Roma v Sampdoria
There were serious hopes at the start of the campaign that AS Roma could be one of the highest scorers in the division with Tammy Abraham, Paulo Dybala, Nicolo Zaniolo, Andrea Belotti and Lorenzo Pellegrini all in the same squad.
Unfortunately, that is not how it has panned out with Abraham enduring a torrid season, Dybala missing small chunks through injury despite playing very well, Belotti failing to grab a single Serie A goal and Zaniolo falling out with the club and being shipped to Galatasaray.
The Giallorossi are joint-ninth in the goals scored chart in Serie A with 35, two less than Udinese and the same as Sassuolo. For that reason, even when they come up at home against a Sampdoria side that seems doomed to Serie B, it is hard to back them to score a hatful of goals.
It should also be said that nobody has scored less goals than Sampdoria all season by some margin. They have netted 16 times, which is six less than the next worst attacking sides which are Hellas Verona and Cremonese, the other two teams in the bottom three.
Roma should be getting all of the points here with all of their key players available to start the game in front of a packed Olimpico, but don’t bet on there being lots of goals as there is little evidence to suggest it will happen.
Villareal v Real Sociedad
Sixth-placed Villarreal will host fourth-placed Real Sociedad on Sunday afternoon for what could be a very cagey and low-scoring game.
These are two of the sides in LaLiga whose matches produce the fewest goals, with the average Villarreal game totalling just 2.15 goals, the third-lowest for any team in the division, while Real Sociedad games average 2.27 goals, the sixth-lowest.
When you look at the way these teams play, the lack of goals makes sense. Both of these sides love to have the ball and they’re both inside the top five for possession this LaLiga season, with 55.9% for Real Sociedad and 54.9% for Villarreal, although this is higher since Quique Setién took over.
They prefer to slowly advance up the pitch with sideways passes, waiting for the perfect moment to play a through ball. That cautious approach to attacking football means that neither Villarreal nor Real Sociedad score a lot, while they don’t give up many chances at the other end either.
This is compounded by the fact that both teams boast strong defences at one end and lack clinical finishers at the other. For this Sunday’s game, Villarreal will be without their best striker altogether, as Gerard Moreno is injured. La Real will have Alexander Sørloth and Mikel Oyarzabal available, but they have just one goal each across the team’s past eight LaLiga matches.
This match could be as tight as their previous meeting this season, which Real Sociedad edged 1-0.
PAOK v AEK Athens
PAOK couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in the playoffs, as they grabbed a huge 2-1 comeback win in the Thessaloniki derby away at Aris before the international break. Razvan Lucescu’s side were very poor in the first half, when they were lucky not to concede at least three goals, but they bounced back after the break to secure an important victory.
The hosts are aware that this week will decide whether they could aspire to the Super League title, as they host AEK Athens just a few days after they travel to Piraeus to play a midweek game against Olympiacos.
Both teams need a win on Sunday for different reasons. PAOK want to stay alive in the title race, while AEK need to bounce back after losing to Olympiacos and drawing with Panathinaikos on home soil.
An in-form PAOK have won all their last four league games, in which they scored 14 goals. They faced AEK back in February, when they took advantage of their rivals’ lack of a clinical touch in front of goal to secure a 2-0 victory.
The two teams have faced each other twice this season, grabbing one 2-0 win each. PAOK average 1.8 goals scored on home soil, while AEK have netted 22 times in 13 road games.
Sunday’s game could go either way. Neither of the two teams would be happy with a draw, as title contenders Olympiacos and Panathinaikos should be able to beat Aris and Volos, respectively, on the same day.
Panathinaikos top the table with 62 points, followed by AEK (60), Olympiacos (59) and PAOK (57), this being the most tight and exciting title race in years. At least two goals have been scored in 12 of the last 14 games between the two teams, while only two of PAOK’s last 14 home matches and just two of AEK’s last 16 away games ended with under 1.5 goals scored.
Meanwhile, AEK have received a huge injury boost, as top scorer Levi Garcia (11 goals in 23 matches) will return to action on Sunday. In his absence, AEK scored just two goals in three games.
Rio Ave v Benfica
Benfica return from the final international break of the season as one of the most in-form teams in Europe, having won 22, drawn twice and lost once in league play and boasting a league-best 66 goals scored and 14 goals conceded.
They have not lost in all competitions since December 30 and have won each of their last 12 matches with the sole exception of a 1-1 draw to Braga on February 9 that would see them fall to 10 men within a half-hour and lose on penalties in the Taça de Portugal quarterfinals.
With the exception of the Braga game, Roger Schmidt’s side have won each of their last 11 matches with a two-goal margin or more, including a 2-0 win and a 5-1 win against Club Brugge that would see them book their ticket to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals. I’m expecting those recent trends to continue as they travel to Vila de Conde before hosting Porto and taking on Chaves and Inter over the next fortnight.
Rio Ave returned to the top-flight with back-to-back losses to Vizela and Sporting and a 2-2 draw to Estoril Praia before pulling off a shock 3-1 victory against Porto that would see Ghanaian striker Aziz grab a brace whilst Pedro Amaral added another.
Luís Freire’s side have been unable to replicate that result against any of the top sides, losing 3-2 to Braga, 4-2 to Benfica, 1-0 to Porto and Sporting and 2-0 to Braga, but they have responded to defeat at Braga by beating Gil Vicente 2-1 despite playing with 10 men for a half-hour and winning 2-0 at Santa Clara.
They sit eighth in the table, 17 points clear of the drop, and could be set to challenge for the final European position with a strong run of form with a relatively easy fixture schedule that will see them take on two relegation battlers and various mid-table sides, but I don’t see them getting another surprise victory at home against a Goliath.
There’s no other way of putting it – Benfica are the best team in Portugal in every department, and they will be looking to pick up another victory that will see them enter Friday’s Clássico with at least a 10-point advantage ahead of Porto.
With just nine matches remaining, they look set to claim their first league title in four years, and they are in the quarterfinals for a second straight year and are chasing their third European Cup and first since 1962 – they have more quality than any other team in the league, and I’m expecting them to get a comfortable win against Rio Ave.
Olympiacos v Aris Thessaloniki
Olympiacos kicked off the Greek Super League playoffs in style, as they grabbed a comfortable 3-0 victory away at Volos to close the gap on leaders Panathinaikos to three points and second-placed AEK to one point. It has to be noted that at some point before the World Cup break the reigning champions had been trailing the other two title contenders by more than 10 points.
Performances in recent games have provided team and fans with a huge boost in confidence. Supporters believe that despite their dreadful season, Olympiacos could win the title against all odds and tickets are expected to sell out for Sunday’s clash.
Key playmaker James Rodriguez will miss out through injury, but Olympiacos didn’t need their star in order to thrash AEK Athens 3-1 on the road before the playoffs.
The arrival of Sergi Canos from Brentford and the fact that the most talented Greek playmaker, Kostas Fortounis, has rediscovered his form have allowed Olympiacos to play entertaining football again over the last month. In fact, Michel’s side have scored as many as 21 goals in their last six games.
They only failed to net in the derby against Panathinaikos, who boast the best away defence in the league with just six goals conceded in 14 games and were lucky to see Olympiacos hit the woodwork and miss some big chances to break the deadlock.
As for Aris, the Thessaloniki-based side were dealt a hard blow in the first round of the playoffs, as they lost 2-1 to city rivals PAOK on home soil. Aris took a deserved lead, hit the post twice and should have scored at least three goals in the first half, but they inexplicably collapsed after the break, when PAOK bounced back to grab a comeback win.
Aris have lost 23 of their last 26 games away at Olympiacos. The two teams have already played three times in 2023, with Olympiacos grabbing three 1-0 wins in a row.
Yet, no team have scored more home goals than Olympiacos (31 in 13 games) and no top-six side have conceded more away goals than Aris (15 in 13 matches) thus far.
Napoli v Milan
The biggest game this weekend in regards to the size of the clubs, but there is very little in similarity between Napoli and AC Milan right now. There is something ceremonious about the game given it is the current champions visiting the home of the side that is just a few games away from taking their crown.
Luciano Spalletti’s side are of course the favourites to take all three points at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on Sunday night given they are beating almost all that stand before them. That being said, Lazio recently did manage to beat Napoli 1-0 by playing at a high intensity very far up the pitch, not allowing the Azzurri much time on the ball to create chances.
That sort of game plan is probably the only way that Milan are going to get all three points here but their squad may not be as well suited as Lazio’s to such a plan.
Every member of the Lazio side needed to cover a huge amount of ground without the ball which does not necessarily suit players like Olivier Giroud and Rafael Leao, but perhaps might tell his players that it is the only way they will not get steamrolled by the relentless form of Victor Osimhen and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, as well as players like Hirving Lozano, Matteo Politano and Piotr Zielinski.
Napoli look more and more confident every time they take the field and whilst we use that Lazio game as a reason why Milan could get a result, Spalletti will have learned from that and Napoli have not been beaten since it happened.
Always Ready v Universitario de Vinto
There is just the one game Sunday evening in Bolivia, but it promises to be a good game with plenty of goals.
Universitario de Vinto are the team in form at the moment, unbeaten in five with two wins and three draws, while Always, have two wins, a draw and two defeats in their last five games.
These teams met four times during 2022 with Always Ready winning three times and Universitario once. Their last meeting coming in October in Quillacollo where Always Ready walked away with a vital 2-1 win. The goal average between the two is a very high 4.25.
Always Ready experienced the sending off of Parra in the last game. Mosquera; Medina, Enoumba, Herrera, Yerrazas, Reyes; Salazar, Romero; Flores and Cabrera is their most likely line up.
Universitario de Vinto have recently had a settled side, notably without Cano and Llano. Expected line up: Almada; Vila, Gimenez, Cuellar & Castro; Abrego, Romay, Ndoutoumou & Calicho; Lencinas & Magallanes.
Expect an Always Ready win and over 2.5 goals. Always Ready have seen over 2.5 goals in four of their last five games, with the one exception being a 2-0 win last time out. Their visitors have also seen plenty of high-scoring affairs, with both sides scoring in three of their last five.
Atletico Madrid v Real Betis
Atlético Madrid can firmly consolidate their place in the top four on Sunday night when they take on fifth-placed Real Betis in the Spanish capital.
The Colchoneros have been in superb form since the World Cup, with Diego Simeone getting his team going, and now welcome a Real Betis team who have taken just one point from the last seven meetings between these two teams.
The calendar year table puts Atlético second, only behind leaders Barcelona, and with good reason given that they come into this match without defeat since they welcomed Barcelona to Madrid on 8th January. Since then, they have racked up three draws and seven wins with an incredible run of form.
Real Betis are also unbeaten over their last six outings, but have not been entirely convincing, with their last three involving two draws and a 1-0 home win over Mallorca. Over those three games, their combined xG of 2.23 is the lowest of any LaLiga team over that period.
To add to Manuel Pellegrini’s men’s struggles in front of goal, playmaker Sergio Canales has been suspended for four matches for his criticism of referee Mateu Lahoz, who will be on VAR duties for this match.
With home advantage at the Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Atlético Madrid will be optimistic of keeping up their good form. Memphis Depay may be unavailable after picking up an injury with The Netherlands, but given Álvaro Morata’s impressive form with four goal involvements in his last 80 minutes for Atleti, that may not be a major blow.
Porto v Portimonense
Porto have played Portimonense on 14 occasions in official competitions since the start of 2010/11 – each of those meetings have seen Porto prevail with a victory, and 11 of them have featured over 2.5 goals.
The most lopsided win came on April 16, 2022, when Porto defeated a Portimonense side that had been heavily rotated and that featured various backup players like goalkeeper Payam Niazmand (zero league minutes prior to this match), Achraf Lazaar (4 minutes), Sana Dafa Gomes (178 minutes) and Julien Da Costa (175 minutes).
Portimonense manager Paulo Sérgio had been deprived of various players like Porto loanee Shoya Nakajima or the suspended Wélinton Junior and Lucas Possignolo were both suspended – Wélinton scored the prior week to give them their first win of 2022.
Several players who were at risk of suspension were also rested such as goalkeeper Samuel Portugal, who joined Porto in August, and center back Filipe Relvas. Sérgio threw in the towel before the game and conceded defeat before the referee had even blown his whistle, prioritizing the upcoming match against Moreirense, with the Algarvian side paying the price in a humiliating defeat. It was Sérgio who had the last laugh – the following weekend, they would beat Moreirense 1-0 and secure their top-flight status.
The last meeting between the two sides would see Otávio open the scoring within 22 minutes and Pepê double the lead after the break en route to a 2-0 win in the Algarve. I’m expecting Porto’s stellar form against Portimonense to continue at the Dragão as they look to cling onto their hopes of challenging Benfica for the title ahead of Friday’s trip to the Luz.
After opening March with a 3-1 win against Chaves and a 3-2 win against Estoril, Porto drew 0-0 to Inter and Braga, exiting the Champions League and falling 10 points behind Benfica, and they’ll be looking to bounce back with a win against the Algarvian side before taking on Benfica, relegation battlers Santa Clara and Paços de Ferreira and Famalicão in the Taça de Portugal semifinals.
I’m expecting them to come away with the three points as they take on a Portimonense side that is coming off four straight defeats, all of which have seen them fail to find the back of the net.
Portimonense sit 14th in the table, four points above Estoril Praia and 10 above the drop, and their most recent fixture would see them lose 1-0 to Vizela via a 94th-minute goal from Raphael Guzzo. After the match, Paulo Sérgio headed towards an irritated fan and warned, “The next time you call me bastard…, I’m going to go there and scratch your eyes out. Don’t forget what I’m saying.”
The Algarvian side could fall into a relegation fight if they aren’t careful, and they don’t look capable of stopping a Porto side that boasts the likes of Otávio, Mehdi Taremi and Wenderson Galeno. I’m expecting a comfortable win for Porto.
America de Cali v Jaguares
Joint top of the league and with the highest expected goals of any team, it’s been a good start to the season for América de Cali, one of Colombia’s big three.
Under the wily leadership of Costa Rican manager Alexandre Guimaraes, América have won four out of five at their Pascual Guerrero home stadium this season, blending young stars and experienced heads into a winning formula.
This game should see La Mechita continue their run against one of Colombian football’s perennial strugglers on the road. Jaguares’ only league point away from home this season came against relegation favourites Union Magdalena, another team from Colombia’s sweaty Caribbean coast.
This is nothing new. Ever since the Montería side were promoted to the top flight in 2015, the vast majority of their points have been picked up at home where they know rivals will eventually wilt in the heat and humidity.
Making the job even harder against América is the worrying form of striker/winger Pablo Rojas, arguably the club’s greatest ever player. He’s scored three goals this season, but all three were penalties converted at the start of the season.
América and Jaguares are two clubs headed in different directions at the moment and with home advantage also on their side, it’s a no-brainer to lump on América.
Libertad v Cerro Porteno
This fixture in the 2022 Apertura was the game that saw Libertad take the title in a feisty affair leaving Cerro Porteño with just eight on the pitch. Once again this pitches first versus second as the visitors are chasing the home side.
Daniel Garnero has had to rotate his squad with a combination of injuries, suspensions and fixture congestion providing the Argentinian coach with plenty of decisions. Hugo Martínez is a big absentee in midfield, he suffered a serious injury and his energy will be missed. Alfio Oviedo returns from suspension and is likely to replace veteran Óscar Cardozo while Lorenzo Melgarejo is also set to return having been rested.
Cerro Porteño have their Libertadores debut on the horizon but the game isn’t until Maundy Thursday and will be at home, so Sava is expected to field a full strength side for this game.
Wilder Viera has been a revelation in midfield and will be a key partner alongside former Libertad midfielder Ángel Lucena. Up front Robert Morales is back from international duty and is likely to partner Diego Churin. The in form Federico “Pachi” Carrizo will be hoping to extend his good record against the Gumarelo, he’s netted three times against them in his last five starts.
Libertad have only scored once in the last four meetings, and that was a 90th minute goal against eight men in the championship decider. They also have had less rest than their opponents with a Thursday night game against General Caballero and have one eye on a trip to Brazil for their opening Copa Libertadores clash.
All of this leans into the unbeaten Cerro Porteño’s favour and while they might not take the outright win they should be good enough to get something from the clash.
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