Inter v Lecce
Inter’s ability to lose after showing signs of putting a run together is truly amazing. They were beaten away at Bologna last time out but that means they will surely take all three points against Lecce at San Siro.
Simone Inzaghi is expected to stick with Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku as he waits to see whether the two goalscorers can finally gel together again and terrorise defences. There is more than enough quality in the Inter team to score a few goals against Lecce at home, as long as they are not complacent from the first whistle.
As for the Giallorossi, they will certainly think that there is some joy to be had. They’re now 10 points clear of the relegation zone and can afford to just give these games a go rather than start the game searching for a point.
Federico Di Francesco is coming back into the side and he will be joined in attack by Assan Ceesay and Gabriele Strefezza. That is a front three that is confident and can cause Inter some genuine issues if they are on their game.
Inter are certainly expected to take all three points but do not be surprised if Lecce find the back of the net at some stage, especially with Inter missing Milan Skriniar.
Copenhagen v OB
Game of the Week in Denmark this weekend is between reigning champions FC Copenhagen and mid-table side, OB.
The home side are off to a great start this spring as they have won their first two Superliga matches and advanced in the Cup. Copenhagen are back in the championship race, currently sitting third, and they have their eyes on the first place. They are currently six points behind FC Nordsjælland, but with their current form, that gap can quickly disappear.
Head coach Jacob Neestrup has managed to get Mohamed Daramy, winger on loan from Ajax, in top form this spring. On his best days, he’s one of the best players in Scandinavia, and he’s had a lot of these good days lately.
OB are in bit of a chaos. They appear to once again be set to miss out on the lucrative top six championship playoff, and the club is a mess. Wonderkid Yankuba Minteh missed last week’s game after he was seen partying in Odense, and he was later racially abused by his own fans. Then, this week, he got in a fight with Mads Frøkjær-Jensen before threatening Bashkim Kadrii. In short, the morale in Odense is at a low point and the players doesn’t seem to have their head in the game at the moment.
Copenhagen are big favourites at home, and we expect them to take their sixth Superliga victory in a row against a weak OB team. Though only sitting at odds of 1.40, the mess surrounding OB means that this still represents good value, as anything other than a Copenhagen win would be a huge shock.
Rayo Vallecano v Athletic Club
Neither of these two teams is in good form, with Rayo Vallecano without a win in three while Athletic Club come into this tie off the back of three consecutive defeats. However, there is good reason to expect the home team, Rayo Vallecano, to be the stronger of the two outfits on Sunday evening.
Rayo Vallecano have not been beaten by anyone outside the top five at home since August and among the teams to have visited and fallen to defeat since then are Real Madrid. They will be without Alejandro Catena in defence as he serves a suspension, but Athletic’s own changes may mean that they have even more absences to contend with, which could pose even more significant challenges.
Athletic Club were also in action in the Copa del Rey semi-finals on Wednesday night as they fell to a hard-fought 1-0 defeat to Osasuna, having put out their strongest possible line-up. While the trip to Pamplona is not a long one, the toll on tired legs could make the difference, particularly late on at Vallecas. That is even more important given the injury to goalkeeper Unai Simón and the suspension for leading central defender Yeray Álvarez.
Given that Rayo Vallecano scored two in a narrow 3-2 loss against Athletic when they met at San Mamés in September, they should be confident that Sergio Camello or Raúl de Tomás will be able to find a breakthrough against a tired and weakened Basque defence at Vallecas on Sunday evening.
PAOK v Ionikos
PAOK will host Ionikos on Sunday in their bid to bounce back after paying for their lack of a clinical touch and dropping points with a 0-0 draw away at Giannina. Manager Razvan Lucescu is aware that the game against third-bottom Ionikos is a first-class opportunity to grab a morale-boosting victory ahead of the playoffs after recording three draws in their last four games.
PAOK failed to score against Olympiacos and OFI at home despite recording a total of 40 goal attempts, but they have been solid at the back on home soil, clinching six clean sheets in their last seven games at Toumba Stadium.
Meanwhile, no team have registered more defeats away from home than Ionikos (9), who didn’t score a single goal in six of their last seven road games. PAOK produced a convincing display to beat them 3-0 on the road back in November and comfortably kept a clean sheet, as Ionikos recorded no shots on target throughout the 90 minutes.
The hosts have won six of their last seven home games against Ionikos and kept a clean sheet in five of these matches. Currently sitting seven points behind leaders Panathinaikos, fourth-placed PAOK desperately need all three points if they are to be considered title contenders.
Dropping points against Ionikos would mean that they are practically out of the title race heading into the playoffs. PAOK have demonstrated that they can grab professional wins on home soil, and they will try to do so by avoiding risks and securing their seventh clean sheet in eight home games.
Cambuur v Go Ahead Eagles
Cambuur may not have been in the best form, but they are certainly due a good result. They have been getting closer and closer with their performances recently. Their January additions in the transfer market were very good, but come the end of the season, it may well be a case of too little, too late.
Bjorn Johnsen isn’t the most prolific of strikers, but he has shown his ability to be a threat in the air and he can score goals from any angle in the box. There are some lively players to surround Johnsen in the box, too. Cambuur will be without midfielder Mees Hoedemakers, who is suspended, which means it is likely that Ben Rienstra could come in, a solid and experienced Eredivisie campaigner.
I saw enough from Cambuur in their defeats to Heerenveen and AZ that they have the will to fight against relegation, and they have much more attacking threat than before the Winter break.
The only apprehension I have backing a home win is that Cambuur have weak players in their back four, which has cost them victory when they have taken the lead in recent games. Going for a +1 Cambuur handicap insures against that possibility. Cambuur’s home fans are raucous, and they know their importance in helping the side stay up.
In the past, home manager Sjors Ultee has shown that he can get a run together to keep team up in this league; he did it before with Fortuna Sittard.
Roma v Juventus
This is the biggest game of the weekend in Serie A and it is between two sides that are fighting for the exact same thing. They are both outside of the top four as the weekend gets underway but Roma are much closer.
Following the points deduction, Juventus have been left with a huge amount of work to do if they are to make it into the top four but there are signs that it could be done. They are now 10 points away from fourth place with fourteen games still to play.
Against Torino in the Derby della Mole, despite conceding twice, the Bianconeri were very impressive in attack having welcomed Federico Chiesa and Dusan Vlahovic back from injury, whilst also seeing an imporvement in Angel Di Maria’s form. Chuck into the mix that Paul Pogba made his return from injury off of the bench (and looked good), they will be right up for this one at the Stadio Olimpico on Sunday night.
Roma were embarrassingly beaten by Cremonese on Tuesday evening, which was the first win all season for the Grigiorossi. There has to be a belief among the fans that there will be a reaction from the team for such a big game at home.
There is less caution about Juventus in recent weeks and that could lead to an end-to-end game with goals for both sides.
Real Betis v Real Madrid
A Sunday night thriller awaits at the Estadio Benito Villamarín as Real Madrid travel to Seville to take on Real Betis, with Barcelona the only team to take more points than either of these two clubs in the month of February.
Real Madrid have struggled in front of goal a little of late, failing to register a shot on target against Barcelona in the Copa del Rey, but that could mean that they are relieved to come up against Real Betis. With 13 goals conceded in eight LaLiga matches in 2023, only bottom side Elche and relegation-battling Almería have conceded more over the same time period.
One player who could be worth keeping an eye out for is Dani Ceballos. While he is not prolific in front of goal, he is expected to come in with Luka Modrić suspended and his only previous match against his former club at the Villamarín saw him unexpectedly take a freekick and score. Others include Álvaro Rodríguez, a tall target man who came off the bench to equalise against Atlético last weekend.
However, Betis will be confident in scoring too. With 15 goals in 2023, no LaLiga team has scored more, and they have failed to net on home turf just once this season, against Athletic Club in a 0-0 draw in the first game after the World Cup. Top scorer Borja Iglesias’ return will make the absence of Nabil Fekir a little easier to take.
Luqueño v Resistencia
Sportivo Luqueño and Resistencia are early candidates for relegation with just one win between the two sides (Resistencia 3-0 Guaireña in Week 3) and only Tacuary have less points and a worse goal difference. Both coaches are under pressure, with three managerial changes already in the Paraguayan league they will be desperate for a win.
Gustavo Florentín has relied heavily on Marcelo Pérez for goals, but the four from the young Paraguayan haven’t been enough to earn a win yet. That’s been due to their inability to keep a clean sheet, a problem exacerbated by Pablo Aguilar’s sending off and subsequent suspension for the last match (a 3-1 defeat to Guaraní).
Indiscipline has been a theme for the recently promoted side, picking up two red cards in the last game for a total of four sendings off this season. A lot of the pressure now heaped on the experienced shoulders of Rodrigo Rojas who will have to marshal midfield and keep a lid on emotions in front of what will be a passionate crowd.
For Miguel Zahzu it will be a return to face the club where he is considered a hero, winning the 2007 Apertura and last season guiding Luqueño to promotion. But his magic touch has escaped him so far at Resistencia who haven’t looked any better than their third from bottom position in the league table suggests. Alan Pereira picked up a peculiar red card against Cerro Porteño, putting his finger in his opponent’s backside, and so the attacker is suspended for this game and reduces Resi’s options off the bench.
Both sides have conceded heavily, with only Tacuary (10) letting in more goals than Resistencia’s nine and Luqueño’s eight. At the other end Luqueño have scored exactly one goal each game, usually through Pérez while Resistencia have had three shutouts but still garnered four goals and should have had five but for a penalty miss. Neither manager will want to sit back and play for a point knowing that a failure to win could signal the end of their tenure.
Sportivo Trinidense v Libertad
Second plays first in a really intriguing game at the Martín Torres with Sportivo Trinidense the surprise package after five matches. Libertad meanwhile are picking up a head of steam as they look to win their third title in five short seasons.
José Arrúa has managed to play an expansive brand of football, even with Lucas Barrios injured for some games and is scoring at an impressive rate with 10 goals in five games. Óscar Giménez has shown the form that had everybody excited when he first broke through as a youngster – while injury stunted his development the 32-year-old striker is having a renaissance under Arrúa.
Libertad have been without Roque Santa Cruz, but his replacement Alfio Oviedo has led the line in style, he was on hand to score the winner against a spirited Tacuary. Defensively the Gumarelo are looking more like the side that swept to the Apertura 2022 title rather than the team that floundered in the Clausura at the end of last year.
In contrast to last year Libertad have started better away from home, scoring twice in their two games as visitors to date compared to just one per game in their three matches at La Huerta. Trinidense have been travelling around and this is only their 2nd home game after the opening day 2-0 victory over Tacuary. With both sides humming up front and both managers fans of going toe-to-toe with rivals rather than trying to shut them out we should have an exciting match on our hands.
Blooming v Bolivar
We have a traditional national derby on Sunday evening with 146 games between the sides since 1977. Historically, Bolivar have had the overwhelming majority of the success in this fixture. However, in recent times Bolivar have been more successful in Santa Cruz, in the last 12 games Bolivar lead have recorded 6 wins and 2 draws against tonight’s opponents, including a 7-0 win for Bolivar in February last year.
These are two of the traditional top five teams, but Blooming are in crisis and experiencing a decline; having been in a relegation dog fight the last couple of years. Bolivar despite seemingly constant major overhauls are financially stable and funded by a Bolivian-American millionaire name Marcelo Claure. This year Blooming are second from bottom with a single point from four games, added to a home defeat in the League Cup, while Bolivar are second, with nine points from four games, having won three and lost just once, in their derby against The Strongest.
Blooming come from losing in Sucre on their manager Carlo Bustos’ debut while Bolivar come from thrashing Oriente 4-0 after two wobbles (3-1 away to Wilstermann and 3-2 to Their rival The Strongest)
Expect a Bolivar win here.
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