KTP v AC Oulu
KTP have become the yo-yo side of Finnish football, with promotions and relegations following each other. They’re back again and desperate to remain. A partnership with Italian club Venezia has yielded three loan transfers (Sandberg, de Vries and Pecile) while plenty of other new faces have had to sit through the KTP media team’s attempts at viral signing videos, with one leaving already. But they did beat a strong Inter side in February and did triumph from a competitive second tier and will cause problems for their rivals. Hard to see them finishing above the bottom two with their limited experience but they do have an element of the unknown which will be fun to watch.
AC Oulu had a great 2022 in context – escaping relegation in 2021 to be entertaining and dangerous with a young coach with a bright future. What Ricardo Duarte has done in 18 months is a huge achievement, almost as much as retaining Otto Liimatta and Noah Pallas. They lost the Liigacup final to HJK last weekend but have won a lot of admirers and topped a strong group. New signing Ashley Coffey has a strong scoring pedigree in Sweden and will provide support to Rasmus Karjalainen once he’s fit again after injury. A top-half finish was only thwarted by an administrative error (ineligible player) and 2023 might be their time.
Volos v AEK Athens
AEK Athens got back to winning ways with a statement 1-0 victory away at PAOK on Sunday. Matias Almeyda’s side received a huge boost in confidence after dropping points against fellow title contenders Panathinaikos and Olympiacos at home and they are back on top of the table, level on points with the former.
Despite not impressing, AEK produced one of their most solid displays away from home this season, as they were in control of the game throughout the 90 minutes. After securing all three points, they will travel to Volos in their bid to build on their momentum. The last time they played away at Volos, AEK secured a comfortable 4-0 win and we should expect something similar from this game too.
AEK have won five of their last six games on the road, securing clean sheets in all their last three away duels. As for Volos, they may have snatched a huge point away at leaders Panathinaikos, but they were lucky not to concede and saw goalkeeper Boris Kleyman stop Andraz Sporar from the spot. In fact, Volos are solid on the road, where they have picked up 23 points from 14 games, but they struggle on home soil, where they have collected 17 points from 14 games and have conceded as many as 28 goals – more than any team in the league.
What’s more, they have been thrashed at home by three of the Big-4 teams (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens), having conceded 18 goals and scored just one. Volos have failed to find the back of the net in five of their six home games against the top-4 and haven’t scored a single goal in any of their last three matches. They will struggle to break down a solid AEK backline, as the visitors have demonstrated that they know how to grab professional road wins lately.
HJK v Honka
The champions begin another defence against a side that threatened to take gold at times last year but fell away – and have lost their two best assets. But HJK have evolved too.
Several first-teamers have moved on and the replacements have yet to convince – new keepers Ost and Iliev are a level below Conor Hazard, the money received for Hoskonen, Vaananen and Terho can’t pass a football and Roope Riski still isn’t fit. But the supporting players did just that in winning the title last year and it might be time for the next generation. Maksim Stjopin sealed the Liigacup trophy on Saturday and Kai Meriluoto got a Finland debut in January. Europa League money hasn’t attracted the best talent yet and a rocky relationship between coach and old heads has not been fully healed.
Honka lost flying winger Rui Modesto to Sweden soon after the season ended while their top scorer Agon Sadiku left for Rosenborg last week for a big fee but no replacement. Three goals in five Liigacup ties (two against Lahti) show the main weakness and a lot of pressure on Jonathan Muzinga and Mozambique striker Clesia Bauque, who has never scored more than five in a senior season. Vesa Vasara’s side were a revelation and provided a genuine three-horse race but replacing two genuine dangers is a big ask. The solid defence remains but it seems unlikely that this team is ready to go to HJK and win. Yet…
Aris v Panathinaikos
Aris took everyone by surprise on Sunday, when they came back from two goals behind to deal a killer blow to title contenders Olympiacos on the road. The Thessaloniki-based team secured an important 2-2 draw which served as a boost in morale after their 2-1 comeback loss in the derby against PAOK. They now sit in fifth, one point ahead of Volos in the Greek Super League table.
This means that they have the upper hand in terms of European qualification for next year and they will take to the Kleanthis Vikelidis pitch to build on their second-half performance in Piraeus and try to get something from the game against leaders Panathinaikos. Aris have lost four of their last five games against PAO. They have no win in the last five matches between the two teams and it is doubtful whether they will manage to put an end to their negative streak.
Aris may have the third-best home attack in the league with 27 goals scored in 14 games, but Panathinaikos do boast the finest defence in Greece, with just 12 goals conceded in 28 games. Moreover, no team have conceded fewer goals than Panathinaikos (6) on the road thus far.
Panathinaikos have kept three consecutive clean sheets on the road and haven’t conceded in any of their last six games. Aris may find a way to unlock their defence, but we shouldn’t expect an open game on Wednesday. The visitors struggle to capitalise on their clear chances this season and they haven’t scored a single goal in their last two games. As many as 11 of their last 13 games against Aris ended with fewer than 2.5 goals scored and this is what we should expect from this game too.
The league leaders will push for the win, but they are aware it’s their defence that has brought them all the way here.
Olympiacos v PAOK
Olympiacos paid for individual mistakes in defence and Michel’s tactical errors in the second half to draw 2-2 with Aris on Sunday despite taking a two-goal lead on home soil. This was enough to plunge Olympiacos into a crisis that saw Michel resign, sporting director Jose Anigo take charge of the team and the club being unsure whether they will try to appoint a new coach this week or plan for next season.
It has to be noted that, despite all the chaos surrounding the team, Olympiacos are still alive in the title race, sitting just three points behind AEK and Panathinaikos with eight games to go.
Wednesday’s game against PAOK is a must-win duel for the reigning champions, who will take to the Georgios Karaiskakis pitch without their most in-form winger Sergi Canos and most solid centre-back Ousseynou Ba. However, they may welcome back key playmaker James Rodrigues, who missed the last game through injury. No team have scored more home goals than Olympiacos (33) this season, but their main issue is that they have been sloppy in defence since the campaign kicked off back in July.
None of the three coaches who have been in charge since then have managed to find solutions to Olympiacos’ defensive frailties and had it not been for a solid Alexandros Paschalakis between the posts, the team would have not competed for the title this year.
Meanwhile, this game is of major importance for PAOK too. After losing at home to AEK, PAOK are aware that anything but a win would put an end to their title hopes, as they currently sit fourth, six points behind AEK and Panathinaikos. PAOK have scored in all their last four games away at Olympiacos. Razvan Lucescu’s side defeated their upcoming rivals on the road back in October and they want that game to serve as a reminder of what they are capable of.
This might be the most exciting game of the midweek round and one where it’s tough to predict which, if any, team will come out victorious from. Yet, both teams need all three points and won’t stop pushing forward in their bid to still be considered title contenders after the final whistle. At least two goals have been scored in six of the last seven games between the two teams in Piraeus and this is what we should expect to happen again on Wednesday.
Nantes v Lyon
Wednesday could be the night that Nantes finally relinquish their hold on the Coupe de France, with a difficult-looking home fixture coming against Lyon amid a backdrop of problems in the league.
Nantes have won only one of their last nine matches and turned in a particularly disappointing performance at the weekend as they were defeated 3-0 at home by Reims. What was expected to be a tight game proved one-sided, and even if the final score flattered the visiting side, it is a result that means that Les Canaris cannot consider themselves safe from relegation yet.
Lyon, on the other hand, will have their full focus on this match, with their prospects of European qualification via Ligue 1 over. OL come into this game after a very significant 1-0 win over PSG away from home at the weekend. Not only did they beat the league leaders, they deserved to.
Furthermore, that victory underlines how good they have been away from home in recent times. Lyon have picked up five wins from their last seven away matches.
There are perhaps only two aspects of this match preventing this from being considered a five-star price for OL. The first of these is that the teams drew 1-1 in the league just a couple of weeks ago, although the head-to-head is dominated by Lyon, who have won five of the last seven between the clubs. The second is that OL have a propensity to throw in the odd shock defeat.
With their tails up after a good run of form, though, Lyon should get the win here.
Aucas v Flamengo
Last year’s winners head to Ecuador as they begin the defence of their title, and its debutants Aucas who will host them.
Unfortunately for Aucas, last year’s top goalscorer Francisco Fydriszewski has joined domestic rivals Barcelona SC. Aucas struggled to replace him, and he’ll be a huge loss as they enter the Libertadores the first time.
Aucas have brought in former Swansea winger Jefferson Montero, but at the age of 33, he may not have the legs to compete against some of the best teams in the competition, including Flamengo.
The Brazilians have a new manager in charge, who hasn’t had the best start to life in charge of Flamengo, having lost the Recopa Sudamericana as well as being knocked out of the Club World Cup at the first hurdle.
However, Flamengo have Pedro back from injury, who scored 12 Libertadores goals last campaign, and with the Brazilian’s squad worth x12 more than Aucas, they should have enough to come out on top.
Patronato v Atletico Nacional Medellin
Argentine club Patronato became only the second club in the Libertadores to qualify for the group stage and be relegated in the same season. That’s because Patronato won the Copa Argentina, but finished 17th domestically, seeing them relegated to the Argentine Nacional.
As a result, the vast majority of their squad has moved on, which also includes the manager, and the club are highly likely to struggle in the competition.
Their opponents, Atletico Nacional, are two-time winners, with the second as recent as 2016. The Colombian outfit have brought in former AC Milan and Villarreal defender Cristian Zapata from San Lorenzo, who has come in and slotted straight in at centre-back.
At the other end of the pitch, the Colombians have 35-year-old Jefferson Duque. Don’t let his age fool you, as the veteran has scored 48 goals in 106 appearances for the club and continues to spearhead Atletico Nacional’s attack.
The Colombians should be able to pick off their opponents who are not at the level to compete in this competition and 4/5 looks a cracking price, but for those wanting to play it safer, draw no bet at 4/9 also offers an attractive prospect.
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