the play-offs to seven points at the weekend with a statement 5-2 win over high-flying Plymouth Argyle, and could make it three wins on the bounce when Charlton Athletic arrive at London Road.
Key man Jonson Clarke-Harris netted a brace against the Pilgrims and I would not be persuading anyone away from backing him to score against the leaky Addicks, who have only kept a clean sheet in six of 32 this term (19%).
Dean Holden switched to three at the back in hosting Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, the Owls won 1-0 and completely overwhelmed the Addicks in the first half, going in one goal to the good after winning the shot count 9-0 in the first period.
Chuks Aneke was stretchered off in the second half after coming on as a substitute, with Todd Kane and Mandela Egbo remaining sidelined.
Miles Leaburn’s return for the Addicks is massive though, and the 19-year-old’s physical presence makes them a great deal more dangerous in the final third.
Holden could revert back to 4-3-3 in what could be another goal-laden game involving the Posh.
Portsmouth v Bolton Wanderers
Bolton Wanderers are in a much better position in terms of squad depth and fitness to handle the quick turnaround and visit Portsmouth on Tuesday evening.
The Trotters have won six of their last seven in League One and take on a Pompey side who are still being shown too much respect by the market, overperforming at the beginning of John Mousinho’s tenure in the dugout.
Joe Rafferty’s return to the side in recent weeks has given Pompey a lift and greater attacking thrust down the right, but the chances are that he is pinned back by Randell Williams or Declan John as attacking left wing backs for the Trotters.
Bolton are not out of the picture for automatic promotion just yet and can freshen up their forward line for the trip to the South Coast, with Dion Charles, Elias Kachunga and Dan N’Lundulu all starting on the bench at the weekend.
Wanderers won the reverse fixture 3-0 in mid January with ease and are in a much stronger position now to demonstrate the gap in quality between the two teams once again.
Derby County v Cheltenham Town
Paul Warne felt his Derby County were “smoked” by Barnsley, a fair reflection on the weekend’s 4-1 defeat at Oakwell. Defensive errors and ruthless finishing led to the Rams downfall in South Yorkshire, maybe not an unexpected outcome against a fellow play-off side but certainly a surprise scoreline. Derby return to Pride Park comfortably this midweek though, a place where they have not lost a league match since the 8th of October, and drawn only three matches since. The high quality of the Rams often shows through best when playing in Derbyshire, and particularly against bottom half sides. With the likes of David McGoldrick, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Conor Hourihane among their big hitters, Derby have won by two or more goals in home games against Charlton Athletic, Morecambe, Accrington Stanley, Forest Green Rovers and Bristol Rovers this season. The consistent backline of Louie Sibley, Eiran Cashin, Craig Forsyth and Korey Smith in turn play their part in helping Derby provide a platform which lets them build on home leads rather than recover them.
Cheltenham Town enter this midweek on the back of consecutive 4-0 defeats in the league, first at home to Barnsley and then away at Portsmouth just three days ago. The gulf in quality between the top and bottom of the league is often shown by Cheltenham’s results against the division’s highest-ranked sides. Wade Elliott’s side often do well to simply compete with their stronger opponents, let alone take a result off them. Cheltenham’s 3-5-2 is much-changed from the previously formidable one which won the League Two title under Michael Duff in 2020-21. Only Charlie Raglan remains, partnered in the back three by young West Bromwich Albion loanee Caleb Taylor and natural right-back Sean Long. Will Ferry and Ryan Jackson are wing-backs not best known for their defensive solidity. A midfield trio of Elliot Bonds, Taylor Perry and Ryan Broom often feels unbalanced and fares much better against bottom-end sides than the best teams in the league.
Derby’s weekend defeat to Barnsley does not jeopardise their season, and they return to league action immediately with a home game that they will expect nothing but a win from. Like the other sides up at the top of League One, the Rams have at times been able to flex their muscles against struggling teams that simply try to compete with them. An uninspiring Cheltenham team, who have only won once in the league in 2023, could be the next team to come away from Pride Park with a hit to their goal difference.
Tranmere Rovers v Crawley Town
Tranmere Rovers are in need of consistency. Eight points off the play-offs, the Super White Army have an overall record nowhere near strong enough to secure a top seven place if maintained for the rest of the season. Having played almost exclusively promotion and play-off battlers since the turn of the year, it is difficult to make sense of Rovers three 1-0 wins over Leyton Orient, Salford City and Stevenage, especially when put alongside defeats to Stockport County, Doncaster Rovers, Bradford City and Mansfield Town. Micky Mellon has pleased fans by changing from his persistent 4-4-2 personnel, mainly due to injuries to the likes of winger Kieron Morris and striker Kane Hemmings. There has certainly been a positive impact in Forest Green loanee Regan Hendry being preferred to Chris Merrie in midfield.
Tranmere need to take confidence in knowing the state their upcoming opponent is in. Crawley Town have been a high-profile example of a disastrous ownership group. WAGMI United’s strong insistence on a data-driven approach has seen the club sell, loan out and release several of the players who have been key to Crawley’s recent seasons at League Two level, with replacements notably lacking in experience and ability. The foundations of a solid mid-table outfit have been ripped apart, Crawley in turn onto their third permanent manager this season after the failed experiment of Kevin Betsy and the very short reign of Matthew Etherington. Scott Lindsey won his first game at the helm of the Red Devils, but has collected just a single point since and most recently succumbed to a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Carlisle United on Saturday.
23rd place Crawley Town are two points from safety, and have four games in hand on Hartlepool United who sit directly above them. The conditions may be very favourable for Scott Lindsey’s side still, but the state of the club means that you simply cannot trust them to make full use of those additional matches. Even up against an inconsistent Tranmere Rovers side, most will expect Crawley to lose at Prenton Park this Tuesday evening. With dismal form that rivals only that of bottom club Rochdale, the National League trap door looms large for the WAGMI United ownership group…
Harrogate Town v Northampton Town
Stuttering Harrogate Town are in for a tough clash against automatic promotion chasing Northampton Town this week.
The Sulphurites are nervously looking over their shoulder towards the relegation zone and are currently 21st in the League Two table, four points above the bottom two. They were thrashed 3-0 away at Swindon Town last night in a big dent to their survival hopes and had just 38% possession at the County Ground. Their boss Simon Weaver said he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance and things just aren’t clicking for his side at the moment as another likely loss beckons on Tuesday. On the selection front, goalkeeper Pete Jameson is out of action for around four weeks with a thumb injury which isn’t ideal as he provides useful competition and back-up to Mark Oxley between the sticks. Harrogate are winless in their last five games and have won just once in their last 11 outings which shows they are having serious problems picking up results. Their form at the EnviroVent Stadium has also been pretty poor and they haven’t picked up a victory on their own patch since their 3-2 win over Grimsby Town on Boxing Day which was five fixtures ago now.
Northampton remain well in the hunt for promotion to League One after missing out on just goal difference at the expense of Bristol Rovers last season. They won 1-0 away at Colchester United over the weekend courtesy of attacker Louis Appere’s first-half goal and they are now only two points behind 3rd place Stevenage. Their manager Jon Brady said he was pleased with the ‘resilience’ his players showed to grind out the three points against the U’s and will be looking for the same again against Harrogate next up. Fulham loan man Kieron Bowie remains out of action due to injury but Appere is proving to be a useful alternative up top and the Cobblers also have Sam Hoskins, who is the joint top scorer in the league on 17 goals. Northampton have been through a purple patch recently but appear to have turned a corner now after their recent victory. They are proving to be a tough side to break down and have lost just once in their last six matches, keeping four clean sheets along the way. They should have too much for Harrogate and they look to build some momentum ahead of the end of season run-in.
Barnet v Oldham Athletic
Barnet got back to winning ways on Saturday at home against Aldershot Town, a 4-1 victory that may reinvigorate the Bees in their push for third spot and the all-important bye into the play-off semi-finals. Their hopes were helped by Oldham Athletic’s 1-0 victory away at Chesterfield, a win that pushes David Unsworth’s Latics ever-closer to survival after a disastrous period. They have won five and drawn three of their last 12 meetings, leaving them six points clear of the bottom four with a game or three in hand on many of those below them.
Barnet have seen both teams score and over 2.5 goals in each of their last six league matches. They have seen both teams score in nine of their last 11 and over 2.5 goals in eight of those matches. Notably, Barnet have had injury issues with their defence. The only previous time they have endured such problems this season was a spell between late August and early October when 49 goals were scored in nine matches. They have seen 27 goals scored in their last six.
As for Oldham, they have seen both teams score and over 2.5 goals in three of their last five. They have scored in 13 of their last 14 matches and kept just three clean sheets during that run. A team have scored at least twice in 13 of their last 17 matches. They also come into this game having conceded 49 shots in their last two matches despite conceding two goals.
Boreham Wood v Dorking Wanderers
One of the division’s least entertaining sides against arguably its most entertaining. I’m backing the former to do things on their terms here.
The Wood have won four of their last ten but are unbeaten during that period. They have conceded more than one goal just twice, against high-flying Woking away from home. They have conceded more than one goal just six times all season and though they have often struggled to score goals, they have found the net in each of their last 12 matches. Luke Garrard’s side also have struggles at home but that is reserved more for the top sides – they have won four of their seven home matches against sides 14th or lower and won five of six matches overall against sides in the bottom five. They have won both of their home matches against the same opposition.
Dorking Wanderers thought they might be on the right track after beating Torquay United 3-2 at home last midweek but a trip to Wrexham put that to bed. The Wanderers have now lost six of their last seven and are in serious danger of being relegated. They have conceded two or more goals in ten of their last 11 matches and have not kept a clean sheet in 12. Furthermore, they lost George Francomb to injury against Torquay and then centre-backs Joe Cook and Ed Harris came off with hamstring problems at the weekend. They have also lost target man Jason Prior to injury too.
FC Halifax Town v Wealdstone
It feels like the betting here is very much in favour of the bigger name, because there is no doubt that Wealdstone are performing at a much better rate than FC Halifax Town, who are very much in the debate surrounding relegation.
The Shaymen lost at home against Maidenhead United at the weekend, making it one win and seven defeats from their last 11 matches. And though they have picked up a couple of impressive draws, they have lost against Altrincham, Torquay United, Scunthorpe United and Maidenhead in that time. They are without a win at home since 6th December and fan frustration has started peaking with fans calling for the manager to go during their weekend loss. They have not scored more than once in their last nine and failed to score in four of those while having conceded in 11 of their last 12.
They face a Wealdstone side who remain just five points off the top seven with a game in hand on three of the sides above them. They come into this game having lost three of their last 16 matches, two of those defeats being against high-flying Barnet and Wrexham. They have scored in 12 of those 16 matches and lost just two of their nine away matches in that time, even picking up points against Chesterfield and Woking. Their away record against sides 14th or lower reads four wins and three draws from eight played and they have lost two of 15 overall against the same opposition.
Yeovil Town v Altrincham
I didn’t think I’d be sat here writing about Yeovil Town being involved in a game where both sides score, but things have changed in recent weeks.
The Glovers come into this in need of a reaction. They are without a win in their last five and have lost each of their last three. Mark Cooper’s recent comments about having no physio and needing to speak to the owners only served to increase the angst of supporters who are frustrated by their financial situation, especially as they dropped into the relegation zone for the first time since Cooper took charge. It doesn’t get easier, hosting an Altrincham side that have won their last three, and against Barnet, Woking and Solihull Moors, no less, showing they are capable of competing with sides in the top half.
Despite their troubles, Yeovil come into this having scored in seven of their last nine matches and five of their last seven home matches. They have conceded in each of their last four (ten goals) and their attempts to improve have seen them move from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 again. Alty, meanwhile, have seen both teams score in each of their last five matches. They have scored in 13 of their last 15 but have failed to keep a clean sheet in 18.
Farnborough v Ebbsfleet Utd
Both teams will go into this with a sense of optimism, although the away side will certainly be the favourites here. However, this does not mean Farnborough will not give it everything they’ve got. Boro fell short to a 1-0 loss at the weekend after a late Alfie Matthews penalty allowed Braintree to come away with all three points. This adds to a string of losses that Farnborough have had at home this season, winning only 6 from 14 at Cherrywood Road. Whilst this isn’t the most shocking of records, it’s certainly not one you want to see when facing the best team in the league. I expect them to be relying on a burst of pace from Hisham Kasimu through counter attacks if they want to take anything from this game – although the impeccable Fleet defence may just have too much for them here.
In regards to the away side, they’re unbeaten in 11 with 10 wins and 1 draw. Their lead at the top of the table is growing more and more each week although I doubt they’ll put the brakes on anytime soon. Dominic Poleon has been arguably the best player in the league season, racking up 26 goals in 33 games and will certainly pose a huge threat to the Boro defence on Tuesday evening. On top of this, Fleet have the best away record in the league, winning 13, drawing 3 and losing 2. Both of those losses came in a mid-season drop in form where they lost 4 games in a row (they’ve only lost 5 all season.) I expect them to have enough to come away with something here. Although, there must be caution in regards to how Boro have played well in spells this season. A draw is not something that can be completely written off.
Cerro Porteno v Curico Unidio
The Paraguayan club dominated the first leg in Chile last week but only managed a 1-0 victory. After 18 shots and seven corners, they will have been disappointed not to have put the tie to bed. With only one goal still in it, Cerro Porteno will want to wrap up the game early, and in front of their own fans, I fully expect them to qualify to the final round.
Curico Unido rarely troubled Martinez Irala throughout the match. In fact, they only managed one shot on target, which didn’t come until the second half.
Cerro Porteno will be hoping to have a better finishing edge in the second leg, and an early goal will all but kill the tie. It’s worth noting they rested seven of the starting XI at the weekend, with one eye clearly on this fixture.
The club has only lost one of their last 20 matches, while their opponents have now lost four of their last five, conceding 10 in the process.
Back Cerro Porteno to win and breeze through into the next round.
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