Bologna v Roma
Bologna host Roma at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Sunday afternoon, but the visitors will also be thinking more about the second leg of their Europa League semi-final. Roma beat Bayer Leverkusen 1-0 at the Stadio Olimpico to take a narrow lead to Germany for their return leg this coming week.
Bologna, though, have shown themselves capable of bloodying noses this season. AC Milan, Juventus and Inter all suffered at the Dall’Ara this calendar year, they won away at Atalanta, and other sides have struggled to get over the line against Thiago Motta’s side. Now, they’ll want to add Roma to their list of big results and emerge as the best of the rest after the race for European qualification.
What’s likely to unfold in Emilia-Romagna is a game heavily influenced by Jose Mourinho and the visitors. They are better than anybody – maybe barring Juventus – at taking the life out of a game for any neutrals watching, and they’re not always thrilling. Their failure to control a game can bring chaotic excitement, but for the most part they bring teams down from their usual level and make every game a war wherein chances are at a premium.
We saw on Thursday that they are as effective as ever at nullifying the attacking threat of others, however exciting their opponents may be. Bologna have a lot about them in attack, but Mourinho will likely have the answer. A low-scoring draw appears the most likely outcome here, and under 2.5 goals should be a safe one. Don’t rule out either side to win to nil.
Union Saint-Gilloise v Genk
Genk face the first of two games against RUSG, last season’s runners-up. Genk have been the favourites to win the title nearly all season, but last week’s defeat to Antwerp has seen them fall off top spot for the first time since the third week of the season. They, along with Union are 1 point behind the Reds.
The 2-1 loss last week saw Genk playing remarkably nervously, with the jitters on the sidelines carrying over to the pitch. Mike Trésor and Aziz Ouattara were shown red cards and Trésor in particular will be missed. He is hugely important for this Genk side with his creativity and 22 assists.
Defender Sadick made a horrendous mistake for the second goal, and though it would be harsh to drop him, there is the possibility that a fit-again Cuesta could slot in at centre-back. Whoever plays will have to defend well against a pacy Union forward line.
Genk have scored plenty of goals from set pieces, the most in the Pro League this season. With the play-offs generally seeing intense, tactical battles, this could be the edge they need to earn all three points. McKenzie has now scored in both play-off ties from corner kicks.
Genk are the league’s top scorers, scoring in 35 of their 40 games. Opponents Union have found the net in 51 of their 54 games, so goals do seem likely, despite the tension that is guaranteed. Both sides must win to keep their title charge on track, as a draw could see them more than three points behind the leaders with three games to go.
Both regular season fixtures ended 2-1, and we expect this game could go a similar way. Expect plenty of chances for both sides.
Braga v Santa Clara
Santa Clara sit bottom of the table with three matches left, one point behind Paços de Ferreira, four away from Marítimo in the relegation playoff spot, and nine away from automatic safety, but they have nevertheless shown some signs of fight in recent weeks under Brazilian manager Accioly.
Having racked up 299 appearances for the Azorean club as a player, Accioly returned for a third spell as manager, taking charge on February 26 and becoming their third manager of the season. Santa Clara snapped a nine-game losing streak by drawing 1-1 against Chaves, before losing 3-0 at Estoril Praia. They entered halftime with a two-goal lead and added a third in the 51st minute, conceding two late goals to Gil Vicente – who had not scored since March 12 – but nevertheless prevailing with a 3-2 victory, their first win since November.
The Azoreans face an uphill battle as they look to avoid relegation, with a trip to Braga, a visit from Portimonense and a trip to Benfica still on the agenda. They have kept just one clean sheet this year – a 0-0 draw to Portimonense, which came on the back of a 4-0 loss to Braga on January 5. Ricardo Horta scored a brace whilst his brother André Horta and Iuri Medeiros added to the scoreline, with this humiliating loss resulting in the sacking of manager Mário Silva.
Despite falling to a 1-0 defeat to Benfica at the weekend – their first defeat since February – Braga remain four points above Sporting in third place and five away from Porto, and they’ll be looking to bounce back with a victory against the last-placed team in Portugal.
The Arsenalistas will be hosting Santa Clara, traveling to Boavista and hosting Paços de Ferreira before closing out their season with a match against Porto in the Taça de Portugal Final, and they are looking to secure third place and qualification to the third round of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers as they attempt to return to Europe’s elite competition for the first time in 11 years.
They have dropped points at home on just four occasions this season – a 0-0 draw to Porto on March 19, a 1-0 loss to Casa Pia on November 6, a 1-0 loss to Chaves on October 9, and a 3-3 draw to Sporting on August 7. They can ill afford to make it five as they look to pull off a top-three finish under Artur Jorge, and I expect them to get back to winning ways against a Santa Clara side that is perilously close to the drop.
Whilst the absence of Libyan midfield maestro Al Musrati could impact their ability to produce a lopsided victory, it shouldn’t prevent them from picking up a much-needed three points at the Pedreira.
Panathinaikos v Aris Thessaloniki
Panathinaikos were a dealt a major blow last weekend, when they lost 1-0 in the derby away at Olympiacos. This means that PAO need some sort of a miracle in order to win the title on the last Matchday of the season. What they need to do is to beat Aris on home soil and hope that a Volos side who have nothing to play for will beat a strong AEK Athens on the road.
Sunday’s game will sell out, as fans want to hail the players for their effort this year and their first real title push since back in 2011. Despite the disappointing result in Piraeus, team and fans have this sense of pride as they are still mathematically alive in the title race until the last game of the season. Panathinaikos want to end the season in style by securing their first win in four games.
What is certain is that the fans in the stands will believe until the final whistle and they have demonstrated this year that they can transmit that to the team. Panathinaikos have beaten Aris in all three games between the two teams this season. Moreover, they have conceded just four goals in 13 games against the Thessaloniki-based side and have kept six clean sheets in their last eight matches with Aris.
Meanwhile, Apostolos Terzis’ side have literally nothing to play for, as they have managed to secure fifth spot and Conference League qualification for next season. Aris tend to be strong on home soil, but they do struggle on the road this season, having recorded eight defeats in their last 11 games away from home.
It has to be noted that no team have conceded fewer home goals than Panathinaikos (seven in 17 games) thus far, while Ivan Jovanovic’s side have allowed in just one goal and kept six clean sheets in their last seven games on home soil.
AEK Athens v Volos
AEK Athens grabbed a 2-1 comeback win away at Aris last weekend and saw title contenders Panathinaikos lose 1-0 away at Olympiacos. After doing their duty in Thessaloniki, they are aware that a point against Volos is enough to celebrate their first title in their new ground, the OPAP Arena. This intense title race had seen AEK be top the league for just a couple of rounds, but Matias Almeyda’s side grabbed their opportunity with one game to go and overtook Panathinaikos on the top of the Greek Super League table.
Sitting three points ahead of second-placed Panathinaikos, AEK are lucky enough to play their easiest game of the playoffs on the last Matchday of the season. They host Volos, whom they have beaten twice over the last few months, having scored five goals and kept two clean sheets in two games.
AEK did struggle against strong sides Panathinaikos and Olympiacos on home soil, but they have won all their 16 home games against the rest of the teams at the OPAP Arena this season. No team have won more home games than AEK (13 of their 17 matches), who have kept a clean sheet in 15 of their last 18 games on home soil.
As for Volos, the visitors have nothing to play for, as their main objective of the season has been achieved after finishing in the top-six and qualifying for the championship group playoffs. In fact, Volos have lost eight of their nine playoff games against stronger teams, failing to score in eight of their last nine matches.
Fans at the stands of the OPAP Arena are expected to be buzzing while AEK players will be pushing for a win that would see the team clinch their first league title in seven years. AEK should be expected to cruise past Volos and keep their 16th clean sheet in 19 games on home soil.
Juventus v Cremonese
Juventus’ 2022/23 season will mostly be remembered for the off-field trouble and controversy surrounding the club, but the lasting on-field memories will largely be dull and those of a side that are hard to watch. With Cremonese visiting Turin, this isn’t a game to tune in for on Sunday evening, despite it being the prime time television slot.
Their previous meeting this season came back in January and produced a turgid affair that’s likely to be repeated this weekend, with Juventus then running out as narrow and undeserved 1-0 winners in a game that Cremonese could have taken at least a point from, and might have won 1-0 themselves.
Cremonese’s 31 goals scored in 34 Serie A games tells you all you need to know about their attacking threat, while only Lazio and Napoli have conceded fewer than Juventus’ 28 this term.
There might be some hope for the visitors in that Juventus have a European semi-final second leg to think about in the days to come, but that’s only likely to see an even more pragmatic approach from Massimiliano Allegri and his priority will be – even more than ever – to keep the opponents out and hope his forward players can work something up.
With Arkadiusz Milik and Moise Kean likely to start, Juventus might find themselves frustrated for longer than they’ll hope, but they should be able to get the job done.
Either way, don’t make plans to sit down and watch this one, and a low-scoring affair with a narrow home win are the most likely outcomes.
Marseille v Angers
Marseille are likely to have enough in the tank to overcome already relegated Angers when they host them at the Velodrome on Sunday, but don’t expect this to be the walk in the park that the league table might suggest.
OM, after all, have had their problems at home this season. They have won around half of their fixtures at the Velodrome in Ligue 1 – nine of 17 – but only twice have they done so by a margin greater than two goals. Interestingly, these victories came immediately after the summer and World Cup breaks. In 11 home matches in 2023, Marseille have not won a home fixture by more than two goals.
So what of Angers? A team that is already relegated and on a four-match losing streak should be ripe to be hammered, right? Not exactly. Although the Bretons are in a shambolic state off the field, on it, they are showing commendable fighting spirit in the face of difficulties. Indeed, they have arguably played their best football of the season over the last six weeks.
They have been competitive against PSG and Monaco in 2-1 home defeats in the last three weeks and were flattered by a 4-2 loss in Rennes in between times.
Their motivation is simple: reach 18 points to avoid being the worst Ligue 1 team in history. With four points to win in four matches to achieve that goal, every game counts for them and there are no signs of them relenting.
Yes, Marseille should win this match, but Angers are primed to make a fight of it.
Espanyol v Barcelona
Victory in the Catalan derby would give Barcelona the LaLiga title with four games to spare, and so there is even more on the line in this heated fixture than there usually is for Xavi and his team as they head to the RCDE Stadium.
Espanyol will be buoyed by the fact that Barcelona have not won on their turf since 2018, and have only taken three points in one of their last five visits, with one defeat and three draws. However, that’s almost all of the hope that the Pericos may have.
The home team have picked up just four points since the start of March, both against other teams fighting at the bottom end of the table, and six games against top four teams this season have yielded only two points, albeit in miraculous circumstances with 4.79 xG conceded and 1.72 xG in their favour across those two games.
Barça, on the other hand, have recovered from a blip in form and recorded back-to-back wins against Real Betis and Osasuna, while also seeing Ousmane Dembélé return from injury and continue as one of their key attacking outlets.
They have got their mojo back and, with the opportunity to win the league in their hands, they surely won’t allow that to slip at the hands of their rivals who are at their lowest ebb.
Porto v Casa Pia
Sunday’s action in the Portuguese top-flight will draw to a close in the Estádio do Dragão as Porto host Casa Pia. After narrowly beating Famalicão in extra time to secure their berth in the Taça de Portugal Final, where they will play Braga, Porto picked up a 1-0 win in Arouca courtesy of a goal from Iván Marcano.
It was their third consecutive clean sheet in the league as well as their eighth straight victory in all competitions. They have not dropped points since March, and they have dropped points at home just once since the start of November – a 2-1 loss to Gil Vicente on February 26 – and I’m expecting their strong run of form to continue against a Casa Pia side that has nothing left to play for this season.
After returning to the Primeira for the first time in 83 years, Casa Pia enjoyed a stellar start to the campaign and occupied the fifth position for several months, but since opening 2023 with a 0-0 draw at home to Porto, they have suffered a drastic decline.
They would lose three of their next four league matches before losing 5-2 to second-tier Nacional in the Taça de Portugal quarterfinals, followed up by back-to-back goalless draws, a 2-0 loss to Arouca, a 2-1 win against Paços de Ferreira, and a 2-0 win against Marítimo.
The only teams that Casa Pia have beaten this year are the bottom three clubs in Portugal, and the Gansos would follow up that win against Marítimo by losing 3-1 at Vizela and 4-3 to Sporting before drawing 1-1 at Rio Ave and losing 1-0 to Braga and Chaves. They took the lead within 68 minutes via Lucas Soares on Friday and looked headed for their first win since March 19, only to concede in the 95th minute and draw 1-1 to Portimonense.
While it has still been an impressive return to the top-flight for Filipe Martins’ side, they have undeniably blown a golden opportunity to seal European football and currently sit ninth in the table, seven points away from sixth place and the final European spot.
It feels like they’ve gone into second gear since their extra time defeat to Nacional in the cup, and while they aren’t in danger of going into the second tier, they have certainly regressed to the mean and likely won’t pose much of a threat to a Porto side that has been perfect since the start of April. I’m expecting Sérgio Conceição’s side to pick up a much-needed three points at the Dragão.
Guarani v Nacional
Although the game pits 3rd vs 7th there is just a five point gap between the two sides and Nacional can close the gap if they continue their good run. The visitors have won three of their last four matches while Guaraní come into this off a surprise 3-0 reverse to Luqueño.
Guaraní have struggled recently with the double task of playing Sudamericana and league football, losing their last two league matches that followed a midweek game. With the extra rest there is an expectation on a better performance, Dorrego will likely start and Enrique Borja is recovered from illness.
Nacional continue to be one of the most organized sides in the league, Sarabia has made them very hard to score against. They remain ineffective in front of goal however with just 15 in 16 matches and are yet to settle on a regular partnership up front. David Fleitas netted the winner against Ameliano but it could be either Ocampos or Aguilar that partner him.
When these two sides met earlier in the season Guaraní won comfortably but they will be without two of the attacking stars from that day, Segovia (transferred abroad) and Camacho (injured). Nacional have usually found a goal away from home but only scored twice on their travels in the 3-1 victory over Guaireña. Guaraní have just six goals in their last six at home and so this isn’t expected to be high scoring.
America de Cali v Once Caldas
América roll into this clash against struggling Once with the pressure off. Having already assured their place in the next round of the title race, América’s only real motivation here is to fight for one of the top two seeds in order to gain a slight advantage in the next round.
The “invisible point” as it is often called, is a bonus point given to the top two placed teams of this stage of the championship, which is carried over into the next round, and to be used only in the event of a points tie with another team in the four-team group stage. It’s complicated and a bit nuts, but it’s not to be sniffed at.
América are right in the mix to snatch one of these bonus cards. But they will have to do it without in-form Spanish striker Iago Falque. The former Torino forward who was also once on the books at Southampton and Spurs, went off injured in América’s 2-1 defeat of Nacional at the start of the month and he won’t be back until next season. The good news is that América have plenty of quality attacking back-up options to paper over Falque’s absence, especially in this game against woeful Once Caldas.
Probably the worst team in the division this season, Once are now nervously looking over their shoulders in the three-year relegation table. Despite picking up a rare win last week at home to Junior, Once remain bottom of the league.
And this week it was reported by a top journalist, that Once’s problems had been compounded by a rampant boozing culture propagated by their star player, Dayro Moreno. That Once’s best player is a 37-year-old party animal probably explains a lot behind the club’s problems this term.
He’s scored over half the team’s goals (seven out of 13) in a goal-shy team reliant on his creaking legs. However, even more worrying for the Manizales club is that Dayro, who was once considered to be as good as Falcao almost two decades ago, holds such sway in the changing room that many of the other players have fallen under his boozing influence.
In short, Once are a mess and all the ingredients are here for a comfortable América win. Expect Dayro and crew to once again be drowning their sorrows on the back of another away defeat.
Independiente Petrolero v Bolivar
Bolivar’s rather radical sweeping annual makeover seems to be have paid dividends so far this season, with the team not only challenging locally but also making serious inroads internationally, most notably in a 4-0 drumming of Cerro Porteño at their own stadium a couple of weeks back.
Bolivar have some genuinely top class players in key positions, such as keeper Lampe and midfield Pato Rodriguez and are also scoring freely (aside from the last home game against Universitario de Vinto).
Independiente for their part, following a surprise league title back in 2021 following promotion, have slipped quietly back into mediocrity/obscurity and while a serious relegation battle is unlikely it seems avoiding the drop is probably the height of their expectations.
All these things make Bolivar quite strong favourites, as long as they are not too preoccupied with Libertadores matters. League form is patchy on both sides, Independiente losing everything in the last five aside from two single goal wins in Cochabamba, while Bolivar have not fared much better with two wins and two defeats in their last five.
Bolivar have won two of the past three games between the two sides, but Inde did attain back to back home wins a couple of years ago.
Taking all things into consideration Bolivar are too strong and should win, how comfortably remains to be seen.
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