Roma v Inter Milan
Another game between two sides battling for the same position in the table, this one has the potential to be a much tighter match than AC Milan vs Lazio.
AS Roma are still set to be without the spine of their team with Jose Mourinho providing a pretty bleak update on their fitness following the disappointing away draw with Monza on Wednesday night. “For Inter I can only count on Matic. Everyone else – Smalling, Wijnaldum, Dybala and Belotti – have zero percent chance of playing with Inter,” he said.
It was also reported by Il Tempo on Friday that Stephan El Shaarawy will be out for the rest of the season after suffering a hip injury. The Giallorossi are really blunted and the main order of the day could be to avoid defeat primarily, perhaps snatching a late goal like they did against AC Milan last weekend. This time, though, they won’t want to then concede a late equaliser.
As for Inter, they have hit some seriously impressive form and have won their last three in the league. Whilst they will be desperate to build on that, it will not be easy to break this Roma team down at the Stadio Olimpico with a packed-out and physical midfield and back three.
It is a game that will likely be won by a singular goal and it might not be too much of a thriller.
Club Brugge v Union Saint-Gilloise
Club Brugge unexpectedly qualified for the Champions Play offs on the last matchday, due to AA Gent’s dropped points at relegated Oostende. In all the euphoria, Brugge even believed in a possible title, but then 16 points out of 18 was necessary.
This dream was then immediately shattered with a defeat on the first play-off matchday at leaders Genk (3-1). Brugge are now fourth, eight points behind third-placed Union. Antwerp’s cup victory means that fourth place earns a European ticket, so that takes some of the pressure off for Brugge.
Brugge are a team that love possession of the ball at all times and that has so far resulted in goals in 6 of the 7 matches under de Mil. At the back, young Spileers made a mistake with the second goal last week, but he is expected to start again.
As an ex-coach of the U21 team, de Mil has a lot of confidence in the youth players but after what was overall a poor domestic campaign, he has the full support from the Bruges fans in playing the youngsters. Up front, de Mil will have to make do without injury-prone winger Skov Olsen, who is out once again.
Union were surprised at home in their first play-off match by Antwerp’s high pressing early in the match. The half-time score was also the final score (0-2). It was only the third time in 53 games this season that Union failed to score themselves, and the second time against Antwerp. Brugge like possession however, so should press less than Antwerp.
This game suits Union better, who are dangerous with quick counter-attacks. Club Brugge’s midfield has a lot of experience, but there are regular gaps at the back. Union will rely on the class of Boniface and dribbler Lappoussin to create danger against their opposite numbers, youngsters Spileers and Meijjer. In the regular league season both games were score draws, and we expect another evenly matched game with plenty of attacking football from both sides.
Werder Bremen v Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich reclaimed top spot after Borussia Dortmund dropped points at Bochum and the Rekordmeister beat Hertha Berlin last weekend. And now, Thomas Tuchel’s side can move four points clear of BVB when they travel to Werder Bremen on Saturday evening – a win would increase the pressure on Dortmund, who host Wolfsburg the following day.
It’s been a difficult season for Bayern Munich. Losing Robert Lewandowski and failing to sign a replacement, Sadio Mane being isolated from the squad after a dressing room bust-up with Leroy Sane following their defeat against Manchester City, and replacing Julian Nagelsmann with Thomas Tuchel with the treble still on, with now just the Bundesliga title to fight for.
Bayern Munich responded to a 3-1 defeat at Mainz with a 2-0 win against relegation threatened Hertha Berlin last weekend, but their performance was less than convincing. They were kept at bay until Serge Gnabry opened the scoring after 69 minutes. When teams sit deep, as Mainz and Hertha did, Bayern struggle to break down a low block. Their away form isn’t the greatest either with four defeats in their last six games – and three goals in their last four away from the Allianz Arena.
But they perhaps couldn’t be playing Werder Bremen at a better time. Bremen have picked up just one point in their last 22 games against Bayern Munich and in the reverse fixture, were beat 6-1. After a somewhat impressive start to the campaign, Bremen have won just two of their last 11 Bundesliga games. And only Hertha Berlin (61) and Bochum (67) have conceded more than Bremen (58). They will again be without Niclas Fullkrug, the Bundesliga’s top scorer, on Saturday too.
Although Bayern have struggled for much of the season, a win here would make a huge statement should Dortmund fail to beat Wolfsburg. The Rekordmeister will be wanting to place early pressure on their Bundesliga rivals and as free-scoring as Bayern are, expect them to score early against a leaky Bremen defence which could see them win this by two or three goals.
Sparta Rotterdam v PSV
A fortnight ago, surprise package Sparta played out a memorable 3-3 draw with Twente. It was a battle for the best of the rest, where the Rotterdammers held their own and made the most of their chances.
Sparta striker Tobias Lauritsen has been linked with PSV for a summer transfer. The tall Norwegian striker shares many attributes with PSV counterpart Luuk de Jong — he wins lots of headers and he’s composed in front of goal.
The hosts are hoping to end a brilliant campaign by finishing in a lofty fifth place. With second-place PSV fresh from cup final success over Ajax — the fourth time they’ve beaten them this season — it is likely they will remain inconsistent here. That’s because PSV are likely to be experiencing a hangover from their domestic triumph, allowing this tough game away at high-flying Sparta to catch them unawares.
In terms of goals, Sparta look nailed on to cause PSV lots of problems — the visitors have conceded the most goals out of all teams in the top six — but goals have come aplenty for PSV in the last few months, particularly with a fully fit front line in front of youngster Xavi Simons, who is still showing why he has been considered one of the best players in the Eredivisie this season.
Boavista v Estoril
Estoril Praia looked set to close out the year with a match against Boavista only for the stadium’s electricity system to malfunction, causing the lights to go out and causing the game to be rescheduled for February 9. Boavista took the lead within four minutes via Yusupha Njie but went down to 10 men before the break and conceded an equalizer in the 49th minute to Tiago Araujo, with Tiago Gouveia scoring to complete the comeback win for Estoril.
It was the second straight match between these two that featured over 2.5 goals after Boavista’s 3-2 win and the fourth straight match that saw both teams find the back of the net. Four of the last six meetings between these two sides have featured over 2.5 goals, and I’m expecting that pattern to continue at the Estadio do Bessa.
Both teams have difference-makers in attack: Tiago Gouveia has racked up five goals and five assists for Estoril and looks set to challenge for a first-team spot at Benfica once his loan expires, whilst Yusupha Njie has scored 12 goals for Boavista – three times more than their second-top scorer – and ended April on a strong run of form that would see him score in a 1-1 draw at Vizela and grab a goal and an assist in a 3-2 win against Rio Ave, but he was unable to continue his streak in their 1-0 loss at Porto at the weekend.
Five of Boavista’s last seven matches have featured over 2.5 goals, with the Axadrezados conceding 49 goals in 30 matches – only Maritimo and Pacos de Ferreira have conceded more. Estoril have conceded 45 goals, but they nevertheless picked up their first clean sheet since March 31 in a relegation six-pointer in Cascais, beating Santa Clara 3-0 and all but ensuring their relegation, whilst giving them a six-point advantage above the relegation play-off spot and an eight-point advantage above the relegation zone.
Boavista have already secured their safety and could deliver a more relaxed and consequently, more attack-minded performance against an Estoril side that is inches away from securing their spot in next season’s Primeira Liga. Petit’s side have kept just three clean sheets in 2023: a 1-0 win against Gil Vicente on January 8, a 0-0 draw to Casa Pia on February 13 and a 0-0 draw to Arouca on March 3. I’m expecting a fairly open-ended and high-scoring match in Porto.
Cambuur v FC Utrecht
This is surely the weekend where Cambuur’s fate is sealed. With four games to go, they are eleven points from safety, and they have actually gone backwards in the last few matches. They are scoring more goals, thanks to their January signings, but the defensive lapses in concentration are becoming much more frequent with Cambuur’s more open style of play under Sjors Ultee, who is a win or bust kind of manager.
I don’t see how the home side will suddenly improve to beat a decent Utrecht side, who are already assured of a European play-off place at the end of the season. The gap is very wide between the bottom two, (Groningen and Cambuur) who have been cut adrift, and the rest of the league, showing just how far off the pace Cambuur have been.
This could be a 1-2, 1-3 or 0-3 kind of scoreline. Anastasios Douvikas for Utrecht is amongst the league’s top goal-scorers. His poacher instinct will be kicking in against this leaky defence.
Cambuur goalkeeper Robin Ruiter has been making some good saves but home fans have been criticising the experienced campaigner for letting in some easy goals. Add to that the experience of Bas Dost either from the start or more likely from the bench if a winner is needed, and it seems like it would take a miracle for Cambuur to keep the visitors out.
AZ Alkmaar v Ajax
Ajax really struggle in games versus the Eredivisie’s top sides. This season, without Erik Ten Hag, Ajax have won only one of eight matches against AZ, Feyenoord or PSV. Although the head coaches since Ten Hag have been of lesser quality, and the playing squad has reduced in quality, the remaining top players left in the side need to have a bit of a look in the mirror for perhaps believing they are better than they really are.
Those were quite scathing comments, but far from unjustified, with their dire performance in a 3-0 defeat to PSV a couple of weeks ago being followed up by a boring display in a cup final which they lost on penalties – to PSV once again!
Ajax’s main weapon was on the counter attack, and even then several players were guilty of either not creating an opening for teammates or being wasteful with their finishing.
We need to see Ajax dominate the ball here, and use physical forwards such as Brian Brobbey who have an advantage over AZ’s weaker defenders, but the counter attacking opportunities for Alkmaar will spur them on hugely as they have several pacy, technical players who relish this sort of open game.
AZ will be thankful for the two-week break from action (due to the Dutch Cup final) so they can get their key players some rest ahead of a big European semi-final with West Ham, and this game with Ajax.
Two weeks ago, they saw off RKC 3-0 in Alkmaar, but that was without their normal front three of Pavlidis, Karlsson and Odgaard (the last of which was stretchered off in the first half). Let’s see who returns — there have been no updates, but none of them are believed to have a major injury — as that could make a huge difference on the counter attack.
Cruzeiro v Santos
Cruzeiro host Santos at the Arena Independência on Saturday evening, in what is the first meeting between the sides in almost four years. On that occasion, it was Santos who plunged Cruzeiro closer to relegation with a 4-1 victory.
After a losing start, Cruzeiro are slowly adapting to life back in the top flight and are unbeaten in their last three matches in all competitions, with three wins on the spin. Last time out they took on Red Bull Bragantino and Cruzeiro got off to a flyer when Ramiro scored before Bragantino were reduced to ten men when Aderlan was shown red.
Two second-half goals from Gilberto and Bruno Rodrigues was enough to see the Belo Horizonte club pick up the three points. They come into this duel having had a week to prepare for the duel, something they’ll be eager to use to their advantage. Lucas Oliveira returns from a ban here and will likely come straight into the starting eleven. Fernando Henrique misses out due to injury.
After going four matches without defeat, Santos suffered a midweek loss to Newells Old Boys away from in the Copa Sudamericana, something they’ll be keen on bouncing back from. Prior to that, Peixe took on America Mineiro at home, edging a classic affair with a 3-2 win. After falling a goal behind in the opening stages of the game, Santos will be pleased that they could fight back and pick up their first win of the campaign. America had more shots in the game, with 19 compared to 11, but it was Peixe who had the better expected goals with 1.52 compared to 1.41.
Santos will be without Yeferson Soteldo, Lucas Barbosa, Felipe Jonatan and Eduardo Bauermann for this clash.
Santos haven’t beaten Cruzeiro in the league away from home since 2015 and with Cruzeiro coming into the game off the back of an impressive away win and having had extra time to prepare, that record should still stand come Sunday.
Real Santa Cruz v Always Ready
Real Santa Cruz have fallen in their last two games, albeit narrowly at home to Aurora and before that in tricky Cobija. This ended a reasonable unbeaten run of seven. Always Ready for their part come from three successive draws and have generally given the feeling this season that results have not accompanied performances and that they have not had the rub of the green. After Bolivar and The Strongest they have the biggest budget in the local league.
Real won the previous game between these two sides, bringing to an end a run of five Always wins dating back to 2020. It should be noted both these teams were founding members of the league back in 1977 but then disappeared down the league structure for over 20 years to only recently re-emerge in the past three years.
While Always are the better side and Real are very dependent on Colombian striker Gonzalez for their goals, there is enough on both sides to avoid defeat but not much else.
Sportivo Luqueno v Guarani
Luqueño head into the match on the back of three straight defeats that threaten to dampen their first season back in the top division. Guaraní had a hard fought draw versus Emelec in the Sudamericana and have just one defeat in seven as players return from injury.
Gustavo Florentin is under pressure from the fans, apart from the three consecutive losses the team has put the ball themselves just twice in five games (plus one own goal to their favour). Marcelo Pérez has carried the side so far but the 22-year-old was rested against Ameliano as the season takes it toll.
In midfield Jorge Mendoza has been absent the last two games and he is racing against the clock to be fit for this match against his former club.
Hernán Rodrigo López has got both Hugo Dorrego and Facundo Barceló back to full fitness which has greatly boosted the strength of the team. In the previous league match before the Sudamericana tie he rested some key players but they were still able to find a win from 20-year-old Victor Rivarola scoring his first senior goal.
The previous meeting was a 3-1 victory for Guaraní despite falling behind after three minutes – on that occasion they had Néstor Camacho to supply the two goals that ultimately made the difference.
With Luqueño at home and Guaraní resting players we could see a closer line up. The aurinegro have conceded in their last three league games that follow a Copa Sudamericana match, Luqueño have shipped 7 goals in their last three matches as they miss the midfield stability of Mendoza.
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