Udinese v Sassuolo
Udinese won’t have it easy in Sunday’s early Serie A kick-off in Friuli-Venezia Giulia as they host an in-form Sassuolo who make the trip to Italy’s North-East in an unbeaten run of three games and fresh off the back of impressive wins over Champions League hopefuls Atalanta and reigning champions AC Milan.
It won’t have gone unnoticed that Alessio Dionisi’s Neroverdi gave Milan a 5-2 hammering at the Stadio San Siro to end January, but their 1-0 win over Atalanta last time out came as the result of an even more impressive performance than the scoreline suggests, never letting their visitors into the game on that occasion.
In attack, Domenico Berardi has found real form again for Sassuolo and will likely take some stopping this weekend. He’s expected to start as part of a threatening attack with the lively Armand Lauriente, Gregoire Defrel, and new signing Nedim Bajrami – each capable of causing any backline problems on their day.
Udinese are in a funny run of form themselves. The Zebrette have won just once in their last 13 Serie A games – that coming against Sampdoria, who have been in rotten form this season – but if anything is a guarantee with the Friulani it’s that they have chances when they play at home. In 10 outings at home this term, they’ve scored in nine – only failing to net in their first home game of the season as they drew with 10 men against Salernitana.
Toulouse v Rennes
Two teams that are not strangers to high-scoring games are set to go face to face in Toulouse on Sunday, with the men from the Pink City hosting a Rennes side that is struggling to find its best level.
TFC’s home 11 matches in the league this season have produced 36 goals – more than three per game – with Philippe Montanier’s side having quietly pieced together an excellent season on their return to Ligue 1. Since the World Cup break, they have been especially good. In 2023, seven wins have come from nine matches in all competitions. Their only loss was an unfortunate reverse at PSG last weekend.
Toulouse’s improvement has coincided with them clicking offensively, with striker Thijs Dallinga notably coming into form. Of their last eight Ligue 1 matches, seven have yielded more than 2.5 goals, including a 2-1 reverse at Rennes in November.
The Breton side, too, continue to play in entertaining matches. Of their last 14 Ligue 1 matches, 12 have seen at least three goals. The volume of strikes in their fixtures has slowed down since Martin Terrier suffered a serious injury, but with Amine Gouiri in good form and a defence that is still struggling to keep clean sheets, goals are always likely.
Rennes have not kept a clean sheet away from home all season and every single one of their away fixtures this season has seen both teams score. Expect that run to continue here, particularly as seven of the last eight between these clubs have seen that outcome. Better value is on over 2.5 goals, which would have been a winning bet in six of the last eight between these two.
Reims v Troyes
A Champagne derby on Sunday is unlikely to provide football befitting of the name. Reims certainly start as favourites, but Will Still’s side are better noted for their pragmatism and ability to grind teams down as opposed to their blistering attacking play. Nevertheless, with Troyes in wretched form coming into this match, the hosts start as favourites.
One of the aspects counting against Reims here is that their long undefeated record was ended by Toulouse in midweek. Although it was the cup, Reims were well beaten 3-1 and used a strong team – potentially fatiguing some of their most important players. Troyes were already out of the cup and have had all week to build towards this match.
Reims’ matches in recent weeks have typically been low-scoring affairs. Yes, there were 3-1 and 4-2 home victories over Reims and Lorient respectively, but equally five of their last 14 league games have finished 0-0. Over that period, which coincides with the club’s undefeated run in Ligue 1, only four games have seen at least three goals.
The hosts will also be expected to make the play in this match, which is something they are not necessarily accustomed to. Scoreless draws against Brest and Auxerre, struggling teams like Troyes, show that this can be problematic for them.
On the flip side, Troyes have been conceding goals all over the place lately – 17 in their last five Ligue 1 matches – but they have typically been playing far more dangerous attacking teams than Reims over that period. This record is largely why this match is odds against to produce under 2.5 goals, but the tight nature of the home team is liable to trump that.
Celta Vigo v Atletico Madrid
Last time Atlético Madrid visited Balaídos, it was their first game as defending champions, but now they return in very different circumstances, with the heat on to maintain their top four spot. And, it won’t be an easy tie against a side who went away and beat another top four contender in Real Betis last weekend. Only Barcelona have scored more goals than Celta Vigo since the turn of the year as Carlos Carvalhal is starting to make an impact.
One man that Celta will be missing is Unai Núñez, the central defender who has missed only one game all season and played every other minute. He has been at the heart of their recent good form, and Joseph Aidoo may be partnered by the only available central defender, 21-year-old Carlos Domínguez, who has played just one minute in LaLiga all season. Alternatively, Óscar Mingueza may be shifted into the middle.
Either way, Atlético will be hoping to extend their run of scoring in six consecutive matches. Since the turn of the year, their 10.44 xG over the last five matches is the highest in LaLiga by some margin and they have had five different goalscorers convert opportunities. Ángel Correa is the man to lead the charge with two goals during that stint.
Juventus v Fiorentina
Juventus’ off-field problems have been covered extensively in recent weeks and months, and plenty of Serie A fans will take a lot of joy from glancing at the table to see the Old Lady sitting in 10th, but they have accumulated enough points to be sitting third without their 15-point deduction. Against Fiorentina, they should pick up three more.
One of Italian football’s most hotly-contested games, Fiorentina will want to avoid defeat as they make the trip north to Turin, but their travelling fans are likely to return to Tuscany disappointed on Sunday evening and La Viola’s winless run probably won’t come to an end at four games without victory.
Juventus’ recent humiliations against Napoli and Monza might give Vincenzo Italiano’s side hope of going out and sprinting another surprise on the Bianconeri, but they got back to winning ways by comprehensively seeing off Salernitana 3-0 means that it’ll likely by Massimiliano Allegri who ends the evening with a smile on his face.
Fiorentina are unbeaten in their last two against Juventus (a 1-1 draw last time out and a 2-0 win last season), but Juventus had won each of the previous three and tend to come out on top when these sides meet in what is a fixture that means a whole lot more for La Viola than it does the Bianconeri.
Napoli v Cremonese
Napoli again host Cremonese and the runaway Serie A leaders are hungry for revenge, having somehow been eliminated from the Coppa Italia by the Grigiorossi at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona just last month. Despite beating the Partenopei and then Roma to reach the semi-finals of Italy’s domestic cup competition, the side from Cremona are still without a single Serie A win to their name – something that can be said of nobody else in Europe’s top leagues.
With Cremonese en route to an immediate return to Serie B and Napoli storming toward their first Serie A title since Diego Maradona played in Campania, this fixture feels like a complete mismatch even despite the recent Coppa Italia tie, so it’s easy to look ahead at this and predict it being a game for Napoli to flex their attacking muscle and put impressive numbers on the boards.
With Napoli at full strength in attack, promising Italian goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi will be busy, and we can expect to see him picking the ball out of his net more than a couple of times.
Only one of Napoli’s last five games have seen fewer than three goals scored – that being a 2-0 win on the road to Salernitana – but their hosting of Cremonese is more likely to follow the trend of their wins there over Juventus (5-1), Sassuolo (4-0), Liverpool (4-1) and Monza (4-0) this season.
Villarreal v Barcelona
Quique Setién comes up against his former club on Sunday night as Villarreal welcome Barcelona to the Estadio de la Cerámica. After back-to-back defeats, Villarreal have a point to prove. Last weekend, they were beaten 3-1 by LaLiga’s bottom team Elche, who recorded their first win of the campaign.
Equally, Barcelona may be distracted given their upcoming escapades in Europe as they take on Manchester United in midweek. However, that could mean that they shut up shop and are more defensively solid, with the elderly statesman more likely to be rested being Robert Lewandowski in attack, though even that seems unlikely. Gavi is likely to feature in a more advanced wide role again, with more of a 4-2-3-1 shape than Barcelona’s traditional 4-3-3.
With only seven goals conceded this season, they’ll be confident heading to Spain’s east coast, where Villarreal have scored only one goal in their last two home games despite registering four expected goals. Of Barcelona’s last five games, four have involved a clean sheet and three of them have ended with just a single goal.
That means that, whatever the result may be on Sunday night, it’s likely to be a low-scoring affair. Barcelona’s impressive defensive record and Villarreal’s woes in front of goal, particularly of late, mean that under 2.5 goals is excellent value at 2.05 on Betfair.
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