Fortuna Sittard v Feyenoord
Feyenoord can’t stop winning. They have scraped either a draw or a win in the final minute of the ninety or in stoppage time four times in 2023 so far. This feels like their special season.
This is a tricky one away to Fortuna, who will be led in attack by the in-form Burak Yilmaz. They have flown up from the relegation fight in recent weeks to a more respectable mid-table perch, with eyes on potentially gate-crashing the top half and a European play-off place. What I have noticed when watching the Sittard club, is that they have been leakier in defence lately, and they concede possession a fair amount in the opposition half. Captain Yilmaz can’t do it all on his own, and the players who surround him in attack aren’t close to his level of quality on the ball. Winger Inigo Cordoba is the closest in my opinion, but he hasn’t been as prolific as last season when he was with Go Ahead Eagles.
Feyenoord sometimes lack a cutting edge in attack, but they do have a solid defence who will be able to keep Burak quieter than he has been. What’s more, Orkun Kokcu is to return from suspension. This game may be low on goals, but I am very happy to back Feyenoord to keep their title charge going.
Bologna v Inter
Inter make the trip down to Emilia-Romagna to face a resurgent Bologna side on Sunday morning and they’ll be doing all they can to keep the memories of last season’s visit to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara out of their minds.
Back in April, Inter’s 2-1 loss to the Rossoblu proved to be what cost them the title, with AC Milan going on to take the Nerazzurri’s crown as Italian champions. Although there’s considerably less on the line for Simone Inzaghi’s side this time, there is every reason to suggest that we may see a similar outcome.
Inter make the trip fresh off the back of a significant first-leg win over Porto in their Champions League tie, but they have a habit of slipping up after big results. Having beaten AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana last month, they then went on to lose against Empoli at home. They then beat Milan again in Serie A only to follow that up with a shock goalless draw away at Serie B-bound Sampdoria a few days later.
They will be hoping that Romelu Lukaku can continue his newfound form, having scored two in two after his winner against Porto on Wednesday. The Rossoblu, meanwhile, have lost just once in their last six in Serie A and Thiago Motta has them playing good football, with Riccardo Orsolini hitting a purple patah in front of goal as well. They’ll be backing themselves to bloody some noses again this weekend, and the
Lorient v Auxerre
Lorient are an attractive price to continue the form they showed in beating Ajaccio 3-0 last weekend when they host Auxerre on Sunday.
The home side started the season well but had been going through a tumultuous period as they grappled with a loss of form, a tricky fixture list and losing two key attacking players in the form of Dango Ouattara and Terem Moffi during the January transfer window. New signings Romain Faivre and Bamba Dieng were not quick to settle, but both are quality additions and last weekend were both on the scoresheet in an easy win against an Auxerre side of around the same standard as Ajaccio.
AJA do come into this fixture on something of a high following a 2-1 win over Lyon last weekend, but they caught their opponents on one of their off days and successfully profited. Prior to that game, they had been in poor form, with their only two victories in 13 fixtures coming against lower-league rivals in the Coupe de France. Away from home, too, Auxerre have struggled badly this season. From 12 away fixtures in Ligue 1, they have suffered defeat on nine occasions and their only victory came back on August 21.
When these sides previously met this season, Lorient were comprehensively 3-1 winners in Burgundy, and even if Les Merlus’ form has tailed off quite a bit since that day, they are showing signs that they are gaining some positive momentum and a price well above even for them to get the victory is attractive.
Club Brugge v Gent
Gent and Brugge have been rivals for years and this game between the two clubs will be important in the race for the all-important top four.
Gent coach Hein Vanhaezebroeck complained to the Pro League after last Thursday’s European qualifier that his team has too little time to recover before the clash with Club Brugge. AA Gent are having a reasonable season and are 5th in Pro League. The Buffaloes played their return game in the Conference League last Thursday and had to battle for 120 minutes against Qarabag. Moreover, Gent are in excellent form in the league and are unbeaten three games in a row.
Still, we expect the tough European round to take its toll in the game against Brugge. As a matter of fact, Vanhaezebroeck demands a lot from his players physically and his rotation is limited. Although Gent are now on a good run, they often play sloppy football up front.
Experienced players like Kums and Depoitre often slow down the pace. With Odjidja injured again, the time seems to have come for Gent to replace these cornerstones after this season. Up front, newcomer Gift Orban already gave a positive impression, but he still needs some time to adapt.
After less than two months as coach, Scott Parker’s position is in question at Club Brugge. He is clearly still looking for the best starting eleven and he is failing to build confidence within the squad. The Champions League round of 16 tie against Benfica was an expected letdown (0-2). Odoi’s goal after a free-kick was disallowed, but that was their only chance. In attack, it was another weak display, with only Noa Lang showing initiative. We wonder if Parker will play Lang out as a false nine again or if Yaremchuk has a chance against his ex-club. The Ukrainian, currently in a confidence crisis, will certainly be keen on the task.
We expect a game where Brugge will take the initiative. However, creating chances has been a shortcoming for the reigning champions for a while now. On the other hand, Gent does not have the players up front to be dangerous on the counter. So this match might lack goals.
Athletic Club v Girona
For fans of Athletic Club, this is not their biggest game of the week. The talk in Bilbao right now is about the upcoming Copa del Rey semi-final first leg against Osasuna on Wednesday March 1st, and coach Ernesto Valverde is expected to make rotations to his line-up ahead of that cup tie. As well as these changes, he’ll be forced to play a makeshift central defence given that Dani Vivian is suspended and Iñigo Martínez is still a major injury doubt. That should see Aitor Paredes make just his second start for the first team in central defence.
And, if there’s one team outside the big two who you don’t want to face when you have holes in your defence, it’s Girona. Now the third-highest scorers in LaLiga following their 6-2 thrashing of Almería last weekend, the Catalans are so dangerous in attack, through strikers Taty Castellanos and Cristhian Stuani but also though everyone playing behind. They’ve had 13 different goalscorers this LaLiga season, so there is a good chance that somebody gets the away side on the scoreboard this Sunday.
In 73% of Girona games this LaLiga season, both teams have scored. That’s the highest percentage in this category in the entire division. While Athletic’s percentage is far lower, at both teams scoring in 36% of their matches, it could be a more open game this weekend for the Basques given the style of the opposition and given their untimely absences in defence.
Luzern v Grasshoppers
Luzern have taken or held the lead at some stage in each of their last four games but have failed to see any of them out, eventually losing in the cup to FC Thun on penalties and sharing the spoils with Young Boys, Lugano and St. Gallen over the last three weeks. It has become quite the theme for FCL as they also threw away a two-goal lead at home to Zurich as the league returned from the winter break. A late 3-2 victory away to Basel at the end of January was impressive, but it also serves as frustration that they haven’t quite been able to build on that either.
Still, unbeaten in their last five domestically and having lost only two of their last eleven in the league (to YB and Basel) is a good place to be for a side that faced the dreaded relegation playoff last season. Having netted thirty-three goals, it is easy to see why Luzern are on the cusp of Europe, but they must sort out the goals against category (thirty-two goals) if they really wish to return to that standard of competition.
Grasshoppers are in much the same boat ahead of their trip to the swisspoarena. They too enjoyed victory over Basel, a 1-0 victory at the start of the month, but they have struggled to build any momentum and suffered a disappointing blow in the 281st Zurich derby as their bitter rivals FC Zurich came from behind to win 2-1. Two wins in eight, both against Basel, has GC five points adrift of Europe and also only three points clear of relegation. It is fair to say the record champions of Switzerland are skirting a fine line and will be keen to return to winning ways soon. Much like Luzern, they can score goals (33) but have also shipped thirty-seven in that time.
This should be an entertaining contest. Both sides score plenty and concede often, roughly a goal per game. Luzern have failed to score only twice at home and kept just one clean sheet while GC have yet to keep an away clean sheet and failed to score only once on the road themselves. Both games this season have ended with both teams scoring and that is my prediction this time around too.
Wolfsberg v Rapid Vienna
WAC take on Rapid at the Lavanttal Arena on Sunday afternoon, in a match which could have consequences for the top six race.
Wolfsberg reignited their charge for the Championship Round with a big win last time out, and as the only team to have scored in every single round this season, they’ll be looking for their attackers to keep up the momentum here. Despite their lowly league position, Tai Baribo and Maurice Malone have delivered with impressive consistency when served with good passes into the final third, and WAC have the second best goals per game figure in the league (1.8). At the back though, they’ve shipped a constant two goals per game, and last week’s clean sheet was just their second of the whole shaky season, against a misfiring Klagenfurt team.
Rapid can all but secure a top six spot of their own with three points in Carinthia, and they’ll look to take advantage of Wolfsberg’s poor home record to get the win. Jonas Auer has been delivering plenty of dangerous crosses lately, fellow full back Denso Kasius is on fine form, and Guido Burgstaller is still the main man to convert chances inside the area, and whilst we’d lean towards Rapid to get the result, we can see their adventurous young defenders getting punished by WAC’s forwards on the day. The return of target man Ferdy Druijf, allied with Burgstaller’s consistency, should mean Rapid carry a good goal threat again on Sunday, too.
The last eight meetings at this venue have each seen both teams score, and both matches this season have ended 3-1 (1 win each) as WAC versus Rapid tends to open out into an offensive battle, with caution thrown to the wind.
Altach v WSG Tirol
Altach found themselves embroiled in a bitter battle for survival last season and the current campaign also looks to be heading in a similar direction for the Vorarlberg outfit: Miroslav Klose’s men are winless in five matches (D1 L4) and are hovering one point above the bottom duo of Hartberg and Ried. WSG Tirol, meanwhile, are one of the most in-form teams in the division with last week’s slip-up against Salzburg their only defeat in the second half of the regular season (W5 D1 L1).
Altach’s bid for survival is at least aided by the fact they have a relatively clean bill of health, with central defender Jan Zwischenbrugger the only fresh injury absentee. It’s a similar situation over at WSG Tirol, where veteran coach Thomas Silberberger – the third longest-serving manager in Europe’s top 10 leagues – is missing only centre-forward Thomas Sabitzer, who is sidelined after undergoing cheekbone surgery.
This clash used to be known as the ‘Westderby’ – a nod to the fact it was contested between the two westernmost clubs in the division. That name may no longer apply – Austria Lustenau, who are based next to Austria’s border with Switzerland, were promoted last summer – but the latest match-up on Sunday will be no less fierce, with the hosts looking to open up a gap over the teams below them and the visitors on course for the top six. In light of the current form and league positions of the two teams, we’re backing the Tyroleans to take all three points away from home in this one.
Vitesse v Ajax
For Ajax, their European exit on Thursday will have freed them up to concentrate on the league and cup competitions. They had 76% possession against Union Berlin, but they only scored once and conceded three. Their issue this season has been defending, for sure, as when Ajax were able to score one or two in games against mid-table sides, they were let down by conceding a goal from only one or two decent opportunities for the opposition.
Last Saturday, Vitesse lost to Volendam, which was disappointing after their revival under Phillip Cocu. Perhaps now the honeymoon period is over. Now they start a stretch of tough-looking games. Previously, Million Manhoef was the thorn in Ajax’s side on the counter attack in Arnhem when Ajax were still toiling under Alfred Schreuder. Some pace in defence is therefore important to keep an eye on him.
Despite Ajax’s European exertions on Thursday, I think they will have enough about them now that Johnny Heitinga has restored some confidence and goals back into the side to win in Arnhem without too much trouble. They may score two, three or four, which covers the cracks of their defence. Mohammed Kudus has of course been the star to watch recently, with Dusan Tadic also beginning to get back amongst the goals.
FC Emmen v Go Ahead Eagles
A huge home game for Emmen in their fight to stay up. At this part of the season, where three points are vital, the match could include less quality, and more pressure to simply win from an Emmen point of view.
I believe Dick Lukkien is a manager who can spark that kind of reaction from his team. He can be a terrific man manager. Players in the past have spoken about how he can be a great person to them as well. Last time out, Emmen drew 1-1 with Groningen — a good point which keeps one of their relegation rivals beneath them. In seemingly another world this season are Go Ahead Eagles, who picked up a nice win over Twente last weekend. They are typically stronger at home, and they could find themselves in a battle that their comfortable mid-table position doesn’t prepare them mentally for.
I am backing an Emmen double chance since they seem due a result at home. I don’t find Emmen quite as poor as Cambuur and Groningen, yet they share a very similar number of points. It seems like this is their opportunity to prove they are better than two of their table neighbours by beating a decent Eagles side; they are defensively strong enough to see out a result.
Ajaccio v Troyes
One of the most attractive prices of the weekend comes in Corsica, where Ajaccio meet Troyes in a battle between two clubs fixed in the relegation zone. It is a high-stakes affair between two sides entirely out of form, but the odds of a contest that will provide two or more goals are simply too big. Neither of these teams can defend at present. Ajaccio have conceded 18 goals in their last 8 Ligue 1 fixtures while Troyes have been terrible defensively under Patrick Kisnorbo. In their last eight games, they have conceded 22 goals.
AJA, meanwhile, may have been hit by injury problems lately, but these are now beginning to ease. While Mathieu Coutadeur will be back to strengthen the midfield, the real player of note to watch coming back into the team for this game is winger Youcef Belaili, who has been their outstanding player since joining the club in the autumn. They will be far stronger going forward with him in their ranks, while Romain Hamouma and Mounaim El Idrissi will also be one week fitter and sharper after their recent injury concerns.
Troyes, meanwhile, have been not previously drawn in four matches when they have been facing major relegation rivals. They beat Strasbourg 3-2 in January and lost 2-1 to Brest immediately before the international break, while they also shared a 2-2 draw with Reims when they were struggling. The stakes might be higher in this match, meaning it is tighter, but with both these teams looking ridiculously fragile at the back presently, the odds on goals look too good to miss out on.
Levadiakos v Panetolikos
Following a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of a dominant Olympiacos, Panetolikos managed to bounce back with a win and clean sheet in their 1-0 victory over third-bottom Ionikos on Sunday. This was their second win in four games after beating fifth-placed Volos 3-2 on the road.
Sitting in eighth, Panetolikos could still mathematically make the playoffs, as they are seven points behind sixth-placed Aris with three games to go. Two of their last three matches will be against second-bottom Ionikos and bottom-placed Lamia, whom they will host in their last duel of the regular season.
Fancying their chances, Panetolikos will travel to Levadia in their bid to secure their fifth road victory this season. It has to be noted that only five teams have more away wins than Panetolikos, who have managed more points on the road (15 in 11 games) than eight of the 14 Super League teams.
The Agrinio-based side have recorded four road losses, but none of them was against a bottom-three team. This season they have played four games against the bottom-three sides, winning two and drawing another two.
There is a difference in quality between Panetolikos’ squad and that of second-bottom Levadiakos, who have won just two of their 11 home games thus far. Panetolikos drew 0-0 against Levadiakos before the World Cup break, but they are a superior team when they play better on the road this season, having picked up just 12 (of their 27) points on home soil. No Super League player has scored more goals than their striker, Nikos Karelis (11), this season and the Greek forward should help them push for all three points on Sunday. They may struggle to break down Levadiakos’ low block, but they shouldn’t be expected to lose in Levadia.
OHL v Antwerp
Mark van Bommel will have to change his defence heavily at Leuven on Sunday. The Antwerp coach is missing Ritchie De Laet and Toby Alderweireld due to suspension. The team’s two most experienced players will undoubtedly be missed. Antwerp will try to avoid pressure on their own defence and play slightly more aggresively than usual. With strikers Janssen and Balikwisha in form, they could provide plenty of danger to OHL, but they will be vulnerable to the counter attack.
While Antwerp have lost only once in the league in 2023, OHL have only won once after New Year. The Leuveners picked up a disappointing 7 out of 27 points and slipped to 12th place. In the 2023 table, OH Leuven dropped to 17th place and their playoff ambitions may be quietly put away. They often get positive comments about their way of playing football and the number of chances they create in recent weeks, but it is starting to gnaw at their confidence.
Over the whole season, OHL still sit at a more than decent average of 1.46 goals scored per game. Only in that respect, things seem to be going from bad to worse. In the last six games, the Leuveners are sitting at an average of 0.5 goals per game, in the last two matches not even scoring at all. The number of chances that are missed is only increasing.
Against Antwerp’s battered defence, it’s a chance for OHL to find the net again. However, Antwerp is on a strong run and will be hard to beat. Leuven usually has a hard time winning against the top teams. We expect an entertaining game of football with chances for both sides.
Rio Ave v Chaves
The final day of the 2021/22 Liga Portugal 2 season would see Rio Ave face off against Chaves in Vila do Conde. Aziz opened the scoring within a minute, Chaves fell to 10 men within 75 minutes, and Aderllan Santos added a late brace to secure a 3-0 victory for the hosts. As a result, Rio Ave won the league title with 70 points, two above Casa Pia and six above Chaves. Fast forward nine months, and Casa Pia are pushing for European football whilst Chaves and Rio Ave sit comfortably mid-table, with Rio Ave currently in 12th place, nine points clear of the relegation play-off spot, as well as two points behind eighth-placed Chaves.
The two sides kicked off September with a 1-1 draw at Chaves, Hector Hernandez opening the scoring within a half-hour and Leonardo Ruiz equalizing for the visitors in extra time. Rio Ave would follow that up with a 3-2 loss to Braga and a 2-2 draw to Gil Vicente, with Aziz racking up five goals and two assists by the end of September. Since then, the Ghanaian striker has found the back of the net on just two occasions – both being penalties – and as a result, Rio Ave’s scoring has withered, with the club regularly settling for low-scoring affairs. In fact, only two of their last 15 matches have featured over 2.5 goals – a 2-1 win against 10-man Farense in the Taça da Liga on December 13 and a 3-1 loss to Vizela on January 29 in the league. They have amassed six draws thus far, a tally only bettered by Chaves (8).
I’m expecting a fairly even, low-scoring match-up at the Estádio dos Arcos. Chaves, like Rio Ave, have adapted smoothly to life in the Primeira thanks to an organized defensive setup, coping with the absence of their top scorer Hector Hernandez (6 goals) with ease, the Spaniard playing his first league match in over three months and grabbing a consolation goal on Monday’s 3-2 defeat to Sporting. With Aziz and Hernandez still far away from their top levels – Aziz not playing a single match this month due to injury – I’m expecting both teams to dig in and not risk too much going forward. I’m expecting under 2.5 goals in Vila do Conde.
Servette v Winterthur
Servette maintained their four-point lead over St. Gallen in second courtesy of a late and very controversial penalty equaliser in their 2-2 draw away at FC Basel on Sunday afternoon. The Genevan side will hardly care as they aim for a return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the late nineties. It has been a long road since those days that has journeyed through bankruptcy, the lower reaches of Swiss football and back again, and the prospect of dining in Europe’s premier competition, even in the qualifying stage, is appetising indeed. That point gained in Basel, a place where they have a poor record generally, continues a fantastic run of form with just two defeats in twelve. Home form is also particularly good having not lost at the Stade de Geneve since last April – a run of twelve games.
Winterthur continue to be two different sides and the one that turns up seems solely dependent on whether they have home comfort at the Schutzenwiese or if they are the guests. They posted four consecutive 1-0 home wins before a 2-1 defeat to Sunday’s opponents Servette last midweek and followed it up last weekend with a 1-1 draw with Sion. Away from home, Winti have won just once all season and have suffered three defeats in five, scoring a league-low of eight goals and conceding twenty-three. It is certainly an area that needs improving if they wish to move from the bottom of the table and that automatic relegation slot.
SFC will be confident of securing another good result here. Winterthur’s away struggles are well documented and their lack of goals coupled with the fact that Servette have conceded only nine on home soil doesn’t bode well. Alain Geiger’s team have also already beaten Winti at home and also have been one of the few to turn them over at their own place recently too. For those reasons, I think the three points stay in Geneva this weekend.
PSV v Twente
Twente have been incredibly poor for a team in the Eredivisie top five. Managing only two wins away all season (plucky 0-1 wins at NEC and Cambuur), Twente lack a cutting edge big time compared to how they play in Enschede.
This is still a big game for PSV to win if they maintain any hope of winning the league, picking up a Champions League place (second), or avoiding the European play-offs. Each game of this magnitude between two members of the top five will have repercussions on the rest of the season because of how close they are on points.
Whilst Twente don’t usually pull up too many trees away from home, PSV will still discover that their opponents are a difficult team to get past. The Tukkers remain the best defensive side in the country with only 15 goals conceded all campaign from 22 games. When I watched them face Ajax, where they achieved a 0-0 draw, they made a few decent opportunities, but they couldn’t sustain pressure for much of the 90 minutes.
With some injuries to the forward players and the departures of Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke, PSV may find Ron Jans’s men frustrating. All in all, under four goals in the game seems a good bet.
RB Salzburg v Ried
Red Bull Salzburg suffered their second cup elimination in the space of a month on Thursday, as they followed up their Austrian cup defeat to Sturm Graz with a loss to José Mourinho’s Roma in the Europa League. But their league form has been imperious, with five wins from their last five Bundesliga outings. The situation in Ried is more or less the exact opposite: the Upper Austrians are surprisingly through to the semi-finals of the cup, but winless in six Bundesliga games and rock bottom in the table.
Salzburg’s first-choice defensive partnership of Strahinja Pavlovic and Oumar Solet is likely to mean the loss of fellow centre-back Jerome Onguéné is not a huge blow, but Matthias Jaissle will have to compensate for the loss of forward Fernando, who has a thigh problem. Opponents Ried are still without first-choice goalkeeper Samuel Sahin-Radlinger and defensive midfielder Marcel Ziegl, who have been joined on the sidelines by Denizcan Cosgun: the young attacking midfielder, who has made 11 league appearances this season, is out for some time with a ruptured cruciate ligament.
If the form charts and injury lists have not convinced you to back Salzburg, the head-to-head record certainly will. The Red Bulls are unbeaten in their last 10 league outings against the Vikings. It is a run during which they have accumulated eight wins and scored 30 goals – an average of three per game. That makes Salzburg favourites to win and win big in our eyes, so we’re backing them to take all three points and score at least 2.5 goals in the process.
Besiktas v Antalyaspor
A match that was supposed to be played in November is finally being played this weekend. Due to the delay, only players in the squads in November will be able to play, meaning the likes of Omar Colley, Alexandru Maxim and Vincent Aboubakar won’t be able to take the field for Besiktas.
For Antalyaspor, they have even bigger problems. Multiple January signings are unable to play and Luiz Adriano is expected to leave with his impending transfer to Internacional. They are also in an injury crisis with the likes of Haji Wright and Ufuk Akyol ruled out.
Both teams are very weak defensively and Antalysapor will not have their new goalkeeper, Helton. Besiktas will be without two of their starting back line, making them equally as vulnerable. BTTS seems a great bet, particularly with the attacking talent on show.
Monaco v Nice
Monaco face a major test on Sunday when they play host to in-form Nice in a derby encounter.
The Monegasques were billed by Brest coach Eric Roy last weekend as the best side in France currently as they ran out 2-1 winners, but defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in midweek may stop them in their tracks. It’s not that Monaco were poor during that encounter, but the cumulative total of minutes their starting XI have played lately has been alarming, and the fact that they went to extra-time and lost on penalties on Thursday is bound to have been a draining experience for a group of players who have given so much in recent weeks.
By contrast, Nice will wait until the next round of the Conference League before appearing in Europe again so have had a reasonably relaxed month to date, particularly after they suffered a shock cup exit to Le Puy in January. That defeat cost Lucien Favre his job and since Didier Digard took over on an interim basis they have been a different team.
Under former Middlesborough midfielder Diard, Nice have played seven fixtures and won five. In the other two, they picked up 0-0 draws against Reims (twice). During this run, they have conceded only two goals and have recorded victories against Lille, Lens and Marseille – all sides going well in the league.
Nice have lost their last couple of meetings against Monaco – and five of their last six – but this looks like a great opportunity for them to put their derby woes to bed.
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