Sunday afternoon has plenty more final day of the season action, with the Premier League amongst many other European leagues playing their final games of the season today.
The title may be sewn up, but it is still all to play for at the bottom of the table, with Leeds, Leicester, and Everton all fighting to avoid joining Southampton in being relegated to the Championship.
The Eredivisie also draws to a close this afternoon and though the title and relegation picture are settled, there remain positions in the European play-off positions still to be decided, as is the case with the Austrian Bundesliga, after Salzburg claimed a tenth-straight title last week.
Whatever the scenario, our League Scouts are all over the action this weekend and have picked out some tasty-looking value picks from Sunday afternoon’s games.
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AZ Alkmaar v PSV
This is one of two big meetings between the top five on the final day of the Eredivisie season. What is at stake? PSV are in second place chasing Champions League play-off qualification, knowing that avoiding defeat assures them of this. Ajax are third and away at fifth-placed Twente, knowing that a win could see them leapfrog PSV, but defeat means they could drop into fourth; whilst AZ are the team chasing Ajax (and a Europa League place), knowing only a win for them and defeat for Ajax sees them leapfrog the Amsterdam side into third.
With all that explained, let’s move on to the biggest news of the week from the Eredivisie: Ruud van Nistelrooy has walked from his position as PSV manager with the last game of the season to go, stating that he felt as though the club were not fully behind him. For van Nistelrooy to leave before a crucial final game shows how little faith he had in those working around him and no confidence to turn it around. I believe that will really unsettle the players, even with the experienced Fred Rutten taking temporary charge.
As for AZ, they comfortably beat NEC last time out to put behind them the disappointment of a semi-final Europa Conference League exit to West Ham. Against the Hammers, AZ looked a shade short in quality. It’s a shame because the Alkmaar side have beaten Feyenoord, Ajax and PSV in recent years in the Eredivisie, but found the physicality and low block of West Ham too much. Back on home turf, I see them having some joy against what will be a rattled PSV.
What’s more, PSV will be annoyed with themselves that they couldn’t beat Heerenveen at home which would have secured them second place already. It was at least a good comeback from 1-3 down to secure a 3-3 draw. I think the money though will be on a good result for Pascal Jansen’s men, and let’s not forget that a draw would be enough for PSV.
Volendam v Excelsior
Volendam still have this incredible home record in 2023: they have won every single home game except a draw with AZ and a narrow defeat to PSV, coming extremely close to taking maximum points at home this calendar year – clearly key to their survival in the top flight.
Surely Excelsior won’t stand in their way. They are the side with the worst away record in the division; only one win and three draws from sixteen played. Add to that a complete lack of goals; Excelsior have only scored eight times on the road all season.
These two sides sit relaxed just above the relegation zone, getting to celebrate their Eredivisie survival last weekend. Both teams will need to strengthen over the summer to compete next season, mind, particularly Excelsior.
I can only see this one going in the direction of Volendam. It has been great to see these two promoted sides fight to stay in the league. Wim Jonk has got his team going and fans bouncing at home, so let’s back another three points to round off a brilliant second half to the campaign. What’s more, goals are common in the Eredivisie when the stakes are lower, and Excelsior don’t score many of them, so Volendam may run away with it.
Groningen v Sparta Rotterdam
There are very good odds on Sparta getting a win away at a desperately poor Groningen side who have already been relegated this season some weeks ago.
Sparta are one of a clutch of four teams hoping to end their season on a high in the European play-offs, and they have been impressing again with their attacking football. A 4-1 win over Cambuur showed us the damage they can do to the teams down the wrong end of the table.
Groningen are a club with many problems: lots of players will now need to leave heading into next season in the second tier, there will be a new manager (again), and the fans also need to correct their behaviour.
You cannot blame supporters’ frustrations – it has been an awful season for a club normally in the top half of the league – but the behaviour of fans resulting in home games being postponed is in nobody’s interest. Because of objects being thrown on the pitch in previous matches, this game will have no supporters, which is clearly a disadvantage to Groningen.
Sparta have more experience at the back, hungrier players, and a set of attackers will be quicker, more technical and physically better.
FC Utrecht v FC Emmen
After having watched Utrecht last weekend as they lost 3-1 to Ajax, you could see they had something about them, and even though the game didn’t matter as they prepare for the Europa Conference League play-offs, the players still gave it a lot of energy.
Utrecht have an experienced team, which has helped them in some ways this season, but they also could do with some fresh ideas next season if they really do want to attack the top teams in the league. There can be no doubt though in Nick Viergever’s knowledge and experience at centre-back, as he will aim to finish the season with a clean sheet.
On top of that, Anatasios Douvikas has the top goal-scorer award in his sights, leading the chart by one goal going into the final weekend of the season and a winnable home game in his sights. It is very common for Eredivisie top-scorers to go on to greater things next season, so Douvikas will be keen to continue to impress with one more game to go.
Whilst Utrecht prepare for the European play-offs, Emmen’s season isn’t over either, as they are due to go into the relegation play-offs. I think here we will see why they are in big trouble of going down. Despite having talented Dick Lukkien as manager, I don’t think there’s enough going forward nor a strong enough defensive personnel to keep them up. Micky van der Hart is a weak link in goal, for me.
A win for the hosts seems all but inevitable here, and it is priced very reasonably at odds of 1.50 with Betfair.
Djurgårdens IF v AIK
Djurgårdens have, after a stuttering start to the campaign, got going in recent weeks and are now in a much better position to compete with the best sides in the division. The first few games showed there was plenty of readjustment to be made to get a host of new players to gel into a cohesive unit. The press was disjointed and even in a deeper block, too many gaps were present. In attack, similarly, there was little understanding leading to a lack of quality chances created.
In the last couple of home games, though, things have started clicking, with a defensive solidity showing its face. There were still real issues away against Häcken and Hammarby, conceding four goals in each game, but game after game they are improving at both ends.
It remains undecided which position new signing Oliver Berg is best in, but his lack of threat in behind would suggest he is most suited to being in the midfield three. With Joel Asoro fit he probably would be dropped back, but now the former is injured Berg could continue in attack. Otherwise Victor Edvarden, the team’s top scorer and assister last year, is not a bad option.
AIK’s season has been even more disastrous – they sit in the relegation playoff spot nine games in and have been a shadow of their former glory days.
Despite plenty of star power in the squad, there is nothing glamorous about the way they have been playing. Even with the third highest possession figure in the league, they rarely create big chances, and struggle to break down teams with a slow and steady approach, lacking innovation. When counter attacking, they can be more dangerous with some interesting attacking profiles, but they rarely commit enough bodies forward to make this a viable option.
Defensively they are also porous, with the back three not getting enough protection from a makeshift midfield three they have yet to nail down. Six games have passed since their lone win to date, and much needs to change if the former giants want to return to their best.
Djurgårdens have been incredibly solid at home while AIK look likely to continue to struggle for a while yet. As such, a home win is on the cards in this feisty Stockholm derby despite only three days since their last match.
Orebro v Helsingborg
Both of these sides will be underwhelmed with how they have started the 2023 Superettan season. Especially given the fact that it follows on from difficult form at the end of last season, too, suggesting a deeper problem.
Orebro drifted into a mid-table finish last season after a really difficult end to the campaign. They finished the 2022 season with three successive draws, which extended their winless run of form to five matches, following their relegation down to the second-tier in 2021.
The hosts’ inconsistent and inadequacy has been continued into this campaign, too. Their 3-2 defeat away to previously out of form Landskrona means that Christian Jardler’s side have managed just two wins in their opening eight matches so far this season.
Last season, Helsingborg were relegated from the top-flight and offered very little fight. They finished 14 points below Varberg in the relegation playoff place. The club decided to stick by their co-management duo of Alvaro Santos and Mattias Lindstrom but after four successive defeats at the start of this season, an off-field shake-up was required and put into action.
Stuart Baxter, who had been appointed Technical Director in January, replaced both Santos and Lindstrom in the dugout, whilst Andreas Granqvist, the Sporting Director, was also sacked. An immediate up-lift occurred with a 2-1 win at home to an impressive GAIS side but they have since collected one point from three matches.
These are two teams that have been in the top-flight in very recent memory but are enduring a difficult start to the second-tier this season. They are the two lowest scorers in the league, managing just 11 goals between them, so a low-scoring encounter between two teams low on confidence is expected.
Rapid Vienna v Sturm Graz
Four weeks on from their meeting in the ÖFB-Cup final, Rapid Vienna and Sturm Graz will go head-to-head once again. Sturm were the winners on that occasion, as they have been in all three of their Bundesliga meetings this season.
Beyond the current campaign, the Graz outfit are on a nine-match unbeaten streak against the Vienna club in the Bundesliga (W6 D3) and have scored in their last eight league meetings. Christian Ilzer’s Sturm team are clearly in superior form too, with 11 wins from their last 14 games (L3).
By contrast, Zoran Barisic’s Rapid side have not won any of their last seven matches in all competitions (D3 L4). It does not bode well for the Green & Whites, who are in a battle with cross-city rivals Austria Vienna and Austria Klagenfurt for fourth spot in the table and the right to bypass the internal European play-off.
To make matters worse, Rapid will be without a number of players who make up the spine of their team. First-choice shot-stopper Niklas Hedl has a shoulder injury and will be replaced by Paul Gartler, who looked short of confidence in the game against LASK, while defender Leopold Querfeld and midfielders Aleksa Pejic, Lion Schuster and Dejan Petrovic are all sidelined too.
Sturm Graz are without winger Bryan Teixeira, who must serve a suspension, plus centre-back Alexandar Borkovic and left-back David Schnegg, who are injured – but with plenty of other options to cover, we still expect them to be too strong for a Rapid team that has looked out of sorts all season. Our recommendation would be to back Sturm Graz to win and take their unbeaten run versus Rapid into double digits.
LASK v Austria Vienna
LASK – who are guaranteed third place and the European spot that comes with it – host an Austria Vienna team who are still in a tense battle for the most coveted qualifying berth still available; the fourth place which they currently occupy.
The hosts have been comfortably the third best side in the division, and they’re well ahead of the battle behind for a reason. Only Salzburg have beaten them on home turf since they moved into their new stadium, and even those games were close-run contests.
They’ll miss the industrious full back Rene Renner through suspension, but up-top they still have three players who have reached double figures for goals this season, and in Peter Michorl and Thomas Goiginger two of their longer-term stars have been creating plenty of chances of late.
Austria Vienna have only managed one win in the Championship Round, but they haven’t drawn a blank since back in February, well before the group began. Scoring goals has not been an issue for them either home or away, especially since Haris Tabakovic hit his stride in 2023, but the Violets have also been helped by the odd goal from elsewhere on the field.
Having already managed three score draws against LASK this season in exciting, end-to-end matches (1-1, 2-2, 2-2) we’re confident that both teams will find the net once again. LASK can play with freedom in their home finale, whilst Austria will be giving it everything to seal fourth place a week early.
RB Salzburg v Austria Klagenfurt
Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions (for the 10th time in a row) Red Bull Salzburg overcame a tough task at home last weekend to seal the deal, and this weekend they’re at home once more against sixth-placed Klagenfurt.
Whilst the home team will be the clear favourites, they have found it harder than usual to breeze through the top-six teams, and in their last six matches they have not managed more than two goals in a game, with three of their four wins in that time coming by just one goal.
They’ve been spreading the goals around the team in this campaign, but aside from Benjamin Sesko they still lack out-and-out scorers who can reach double figures for the season. With Lucas Gourna-Douath suspended and strikers Noah Okafor and Luka Sucic still finding fitness, they might struggle to break apart their opponents on Sunday evening.
Austria Klagenfurt were everyone’s pick to finish in sixth place, and although that is their current spot, they’ve pulled out several gritty results to remain in touch, only three points behind fourth place. Since outstanding top scorer Markus Pink departed for China, more defensive players like Andy Irving and Kosmas Gkesoz have surprisingly stepped in with big goals, but against the league’s best defence, their lack of real striking options is likely to hold them back.
They really need a result to remain in the European picture, and they will be playing hard to take some points from Salzburg, but ultimately we feel that there’s value in this being a low-scoring contest, with a 1-0 or 2-0 win for the hosts looking probable.
Southampton v Liverpool
It’s been a woeful season for the Saints as relegation was confirmed a few weeks ago. Ruben Selles could well leave the club after this match and I see nothing but defeat once again. Southampton are winless in their last 12 games in the Premier League and they’ve lost the previous 5 in a row too. These sorry statistics are why I’m keen to oppose them and things just don’t get any easier with an in-form Liverpool in town.
Liverpool are one of the form teams coming into this matchup and they’ve won 7 of their last 8 PL matches. Goals have been a theme during this period and they’re a team that have been finding the back of the net with regularity. It is now 21 goals scored in 8 games, at an average of 2.64 GpG.
This will be a final farewell for Roberto Firmino, the Brazilian has been a magnificent servant to his club and he may well be given a start by Jurgen Klopp. The stats don’t lie, in the last 33 minutes that Firmino has played, he’s been on the scoresheet two times, a very impressive return.
It’s expected that Mo Salah will be in the starting XI and the Egyptian will be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Southampton. The Egyptian has been in scintillating form having notched 7 times in the last 9 games. In addition to this, 4 assists have been provided and I believe he’ll be a tough man to stop on Sunday afternoon.
The end of the season is upon us and it’s one Southampton cannot wait for. The Saints have the second worst defensive record having conceded a huge 69 goals in total. Multiple goals have been leaked in 5 of their last 6 matches at home and it could well be another long afternoon.
At the other end of the field, the stats are just as bleak. Southampton have blanked in 6 of their 10 at St Mary’s. They’ve managed just 32 goals in the entirety of the season, an average of less than one goal a game. Everything points to a Liverpool win here; jump on board this 5 star selection as the away side should win this comfortably.
Manchester United v Fulham
Manchester United remain unbeaten since the opening day of the season on home soil and a strong home showing looks on the cards here. The Red Devils put in another big performance just a few days ago, hammering Chelsea by four goals to one. The return of Marcus Rashford was a huge plus and of course the prolific forward netted after coming on as a substitute.
Visitors Fulham were last in action at home to Crystal Palace, where the Cottagers picked up a single point. Their talisman Alexsandar Mitrovic is now back and ready to start this one, having gained valuable minutes in some of their recent games.
This fixture is one that United have dominated of late, they remain unbeaten in the last 14 head to head encounters. During this time, it’s been 11 victories and 3 draws, so an excellent little statistic to start us off.
The home side have been on fire throughout this campaign and most of their excellent work has been done here at Old Trafford. United have now won 5 on the spin here, as well as gaining maximum points in 12 of the last 14 matches at home. This excellent run of form has to be of significant importance and is just one of many reasons to get behind this 5 star selection.
With the aforementioned Marcus Rashford now fit and available for selection, he’ll no doubt be keen the end the season on a high. After notching in the previous game, he’ll fancy his chances against a side who have lost 4 of their last 6 on the road. Another player to note is Bruno Fernandes, the Portuguese playmaker has 4 goals contributions in the last 7 (2G + 2A).
The Cottagers have had an excellent season by all accounts, although their form has dipped in recent months. Worryingly, it’s been the results away from home that have contributed to this. The 4 defeats in the last 6 are what caught the eye; especially up against so efficient at home. A couple of notable absentees for the visitors are Tim Ream and Andreas Pereira who both remain out with injury. The pair have been extremely influential all season long and this news certainly hampers their hopes here.
With no Premier League victory at Old Trafford since 2009 for Fulham, I’m keen to back United to pick up all 3 points. Back this one with confidence and we could well have another winner.
IF Elfsborg v Malmo FF
A real battle is on the cards here between the top two teams in the division, both on impressive unbeaten runs (Malmö 9 games and Elfsborg 8) and looking to solidify their status as title contenders. They shared similar struggles last year, finding it difficult to manage both European play and a domestic campaign, but have firmly put their troubles behind to steamroll opponents at the start of this year.
Elfsborg have one of the most complete teams in the division, having recruited very cleverly in the last year or so. Bringing home experienced defenders with plenty still left in the tank and finding young, hungry attackers has been a recipe for success, and they are now reaping the rewards.
Jacob Ondrejka has been nothing short of exceptional to date and fully deserves his move to Royal Antwerp in the summer – hopefully he can change the trend of Swedes failing in Belgium. His all-round profile, both being able to score and create, makes life difficult for defenders, especially with other effective attackers such as Okkels and Bernhardsson around him. There is a real possibility of mounting a real title challenge with this squad, especially with this exciting attacking playing style.
Malmö have themselves been stellar, outclassing most opponents in the opening nine matches. They lost their 100% record last weekend, being held to a 2-2 results at home to champions and recent cup winners Häcken. Malmö looked more vulnerable than usual, with Häcken actually creating the better chances, and were also gifted an own goal which was marginally over the line before being cleared.
Despite this, the powerhouse from the south has been incredibly impressive to kick off the season, with an massive amount of talent in the squad. 18-year old Hugo Larsson goes from strength to strength and will soon be moving to a bigger league, while Stefano Vecchia and Sebastian Nanasi take turns in scoring and assisting. Isak Kiese Thelin hasn’t been involved in their play much in recent matches after scoring 8 in the first 5, but is still a top quality center forward, and they have managed just fine without his goals recently.
This should be a thrilling encounter and goals can be expected in both directions – Elfsborg have scored in their last 7, with Malmö bagging a goal in every game this season.
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