Lyon v Rennes
After Lyon were defeated in the Coupe de France by Nantes 1-0 away from home on Wednesday, head coach Laurent Blanc openly admitted that the last nine matches of the season will feel like a slog. That trek begins on Sunday with a tough match against Rennes.
OL are a funny side capable of great things, like they showed a week ago as they won against PSG, but equally capable of the catastrophic. They have tended more towards the latter this season in Ligue 1, which is why they are ninth and out of serious European contention. In recent weeks, they have been more difficult to beat but have not been winning regularly. Three of their last four league matches have ended drawn, while they have won only two of their last seven against top-flight opponents.
Rennes come into this match fresh after not playing in midweek and motivated as they are chasing European football. Renowned for their home form this season, it has been their work on their travels that has been most impressively lately. They have won two of their last three away from home and have not conceded in this time, including a 2-0 win over PSG.
Lyon are too strong at home to make it worthwhile backing Rennes, who only have four away wins to their credit, outright, but there is value in supporting the visiting side to avoid defeat. Rennes, after all, have only lost two of their last 10 against an out-of-sorts OL.
Anderlecht v Westerlo
Anderlecht can take an important step towards the play-off 2 on Sunday afternoon at home. Direct rival Westerlo will come to the Lotto Park. With a win, Anderlecht will move up to seventh in the standings. In that case Anderlecht and Westerlo would have won the same number of matches, but because Anderlecht would have a better goal difference, they will overtake Westerlo.
At Anderlecht, they are doing everything possible this week to get their offensive spearhead Islam Slimani ready for this crucial game. The Algerian dropped out against OHL two weeks ago with a muscle injury and had to miss out on international duty with Algeria. Brian Riemer hoped to have him back against Eupen, but Slimani did not pass his fitness test. However, he has resumed training and Anderlecht are hopeful that he will be available on Sunday. In seven league games, Slimani managed an impressive six goals. Killian Sardella is also expected to be ready to play.
Although this is an important match, Anderlecht have bigger games to worry about in the near future . After all, the Conference League quarter-final against AZ awaits on Thursday. Anderlecht will take the initiative at home as usual. However, the home team will have to constantly watch out for Westerlo’s sharp counters, with quick attackers like Matsuo and Vaesen.
KVC Westerlo could almost certainly have secured themselves a play-off 2 place last weekend, but after the unfortunate 2-3 home defeat against pursuer Charleroi, they will now have three more tough fixtures to deal with. With Anderlecht and Club Brugge as the two upcoming opponents, coach Jonas De Roeck’s team will have to work wonders to pick up multiple results in this run. However, Westerlo remain the revelation in this Pro League. They have only failed to score in three matchdays. Anderlecht are also finding their way to the back of the net these days. They have scored in 15 of 18 games in 2023. We see both teams continuing on this momentum in an enjoyable match for the neutral viewer.
Real Valladolid v Mallorca
After being thrashed 6-0 by Real Madrid last weekend, Real Valladolid sacked Pacheta as coach the following day and have hired Paulo Pezzolano as his replacement. The Uruguayan, who was most recently in charge of Cruzeiro in Brazil, will hope to deliver a new manager bounce in this home game against Mallorca. He has promised that “not much will change yet, just a few details”, as he wants his players to feel comfortable for this first game under his leadership.
It’s good that he’s not planning a complete overhaul, because Real Valladolid are not a bad team and their 6-0 loss at the Bernabéu was just one really bad day at the office. While they’ve taken only four points from their past five matches, it has to be kept in mind that they were suffering an injury crisis during that run, one which has now eased massively. The Pucela now have just three players missing this weekend, and Darwin Machís is the only one of that trio who is a guaranteed starter.
Meanwhile, their opponents Mallorca are without the suspended trio of José Manuel Copete, Giovanni González and Iddrisu Baba, all of whom have been regular starters in recent weeks. Copete and González’s absences leave a void in the team’s back five, even more so given that fellow centre-backs Matija Nastasic and Martin Valjent aren’t 100 percent fit, even if they may start.
As such, this is an excellent opportunity for Real Valladolid, especially considering that Mallorca have lost their past six games away from the island, scoring just one goal in that run.
RB Salzburg v Austria Vienna
Red Bull Salzburg’s disappointing campaign in cup competitions – they were knocked out of the Europa League by Roma and eliminated from the Austrian Cup by closest domestic challengers Sturm Graz – stands in sharp contrast to their stellar league campaign, where they are now 22 games unbeaten, have dropped only 11 points all season and are three points clear of an excellent Sturm side at the top. It is an impressive record given the general consensus that this Salzburg squad perhaps lacks the stand-out names of seasons gone by.
With financial problems looming large and popular coach Manfred Schmid departing over the winter break, it has been another season where off-pitch issues have carried greater weight than the Austria Vienna fans would have liked. On the pitch, their form has certainly been inconsistent with four wins, one draw and three defeats in their last eight matches, leaving Michael Wimmer’s team in fourth spot. The stalemate came in their last outing, when they took a two-goal lead against LASK only to be pegged back late on and held to a 2-2 draw.
Salzburg have not lost any of their last 37 Bundesliga home games (W30 D7). On top of that, their record against Austria Vienna in recent times has been incredibly one-sided, with the Red Bulls currently on a 14-game unbeaten streak against the Violets (W13 D1) and becoming the first side ever to inflict eight consecutive league defeats on the capital club. They have also scored at least three times in each of their last three meetings, which makes them strong favourites to win and score over 2.5 goals on Sunday in our eyes.
FC Emmen v NEC Nijmegen
I foresee an entertaining match on Sunday. NEC seem to have the bit between their teeth at the moment despite not having too much to play for, whereas Emmen are desperate for any points they can get before their very difficult run-in of games.
Emmen’s two wins in the past three matches could be absolutely pivotal to help them avoid automatic relegation. They now have a cushion of seven points to the bottom two, so they may be more worried now about avoiding the final relegation play-off place (sixteenth), with five of their last seven matches against top seven outfits.
NEC have good quality for a mid-table side, and they are in the same clutch of teams with RKC and Heerenveen chasing a top-eight finish for the European play-offs. I thought NEC would give PSV more of a tough game last weekend, instead losing 2-4; however, my opinion doesn’t change on a side full of talent.
Influential playmaker Oussama Tannane limped off in the PSV defeat after scoring twice, but there are players such as Elayis Tavsan and Landry Dimata who are keen for big summer moves, so stepping up in Tannane’s absence to provide the goals will keep them on their toes.
A tricky one to call, but I can see each side having their moments in the game and scoring at least once.
Hacken v Hammarby
Häcken ran Elfsborg ragged in the season opener, and while the Borås side created some decent chances, Häcken were good value for their victory. Last season’s champions have been mightily impressive at the start of this season, demolishing everything in their way to reach the Swedish Cup final. The loss of top scorer Jeremejeff doesn’t look to have made them much weaker, with young starlet Traoré providing a different kind of threat up front, showing impressive movement and technique, with good game intelligence for his age. They have Ola Kamara, long-time MLS spearhead, to get up to speed too, who should add even more weight to an already lethal attacking lineup.
Off the ball, the Gothenburg side are just as impressive, squeezing opponents well as soon as they lose the ball and rarely getting caught on the counter due to an organised rest defence. In and around their own box, the central defensive partnership of Hovland and Hammar is robust and mops up anything that comes their way. There are very few weaknesses to this team, and with the best midfield in the country, they will take some beating again this season.
Hammarby, on the other hand, have some way to go if they want to challenge seriously for a top three finish in order to qualify for Europe. They looked shaky in the opener versus Degerfors despite an eventual 3-1 win, losing the game on xG and allowing their opponents to take 15 shots. While Degerfors is a tough side, they would do well to stay out of a relegation fight, and Hammarby should be more controlling against such teams to achieve their ambitions. They has varied profiles and should be able to compete, but the defence is not yet settled and the whole team is much too susceptible to counter attacks. Häcken do this particularly well, with players who are able to both find runners with early passes forward and others who can transport the ball rapidly at their feet.
This game comes a bit too early in the season for Hammarby, with Häcken a much complete and settled team at this stage.
Real Betis v Cadiz
Last weekend ended in disappointment for both Real Betis, who lost against Atlético Madrid via a late goal, and Cádiz, who suffered a crucial defeat to Sevilla in their relegation battle. This time around, both will be looking to bounce back.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side will be in a much stronger position to do just that. Their league position has them chasing to break into the top four and, despite some inconsistencies caused by their Europa League commitments, they are strong when they have a full week to prepare, as has been the case this week. They’ve won three and drawn with Real Madrid in their previous four league games that followed a free midweek.
Cádiz, meanwhile, have not won an away game since January 6th, away at relegation rivals Valencia, with that being only their second away victory of the campaign. With only seven goals scored on the road this season, they now head to the Estadio Benito Villamarín to face LaLiga’s sixth-best defence and a team whose last three games have ended 1-0.
With a big crowd behind Betis, it’s hard to imagine that Cádiz would be able to break down this Betis team. While Betis have not been prolific of late, they have only failed to score at home in LaLiga once this season, against Real Madrid, and Cádiz are the league’s lowest scorers on the road. Betis should be confident of the win.
LASK v Sturm Graz
Only four days after a hard-fought clash in the Austrian Cup semi-final, LASK meet Sturm Graz once again in the first of their Championship Round duels. Tomi Horvat’s 69th-minute winner at Graz’s Merkur Arena on Thursday night fired Christian Ilzer’s men into their first ÖFB-Cup final in five years, with LASK licking their wounds as their 58-year trophy drought continues. After such a severe disappointment, this could have an impact on the Linz side who currently sit in third position in the table. Despite their lofty position, LASK sit a sizable seven points behind their opponents on Sunday, despite fighting back for a 2-2 draw at Austria Vienna with Florian Flecker’s last gasp equaliser securing a point
On the other hand, Sturm Graz are only three points behind Red Bull Salzburg in an exciting title race and are coming off a league high after beating Rapid Vienna, their cup final opponents and keen rivals, last weekend with hotshot Dutch striker Emanuel Emegha on the scoresheet alongside Manprit Sarkaria and returning midfield ace Otar Kiteishvili. In their quest for a first Austrian Bundesliga championship since 2011 Sturm Graz have only lost twice and are enjoying the league’s only away unbeaten streak, a club record of 11 games. As the season has progressed the Black and Whites have added confidence, defensive strength and improved potency in attack, for these reasons it’s hard to look past a second Sturm Graz victory in a row.
AEK Athens v Aris
AEK remained top of the table after securing a professional 1-0 win away at Volos on Sunday. Matias Almeyda’s side are gradually building momentum, as they have secured two straight 1-0 victories over PAOK and Volos after dropping points at home against Olympiacos and Panathinaikos.
What they need to do now is to get back to winning ways on home soil. Before losing to Olympiacos and drawing with Panathinaikos, AEK had recorded 15 straight home wins, scoring 40 goals and conceding just twice across all competitions. In fact, they defeated Aris 3-0 at the OPAP Arena back in January, just a few months after securing a 2-0 victory away in Thessaloniki.
AEK average 2.1 goals scored at home this season, while no top-six team have conceded more goals than Aris (17 in 14 games) away from home. In fact, Aris have lost eight of their 14 games on the road. They did surprise Olympiacos by coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 away at the Karaiskakis Stadium, but they had previously lost all their five games against Big-4 teams (Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, AEK and PAOK) away from home.
Sitting top of the table, level on points with Panathinaikos and three points ahead of Olympiacos, AEK are aware that a comfortable win will send a message to and pile the pressure on the other two title contenders, who face each other later on Sunday. It has to be noted that only two of the last 14 games against the two teams ended with fewer than 1.5 goals scored, which means that we should expect an entertaining duel at the OPAP Arena.
Nantes v Monaco
With the race for the Champions League spots heating up, look for Monaco to win against a Nantes side newly qualified for the Coupe de France final but who may well suffer a hangover after their midweek achievement.
Monaco have been brilliant away from home this season. They have lost only one of their 14 road trips this season, winning nine, and have won four of their last five on the road in all competitions. After a difficult spell of form prior to the international break, they have eased themselves back to winning ways with hard-fought victories over Ajaccio and Strasbourg. While these are clubs around the relegation zone, Nantes are not so much better.
Indeed, the home side have been going through a fallow period. Their 1-0 win over Lyon in midweek was only their second in 10 matches. They have been going through a devilishly difficult run of fixtures, of which this is simply a continuation. Moreover, they have struggled juggling weekend matches with midweek fixtures, losing their last three matches after playing midweek.
Looking at the league table, Nantes are only four points clear of the drop zone, but there is no reason to panic yet. Antoine Kombouare’s side have an easy run in on paper, with only one top-half club to play after this game. They should be able to afford a little hangover following their cup triumph.
Thumped 3-0 in the league at home by Reims last time out, Nantes will do well to fare better against a Monaco side that beat them 4-1 earlier this season and has won 14 of the last 18 league fixtures between the teams, dating back a decade.
Liverpool v Arsenal
A lacklustre Liverpool host league leaders Arsenal on Super Sunday at Anfield, in a game I see the visitors coming away with all three points. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Reds have such a poor campaign by their standards and Arsenal can pounce on this! The home side were in action on Thursday night at Chelsea, where they limped to a 0-0 draw having been second best for large spells. The misfiring Merseyside outfit have failed to win any of their last three games too. Whereas, Arsenal couldn’t be in better form having won their last seven league games on the bounce.
Liverpool find themselves down in 8th position in the table and look set to limp into a Europa League spot, or even worse a Europa Conference league spot at best! Quite worryingly, they seem to be a shade of their former selves and recent results reflect this. Previous to their draw at Stamford Bridge, they were humbled to back to back defeats at the hands of Manchester City and relegation threatened Bournemouth. Now, back at Anfield they’ll be hoping for a change in fortunes but up against a team in such fine form, gunning for the title, I feel they may slip up again.
Unsurprisingly, Mo Salah has been the most potent of the forward line for Liverpool this season. The Egyptian has still managed 12 goals, 5 of which have been the first goal in these games. However, I feel he could well be tamed by an Arsenal defence that has kept 5 clean sheets in their last 7 PL games.
Although the home side possess quite a strong home record, I’m banking on the title favourites to punish them. The Gunners are in unstoppable form at this moment in time and the price of 2.38 to win outright makes them a real value selection. Gabriel Jesus is now back to full fitness and was on fire in his previous start against Leeds. The Brazillian notched a brace in that fixture and may well be given the nod by Arteta. The talent runs deep in this Arsenal team with the likes of Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard and Trossard all also pushing for starts. Each of the mentioned players have been in sensational form. All of whom have proven to be serious threats in attack with the high number of goals and assists racked up between them!
An interesting stat I’ve picked up on is the sheer number of goals that the Gunners have been scoring. It’s averaging out at a whopping 3.28 GpG in their previous seven matches. If they can reach anywhere near this on Sunday, then they’ll be a tough team to stop. With the goals seeming to flow and confidence levels at an all-time high, I’m taking an away win here as Arsenal look to gain their first victory at Anfield since 2012 and take another serious step in their title charge! Records are there to be broken, so back this value play with the safety net of draw no bet and we’re set to have a real good run for our money!
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