Fortaleza v Maldonado
Brazil’s Fortaleza were held to a 0-0 draw in Uruguay but the stats were very much in their favour, but lacked a cutting edge in front of goal to take a lead into the second leg. Their opponents packed out the stands, and attempted to create a hostile environment, but Maldonado didn’t cause Fortaleza’s backline any issues.
Finishing the game with an xG of 0.28 and just the one shot on target in the first half, followed by just one shot in total in the second half, the Uruguayans appear to be sitting ducks heading to Brazil.
Fortaleza are strong at home, and the club are on the up having qualified for their first ever Copa Libertadores last campaign. The Brazilians have won their last seven home matches, conceding just one goal in the process.
Striker Thiago Galhardo has scored five goals in his last six matches and he’ll be hungry to add his tally in front of his home supporters. Back Fortaleza to win to nil and qualify for the next round.
Yverdon Sport v FC Wil
It was a bad weekend for both Yverdon-Sport and FC Wil in the last round of games in the Challenge League as the defeats suffered by both not only hindered their progression towards hopeful promotion out of this division at the end of the season but also allowed pre-season favourites Lausanne to move within a point of YS in second and just three behind current leaders Wil. In mid-February, the gap was four to YS and six to Wil and it looked like those two sides, who finished eighth and ninth last season, would be the teams to take automatic promotion. Now, it doesn’t seem so clear cut and this meeting at the Municipal on Friday may go a long way to deciding which one could still be on course to be a Super League side in a couple of months.
Yverdon had picked up the most away points out of anyone in Switzerland’s second tier but that record, which is still factual despite the result, was not enough to prevent defeat at the Stockhorn against FC Thun last time out. A home draw with ninth-placed Vaduz and that loss to mid-table Thun has put the brakes on all-conquering YS who had won four games in a row prior to that match in Bern. The visit of Wil seems like it will be a true acid test, a victory will not only take them above Wil and into top spot but will also eradicate doubts about their credibility against one of the strongest sides in the league. A draw or defeat to take their winless run to three games would do little to erase those concerns and threaten to derail a season of such promise.
FC Wil won’t be hitting the panic button just yet either, they were unbeaten in eleven before the visit of Lausanne and had won their previous three in a row. That loss to LS was deeply disappointing though, especially on home soil where they had previously been unbeaten and they’ll be keen to bounce back against a Yverdon side that they have won both home and away against in this campaign. First place is still the position that FCW occupy and they have control of their own destiny.
Both of these sides are where they are for a reason this season, they have proven themselves as two of the best in the division and are also in the top two for goals scored. That said, they have both suffered hiccups lately and while FC Wil have only had a slight setback, they have been conceding more goals than usual by shipping seven in three. With the attacking quality both of these two have and the slight vulnerability that recent results have brought on, I think we’ll see goals on Friday. Yverdon average over two goals per game while Wil are slightly under that bracket for goals scored and conceded on their travels. The previous two matches, 4-1 and 3-0, have also featured Over 2.5 Goals.
Telstar v FC Eindhoven
Eindhoven are in shocking form at the moment. They looked like they were the main challengers for PEC Zwolle and Heracles Almelo for the direct promotion spots, but five defeats in a row later they could even struggle to make the play-offs. It started with Charles-Andreas Brym and Evan Rottier getting sent off and being suspended for several matches. However, even upon their return, the goals didn’t come back and the frustration was visible, as Brym was sent off again on the day he returned to the team.
The lack of goals is problematic, no goals in the last five games doesn’t bid well, but the defence hasn’t been too steady either. Against De Graafschap, they conceded a shocking 4-0 defeat, although it has to be said that De Graafschap’s xG of 1.28 shouldn’t have ended in four goals.
Telstar are closing in on the play-off spots, and could even catch up with Eindhoven if they win this game. That is almost entirely down to the strong defence. That defence did get a massive blow last week when Heracles beat goalie Ronald Koeman Jr seven times, for a 7-0 victory. The xG in that game showed something similar as the Eindhoven match, as the seven goals came from a far inferior xG. For this game that means two teams with a decent defence face each other. They both came from conceding many goals, but both those defeats were flattered. This game the sides will probably focus on not letting that happen again, that’s why I’d go on unders for this game.
FC Dordrecht v Almere City
Almere City have taken FC Eindhoven’s role as first rival for the spots for direct promotion. Almere started the season pretty poor, but they massively upped their game and are now a strong third in the league. They still have their ups and downs, but their last three victories came in away games, something they struggled with in the first half of the season. Those wins were against decent teams as well, but that could be different this time, because FC Dordrecht are one of the weakest teams in the league.
They lost their top goalscorer Aliou Balde in the winter transfer market and the replacements haven’t been at the same level yet. Feyenoord loanee Tidjany Touré hasn’t done badly so far with three goals in his first four games, but he couldn’t avoid defeats in the last three matches. His fitness is not great at the start of his loan spell, so he has been coming off the bench as an impact sub. Dordrecht likes to play decent football and against a very direct and pragmatic Almere City side that is probably a dangerous game to play.
It seems that Almere City, hungry for promotion, are simply a bit too strong for Dordrecht that will struggle to create many chances against this defence, so I’d put my money on an away victory here.
Vitesse Arnhem v AZ Alkmaar
Even though AZ won last weekend over Cambuur, I have been watching them feeling concerned lately. It was exciting for the neutral to see them thrive in a title challenge, and they may yet be a great bet for Europa Conference League glory if they can make it past Serie A side Lazio.
The victory over 18th-placed Cambuur was only a second win in six games, and Alkmaar were so sloppy in possession against the relegation-threatened team. In general, when AZ have been scoring lots of goals in games, they look leaky in defence because of injuries to the back four, and when they are looking tighter, key players such as left winger Jesper Karlsson throw in poor performances.
Pascal Jansen’s side are missing leader Dani de Wit, who drives them along in games and a goal threat in and around the box.
Hosts Vitesse were impressive in their performance against Ajax last Sunday, even if they lost 1-2. Million Manhoef is so dangerous on the counter attack. I think Vitesse will bounce back and make the most of AZ not being in their best moment.
Neuchatel Xamax v Aarau
Neuchatel Xamax and Aarau both earned much-needed wins last weekend to bring an end to their respective winless runs in the Challenge League. It is perhaps unfortunate then that one, or both, will be unable to build further momentum as they lock horns at the Stade de la Maladiere on Friday evening. It is clear that Neuchatel’s need for victory was much greater than that of their visitors, but both sides will be happy for any respite in what can only be described as difficult campaigns that haven’t really gone as expected so far.
Neuchatel Xamax not only brought an end to a six-game losing streak, which included three defeats in their last three consecutive games but also posted a first away victory in twelve attempts after coming from behind to win 2-1 away to fellow relegation strugglers Vaduz. The win in the principality certainly lifts some dark clouds for Xamax and moves them just three points behind the Liechtensteiner side as the league campaign reaches its climax. Much work is still to be done, but there is hope around these parts again that they will be able to lift themselves out of the relegation mire over the next few weeks.
Aarau aren’t in such trouble, they are some sixteen points clear of the tenth position that Xamax are currently situated in. Still, the Brugglifeld outfit are down in sixth and nine points adrift of the promotion play-off spot in third. After having promotion and the title in their hands on the final day last season, this has been a real comedown for the club and it looks like they will have to spend another year in the Challenge League. A routine 2-0 victory over Bellinzona was expected last time out and ended a three-game winless streak. A trip to Neuchatel will be a good indicator of if they are turning the corner for one final push as we approach the final months of 22/23.
Xamax might not be putting a lot of wins on the table lately, but they have a fighting spirit that I think will be evident again on Friday. Eleven of their sixteen points have come at their Maladiere home and it is a place that they have lost only once in their last eight. In fact, despite their woes, three of the four defeats on their own patch this season have come against Lausanne and Yverdon-Sport, two sides firmly entrenched in the promotion battle. Xamax have also scored in all but one home match. Aarau can certainly breach Xamax’s defence, everyone else that has come to this stadium this season have managed to do at least that, but as the team with the second-worst away defence in the league, I don’t think they’ll keep Xamax out. I’ll go for Both Teams to Score here.
Shelbourne v Bohemians
Bohemians are the only side in the League of Ireland Premier Division with a 100% record after the opening two matches and will bid to make it 3/3 this season when they make the short trip to Drumcondra to face a winless Shelbourne.
Shels struggled for goals last season and already appear as if they will again this term after failing to register in the opening two league matches. On the flip side, Damien Duff’s men have only conceded one but if they want to improve on last season’s 7th-place finish they’ll have to show a bit more ambition going forward.
In truth, Bohemians haven’t beaten much so far with both Cork City and Dundalk certainly not the forces of old but the fact Bohs had almost 30 attempts on goal in those games is very encouraging. While he’s yet to score yet, former Celtic striker Jonathan Afolabi has had a big impact in those two games, offering his teammates a real foil to feed off. In behind Afolabi, the likes of Connolly, Coote, McDaid, and Flores carry a real goalscoring threat so it could be a tough night for the Shelbourne back four.
One slight area of concern I do have about Bohs is the fact Keith Buckley is currently filling in at right-back. While I’ve no doubt Buckley can do a job there, it may be an area someone like Matty Smith could exploit with a little bit of trickery if they switched him across from the opposite flank while Tyreke Wilson could help pile the pressure on with some attacking runs from deep.
Overall though, the Bohs team looks a lot stronger on paper and I fancy the Gypsies to take something from what will be a hostile Tolka Park.
Cork City v UCD
UCD can feel aggrieved to not still be unbeaten this season after a controversial Sligo Rovers penalty saw the Students lose out in a 5 goal thriller at the UCD Bowl on Friday. Andy Myler’s team led twice only to lose 3-2 with Max Mata scoring a hat-trick for the visitors, one of those goals being from the penalty spot despite the fact the foul made was clearly outside the area, leading to this hilarious piece of UCD commentary on LOITV.
Having drawn 1-1 away to Dundalk with a very disciplined performance on the opening night, this was more of a throwback to UCD sides of old who were always entertaining going forward but generally easy enough to get at too. Cork City will be hoping the Students are equally as open when they make the long trip to Turners Cross on Friday.
City were beaten 2-0 away to Derry City in their most recent game, a result many would have expected, but Cork boss Colin Healy can take encouragement from some of what he saw at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium. Ethon Varian missed a great chance to equalise at 1-0 when the on loan Bohemians striker scuffed his volley from inside the area while later in the game Ruari Keating should have scored as Derry struggled to clear their lines following a Cork City long throw in.
Late in the game, Brian Maher made a great save at his near post to halt a rapid Cork City counter-attack. While Cork aren’t likely to be doing too much counter attacking against UCD given they are the home side, Cork did seem to get a lot of joy with direct balls forward against Derry so perhaps this is a route into the game they can explore on Friday.
As for UCD, they look to have unearthed some proper gems in Brendan Barr, who got an assist against Sligo, and Ciaran Behan, who scored a stunning free-kick against Dundalk, and these are players who will enjoy the ball when they have it. UCD had less than 40% possession against Sligo but managed to score twice while they were equally starved of the ball away to Dundalk and still came away with a result.
Kerry FC v Treaty United
Kerry FC lost little in defeat when they went down 2-0 at home to Cobh Ramblers in their first ever League of Ireland match a fortnight ago. In fact, only for some iffy decisions on the night, Kerry could have run Ramblers close. Their 3-1 defeat away to Bray last time out will be remembered for Leo Gaxha scoring the Kingdom’s first ever goal at this level, however, there were some very worrying signs in that game that Kerry may struggle in their maiden campaign with the manner of their defending from set-pieces a particular area for concern.
Defending set-pieces is likely to be high up on Tommy Barrett’s agenda this week as well with Treaty United losing 1-0 away to Galway on Friday thanks to a Rob Slevin header from a corner. Slevin had enough time to shave and make a cup of tea before heading home in splendid isolation, something that would have infuriated the Treaty boss.
Treaty United are yet to score this season but they’ve got players to hurt this inexperienced Kerry side with striker Enda Curran notching 20 goals last season to become the clubs all-time leading scorer. Players like Success Edogun, Dean George, and Willie Armshaw should all cause this Kerry back four problem given they’ve conceded five times in just two matches.
Shamrock Rovers v Derry City
Not many would have predicted Shamrock Rovers going into their first home game of the season still looking for a first win of the campaign while even fewer could have foreseen the Hoops picking up more red cards than points after two matches.
Rovers boss Stephen Bradley faces a defensive crisis as title rivals Derry City come to town with central defenders Pico Lopes, Dan Cleary and Lee Grace all suspended. Derry City will be licking their lips at a result but Tallaght Stadium is never an easy place to go especially when it’s full as it will be on Friday night. The Champions went unbeaten at home last season with 16 wins and 2 draws at the Tallaght Stadium.
Derry City made a modest start to the new season themselves with a 1-1 draw away to St.Pat’s on game week one but a comprehensive 2-0 win at home to Cork City last time out got Ruaidhri Higgins side up and running for 2023.
Derry have already beaten Rovers in a competitive game of sorts this year with a comfortable 2-0 win in the curtain-raising Presidents Cup and while ordinarily, you’d never read much into what was essentially a glorified friendly, the fact Rovers will be missing three usual starters at the back has to be a big confidence booster for the Candystripes.
If Derry City want to send out a message that they are ready to really take on Rovers in the title race this season, this is a game they can’t afford to lose. Jamie McGonigle scored twice against the Hoops last season and having scored against Cork on Friday he looks to have seen off some strong pre-season challenges for his starting position and could be a player to hurt a makeshift Rovers defence.
Nacional v Guaraní
Nacional crashed out of the Copa Libertadores in spectacular fashion, conceding five goals in the second half to lose 5-1, and have to try and bounce back immediately at home to Guaraní. For Hernán Rodrigo López it is a return to his former club with the aurinegro having won two games in a row, their best form since October.
Pedro Sarabia has a tough decision to make regarding his team selection, he has recently played a lesser team in the league given the Libertadores commitment but they haven’t performed well. However, his so-called best XI have just suffered a thrashing and so he will be tempted to make changes. Both David Fleitas and Gustavo Caballero could come in up front while it is likely the young defender who was an unused sub in midweek, Gastón Benítez, will start like he did against Sportivo Ameliano.
Guaraní followed up their 4-0 thrashing of Resistencia with a 3-1 win over Luqueño despite falling behind after just two minutes. Facundo Barceló was key again as the Uruguayan scored one and assisted two for Néstor Camacho. That partnership is thriving while the experienced backline of Rául Cáceres (31), José Moya (30), Marcos Cáceres (36) and Walter Clar (28) has been used for the last two games. López’s one doubt is whether to start Matías Segovia or stick with another young player Rodrigo Amarilla.
Nacional have a fantastic recent record against Guaraní, in the last 10 meetings the Academia have lost just once, winning four and drawing six. However, in recent form you would expect Guaraní to be able to take something from this game especially as it is at a neutral venue – their only defeat to date was to league leaders Libertad.
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