Lazio v Roma
Fans of Serie A are being treated to two of the biggest fixtures of the year this weekend and one of them is the Derby della Capitale. Lazio are the home team and they are the one currently occupying a Champions League place.
Roma are outside of the top four right now as they come into this game but they will go one point ahead of the Biancocelesti if they can take all three points as the away side at the Stadio Olimpico. With Lazio having been knocked out of the Europa Conference League on Thursday whilst AS Roma progressed in the Europa League. It is the Giallorossi that will come into this one feeling like the more confident side.
They do need to play to win this one given they are the team outside of the top four and Tammy Abraham was given a big rest on Thursday against Real Sociedad. That lends itself to Roma attacking from the off to see if they can catch Lazio licking their wounds from Thursday night.
With Roma attacking, though, Lazio are likely to try and fight fire with fire even if they are going to be without Ciro Immobile and that could lead to a very good game of end-to-end football. Whilst a draw may suit Lazio, it is not really in their nature to play for a draw.
They have also found a way to score goals even without Immobile because Felipe Anderson can play down the middle with Pedro and Mattia Zaccagni on either side of him. There will definitely be a threat for Roma to think about but they must also try and score, meaning it could be an open one.
Aris v PAOK
The 2022/23 playoffs kick off with a huge Thessaloniki derby between Aris and PAOK. The two teams have different objectives, as the hosts aim for the fifth spot in order to secure European qualification and PAOK will try to push for the title. Sitting seven points behind AEK Athens, PAOK are aware that anything but a win on Sunday may rule them out of the title race. A draw against Aris is not enough, which means that PAOK will push for their third away win in a row.
All the last six derbies at Harilaou have been closed games that featured a total of just four goals. In fact, Aris have not scored in four of these duels, failing to break down a solid PAOK defence. However, things may be different this year, as only two teams have scored more home goals than Aris in 2022/23. The Thessaloniki-based side have netted 26 goals in 13 games, averaging a solid two goals per game, as only AEK Athens (29) and Olympiacos (31) have celebrated more home goals than them this season.
Aris have failed to score in just three home games this term. The first derby against PAOK featured no goals, but many things have changed since that game, with coach Alan Pardew joining the club before being dismissed earlier this year.
Having won three of their last four games, Aris will push for all three points and a win could potentially see them stretch the gap on sixth-placed Volos, who could lose at home to Olympiacos on Sunday. Aris are aware that losing to PAOK is not an option and they will push forward from the off to secure all three points. It remains to be seen whether they will manage to grab the win, but they should be expected to break the curse and score for the first time in three derbies against PAOK.
Gent v Eupen
AA Gent are in the last 8 of the Conference League, their first European quarter-final in 31 years. Istanbul Basaksehir were swept aside with 4 goals in 8 minutes but Gent must quickly return their focus to the Pro League where relegation candidates Eupen will visit them on Sunday. Gent can’t afford to drop points in the top 4 race, currently trailing 4th place Club Brugge by a point.
Gift Orban was brought in in January without many expectations but has emerged as a phenomenon in a short time. He scored the fastest European hat-trick ever and netted 4 goals against Zulte-Waregem. He scored the only goal against Anderlecht and has 12 in 9 games.
Eupen have only kept 3 clean sheets this season which sees them near the bottom. A loss to rivals Oostende was painful as they had 29 shots and drew 4-4. They remained 3 points from safety with this result.
Both teams have been scoring regularly recently, but Gent are the better of the two. We can’t see Eupen stopping the team but more specifically the man in form, Orban.
FC Twente v AZ Alkmaar
Twente surprised me by picking up a much-needed away victory at Fortuna last weekend. Manager Ron Jans made a few tweaks to his line-up, including striker Manfred Ugalde, who scored twice in a rare start (in place of the experienced Ricky van Wolfswinkel).
The key battle here will be exciting right-winger Vaclav Cerny up against the offensive left-wing back Milos Kerkez. How far up and down the pitch is either player willing to go?
With AZ not so fresh after playing on Thursday (a fantastic 2-1 win over Lazio to reach the Conference League quarter finals), and with several players out injured (particularly in defence), this makes Twente favourites to win. Except, AZ have been getting a number of very good results recently even when they have not been at their best; they seem to always find at least one goal from somewhere.
Therefore, I am backing both teams to score, especially when you consider Twente’s recent wobble in defensive form, giving away more chances to opponents.
AEK Athens v Panathinaikos
AEK were dealt a hard blow just before the playoffs, as Olympiacos grabbed a 3-1 win at the OPAP Arena last weekend. This was AEK’s first defeat at their new ground. In fact, AEK had won all their previous 14 home games, this being the first time they even drop points at the OPAP Arena. Following their painful loss to Olympiacos, AEK saw Panathinaikos overtake them at the top of the table, with their upcoming opponents sitting two points ahead of Matias Almeyda’s side.
Following an injury to top performer Levi Garcia, AEK have struggled to finish their chances in the last two games. They recorded just one shot on target in their 1-0 win over Atromitos and only managed to score after Olympiacos went down to 10 players last Sunday. Garcia, who has netted 11 goals thus far, will miss out on Sunday’s clash, as he is not fit enough to feature against Panathinaikos. AEK do boast the finest home defence in the league with just six goals conceded in 13 games. They also have the best home attack with 29 goals scored, but they struggled to break down a solid Panathinaikos defence and scored just once in their 1-0 Athens derby win back in January.
No team have conceded fewer away goals than Panathinaikos in 2022/23, as Ivan Jovanovic’s side have allowed in only six goals in 13 games. In fact, PAO have kept two successive clean sheets in the last two games, including a 0-0 draw away at Olympiacos, who boast the best home attack with 31 goals in 13 matches.
Athens derbies tend to be closed games, as only one of the last nine matches between AEK and Panathinaikos have ended with under 2.5 goals. This one is not expected to be an exception, as Panathinaikos will prioritise avoiding to concede over pushing forward and AEK will focus on being solid at the back after conceding three goals against Olympiacos.
Barcelona v Real Madrid
Heading to Camp Nou is a daunting challenge at the best of times, but even more so when any hopes of a title challenge hinge upon the result and when Barcelona have conceded only one goal from 12 home matches in LaLiga this season. That’s the task facing Real Madrid as they arrive in Catalonia for the headline fixture on Sunday night.
It comes as Real Madrid were in action in midweek against Liverpool, while Barcelona have had a full week of rest since beating Athletic Club last weekend to make it three 1-0 wins in a row. Interestingly, Real Madrid’s match with the English team in the Spanish capital on Wednesday ended with the same scoreline.
Barcelona will look to continue that pragmatic style that Xavi has implemented of late to secure what would be a 10th 1-0 win this LaLiga season. Real Madrid have failed to score in two of their last five games and Ronald Araújo has shown he knows how to keep Vinícius Júnior quiet, so there’s every chance of that happening.
Equally, the home team have not been prolific of late either. Since the turn of the year, Barcelona’s top scorer in LaLiga has been Raphinha on only four goals in 10 games, while top scorer Robert Lewandowski has only scored two goals in 2023. That means that, whatever happens at Camp Nou, we can expect this Clásico to be one of few goals.
Boavista v Famalicao
Boavista closed out the weekend with a 3-0 defeat to Sporting, their sixth match in eight to feature over 2.5 goals. The Axadrezados have grown accustomed to high-scoring fixtures in recent weeks, having picked up just three clean sheets since the start of October, and they sit 10th in the table, level on 30 points with Rio Ave and Famalicão and 15 clear of the drop. Petit’s side have relied on the attacking prowess of Gambian striker Yusupha Njie, who has found the back of the net on seven occasions this year, but they have struggled to protect 41-year-old Rafael Bracali in goal despite the emergence of Nigerian international Bruno Onyemaechi in the backline. They have conceded 38 goals in 24 matches – only Marítimo and Paços de Ferreira have let in more. Boavista won’t be fighting relegation this season, but they likely won’t be fighting for Europe either due to this porous backline.
They’ll be hosting a Famalicão side that enters the match on the back of an impressive run of the form that has seen them beat Santa Clara 3-1 and Portimonense 1-0, lose 2-0 to Benfica, and beat Casa Pia 1-0. Whilst Boavista were knocked out of the Taça de Portugal in October by fourth-tier Machico, Fama will be taking on Porto in the Taça de Portugal semifinals next month. Apart from the Benfica defeat, Fama have been held to a clean sheet on just two occasionsin 2023 – a 0-0 draw to Rio Ave on January 22 and a 1-0 loss to Gil Vicente on February 12. The mid-season return of João Pedro Sousa as manager has proven vital in Fama escaping a looming relegation battle and ascending to a comfortable midtable position, and with Iván Jaime getting back to his best form and Leandro Sanca impressing after joining on loan in January, Fama have more than enough firepower to put Boavista’s defense to the test.
Since returning to the top-flight in 2019, Famalicão have played Boavista six times, with each of those fixtures featuring over 2.5 goals. The last time they played each other, Fama came away with a 4-0 victory – I’m expecting a far more balanced, albeit high-scoring fixture at the Estádio do Bessa. An over 1.5 line provides exceptional value.
Olimpia v Libertad
Olimpia play their first game with Diego Aguirre on the touchline and the Uruguayan is tasked with trying to stop the runaway league leaders Libertad. It is the first meeting since October last year when El Decano pulled off an important 1-0 win to surge to the Clausura title.
Olimpia got back to winning ways in Ciudad del Este last weekend after a run of four without a victory including three straight draws. Once again they were boosted with a penalty, Derlis González netted his third spot kick in as many games to set them on their way. Paraguay U20s international Allan Wlk made his senior debut and the striker was involved in the build up for Fernando Cardozo’s winner. Aguirre is expected to stick with the winning XI, especially as both Alejandro Silva and Facundo Zábala are still not fully fit.
The defeat in October ended Daniel Garnero’s run of five games without losing against his old club (if you include the abandoned Copa Paraguay match which they led 4-0 at HT). Whatever issues they had in the Clausura have seemingly been repaired as they are en route to another title, currently five points ahead of 2nd place Guaraní. Hernesto Caballero is back from illness and will return to central midfield, but centreback Diego Viera is the latest affected by the Chikungunya epidemic and was reported to have a high fever in midweek and will miss the match. The U20s defender Gilberto Flores is set to replace him in what would be his first league start of the season.
Despite not making any signings in the off season Libertad have been almost unstoppable so far, picking up 19 points from a possible 21 and averaging 1.75 goals in their last four matches since Alfio Oviedo joined the starting lineup. However, Olimpia’s home form (20 games unbeaten) should be respected which is why they are slight favourites in this clash. BTTS has landed in 6 of Olimpia’s last 7 home games while Libertad have only kept one cleansheet in their last nine away games.
Sporting Trinidense v Guarani
Sportivo Trinidense have been brought down to earth in the last two weeks, losing two games in a row for the first time since October 2019. Guaraní on the other hand have found their groove, winning five in a row in all competitions for the first time in over three years.
José Arrúa has done a great job with the newly promoted side and although they have lost their last couple of games they are still finding the net and creating chances. Lucas Barrios has returned to the side following injury which has seen Óscar Giménez drop to the bench. Nicolas Maná has been a constant threat from the wings, while central defender Paul Riveros already has two goals as they have proved to be effective from set pieces.
Guaraní were slow to get going under Hernán Rodrigo López but four straight league wins have propelled them into second place and no team has scored more goals in Primera. Facundo Barceló has been a key component of the forward line, but he was missed in the most recent game against Tacuary. The aurinegro still picked up all three points through defender Marcos Cáceres’ header from a set piece and it is worth noting how good the backline have been. Just five goals conceded this season, only Libertad have let in less.
This will be their first meeting between the sides since 2017 when Hernán Rodrigo López was still playing for Guaraní. A month ago the favourite would have probably been Trinidense, but the form both sides have been on since then tips the scales towards Guaraní. Barceló could still be missing, but the visitors will have plenty of quality in attack with Federico Santander and Enrique Borja.
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