Inter v Fiorentina
This is not a fixture that Simone Inzaghi probably wants for his Inter side right now. The Nerazzurri have been bumbling and stumbling their way through the Serie A campaign and that is why they are nowhere near Napoli and are battling with everyone else to grab a Champions League spot.
They come up against a Fiorentina side that has hit a really impressive run of form, their best of the season by a long stretch. Across Serie A and the Europa Conference League, they have won their last seven matches and will be extremely confident of getting something at San Siro against a vulnerable Inter side.
It would be silly to ever suggest that Inter are not going to score when they play at home given they have multiple dangerous players including Romelu Lukaku who, whilst misfiring since his return from injury, scored four times against good opposition during the international break and could return with his confidence back again.
That being said, players such as Arthur Cabral, Nico Gonzalez, Giacomo Bonaventura and Jonathan Ikone are all playing really well for Fiorentina in recent weeks and they will be attacking the Inter defence throughout the contest.
They have a really good chance of grabbing a result and that by extension means they must be backed to score against the Nerazzurri. It could be a very good game with lots of action at both ends and, hopefully, goals.
Servette v Young Boys
A meeting between the top two in the Super League this weekend. Before this season, YB and Servette hadn’t played a match against each other while being the top two teams in the league since September 1978. Saturday’s match in Geneva will be the second time in this campaign alone. The gap back in 1978 was just five points so there is a bit of a difference some forty-four years later as YB leads the table by eighteen points. The destination of the title and YB’s place at the top is not up for debate but Servette’s fate is far from decided as they have, incredibly, managed to hold onto second with the race for that final Champions League spot extending down to seventh-placed Grasshoppers who are only five points behind.
It is surprising that SFC are still in that position given they have won just three of their last seventeen league matches. The Genevan outfit have also drawn four of their last five yet their four-point lead before that sequence has been cut only to one point. Simply put, the rest of the league haven’t punished Servette’s lack of wins. Alain Geiger’s team does need to start putting those victories on the board soon though as they will eventually be caught by that chasing pack. Some would argue that the visit of Young Boys to one of the most expensive cities in the world could bring another costly result but SFC have been kryptonite for the Bernese since returning to the league and have lost only one of seven matches at the Stade de Geneve against them.
As the league table proves, YB have been pretty much all-conquering in Switzerland this season. Away form has presented them with a bit of a sticky patch lately though with four draws from their last five and goals conceded in their last four away matches in a row. As mentioned, this isn’t a venue that YB enjoys visiting much with just that solitary win and three defeats from seven matches.
It is a little bit trickier to predict which YB side will turn up away from home and while Servette haven’t won often recently, they are a tough nut to crack at their own place and have become draw specialists. They’ve scored in all but three of their home matches this season, one of those shutouts being a game against Luzern that also brought a red card, and I think they can strike against YB here but the attacking quality of the capital club should ensure they get on the scoresheet as well.
Seraing v Gent
With international football now behind us until the end of the season, exciting times lie ahead in Belgium. The battle for fourth is heating up, with Gent holding off Club Brugge by two points with four games to play.
Gent will have to do so without their defensive anchor, Ngadeu, who received an offer to good to turn down from Chinese outfit Beijing Guoan. He was a reassuringly ever-present fixture in a side often plagued by injuries, so the new-look defence will be interesting to watch out for.
However, on bright side, Tarik Tissoudali is nearing a return and should be back in the near future following his ACL injury. He will complement their strike pairing of Cuypers and Orban, who have been in great form themselves, perfectly once he is back to full match fitness.
The alarm bells are ringing at Seraing. After just one point from a possible 18, they are dead last and staring relegation in the mouth. A draw offers them nothing, so they will be forced to open up and provide space for Gent’s dangerous attacking options. With only 1 clean sheet in 30 games, it seems unlikely that they will be able to prevent Cuypers and Orban from adding to their tallies today.
Pontypridd v Aberystwyth
Home advantage continues to be a significant factor in a very tight Welsh Premier League. With the exceptions of runaways leaders T.N.S, and league struggles Airbus, the teams in the Welsh top flight are closely matched.
Pontypridd have been thriving on home turf in recent weeks. They have won their last five matches in front of their own fans. Over this period they are averaging 1.6 more goals per game than their opponents. Ponty are in the play off conference half of the Welsh Premier league but they have amassed a respectable points tally of 34. They are just three points behind Haverfordwest; who lead the bottom half of the division.
Aberystwyth are just two points behind their opponents heading into Saturday’s match. Airbus are the only team below Aber in the table; which is testament to how closely contested the division is. Aberystwyth have won just three of their 14 away matches this season but they have recorded consecutive away wins in their last two matches on the road. Since those wins, they handed Haverfordwest their first away win since November.
However, one of those wins was against lowly Airbus. I’m expecting them to come unstuck against a Ponty side that have made their home ground a fortress in recent matches. Pontypridd beat Aberystwyth 2-1 the last time they played each other at this ground.
Cadiz v Sevilla
The form book will tell you that Cádiz haven’t lost any of their past 10 home matches in LaLiga (four wins and six draws) and that Sevilla haven’t won any of their past eight away matches in LaLiga (five defeats and three draws). However, there is optimism at Sevilla once again, as they sacked Jorge Sampaoli during the March international break and hired José Luis Mendilibar.
The arrival of Mendilibar completely changed the outlook at Sevilla. Mendilibar is as organised as Sampaoli was chaotic. He should be the perfect coach for relegation-battling Sevilla over this final stretch of the season as he’ll bring discipline and structure, plus he already knows members of the squad like Marko Dmitrović, Joan Jordán and Bryan Gil from his successful stint at Eibar.
As poor as Sevilla have been on the road, they will feel confident about this game since it’s only a short trip to the coast to face a regional rival in Cádiz. Plus, Cádiz are missing key players right now, including their starting goalkeeper Jeremias Ledesma, who has been impressive all season but who must now serve a four-match suspension. Brian Ocampo and Gonzalo Escalante are also among Cádiz’s top performers of 2023, but they are both out injured.
This, then, could be the game where Sevilla benefit from a new manager bounce and exploit Cádiz’s absences to reboot their away form.
Excelsior v FC Twente
A fortnight ago, before the international break, Excelsior shocked many Eredivisie followers after thrashing Cambuur 4-1. Admittedly they made the most of a host of defensive errors, but the goals were back for a side who had been struggling in 2023 to put the ball in the back of the net.
Will that be a breakthrough moment for Marinus Dijkhuizen’s men? Taking on Twente is a much tougher challenge than Cambuur, especially now that they have striker Manfred Ugalde in form, who has scored 5 times in his last 180 minutes on the pitch. Ugalde came off injured in Twente’s 2-1 win over AZ, and it is understood that he is likely to be back for this one.
As discussed before many times on these predictions, Twente aren’t the same side away from home, and recently they have begun to concede some sloppy goals after collecting clean sheet after clean sheet earlier in the campaign. With Excelsior desperate for points, we will see a very competitive game, with both sides likely to be amongst the goals, hence why I am backing both teams to score.
NEC Nijmegen v PSV
Mid-table NEC possess the third tightest defence in the Eredivisie — better than illustrious opponents PSV. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen has been in rude form for his club, but he was at fault a couple of times for his country as the Netherlands were trounced by France last week.
Cillessen is loved by NEC supporters, and there is a real feel-good factor surrounding the club as they are now breaking into the Europa Conference League play-off places.
PSV look like they are sliding to a very mediocre season. They had the tools to really challenge for the Eredivisie title, but selling Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke seemed to be a signal by the club that they lacked confidence to make that impact this year. You can hardly say it’s a ‘transitional’ campaign, and it is rather a poor start to Ruud van Nistelrooy’s managerial career. Targetting winning the Dutch Cup might add some shine back to their season.
Xavi Simons has been a revelation for PSV this season, but you cannot deny that he will have his head turned by bigger clubs this summer.
I think PSV will drop more points here. There are some very good odds on NEC getting a positive result (or only losing by one), so I would back them to keep up their strong defensive record and posing a threat through the likes of Oussama Tannane, Elayis Tavsan and Landry Dimata to a leakier PSV defence.
Longford v Kerry
Only three teams remain without a win so far this season in the League of Ireland First Division and these are two of those teams. Longford Town are the leagues lowest scorers with just 2 goals in 6 matches while Kerry FC have the worst defense (18 conceded) mainly thanks to a 9-1 pummeling away to Galway.
Credit must go to the Kerry FC coaching staff, in the two games that have followed that humbling experience in the West, Kerry have lost just 2-1 and 1-0 and having done well to stabilise the team this looks a good opportunity to get some more points on the board.
Longford Town manager Stephen Henderson also deserves credit for making his team hard to beat in recent weeks. Having lost 3-1 at home to local rivals Athlone on the opening day, Longford have since picked up draws against Waterford FC, Cobh Ramblers, and Bray Wanderers while they’ve lost by just the odd goal in games against Finn Harps and Galway United.
In fact, if you take away the goals shipped against Athlone, the only type of goals to breach the Longford defence have been an own goal, a penalty and an unlucky deflection.
However, at the other end of the pitch Longford are barely getting shots on goal never mind scoring. 5 of Longford’s 6 matches so far have featured under 2.5 goals and that stat may be further enhanced in this bottom of the table clash.
FC Basel v Winterthur
FC Basel entered the international break after suffering a first league defeat in the second spell of manager Heiko Vogel at the club. FCB looked like they might hold out for an unlikely draw in Bern in a game that was very much dominated by the league leaders before a seventy-third-minute goal by Cedric Itten opened the floodgates. Itten scored another two to make it a hat-trick and FCB fans were quickly reminded of just how good this YB side is. There can be concessions made, FCB had played 120 minutes of football in Bratislava on the previous Thursday to reach the UEFA Europa Conference League quarter-final and if you asked FCB fans what was more important at the start of the week, they’d probably have bitten your hand off for a return to a European competition last eight. Still, the break has been and gone and there will be expectancy at St. Jakob-Park on Saturday when ninth-placed Winterthur come to town.
Winti are in decent form themselves having lost just one of the last five on league duty. They finished up for the break with their second 1-0 home win over St. Gallen this season and also held Servette and Young Boys to draws. Away form has certainly been an achilles heel though, picking up just seven points on their travels with the only victory coming at bottom club FC Sion. It is their performances at the Schutzenwiese that is keeping their head above the relegation waters for the moment but a trip to Basel will present a very difficult task for Bruno Berner and his spirited team.
FCB are harder to beat under Heiko Vogel and I think they’ll pick up the three points against Winti here. The visitors play some entertaining stuff but are often picked off away from home and I suspect this will be a similar game to the one played at this venue back in October where FCB ran out three-nil winners on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Juventus v Verona
This may not be a thriller and perhaps after enjoying Inter vs Fiorentina earlier in the evening, it is best to then head out rather than watch Juventus. They are not thrilling to watch this season, the most compelling element has been their 15-point penalty for capital gains fraud which is still going through various stages of appeal.
In the last few weeks, they have been in good form. They have only lost one Serie A game in February and March and have also been progressing in the Europa League. Beyond the odd moment of brilliance from Angel Di Maria, it has not been fun to watch but they are winning games of football.
That is almost certainly what they will do here at the Allianz Stadium against relegation-threatened Hellas Verona.
The Bianconeri are sneaking up on the Champions League places given they are in good form themselves and the teams above them are woefully inconsistent. Inter, Milan, Lazio and Roma cannot be trusted to secure their place in the top four whilst Atalanta look destined to be overtaken by Juventus soon.
Hellas Verona found some form to make it seem like they can escape the drop but they have now gone five games without a victory, meaning Juventus could make light, if uneventful, work of the Gialloblu.
Vaca Diez v Independiente Petrolero
Vaca Diez’s recent form of two wins, a draw and two defeats is marginally superior to Independiente’s two wins and three defeats. Vaca Diez’s home record this season and historically in the league, in Cobija is played one, defeat one, while Independiente have lost all three away games this season.
As Vaca Diez were only just promoted last season these two have never met, what’s more, no Chuquisaca side has played in Cobija, with this being only the second time that city is represented in the league, the previous and only team from that city being Universitario de Pando in 2015.
As long as there are no injury scares Vaca Diez should line up with Peña in goal, Pinto, Morales, Borobobo and Cuadros at the back; Paiva, Fernandez, Rodrigues, Roca as a midfield two, and Cruz and Vogliotti up top.
Independiente lined up without top goalscorer Godoy for the 4-0 thrashing of Aurora, and although he came on, he failed to score. They should start with an XI of Brun in net, Diaz, Morales, Bejarano as a back three; Melgar, Rivera, Moriceau, Ramirez, Osorio across the midfield, and Santos and Buezo as their strike pairing.
Expect a tight Vaca Diez win in this one.
Rennes v Lens
Rennes and Lens is Saturday’s big Ligue 1 fixture, with the game set to be pivotal in the Champions League race. The home side realistically need to win to keep their hopes of a top-three finish alive but a goal-fest should not be expected.
Rennes do boast a strong home record – W11 D0 L3 – but in recent weeks they have shown vulnerability at Roazhon Park, losing to Lille and Marseille in the league. Hit by injury problems that head coach Bruno Genesio says are unprecedented in his career, the home team nonetheless did show sufficient quality to overcome a similarly beat-up PSG 2-0 away from home before the international break.
But the injury problems have slowed down Rennes’ exciting attacking play, not least because Martin Terrier, their best player, is out with a serious knee problem. Each of their last five matches in the league has produced under three goals, with these games producing an aggregate of just four goals overall. In a quirk, the home team has failed to score in their last four – a run Rennes will be eager to stop.
They face a Lens team getting back to full strength after injury issues of their own, but with a modest way record. Franck Haise’s side have lost fewer games than any in Ligue 1 but have found themselves stalled because of eight draws in 14 away games. Away from home, Lens have only scored 18 and conceded 11 – an average of a little more than two goals per game.
Prior to Lens’ 2-1 win at home earlier this season, the previous six between these clubs had produced under three goals and this one should regain the tradition of low-scoring fixtures between this pair of clubs.
Sporting v Santa Clara
The 2022/23 Primeira Liga season resumes after the international break with Estoril Praia hosting Gil Vicente, whilst Saturday will see Casa Pia travel to Vizela and Vitória host Paços de Ferreira, capped off with a match between Sporting and Santa Clara.
The hosts enter the game on an impressive run of form that has seen them win four straight wins and keep three straight clean sheets in the league, as well as defeat Arsenal on penalties to secure a Europa League quarterfinal match-up with Juventus.
Sporting are six points behind Braga, eight behind Porto and 18 behind Benfica, but they do have a game in hand and will travel to Gil Vicente and Casa Pia before heading off for Italy. It is a daunting schedule for the Lions, but their easiest test of the month could come on April 1 as they face off against the last-placed team in the Primeira.
Santa Clara ended a 15-year hiatus from the top-flight in 2018 and enjoyed back-to-back midtable finishes before finishing a best-ever sixth and securing European football for the first time in club history, beating Shkupi and Olimpija Ljubljana before losing to Partizan Belgrade in the final round of the Europa Conference League qualifiers.
The Azorean club suffered various key departures – including manager Daniel Ramos midway through the 2021/22 season who rescinded his contract and left for Saudi side Al Faisaly FC, but they avoided a looming relegation battle following the mid-season appointment of Mário Silva and finished seventh.
Today, they sit 18th, with Silva receiving the boot on January 6 and Jorge Simão taking charge and managing two draws and five defeats before getting the ax. Having spent the past four years as an assistant coach, Danildo Accioly took charge on an interim basis, and despite taking four losses in four games, looks set to continue until the end of the season.
The Brazilian center back racked up 299 appearances for Santa Clara on two separate spells sandwiched in between a four-year spell at Azerbaijani side Inter Baku – second only to Pedro Pacheco (349). The club legend has a Herculean task on his shoulders as he looks to get a result in Lisbon.
Santa Clara have failed to find the back of the net in either of the past two matches and have kept just one clean sheet this year – a 0-0 draw to Portimonense on January 13.
They have lost six matches in a row, they have not won since November 14, and they sit one point behind Paços de Ferreira and Marítimo and six away from automatic safety, and I’m expecting their woes to continue against a Sporting side that looks to be finding a bit of consistency under Rúben Amorim.
Sportivo Trinidense v Sportivo Luqueno
The two promoted sides face each other for the first time in the top division since 2017. It has been a contrasting month for both outfits, Trinidense have picked up just one point in their four games while Luqueño are unbeaten with 10 points from a possible 12.
José Arrúa has struggled to find a replacement for midfielder Marcos Riveros who went off injured in the defeat to Ameliano before missing the draw against Guaraní and loss to Resistencia. While he might be back for this match there are growing doubts around the defense who are yet to keep a clean sheet since the very first game of the season.
Three-time title winner César Benítez was dropped for the last match, but emerged in the second half with his side already 1-0 down. Lucas Barrios is also in line for another start.
Gustavo Florentín has really got a tune out of the auriazul in the last few games and while Marcelo Pérez is earning plaudits for his goalscoring exploits it has been the collective organization that has made the difference. After conceding eight in their first five games they’ve now kept cleansheets in their last four matches, club legend Pablo Aguilar has been crucial to the turnaround.
Despite the varying form, Trinidense are still favourites for this match which makes sense considering Luqueño’s patchy away record (one win from five). However, it is hard to write off Luqueño especially when they have been able to find the net in every match so far.
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