Real Mallorca v Elche
Another team who have developed a reputation for their impressive home for is Real Mallorca. It’s really quite easy to analyse their recent form, as they have won each of the past five LaLiga games played on the island and lost each of their past five away games.
This weekend they’ll have what is the easiest home game of the season, at least on paper, as bottom-placed Elche make the trip across the Mediterranean. It goes without saying that Elche’s away form is bad, as their performance all season has been terrible and they have just nine total points from 23 rounds, with six points collected at home and three points taken on the road from three draws.
Giving Real Mallorca even more of an advantage this weekend is the fact that coach Javier Aguirre has every member of his squad available, as the islanders have no suspensions or injuries. Elche, on the other hand, have as many as five names on their injury report and a further three players out with suspension. This is absolutely the type of game that Real Mallorca should be winning.
Portimonense v Sporting
After kicking off 2023 with a 1-0 defeat to Marítimo and a 2-2 draw to Benfica, Sporting have lost just two matches – a 2-0 defeat to Porto in the Taça da Liga Final and a 2-1 defeat to Porto in the league – whilst their only draw came on February 16 with Sebástian Coates’ last-gasp equalizer securing a 1-1 draw against FC Midtjylland. They defeated Chaves 3-2 in the following match before thrashing FCM 4-0 in Denmark and beating Estoril Praia 2-0 via goals from Héctor Bellerín and Francisco Trincão, and they will be looking to open March with an impressive result against Portimonense before hosting Arsenal in the first leg of their Round of 16 tie on Thursday.
Rúben Amorim’s side are five points behind third-placed Braga (securing entrance to the Champions League qualifiers), seven behind Porto (automatic Champions League qualification) and 15 behind league leaders Benfica, but they will be looking to salvage a disappointing first half of the campaign by making a push for top three and delivering a valiant display against the Premier League leaders.
They will be traveling to the Algarve on Saturday and facing off against a Portimonense side that has scored just 18 goals in 22 matches – only the bottom three sides have scored fewer. Paulo Sérgio’s side returned from the World Cup break with a 2-1 defeat to Casa Pia, a 1-0 defeat to Benfica, a 0-0 draw to Santa Clara, a 4-0 defeat to Arouca and a 4-2 defeat to Boavista before opening February with a 1-0 win against 10-man Paços de Ferreira via a 98th-minute goal from Maurício. A 1-0 defeat against Vitória and a 2-1 win against Marítimo followed, with Portimonense losing 1-0 to Famalicão at the weekend via a late winner from Leandro Sanca.
Portimonense sit 12th in the table and are 10 points clear of the relegation play-off spot, but they have nevertheless been unable to make an impact against any of Portugal’s giants, losing each of their matches to Benfica, Porto, Sporting and Braga this season. Sporting closed out 2021 with a 3-2 win against Portimonense via a hat-trick from Paulinho, before beating them 3-2 on the penultimate day of the season, just minutes after being informed that Porto had been crowned champions.
September would see them win 4-0 via a Trincão brace and goals from Pedro Gonçalves and Nuno Santos – apart from a 4-2 defeat in Portimão on October 7, 2018, Sporting have won each of their last 11 fixtures against Portimonense with each of those games featuring more than 1.5 goals. I’m expecting that pattern to continue on Saturday.
Equidad v Alianza Petrolera
A Colombian coach once said that playing against Equidad was like a trip to see the dentist: nobody looks forward to it, but it has to be done. Already this season Equidad have clocked up the most fouls (16.71 a game) – on average more than four a game more than any other teams in the division. In 2022, it was a similar story with Equidad again topping the charts. It might be stretching it slightly, but they are a bit reminiscent of Dave Basset’s Wimbledon of the 1980s: brash, in your face and a nightmare to play against. Yet for all their fouling, Equidad know how to tread the line carefully and don’t pick up many red cards – not a single one so far this season. Manager Alexis Garcia, now in his second spell as Equidad manager and with several hundred games under his belt as their manager, is synonymous with the club. He has implemented a clear style in Equidad’s play that infuriates opponents and their fans.
Clearly, Garcia’s game plan is much more about tactical fouling, but it does feed into his other hallmark: game management. His teams rarely go for the kill, opting instead to sit on 1-0 leads and suffocate play. Nor do they usually lose by big margins. In every one of their five games this season, there hasn’t been more than a one-goal margin – they win by one, lose by one, or draw. And that will surely continue this weekend against Alianza Petrolera. Against DIM in their last game, opponents Petrolera lost 1-0 despite bossing the xG, 2.08 vs 0.68. It’s hardly surprising considering their main striker, Ferlys Garcia, was an inexperienced 21-year-old striker plucked from the second division. They’re not a bad side, but just lack a bit of punch, which is something that can be labelled at Equidad whose new number 9, Jorge Ramos, has also been a major disappointment this season. This game won’t be pretty and, at altitude, Equidad will start as favourites. But the smart money has to point to unders.
Luzern v FC Basel
Just over a month since their last meeting, Luzern and Basel will reconvene for another encounter, this time at the Swissporarena. That match in late January was a thrilling encounter that encapsulated every facet of FCB during Alex Frei’s reign as they ultimately lost out 3-2. Much has changed since then with Frei out and Vogel in but that improved form coupled with Luzern going steady themselves has this one set up to be just as entertaining.
Luzern are in terrific form at the moment, losing just two of their last eleven games in the league. One of those losses was not unexpected away to Young Boys but the 2-0 loss suffered at home to Basel just prior would’ve been a disappointing result to take. Still, that upswing in form from the beginning of the season that has also included that late 3-2 win in Basel has propelled Luzern into fourth and on course for a return to European football.
Of course, this is the Super League, and the standings are very tight indeed. FCL could finish as high as second in the UCL spots but also have Basel breathing down their neck just three points behind. It is a fine line between the prestige of Europe and finishing down in mid-table or lower.
Basel have had a busy few weeks but there is no denying that Heiko Vogel has improved what was an ailing squad since he took over. A first leg defeat to Trabzonspor is the only real blot on his copybook and that was quickly forgotten about with the second leg reverse to qualify for the UEFA Europa Conference League Last 16.
A draw with Lugano last time was a mixed bag as a poor first half display was followed up with an excellent mentality to come from two behind to draw and they went on to deliver their best performance of the season on Wednesday night to eliminate St. Gallen from the Swiss Cup in extra-time.
I expect goals here. Six of the last seven games at the swissporarena between the two have ended with Over 2.5 Goals and five of the last seven with both teams scoring. With this latest meeting coming off the back of the 3-2 game in January and FCB finally scoring with regularity but also conceding often too, I think we’ll get goals at both ends – something we’ve also seen in 7/11 Luzern home games.
Fiorentina v Milan
The sudden upturn in form from AC Milan in recent weeks has been quite remarkable considering the dire straits that they were in so recently.
The Rossoneri had won one out of their eight games in all competitions in 2023 and that included two defeats against Inter, a 4-0 loss at Lazio and a 5-2 loss at home to Sassuolo. They have now won their last four games and have not conceded a single goal in any of them.
The key is Stefano Pioli’s switch to a back three. He did it against Inter but they still lost 1-0, but then stuck with it for the games against Torino, Tottenham, Monza, and Atalanta. They’ve only scored five goals in those four games, so you can see why under 2.5 goals could make sense here.
Another factor to back that is Rafael Leao being suspended. Whilst his recent form has left a lot to be desired, that is Milan’s major goal threat out of the equation.
Fiorentina have got goals in the team but against this new-look Milan back three of Fikayo Tomori, Malick Thiaw and Pierre Kalulu, they are going to have a tough time getting any joy. Milan have a new way of playing and it is not to appeal to the masses.
Standard Liege v Westerlo
Westerlo are doing extremely well in the Pro League. The newly-promoted side are in the play-off positions and have a chance to compete in the championship play-off, following in the footsteps of Union to challenge for a top-flight title in their first season back.
This is a team unafraid to take risks, and which likes to attack rapidly with pace all over the pitch. They head to Liege with a great deal of confidence. Not only did they win the reverse fixture 4-2, they also beat second-place Union 4-2 last weekend.
Their left-flank was particularly impressive last time out with de Cuyper seeming more of a left-winger than the left-back he is supposed to be. They may have only had 37% possession but they were devastatingly clinical in front of their opponents goal, and created a number of excellent chances. They have now scored in 21 straight games and there is no reason to suspect that run will come to an end any time soon.
Standard also beat Union 4-2 in their last home game, and a 2-2 draw on the road at Anderlecht is indicative of their season so far. Up front the strikers have built a fantastic partnership, and get better and better as the season progresses, but a lack of pace at the back costs them time and time again.
Standard are of course always helped by the fanatical support they receive at home, and can beat any team on their day with the stadium behind them. A win would help them in their quest to return to European football. The hosts will take the initiative, but Westerlo will always generate chances, and Standard will struggle with any fast breaks, which is what Westerlo specialise in.
Picking a winner is tough, but goals look a certainty, and with neither defence being stellar, the value in both teams scoring is too good to pass up.
FC Twente v Heerenveen
Twente have fallen away from the title race after only one win in seven. They now risk falling into sixth or seventh with should the poor results continue. In the end, I believe they will finish a comfortable fifth, but they have to win games like this to do so.
The hosts have won nine and drawn two of their games in Enschede this season. Players like Vaclav Cerny and Virgil Misidjan relish getting home supporters on their feet, creating chances from wide positions. They will pin back visiting full-backs Milan van Ewijk and Mats Kohlert, who usually love attacking which will neutralise much of the away side’s gameplan.
Visiting Heerenveen are suffering a drop in form. Kees van Wonderen’s men have picked up only one win in six, and it looks like it’s time for van Wonderen to start mixing things up in the way his side create chances, so they can attempt to finish sides off before they inevitably start creating their own opportunities.
Last weekend, Heerenveen dominated RKC for the first half, but only scored once, before slumping to a 1-4 defeat at home. They also lost 0-1 to Feyenoord on Wednesday to end their adventure in the Dutch Cup. Fans aren’t happy, and it doesn’t get any easier this Saturday!
After back-to-back away defeats, Twente will be happy to be playing back at De Grolsch Veste. Twente will go back to basics to keep it tight and pile on the pressure on van Wonderen.
PSG v Nantes
Paris Saint-Germain exploded out of their poor period of form last weekend as they defeated Marseille 3-0 away from home, and they should continue along positive lines when they play host to Nantes in Ligue 1 on Saturday.
It’s been an uncomfortable time in Paris. With off-field drama coinciding with a run of three successive defeats then a near miss a fortnight ago when they came from 3-2 down to beat Lille 4-3, the pressure has been on Christophe Galtier’s side. With Bayern Munich lying in wait on Wednesday, it remains so.
Given PSG have that big Champions League match looming, look for them to kill off Nantes as rapidly as possible in this game. Unsurprisingly, Galtier’s men have the best first-half record in Ligue 1. They have won 16 of 25 matches. Nantes, meanwhile, rank 17th in this particular statistic.
Also counting against Nantes is the fact that they have had a heavy schedule of matches. This will be their 11th match in 35 days. Their squad may have been increased in January, but they are not a team used to coping with this volume of fixtures, making it difficult to get the balance of squad rotation right.
The potential absence of keystone defender Nicolas Pallois due to injury is another major issue for Nantes, and even if the experienced centre-back is fit, his lack of game time in recent weeks means that he will surely not be fit. This is meat and drink for PSG’s forwards.
After 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Nantes already this season, look for PSG to win this game comfortably – and for them to do so early, and anyone looking to increase their odds could do a lot worse than taking PSG to win & over 2.5 goals.
Olimpia v Cerro Porteno
The biggest game of the Paraguayan calendar is upon us for the first time in 2023 and it marks the first real test for Cerro Porteño’s new coach Facundo Sava who has enjoyed 3 wins and a draw in his opening four matches. For Julio César Cáceres it is the chance to win his fourth straight clásico, a rare feat in almost 110 years of this traditional fixture.
Olimpia have a formidable record at home, going unbeaten in the Manuel Ferreira since a 2-1 reverse to Nacional in April 2022. However, the side have struggled to keep clean sheets there recently; conceding in six of their last seven games and Cáceres continues to tinker with his defence to try and close up the gaps.
Both Barreto and Zárate didn’t impress against Guaireña and there are also doubts at full back with Salazar coming in for Otálvaro but also not putting in a great showing. He has fiddled with the forward line too, benching Bruera after failing to get a tune out of last season’s topscorer. Brian Montenegro is in line to start his third straight clásico.
Cerro Porteño have continued in the similar vein of form under Facundo Sava that they had with Chiqui Arce before him. They remain undefeated in 13 games but are not exciting nor seem to have clicked into top gear. They have scored in all seven matches so far this season but have only managed two goals on one of those occasions (2-0 vs Guaireña).
Robert Morales has been the stand out performer in front of goal, he headed in his 3rd of the season in six appearances since returning from injury. At the back the team has generally looked solid except for goalkeeper Miguel Martinez’s mistake in the draw to Resistencia – he will be replaced by Jean Fernandes who returns from injury. Eduardo Brock and Gabriel Báez have both looked good as the left-sided central defender and the latter might move to left back for this clash.
During the Chiqui Arce years this game often went Cerro’s way until Julio César Cáceres came to town and began to outthink his former teammate in the big games. It will be a totally new tactical battle at the weekend with Sava now in charge, the former Fulham striker did take part in two clásicos in Argentina with Racing – both games ended in draws against Independiente.
It could be a similarly tight match here but with both sides likely to find the net. Olimpia have scored eight and conceded six in their five matches this year. Similarly Cerro have just two cleansheets in five league matches and haven’t failed to score since a 0-0 draw with Libertad way back in October.
Royal Pari v Real Santa Cruz
Both teams have experienced a positive start to the season with two wins, a draw and a defeat in Real’s case and three wins and two defeats in Royal Pari’s case. Real have a much lower goal average though, having scored three and conceded two in five games for an average of one while Pari have scored eight and conceded seven for an average of three.
These teams have only faced each other five times in the first division with Real leading the series 3-2, with there being no draws.
Pari are more financially stable, although Real have a more developed infrastructure and fan base, having been around for decades, though they only returned to the first division a couple of years ago after an absence of nearly twenty years, whilst Pari have only made a name for themselves recently.
Both team’s managers Miguel Abrigo and Luis Camacho have quite clear first team line ups, Real come from a draw and a win against Guabira while Pari come from a 2-0 win in Tarija against Tomayapo and before that they faced a 3-0 home defeat to Palmaflor.
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