Villarreal v Athletic Club
Villarreal vs Athletic Club could be a very entertaining match on Saturday afternoon, as both teams possess quality forwards and both teams also have centre-back issues that those forwards will be looking to exploit.
In the case of Villarreal, veteran centre-back Raúl Albiol currently has an injury and is a major doubt to feature. That’s an issue because his replacement Aïssa Mandi doesn’t give nearly the same level when he plays. The Yellow Submarine have been conceding 1.13 goals per game when Mandi starts, compared to 1.00 per game with Albiol, and that’s with the veteran playing the more competitive fixtures against the top teams.
With Athletic Club, they might only have one centre-back available for this game, and that’s the very inexperienced Aitor Paredes. That’s because Dani Vivian is suspended, Iñigo Martínez is ruled out injured and Yeray Álvarez is a major injury doubt too. As such, Paredes might have to make just his fifth ever senior start alongside left-back Mikel Balenziaga in the back four.
With talented forwards such as Iñaki Williams and Nico Williams in the Athletic ranks, and Gerard Moreno and Nicolas Jackson – who has four goals in his past three – playing for Villarreal, these centre-back absences should be exploited. So, we could see another over 2.5 goals game, something that has happened in exactly half of Villarreal’s home games so far this LaLiga season and in 62 percent of Athletic’s away games.
Volendam v Sparta Rotterdam
Volendam still requires some more points to stay up. This is the side that has completely turned things around since the Winter break., with manager Wim Jonk being celebrated by the Dutch media. Since January, Volendam has won six and drawn one of their eight home league matches. An unbelievably good run given that many (including myself) had them dead and buried at the end of Autumn.
Taking on high-flying Sparta is an interesting match. The visitors have been the surprise package of the season. Under Maurice Steijn, they have an experienced defence and some lively attacking players behind a tall Norwegian striker in Tobias Lauritsen, who is attracting interest from the likes of PSV.
Despite having no shots on target against PSV last weekend, I thought Sparta could easily have gotten a point from what was ultimately a 0-1 defeat, because of the good chances that they created.
I think this one could be a good watch. Sparta will have their moments for sure and score at least once. They will not be simply rolled over here by a side who are fighting for survival. This also makes me think that Volendam are also certain to get on the scoresheet given how well they’ve been playing at home.
Portimonense v Benfica
Portimonense opened April with a 1-0 defeat at Porto, their fifth consecutive defeat, before erasing a two-goal deficit and drawing 2-2 at Rio Ave, beating Estoril Praia 1-0 and Gil Vicente 1-0 before losing 4-1 at Braga and drawing 1-1 at Casa Pia courtesy of a 95th-minute equalizer from Bryan Róchez. Paulo Sérgio’s side have secured their top-flight status ahead of schedule and have nothing left to play for apart from pride as they prepare for a final stretch of the season that will see them host Benfica, travel to Santa Clara and host Arouca.
Whilst Santa Clara are fighting to escape the relegation zone and Arouca are vying for fifth place and European football, Benfica are pushing for their first Primeira Liga title in four years. Roger Schmidt’s side side four points above Porto and nine above Braga, and they took a huge step towards securing the title after a 1-0 win against Braga, who gave Benfica their first defeat of the season in December before eliminating them from the Taça de Portugal two months later. It was a third consecutive win and a third consecutive clean sheet for Benfica, who have taken 26 wins and 2 draws from 31 matches and who have scored a league-best 72 goals and conceded a league-best 17 goals.
The Algarvian side have struggled against Portugal’s top teams this season, losing 4-0 at Sporting, 2-0 to Porto, 2-1 to Braga, 1-0 to Benfica, 1-0 to Sporting, 1-0 to Porto and 4-1 to Braga. They have little left to play for, but they do have a strong defensive core that could keep the scoreline respectable featuring center backs Pedrão and Filipe Relvas as well as goalkeeper Kosuke Nakamura. Apart from their recent less to Braga, Portimonense have had just one game this season feature over 4.5 goals – a 4-2 loss at Boavista on January 29.
While I don’t think Benfica have what it takes to give Portimonense a humiliating defeat – their attacking firepower has dried up as of late and they have scored more than one goal one just two occasions since the start of April, a 2-0 win against Gil Vicente and a 3-3 draw to Inter – I do expect them to come away with a victory. Benfica showed up with their best performance in several weeks and held their own in terms of maintaining possession, creating chances and preventing Braga from creating danger in transitions. They have won their last two matches against Portimonense and four of their last five, and they have more than enough in the tank to come away with their 27th league win of the season. I’m expecting them to show up with another big performance, another victory, and another clean sheet in Portimão.
Haugesund v Valerenga
It was a good bounce-back win for Vålerenga last week when they beat rivals Rosenborg 3-1 away from home. It ended a disappointing three game losing streak which included a heart-breaking 3-4 loss to Lillestrøm. It definitely seems like this Vålerenga team are more comfortable playing away from home right now and their best performances have generally been on the road. Even when they lost at Brann we saw demonstrations of their strong counter-attacking ability led by the pacey Seedy Jatta upfront. Jatta is starting to become a more consistent threat and is a tough physical opponent for defenders in terms of pace and also strength. New winger Mohamed Ofkir has also looked in decent touch. Vålerenga have a couple of defensive doubts here with Zuta and Hedenstad both coming off the field last week. Simen Julkerod is suspended for the second straight game.
Haugesund have four points after five games and the simple fact is they aren’t very good. Their underlying metrics are some of the worst in the Eliteserien, especially defensively where they have by far the worst xGA average of any team (1.88). Apart from Brann, they have yet to face any particular good offensive teams either, so these numbers are alarming. The last two matches have resulted in 0-0 draws for Haugesund but they were totally outplayed by Sarpsborg and probably second best vs rock bottom Aalesund. They’ve been indebted to goalkeeper Egil Selvik who has been in fantastic form recently making some key saves. You can’t keep relying on your goalkeeper long term though when you are conceding as many big chances as they have been.
There could be a few goals in this game, but the best bet looks to be Vålerenga DNB. I would be very surprised if the away side lost this fixture. They simply possess far too much better quality, especially in the final third of the field. Some defensive absences might give Haugesund a chance to score but the home side have a miserable xG average of 0.87 per match which is the third worst in the league. Vålerenga can get the three points here and won’t have any problems if they play like they did vs Rosenborg last week.
Heerenveen v Excelsior
Heerenveen has only managed to keep one clean sheet in the Eredivisie since early January, and they haven’t had a shutout at home since September. However, they are facing struggling Excelsior, who have a poor away record, with only one win, two draws, and twelve defeats in fifteen away games. Excelsior has not even scored in their past seven away games.
On the other hand, Heerenveen has been scoring more goals in the second half of the season, thanks to Kees van Wonderen’s switch to a back four from a more conservative back five. This has brought out the best in young striker Sydney van Hooijdonk, who is currently tied for first in the Eredivisie top goal-scorers with 16 goals.
Heerenveen has a chance to finish in eighth place, which could extend their season in the Europa Conference League play-offs. Therefore, I don’t think Excelsior’s fortunes will change, as they are struggling to score goals and are not strong enough defensively to hold onto a lead, even if they manage to score one.
Cerro Porteno v Olimpia
The Paraguayan superclásico has added spice with Cerro Porteño now only three points off the top, a win can keep them in the hunt for the title. Olimpia continue to struggle under new coach Aguirre, they are now three games without a win after losing narrowly to Guaireña.
Facundo Sava’s team got back to winning ways after the shocking home loss in the Libertadores – in fact they have won their last six league matches despite often switching players around. For this game he essentially has a full squad with Diego Churin back from suspension and the trio of Robert Morales, Juan Patiño and Claudio Aquino all expected to rejoin full training by the end of the week. The latter has been a key player with 8 goal contributions so far this season, only Pachi Carrizo (7) has come close to his effectiveness in the final third.
Olimpia can welcome back first choice goalkeeper Gastón Oliveira who returns from illness, but Marcos Gómez is out after suffering an injury against Guaireña. Richard Ortiz will therefore have a big job in the middle of the park and was rested in the last match with the clásico in mind. Just one of their last seven league matches has gone over 2.5 goals while five have been decided by a single goal. This has been a feature of Aguirre’s tenure.
The last meeting was a 2-2 draw but it came in difficult circumstances for Cerro Porteño who saw their 3rd choice GK make two late mistakes after their reserve stopper had been sent off late on. With a full side and home advantage this should be the opportunity for Cerro to win their first clásico at home since 2021.
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