AS Roma v AC Milan
There are two massive games this weekend in Serie A when it comes to the Champions League race and this is certainly one of them. Both teams are desperate to be in Europe’s premier competition next season, not just for the sporting merit but also the major financial benefits that it will bring.
Roma come into this fixture in fifth place and are level with fourth-placed Milan on both points and goal difference. It is the head-to-head result that takes preference in Serie A over goal difference, making victory here crucial for both teams, given they drew the first game earlier this season.
The Giallorossi were beaten last time out by Atalanta and do not want to lose to another top-four rival. They are also battling injury issues with Diego Llorente missing out, and potentially all three of Paulo Dybala, Chris Smalling and Georginio Wijnaldum not being able to recover in time. The latter three are undoubtedly in Roma’s usual starting eleven.
Even though Milan have seen a recent run of good form, Roma’s home dominance and Jose Mourinho’s desperation to avoid a defeat means that this could be a very tight game from the off, which Roma will try and dictate the tempo of. This doesn’t lend itself to a goal-laden game at the Stadio Olimpico, but it should be fascinating nonetheless.
Real Madrid v Almeria
After Real Madrid suffered a 4-2 defeat at Girona in midweek, Carlo Ancelotti and his squad know that they need to put on something of a show at the Bernabéu on Saturday afternoon. They’ll be fielding a fairly strong line-up for this game, since there’s no need for pre-Manchester City rotation just yet, although Real Madrid are still without the injured David Alaba, Ferland Mendy and Luka Modrić. Thibaut Courtois could return, but isn’t 100 percent as he has had flu all week.
So, we should see an attack-minded Real Madrid side but one with a few holes at the back. This means there is a good chance for Almería to grab a goal and make this their 22nd game out of 32 in which both teams have scored. Only Espanyol have had more BTTS games than Almería this season.
Real Madrid have also been involved in a lot of games in which both teams have scored, 18 out of 31 so far. At home, it’s an even higher percentage of 67%, 10 out of their 15 home games. When the crowd roars them on at the Bernabéu, Real Madrid can go forward and score but often leave spaces at the back.
Almería, who just achieved their first away win of the season on Wednesday in Getafe, just a few kilometres away from the Bernabéu, will feel confident, especially with striker Luis Suárez playing well.
Schalke v Werder Bremen
Schalke host Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga Topspiel on Saturday evening with the hosts in desperate need of a win to strengthen their chances of remaining in the top flight. S04 started 2023 eight games unbeaten but have just one win in their last six games. Bremen meanwhile ended their six-game winless run last weekend and have typically enjoyed playing Schalke in games gone by.
Under Thomas Reis, Schalke have improved defensively and during their eight-game unbeaten run, registered five clean sheets. It’s S04’s tame attack that has the club ultimately battling relegation. No team has scored fewer than Schalke’s 26 goals after 29 games, with Bochum on 32 goals – just three points separate Schalke (17th) and Bochum (15th). With games against Bayern Munich, Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig still to come, this feels like a must-win game for Schalke.
Schalke have scored nine goals in their last three games at the VELTINS Arena but with an xG of 40 this season, it’s clear to see just where their problems lie. Simon Terodde has scored just four goals in 29 games and Sebastian Polter has spent much of the season sidelined. Marius Bulter has stepped up from midfield with 10 goal contributions (9 goals, 1 assist) in 29 games this season and against Bremen’s back three, Schalke will look to utilise Bulter in the wide areas.
Werder Bremen meanwhile have no problem scoring. With 47 goals after 29 games, no team has scored more in the bottom half of the table. However, they’ve conceded 56 goals and only Hertha Berlin (59) and Bochum (66) have conceded more. They have just one clean sheet in their last 10 Bundesliga games and have just two in their 14 away games this season.
Bremen duo Niclas Fullkrug and Marvin Ducksch have been stars in the Bundesliga this season. They’ve formed a formidable strike partnership with 27 goals and 10 assists between themselves, and it will certainly trouble the Schalke defence.
Werder Bremen have only failed to score in two away games this season and you would expect Fullkrug and Ducksch to continue their excellent form. Bremen will certainly score. This game is more on Schalke looking to capitalise on their raucous support at the VELTINS Arena and to find a way through a porous Bremen defence despite their poor scoring record this season. Expect to see goals at both ends, which offers excellent value this weekend.
Torino v Atalanta
This could potentially be quite a tough game to call as both sides are very capable of turning in superb and awful performances. Torino currently have nothing to fight for as they are not in the relegation scrap but also won’t trouble the lower European spots.
That doesn’t mean they won’t show up, though, as shown by their win over second-placed Lazio last weekend which came against all the odds. The Granata are very resolute at home and they will be trying to frustrate Atalanta as best they can.
The away side have not been gathering much of the focus when it comes to the top four race, but their win over AS Roma on Monday means they are right in the conversation.
That being said, their clear inconsistencies throughout the season mean that La Dea could easily turn in an abject performance in Turin this weekend. There are clearly lots of dangerous players in the squad and strong performances are possible, but too regularly these players who need to step up have been missing in games like this.
Atalanta may well manage to get the three points, but it is unlikely that Torino are going to allow them enough space to grab more than one or two goals.
Nantes v Toulouse
The Coupe de France final promises to be an intriguing affair between two opponents that look relatively evenly matched. Toulouse are favourites, but Nantes are the defending champions and are seeking to be the first team since PSG to defend the trophy as they won it in 1999 and 2000.
While finals are often tight affairs, both of these sides are better going forward than they are defensively. Nantes, for example, have conceded at least two goals in seven of their last nine Ligue 1 matches, although it is worth pointing out that they defeated Lyon 1-0 in the semi-final of this competition.
Toulouse, meanwhile, have only kept two clean sheets in their last 14 Ligue 1 matches. Both teams have also scored in four of their five Coupe de France games this term. Where TFC have been strong is going forward. They netted 20 goals in their five cup games to date, while they are scoring at the rate of 1.5 per game in Ligue 1, although they have not been quite as sharp in this regard in recent weeks.
The head-to-head record suggests both teams will score in this match, with three of the last four fixtures between these sides seeing both teams find the net, including a 3-1 Nantes victory back in August.
Nantes won the cup last season by nicking a 1-0 win over Nice in the final, but look for this match to buck the recent trend of tight showpieces in this competition by becoming just the second in seven years to see both teams find the target.
Gil Vincente v Benfica
Saturday’s Portuguese action will continue with a double-header between Vizela and Paços de Ferreira as well as Chaves and Casa Pia, with the day’s fixtures coming to an end in Barcelos as Gil Vicente host Benfica.
After kicking March off with a 2-0 win against Marítimo, Gil’s form took a turn for the worse. They went on to lose 2-1 to Rio Ave despite playing with an extra man for forty minutes, lost 1-0 to Estoril who had lost their previous six matches, picked up back-to-back goalless draws against Sporting and Chaves and finally lost 1-0 to Braga and Portimonense. Gil will be without Benfica loanee Tomás Araújo, who has emerged as one of the league’s most promising center backs since his arrival; they are up against it as they look to avoid stretching their goalless streak to six games.
Fran Navarro has scored 13 of Gil’s 26 goals and assisted another three, but the Spaniard, who is Gil’s all-time leading scorer in the Primeira with 29 since his arrival in 2021, has not scored since February 26. Navarro looks set to join Porto in the summer and will be looking to bounce back with a strong performance against Benfica – only with a top-form Navarro will Gil have any chance of taking points off Roger Schmidt’s side.
After suffering three straight defeats as well as a 3-3 draw to Inter that saw them eliminated from the UEFA Champions League, Benfica responded by beating Estoril Praia 1-0 via a goal from Nicolás Otamendi. They sit four points clear of Porto and six clear of Braga, and they’ll be looking to pick up their 25th league win of the season against Gil before hosting Braga, traveling to Portimonense and Sporting and hosting last-placed Santa Clara.
Benfica have their fate in their own hands as they look to win their first Primeira Liga title in four years, but first, they need to get past Gil Vicente and one of the best goalkeepers in the league right now in Andrew Ventura. The Brazilian goalkeeper should be able to keep the score low and keep Gil in the game until the final whistle, as he did in their 1-0 loss to Braga, but he can only do so much. Gil Vicente have had just one match in all competitions feature over 4.5 goals this season – a 4-1 loss to Arouca in the Taça de Portugal on November 8 – whilst five of Benfica’s last six matches have featured under 3.5 goals. Whilst their goal-scoring has dried up as of late, Benfica will be well-rested after a week without football and should be able to comfortably take care of business against a Gil side that can’t seem to find the back of the net at the moment. Having beaten them 3-1 in November, I’m expecting Benfica to do the double over Gil and take a huge step towards claiming their first league title in four years.
Libertad v Nacional
Libertad made light work of Luqueño scoring after just two minutes before keeping their third straight clean sheet in the league. Nacional picked up a second straight victory with two goals in the final ten minutes against General Caballero.
Daniel Garnero’s side are cruising to yet another league title, six points ahead with a +22-goal difference as the stellar squad coast through games. A recent trend has been early goals with the team scoring six times within the opening 15 minutes in the last six games. Óscar Cardozo has provided four of those goals as the veteran striker shows no signs of tiredness as he approaches his 40th birthday. Héctor Villalba has been another player in supreme form, he currently leads the assists charts – the 28-year-old is tipped for a move abroad in the upcoming transfer window.
Nacional have been buoyed by the recent form of midfielder Juan Alfaro who scored a late winner against Olimpia and provided a goal and assist in the 2-0 win against General Caballero. Since defender Fernando Román returned from suspension, the team have kept four clean sheets in six matches. Equally Jordan Santacruz’s reintegration into the side has seen them win five of the six matches he has started.
Although Nacional have been on an upward curve there is a big gulf between Libertad and the rest of the league which has been proven week after week. The Academia were crushed 4-1 by 2 and -placed Cerro last month and it is unlikely they will get anything from this match. Libertad’s “shock and awe” tactics early into games has been a key trend and there is little to suggest that will change.
Palmeiras v Corinthians
One of the games of the weekend sees an all-Sao Paulo affair, as Palmeiras host bitter rivals Corinthians in the first Brasileirao Paulista Derby of the season.
The sides recently met on February 17th in the Campeonato Paulista and on that occasion, the match ended in a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Neo Quimica Arena. Palmeiras attacker, Rony who returned from injury in the last matchweek, scored a brace on the day.
Palmeiras come into the clash with their rivals unbeaten in their last seven matches in all competitions but have dropped off in the previous two, drawing against Vasco da Gama in the league and Tombense in the cup.
In their duel with Vasco away from home, Palmeiras started with their hands tied behind their backs as the Rio Club raced into a two-goal lead thanks to goals from Pedro Raul and Gabriel Pec inside the first half.
Abel Ferreira’s men managed to grab a goal back before the breakthrough Rafael Navarro before Artur pulled things level, as the match finished in a 2-2 draw. In truth, it was an off day for the Champions who put up an XG of 0.81 compared to Vasco’s 1.83, showing they were lucky to leave Rio de Janeiro with a point. In midweek, Palmeiras drew 1-1 with Tombense, which was enough to see them through to the next round of the Copa do Brasil.
In contrast, it’s been a little hectic for Corinthians in the previous few weeks. They sacked manager Fernando Lázaro and replaced him with Cuca, which caused protests from Corinthians fans following his serious criminal allegations in 1989.
Cuca’s only Brasileirao game in charge, saw them suffer a 3-1 loss away from home against Goias, a disappointing performance, showing whoever replaces Cuca, has a real task on their hands. Timao did lift some spirits in midweek as they progressed through to the next round of the Copa do Brasil with a penalty shootout victory over Remo.
Coming into this game, despite Palmeiras recent hiccups, they should have enough in their locker to register a victory over their bitter rivals. The fact that Porco haven’t lost in their last four matches in this fixture, should give them extra confidence.
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