Seattle Sounders v Colorado Rapids
There is one MLS match in the early hours of Monday morning, and it sees the Seattle Sounders going up against the Colorado Rapids in a clash between two sides who would have been annoyed to miss out on the postseason last term.
Seattle might have something of an advantage going into this match. I say that for a couple of reasons. The main one is because they have played competitive football in pre-season when they went to the World Club Cup and while that tournament didn’t go to plan for them, it was competitive and might well have put them ahead in their season preparation compared to their opponents.
There is a lot more optimism about the Rapids this season. One reason for that is the ‘moneyball’ approach that Robin Fraser is undergoing. Another reason is the return of Cole Bassett, a player who when he was last in Denver had the Rapids topping the Western Conference standings, while Kevin Cabral looks an excellent addition from the LA Galaxy, if someone can remind him how the ball goes between the two white sticks again.
While the Rapids will surely improve on last season, they are another team whose best football might be built into and may not come along immediately.
A Seattle side who are competitively up to speed, who lost nobody of any significance in the close season and who will be strongly with Joao Paulo back fit, look to have a great chance of opening their campaign with a victory in front of their own fans.
Alianza Petrolera v Independiente Medellin
On occasion it seems the markets in Colombia are pulled in one direction purely based on the weight of a team’s history, tradition and the few dusty cups, accumulated many moons ago, that sit in the club’s trophy cabinet.
While it is true that Medellín reached the league final last year and were a whisker away from winning the league, cruelly losing on penalties to Pereira, it’s hard to understand why they should start this match as favourites. If we start with their current form, Medellín are in a rut. Currently on a nine-game winless streak, a run that includes six games played in 2023, Medellín’s play is confused, dreary and full of holes at both ends of the field.
In their 2-2 draw away in Ecuador midweek, the first leg of their Copa Libertadores qualifier with El Nacional, Medellín ran their luck (xG 4.17 vs 2.43). Still, on Wednesday, DIM will hope to get the job done at home and advance to within one tie of the lucrative Copa Libertadores group stages. It’s hard to underestimate the importance of that game.
With an extremely kind draw -Chilean minnows Magallanes their likely opponents – the gold-laden group stage is within touching distance. Thus, it’s obvious that the El Nacional return leg played three days after this league match will take full priority for DIM. In fact, Medellín aren’t even likely to play a full-strength XI against Alianza, with rookie manager David González – as a player he once warmed the bench at Man City, Leeds and Brighton – probably sending a mixed-strength squad to Barrancabermeja.
That they should start as favourites against Alianza, who are a fairly average Liga Aguila team but have nonetheless won both their home games this season, is quite ludicrous. DIM may have better players, but more important factors are at play here. So, stick two fingers up to the market and lump on Alianza at +1 on the handicap. Sometimes in this game it’s finding the value that counts.
Sporting v Estoril
It has been a season to forget for Estoril Praia. After finishing ninth in their return to the top-flight, Estoril sold two key players in André Franco and Arthur Gomes and replaced manager Bruno Pinheiro with Nélson Veríssimo.
They have lost five of their last six matches, the sole exception being a 2-1 win against Boavista that saw them concede the opener, only for them to turn around the deficit after Boavista fell to 10 men before the break. The straw that broke the camel’s back? A 3-1 home defeat to last-placed Paços de Ferreira on Saturday. Estoril currently sit 15th in the table, seven points clear of the relegation playoff spot, and they will be facing off against Sporting with an interim manager.
Sporting will host Estoril Praia on Monday on the back of an impressive week, with the club beating Chaves 3-2 via a brace from Pedro Gonçalves and a goal from Nuno Santos – Hector Hernandez scoring a consolation goal for Chaves in the 96th minute – before thrashing FC Midtyjlland 4-0 in Denmark to book their ticket to the next round of the Europa League, where they will face Arsenal.
Rúben Amorim’s side currently sit fourth in the table, eight points away from Braga, 10 behind Porto and 15 behind Benfica, and they will be looking to end February with a victory against Estoril. Sporting have faced off against Estoril on three occasions since the latter’s promotion, winning 1-0, 3-0 and 2-0.
They have dropped points at home on just two occasions this season – a 2-0 defeat to Chaves on August 27 and a 2-1 defeat to Porto on February 12 – and they will be taking on an Estoril side that has kept just two clean sheets since the start of October – a 1-0 win at Gil Vicente on October 7 and a 2-0 win against Casa Pia on October 16.
They have a fairly toothless attack and no genuine center forward that can sow disarray into Sporting’s backline, and whilst they have cut ties with their manager, there are plenty of individual flaws with this squad that will likely prevent them from securing another comfortable midtable finish. I’m expecting Sporting to come away with a win and at least a two-goal margin against Estoril.
Lazio v Sampdoria
Sampdoria have been in rotten form this season and they’re showing no signs of shaking off their struggles as they travel to Champions League-chasing Lazio this weekend. Sitting 19th in the Serie A table, Samp are engulfed in a crisis off the field as well that doesn’t suggest that they’ll be able to find a way to save themselves from the drop, with their very existence also at risk.
Samp haven’t won since January 4, when they shocked Sassuolo in Reggio Emilia, but Lazio are likely to be another beast altogether.
It should be noted that Lazio themselves aren’t in their best run of form. Their 4-0 hammering of AC Milan last month should have seen them kick on, but they’ve since drawn against Fiorentina and Verona and lost to both Juventus and Atalanta, as well as advancing past CFR Cluj in the Europa League and beating Salernitana.
Ciro Immobile has re-found form of late, and the former Genoa man will want to continue that against Samp. He should start between Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni.
It’s not likely to be a happy trip to the capital for Samp, and Lazio might well be padding up their goals scored tally.
Villareal v Getafe
Quique Setién is under huge pressure at Villarreal as the Yellow Submarine come into this game on the back of four consecutive defeats which put them in their worst run in LaLiga since 1999. Next up, in LaLiga’s Monday night fixture, they’ll play a Getafe team who have ended their own poor form and are now three games unbeaten.
Another Quique, this time Sánchez Flores, has got his Getafe team back into form by grinding out results. No team has scored more than a single goal in any of their last three matches in a run which has included tricky ties against Atlético Madrid and Rayo Vallecano before Monday’s win over fellow relegation-battlers Valencia.
Despite that, they have scored only three goals in that run, while Villarreal have only scored three goals in their last four matches. Both sit among the league’s lowest scorers over the past month, which accurately reflects their expected goals, which sit among the six-lowest in the league over the same period.
Gerard Moreno is a doubt for Villarreal and has not trained fully this week, dealing another blow to their hopes given that he is their top scorer this season on five goals and second-top scorer Álex Baena is also an injury doubt.
That means that this Monday night game may have plenty riding on it for both teams, but we’re likely to see a cagey affair with both teams looking to grind out a result. Getafe, who have registered under 2.5 goals in their last five games, could well extend a run of three consecutive 1-0 results for Villarreal at the Estadio de la Cerámica.
Nacional v Huila
It’s a familiar story in Colombian football that a team earns promotion from the second division only to then tumble back down again a year later. Part of the problem is the format that’s used to calculate relegation places.
But the main reason is that clubs like Huila don’t really see the value of staying up. They may get quite a few big home crowds – which also means paying lots more in policing and logistical costs – and, perhaps, more scouting eyes on a young player they might want to sell. But TV money, such a dominant beast in a Colombian club’s accounting, remains exactly the same. It’s perverse but that’s how Colombian football’s run.
Meanwhile, wages and bonuses soar the moment a team is competing in the top division. Just look at Boyacá Chicó, another yo-yo club, to see how this works out in the real world. They’ve been promoted then relegated then promoted in every year since 2016.
And it’s Huila this year who already look like they are destined for the drop. After five games they are bottom of the league with just one point. Midweek they crashed out of the Cup to tiny second division side Orsomarso. In reality, Huila deserve to be playing the likes of Orsomarso on a regular basis because their squad just isn’t good enough to compete at this level, having stuck with pretty much the same group of players from last season.
Here against Nacional, they stand practically no chance. Nacional are a team in transition, with manager Paulo Autuori opting to integrate a sizeable contingency of exciting but unproven youth players, alongside the experienced heads of Dorlan Pabon and Danovis Banguero. But while the price might be short at 1.33, even Nacional’s B team could see off Huila without much of a problem. Pile on that home win, with a -1 Nacional handicap if you really fancy it (2.25).
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