Sheffield United v Blackburn Rovers
A Championship side is guaranteed to make it to the FA Cup Semi-Finals as second place Sheffield United host fifth place Blackburn Rovers at Bramall Lane. The pair had respective home wins-to-nil during the league season, with both keenly eyeing up the opportunity for a date with Wembley after winning this tie.
Sheffield United’s recent run of games has been one of narrow margins. Until a 2-1 win at Sunderland on Wednesday, each of the Blades’ last five matches in all competitions had finished 1-0. Paul Heckingbottom’s 3-5-2 formation is most notably spearheaded by Iliman Ndiaye.
The 23-year-old Senegalese International is considered one of the best players outside of the Premier League and is the man whose goal saw off Tottenham Hotspur at Bramall Lane in the previous round. That Fifth Round team saw Billy Sharp initially lead the line in front of Manchester City loanee James McAtee, with fellow City loanee Tommy Doyle in midfield alongside Ismaila Coulibaly and young Andre Brooks.
A 3-2 defeat at Stoke City is the only one of Blackburn Rovers’ last seven matches that they have failed to win. Like Sheffield United, Rovers overcame Premier League opposition to progress to the quarter final stage, defeating Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
Tyrhys Dolan and Sammie Szmodics were the goalscorers that day, Blackburn having to make-do without star Chile International Ben Brereton Díaz for that game. The 23-year-old has return to action though and has goals in each of his last two games in the build-up to this tie.
Brereton Díaz was deployed off the left in midweek in a 4-2-3-1 which has Sam Gallagher leading the line ahead of Szmodics and Huddersfield Town loanee Sorba Thomas, a player well known for his delivery from wide areas. Harry Pickering and Joe Rankin-Costello have been the regulars in dynamic full-back roles, able to do so because of the support and discipline that Tyler Morton and Lewis Travis can provide in deeper midfield.
It’s exciting to know that there will be guaranteed EFL representation in the Semi-Finals of this season’s FA Cup. Both Sheffield United and Blackburn Rovers will be hopeful of being the team that books that Wembley ticket, and we could need a tense, tight affair at Bramall Lane in order to find it. Mistakes prove especially costly in a game like this one, and a single individual moment of quality could well be what decides it. The stakes are high in South Yorkshire on Sunday.
Winterthur v St. Gallen
If not for FC Sion, Winterthur may already be staring down the Super League trapdoor after just one season back in the top flight. A 2-1 loss away to Grasshoppers on Sunday stretched their winless record to six games in the Super League. FC Sion, who are level on points but above on goal difference, are winless in thirteen and haven’t been able to pull away.
That should give Winti plenty of optimism as they are scoring more goals and conceding less than their relegation rivals. Home form has also been a strong point for Bruno Berner’s team, they’ve lost just one of their last seven at home and held league leaders Young Boys to a 1-1 draw in the last match at the Schutzenwiese. A visit from St. Gallen, one of the sides they beat in a run of four successive 1-0 home victories between October and the return from the break, will give them confidence that they can finally move out of that relegation play-off spot.
St. Gallen have lost just two of their ten Super League matches and were ultimately unfortunate not to leave St. Jakob-Park with three points last weekend. After enduring a very difficult period of results at the end of 2022, Peter Zeidler’s team is only one point from a UEFA Champions League spot. Their trip to Winterthur will present the opportunity to leapfrog Servette, for a couple of hours at least, if they can secure the three points. The amount of goals they concede remains an issue though having scored and conceded in four of their last five and keeping only one clean sheet in a 4-0 win over struggling Sion.
I would go for Both Teams to Score. Winterthur have been a harder nut to crack at home but the free-scoring St. Gallen side should be able to bypass a defence that has conceded in the last three home matches. Winti have also had BTTS in nine of their last ten fixtures. As mentioned, FCSG have kept only one clean sheet and also only failed to score twice. Their attacking quality is not in question although Winti also have enough to find the net themselves.
Excelsior v Cambuur
After only one in their last eight matches, Excelsior are now in dire need of points to turn around a slump that is seeing them slide into the relegation places.
We are at that time of the season where the teams at the bottom start to get their act together, and Cambuur have been the latest to finally click.
Cambuur scored in only six of their opening 20 Eredivisie games this season, but they have now netted eight goals in their last four. Their January signings have been the big change here, and after a period of adjustment, they look to have finally settled in together. With some tough games to come in the final stretch, winning matches like this one will be crucial.
Tall striker Bjorn Johnsen is flanked by Mimoun Mahi and Remko Balk in attack, offering much more threat. Cambuur’s weakness is certainly now their defence. They have weak links at full back, and they are prone to mistakes through losing the ball in the middle too.
I do think the visitors have the goals to win this game, but I still prefer to play it a little bit safer and take the +1 handicap to give myself an extra safety net.
Ajax v Feyenoord
This fixture will not decide the title, but you cannot help but think that the momentum a win would give either of these sides could spur them on to go on a long run before the end of the season. Ajax have a 100% record under Johnny Heitinga, whilst Feyenoord keep scraping three points against teams they are expected to beat.
Coming up, Ajax definitely have the hardest last nine games of the season out of these two title favourites. With a three-point cushion at the top of the Eredivisie, Feyenoord will be very pleased with a draw to maintain that distance.
I predict Feyenoord will sit deep and try to hit Ajax on the counter attack; however, I don’t think it will work. Whilst Feyenoord may have the better defenders and midfielders, Ajax have the lots of goals in them under Heitinga, and they are very confident ahead of this one in the Johan Cruijff Arena.
Despite hammering Shakhtar 7-1 in the Europa League on Thursday, Feyenoord have enjoyed quite a lot of luck recently, with a lot of late winners and below-par performances not being punished by the opposition. If they do not improve and their hosts play at the level they are capable of, there is only one winner. Ajax are hungry and seem to have a lot more in the tank at the moment.
Montpellier v Clermont Foot
Montpellier are a side rejuvenated by a change of management and they should have too much for Clermont in a home match on Sunday.
Previously embroiled in the relegation scarp after a run of six defeats in seven in all competitions, the appointment of head coach Michel Der Zakarian has been the catalyst for a profound turnaround in their fortunes. Aided by a kind run of matches, Montpellier have picked up four wins in their last five.
Clermont, meanwhile, have found the going difficult of late, although they have had a tough run of matches. They have won only one of their last eight, which was an away trip to Toulouse. In that game, they belied a defensive injury crisis to keep a clean sheet, but once breached against Lens last weekend they crumbled embarrassingly, leaking three goals in five minutes in pitiful style.
The Auvergne outfit may have a stronger back three available in this encounter – Max Caufriez and Alidu Seidu could return to action – but having scored just two goals in eight matches, their issues are at both ends of the field. Even with their strongest defence available, they will have their work cut out suppressing the likes of Teji Savanier and Elye Wahi.
Look for an in-form Montpellier side to take advantage of Clermont’s weaknesses and rack up a third successive home win over Pascal Gastien’s side, having recorded single-goal wins in each of the last clashes between the clubs at Stade de la Mosson.
Fiorentina v Lecce
There is potential for this to be a pretty fun game. Fiorentina have now won three Serie A games in a row which were a 3-0 win away at Verona, 2-1 at home to Milan, and 2-0 away at Cremonese, so they are confident. They have also beaten Sivasspor twice in amongst those games to progress in the Europa Conference League.
There is suddenly a lot more confidence at the Stadio Artemio Franchi that Vincenzo Italiano might be getting the swagger back into his side.
On the other side, they come into this one having just played away in Turkey on a Thursday night and Lecce do not fear anyone. They will think there is a superb chance to grab an early goal or two and get another really good result under the belts.
Lecce have lost their last three in Serie A after a very good run of form so they know that a win needs to arrive soon if they are to continue being considered as outside of the relegation battle, so there is still a verygood chance that Fiorentina will be the team that wins the game. An early goal for the Salentini cannot be ruled out though with dangerous players such as Gabriele Strefezza, Lorenzo Colombo, Federico Di Francesco and Assan Ceesay on the pitch.
Lyngby v AC Horsens
Sunday’s most important match in the Danish Superliga is at the bottom of the league, where last place Lyngby take on 10th placed AC Horsens. Seven points split the two sides, but a home win would really open up the relegation battle.
Going into the spring, it looked impossible for Lyngby, who only won one match in the autumn, to survive. However, they have now collected seven points in four matches, just a single point less than they managed in the 17 matches before Christmas, and they arrive at this match having won two games in a row.
Last weekend, they defeated FC Midtjylland 3-1 away, and the week before they took a 1-0 victory at home against Brøndby. The confidence is flowing in northern Copenhagen, and Lyngby are truly playing with the optimism of a team with nothing to lose. They are further boosted by having striker Mathias Kristensen back from suspension.
At AC Horsens things are looking much worse. They have lost all four matches this spring and conceded a staggering 14 goals. Horsens have been the worst team on the pitch in all their games this spring, and head coach Jens Berthel Askou is starting to feel the pressure. Last weekend, Horsens lost 4-1 at home to FC Copenhagen, and they once again looked horrible defensively. Horsens are still without defensive star James Gomez due to an injury.
Lyngby have the home field advantage and are entering this match as favourites. They have the momentum and, everything points towards them to taking all three points in this one.
Nordsjaelland v Brondby
The Tigers of Northern Zealand take on Brøndby in a top of the table battle. Nordsjælland are fighting for the championship, while Brøndby needs to get at least a draw to qualify for the championship round.
The hosts are struggling currently. Nordsjælland entered the spring as favourites to win their second ever championship, but the loss of top scorer Andreas Schjelderup to Benfica and their head coach in January has influenced the results negatively. FCN has only won one of their four league games this spring, and they haven’t played well at all. They were lucky to get a draw last weekend against Viborg, and while their squad remains strong, confidence seems to have taken a serious hit due to the poor form.
Brøndby on the other hand have started the spring well with nine points out of 12 possible. They defeated Silkeborg 2-1 at home last weekend and have played well. Brøndby needs at least a point to enter the top six and qualify for the lucrative championship round of the league, and they will thus have to play for their lives. Luckily, the visitors have a great history at Right to Dream Park in Farum. They have won their last four away games against Nordsjælland with 8-0 in total.
Brighton v Grimsby Town
Brighton and Hove Albion are truly a role model football club. There is no finer example around of how smart decisions both on and off the pitch can steadily progress a club from the Football League into the top flight, and long term have them pursuing the European places that many feel is out of reach for the non-elite.
The Seagulls sit seventh in the Premier League, continuing a fine season which fans at the AMEX will hope can end with European qualification. This remains a club without a major trophy to their name though, and in what is an open final eight of the FA Cup, Brighton have to believe in the possibility of Wembley success by the end of this campaign.
Roberto Di Zerbi’s side cruised past Middlesbrough in Round Three, saw off Liverpool in stoppage time in Round Four, and beat Stoke City 1-0 at the bet365 Stadium to set up this quarter final against very favourable opposition. There may not feel a need to go full strength but there should be incentive to play some of the Seagull’s stars.
Argentine Alexis Mac Allister has quickly become a household name following his World Cup triumph. Japan International Kaoru Mitoma is one of the most exciting dribblers in world football. Evan Ferguson is a very promising young Irish striker who netted the first half winner in the previous round at Stoke City. Ecuador Internationals Jeremy Sarmiento and Moisés Caicedo, German Pascal Groß, Ghanaian full-back Tariq Lamptey and the English pair of Lewis Dunk and Danny Welbeck were among those to feature in Stoke-on-Trent last month.
Grimsby Town, the lowest-ranked side left this season, have been the undoubted story of the FA Cup in 2022-23. The Mariners are playing at the quarter final stage for the first time since 1939, beating three League One sides, Championship Luton Town, and Premier League Southampton to reach this historic moment. Grimsby’s iconic run is confusing when it is compared to their underwhelming league campaign. Paul Hurst’s will face the challenge of being without several cup-tied players again for this trip down south, including loanees George Lloyd and Mikey O’Neill.
John McAtee is available though, likely to lead the line or provide support to either Danilo Orsi or the now fit Ryan Taylor. With wide support from left-back Anthony Driscoll-Glennon and right-back Josh Emmanuel, plenty of eyes will be on the Mariners star midfielders. Versatile local lad Harry Clifton has played a key role in Grimsby’s FA Cup run. Irishman Gavan Holohan was the hero at St. Mary’s with a pair of penalties. He should benefit from having the more disciplined Kieran Green making a recent return from injury.
Brighton are heavy, heavy favourites to progress to the Semi-Finals and rightly so. The biggest mis-match of this quarter final stage sees Premier League face League Two on an occasion Grimsby Town will simply enjoy and look to compete in. Brighton and Hove Albion will have goalscoring quality no matter how strong they line up, but the Mariners have scored at least once in every FA Cup game so far this season and will be keen to take the opportunity to add another to their tally down at the AMEX. The thousands travelling with their Harry Haddocks know that progression any further looks a near-impossible task, but there is nothing wrong with dreaming.
OH Leuven v Anderlecht
Both of these sides sit just one point outside of the top-eight, so this game feels like it could be decisive. It will be played in front of a packed crowd at Den Dreef, as the stadium has sold out for the first time all season.
Memories of the 2011-12 season opener feel relevant, when newly-promoted OHL – the first Leuven side to play in the top-flight in 62 years – beat Anderlecht 2-1, surprising everyone.
Should Marc Brys’ OHL side, weakened by injuries (particularly the losses of Nsingi, and strikers Maertens and Schrijvers) be able to repeat this feet, Den Dreef will explode once more. They will at least also be able to welcome Gonzalez back to the side, after missing games in January and their recent clashes with Antwerp and Z-W. The Spaniard’s class will be crucial, he topped the goalscoring charts for the league before the winter break, but injuries have seen him score only twice in the last eight.
Anderlecht scraped through their Conference League Last 16 tie on Thursday. The Brussels-based side can thank goalkeeper Verbruggen for a string of great saves to allow them to get to penalties, where he was the hero, saving three Villareal penalties. He has been rewarded with a first ever call-up to the Dutch national team.
Coach Riemer is still unsure of his best attacking line-up. Amuzu and Raman often look threatening with their speed, but they both struggle to convert chances and make the right decisions in the final third. New signing Slimani is carrying a lot of the burden in this regard, scoring five goals in six games, and like against Villareal in midweek, he will need to bring some composure to an attacking unit that has so often lacked it this season.
Despite the worries going forward, Anderlecht do seem to be finally getting their act together this season. Riemer has solidified the defence, with Vertonghen and Verbruggen particularly impressing. OHL has traditionally struggled against bigger sides, whilst Anderlecht are in a good flow. They may not get the win, but it would be a surprise to see Anderlecht losing this one.
Real Sociedad v Elche
Things went from bad to worse for Real Sociedad as their run of games without a win reached six against Roma on Thursday night, as Jose Mourinho’s side saw out their first leg lead with a 0-0 draw at the Reale Arena to secure progress in the Europa League. Now, Real Sociedad will be without Mikel Merino and Carlos Fernández as both serve suspensions picked up in the draw with Mallorca last weekend.
However, there have been some players returning from injury, with David Silva among them, and there’s every reason to believe that the Basque team get back to winning ways on Sunday, mostly because of the limited quality of the opposition.
Elche come to town as a better team than they were early on in the season, but are still 12 points adrift at the bottom of the table with only two wins and seven draws from 25 matches to date this season. On the road, they have taken just six points from a possible 36, and they haven’t gone more than two games unbeaten in LaLiga this season.
The gulf in quality between these two teams make excellent value for Real Sociedad to recover the form which has put them in pole position to break into LaLiga’s top four this season. While Real Sociedad did draw a blank against Roma on Thursday, there were positive signs given that the xG showed a 1.84-0.09 victory over the Italians. Such a performance against Elche will prove much easier to secure the three points.
Osasuna v Villareal
Quique Setién and his Villarreal team suffered a devastating blow on Thursday night as they crashed out of the Conference League at the hands of Anderlecht, and the last thing they need now is a difficult away trip to Pamplona to take on Jagoba Arrasate’s Osasuna team.
Osasuna are the only side in LaLiga to remain in single digits for both goals scored and goals conceded since the turn of the year, just six for and eight against, making for an average of 1.4 goals per game since 2023 arrived. At El Sadar, that record is even more striking, as the average is just 1.0 goal per 90, which will prove a daunting prospect for Villarreal.
Osasuna have only won one of their four home games in 2023, but that run has included visits from Atlético Madrid, Real Madrid and in-form Celta Vigo. If Villarreal are to beat them, they’ll have to become the first team outside of the top three to score at El Sadar since 7th October.
Villarreal have not looked deadly in front of goal, either, with only Barcelona underperforming their xG more than the 8.27 underperformance that the Yellow Submarine have registered this season. That means that under 2.5 goals is looking to be great value for this Sunday afternoon clash.
Young Boys v FC Basel
Young Boys were back to their emphatic best last weekend as they piled the misery on relegation-threatened Sion with a terrific display of attacking football. An early red card to Giovanni Sio aided the process but YB were already a goal up by that point via Meschack Elia.
The striker added a second before the break and highly-rated youngster Fabian Rieder contributed a brace in the final half-hour to bring YB back to winning ways in exciting fashion. More dropped points for Servette means that the Bernese are now sixteen points clear at the top of the Super League ahead of welcoming FC Basel on Sunday, the team they wrestled the crown as kings of Swiss football from back in 2018 and opponents that have struggled to lay a glove on YB ever since.
Heiko Vogel’s time in interim charge has made FC Basel tougher to beat, but they are still struggling to put teams away and actually win matches. That was evident again at the weekend as they had to score late in a controversial match with St. Gallen to prevent their visitors from taking the three points.
That draw came just three days after being held to a 2-2 scoreline at home in Europe with Slovan Bratislava. Two wins from five and only one of those coming in ninety minutes is better than before Vogel took on the role, but there is more needed from his side if they are to gatecrash that final UEFA Champions League spot that second place will reward.
YB have struggled away from home to FC Basel lately, but they certainly have their number at the Wankdorf. YB picked up a comfortable 3-1 win back in October and have won five of the last six in the capital. FCB are still conceding often and after their midweek exertions in Europe that saw them concede twice against Slovan, mount a comeback and eventually triumph on penalties, I think they’ll be in for a tough afternoon here. YB’s firepower should be too great and I think they’ll take the three points.
Lugano v Servette
Lugano have their formula in place for what may bring European football back to the Stadio Cornaredo next season and so far it is working. The Ticino club occupy fourth and are just a single point away from occupying the more prestigious UEFA Champions League place.
The visit of Servette, the team in second, certainly dangles that carrot and Mattia Croci-Torti’s team will be feeling good after their unbeaten run moved to five games courtesy of a 2-0 triumph over Zurich at home last weekend. The win was also welcome as it finally brought three points rather than just the one in each of the previous four matches. Lugano have lost only one of ten matches and own a victory over SFC at this venue already this season.
Servette’s own unbeaten run of five games was ended with a rare home defeat at the hands of Lugano on Sunday. A bad-tempered match saw the dismissal of Kevin Mbabu for a second yellow for the home side before substitute Enzo Crivelli, sent on to try and salvage a point at least, lashed out twice at the opposition to earn a straight red and a ban of several matches.
Servette’s away form is patchy, to say the least. They’ve won just one of their last six and also lost emphatically to Zurich and St. Gallen. SFC have only three away wins this campaign and all three came against teams that are or were in the bottom half of the table at the time.
Lugano were shaky at home at the beginning of the season but they have soon returned to their best. The two defeats suffered on their own patch in the last ten have come against leaders YB and third-placed St. Gallen and while SFC do occupy second, they have their own home form to thank for that. I think Lugano can win here against a team that doesn’t often pick up the three points away from Geneva, but I’d take draw no bet to be cautious.
Volos v Olympiacos
Last Sunday, Olympiacos grabbed a statement 3-1 win to put an end to AEK’s 14-game winning streak at their new ground. Michel’s side couldn’t have asked for a bigger boost in morale ahead of the playoffs, with as many as 2,500 fans heading to the team’s training ground to celebrate this victory, one which has helped them remain five points behind leaders Panathinaikos and close the gap on second-placed AEK to three points.
As many as 15,000 supporters are expected to make the three-hour trip to Volos in their bid to push Olympiacos for a win that would see them close the gap on one of their two rivals – or even both on both of them should they draw – depending on the result of the Athens derby later on Sunday.
As many as 21 goals have been scored in Olympiacos’ last six matches. In fact, the reigning Super League champions have failed to score in just one of these games, as they paid for their lack of a clinical touch in front of goal to draw 0-0 with Panathinaikos, who have the best away defence in the league with just six goals conceded in 13 games.
However, Volos are anything but solid at the back despite conceding just one goal in their last two games. In fact, no team have allowed in more home goals than Volos this season. They have conceded 25 goals, including the four goals scored by Olympiacos in Volos earlier this season.
Despite somehow conceding only just one goal against PAOK last weekend, Volos have been struggling against the Big-4 (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK and PAOK), having conceded as many as 16 goals in five home games against the Greek Super League powerhouses.
Meanwhile, Volos have threatened to field the youth team throughout the playoffs after the Greek FA decided against assigning a foreign referee for Sunday’s game.
The Greek Super League had agreed with the Greek FA that all the playoff games between the top-6 sides will be officiated by foreign referees but failed to comply with their request. It has to be noted that foreign referees have been in charge of derbies in the last few years following several corruption and match-fixing scandals.
Volos are not expected to carry out their threat, but even if they don’t field the youth team, this should be a game where more than 2.5 goals will be scored.
RB Salzburg v Altach
While Red Bull Salzburg have fallen below their own standards in both continental and domestic cup competitions this season, they are on course for a 10th successive title and a record-breaking campaign in the Bundesliga. A win in this game would take their points tally to 57 for the regular season – the most by any club since the new league format was introduced in 2018/19. Standing in the way of that record are bottom club Altach, who are in the throes of a relegation battle and winless in their last eight league matches.
The Red Bulls will be without defenders Strahinja Pavlovic and Amar Dedic, who have both accumulated five bookings this season, while key midfielder Luka Sucic is out for the season with a knee injury. But they will be boosted by the return to fitness of defender Bryan Okoh and attacker Dijon Kameri, who have both been out with long-term injuries and have been getting minutes with feeder club Liefering. Altach will be missing the defensive stability offered by Jan Zwischenbrugger, who is sidelined, and winger Jurica Jurcec, who has a muscle strain.
If you were not yet convinced by their respective league positions and form – Salzburg have taken 28 points from their last 10 league matches, Altach eight – you might be by the fact that Salzburg have won each of their last 10 Bundesliga home games against the Vorarlbergers and scored a total of 14 goals in the last three of those matches. In our eyes, that makes Matthias Jaissle’s side the overwhelming favourites to win big in this clash at the Red Bull Arena, so we’re backing them to take all three points and score at least 2.5 goals in the process.
Austria Vienna v Rapid Vienna
The Vienna Derby – the most-played city derby in continental Europe and the third most-played in all of Europe after the rivalries in Glasgow and Edinburgh – has traditionally been the standout fixture in the Austrian football calendar. But the 338th edition has the added spice of falling on the final day of the regular season and determining whether Austria Vienna make the Championship Round. With only a one-point cushion over seventh-placed WSG Tirol, Austria must beat already qualified Rapid to be sure of joining their city rivals in the top six.
The Violets, who this week celebrated their 112th birthday, have lost right-back Reinhold Ranftl to suspension, while defensive midfielder James Holland and centre-forward Marko Raguz are suffering from a muscle injury and pubitis respectively. The Green & Whites have a suspension of their own to contend with, with central midfielder Roman Kerschbaum set to serve a ban after receiving his fifth booking of the campaign. Forward Ferdy Druijf is sidelined with injury, as is back-up goalkeeper Paul Gartler.
You could make a case for both clubs winning this one: Austria have the urgency of needing to win or risking their season being declared a failure, while Rapid can play without pressure and in the knowledge that they will be in the Championship Round come what may. Traditionally, this fixture has produced a lot of low-scoring draws in recent times – there were four 1-1 stalemates in a row at one point – and so we think under 2.5 goals scored is the likeliest outcome when green and purple go head-to-head on Sunday.
WSG Tirol v Sturm Graz
WSG Tirol’s hopes of repeating their achievement from two seasons ago and qualifying for the Championship Round are hanging by a thread ahead of their final game of the regular season. The Tyroleans, who operate on a shoestring budget, need to beat high-flying Sturm Graz and hope that Austria Vienna slip up in the derby or that Austria Klagenfurt drop points away to Austria Lustenau. Sturm Graz, for their part, are already eight points clear in second place but will want to win to make sure Salzburg do not pull even further away.
Veteran coach Thomas Silberberger’s side went on a six-match unbeaten run – including five wins and a draw – during the winter but are now winless in four matches and without the suspended Lukas Sulzbacher, who has been an ever-present figure in their midfield this season. Sturm Graz are missing the attacking duo of William Boving and Jakob Jantscher but have still managed to win four of their last five games in their absence, with the loss to Austria Klagenfurt the only blot on their copybook in that time.
In addition to their opposing form curves, Sturm Graz boast the far superior head-to-head record in their meetings with WSG Tirol. The Grazers are unbeaten in all nine of their previous Bundesliga meetings with the Tyroleans (W7 D2); they have only faced Austria Lustenau in more top-flight games without suffering a single defeat (14). We are therefore backing Sturm Graz to take all three points and condemn WSG Tirol to a place in the Qualification Round.
PSG v Rennes
Four of the last five matches between PSG and Rennes have finished with only one side finding the net, but Sunday’s clash at Parc des Princes is liable to see that statistic erased.
PSG come into this game seeking revenge for a 1-0 defeat they suffered in Brittany in January. Christophe Galtier’s side had started the year slowly, in contrast to their opponents, yet Rennes’ momentum has largely gone now.
Nevertheless, PSG are in the midst of an injury crisis defensively. Presnel Kimpembe is out for the season, Marquinhos will not play until after the international break and Sergio Ramos limped out of training earlier this week, making him questionable. On top of this, there are doubts over Nordi Mukiele and Achraf Hakimi, leading to questions over just who is available to play in their defence. It looks like it will be a makeshift rearguard at best.
Rennes, meanwhile, may be without their best forward in the form of Martin Terrier and may have failed to score in each of their last two, but they are more than capable of scoring in the capital. Indeed, playing in a counterattacking style in this type of game may actually suit them more than the type of game they played last weekend in Auxerre when they were expected to break their opponents down.
With PSG’s firepower coming from Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi, goals for the home side are taken for granted. Against an out-of-sorts Rennes side that has lost seven of its last 13, look for PSG to get the win, but expect goals at both ends.
Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich
Xabi Alonso is reunited with his former employers on Sunday afternoon when his Bayer Leverkusen side host Bayern Munich. This is an intriguing match-up and Borussia Dortmund will be hoping B04 can do them a favour against Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern with just 10 Bundesliga games remaining. Alonso’s side certainly have the attacking threat to pose Bayern’s defensive line problems.
Bayern Munich have had longer to prepare for this fixture as Bayer Leverkusen played in the Europa League on Thursday night, securing a place in the quarter-final following a 4-0 aggregate win against Ferencvaros. Alonso didn’t opt for a weakened starting XI in Hungary, but we can expect to see a Leverkusen side with little rotation against Bayern Munich on Sunday.
Patrik Schick didn’t feature on Thursday and remains a doubt, and so we can expect to see Sardar Azmoun start alongside Florian Wirtz and Moussa Diaby. Amine Adli also shone when Alonso introduced the Frenchman and the technical ability and pace that Diaby and Jeremie Frimpong possess has the ability to cause Bayern’s high-defensive line problems.
Bayer Leverkusen also come into this game six games unbeaten, winning five and drawing one. They’ve also scored in their last nine games across all competitions whilst Bayern Munich shipped three against Augsburg last weekend, but still emerged victors. Bayern have only failed to score in one of their games across all competitions this season, whilst the Leverkusen defence is prone to making an error – they’ve also failed to keep a clean sheet in their last seven league games.
With Jamal Musiala, Thomas Muller, Kingsley Coman and Serge Gnabry, Bayern Munich will always create chances in the third. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is a doubt for this game, but Nagelsmann’s side have more than enough quality to find a way past this Leverkusen side.
Bayer Leverkusen can cause Bayern Munich problems on the break with their pace, but they have to be careful not to concede too early, otherwise they’re likely to lose confidence. Bayern Munich will certainly score, but I fancy Bayer Leverkusen to test Yann Sommer who has looked shaky and is still working on communication with his new defenders. Both Teams to Score is excellent value here.
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