Hoffenheim v Schalke
Hoffenheim host Schalke in a relegation six-pointer on Sunday. Just four points separate the two teams and both have had an upturn in form in recent weeks as they look to secure their Bundesliga status.
Hoffenheim, previously on a seven-game losing streak, have won their last two games under Pellegrino Matarazzo and look like a squad that will fight to stay up. Schalke meanwhile suffered a 3-0 defeat against Bayer Leverkusen last weekend, but went eight games unbeaten, drawing six and winning two.
Schalke’s downfall this season is their inability to score goals, which automatically swings this in favour of Hoffenheim. No teams in the Bundesliga have scored fewer than Schalke’s 21 after 26 games, whilst they’ve scored just seven away from home in 12 games this season.
Andrej Kramarić has scored three goals in his last two Bundesliga games for Hoffenheim and despite a poor campaign this season, continues to be Hoffenheim’s goal-getter. He’s created an excellent understanding with Christoph Baumgartner, who has six goals and three assists in 25 games.
Schalke do have an xG of 37 but are underperforming by a considerable margin in that metric, and it’s difficult to see how they can get anything from their trip to Sinsheim. Meanwhile only four teams average more shots per 90 than Hoffenheim’s 12 and despite a resilient Schalke defence, we can expect to see Hoffenheim control the ball, create chances in the final third and pick up an important win.
PAOK v Volos
PAOK’s title hopes were dealt a huge blow on Wednesday, when they lost 3-1 away at Olympiacos despite taking a first-half lead. The Thessaloniki-based side were outplayed by a spirited Olympiacos and recorded their second defeat in a row after losing 1-0 at home to AEK on Sunday.
Sitting nine points behind joint-leaders AEK Athens and Panathinaikos, PAOK may have missed the opportunity to compete for the title, but they want to bounce back and rediscover their form in this last stretch of the season ahead of the Greek Cup final in mid-May.
Yet, coach Razvan Lucescu may make some changes and rest first-choice players due to the congested calendar, as PAOK are playing what is considered as theoretically their easiest fixture in the play-offs. Lucescu’s side boast the third-best home defence in the league with just eight goals conceded in 14 games, while they are scoring an average of 1.7 goals at Toumba Stadium.
Meanwhile, no team have conceded more home goals than Volos, but the visitors have the fifth best away defence in Greece, averaging less than one goal conceded per game. Moreover, Volos have improved in defence lately, with four of their last five games ending with under 1.5 goals. In fact, they have conceded just two goals in their last four matches away from home.
Volos need to get something from this game more than PAOK do. Sitting sixth in the table, just one point behind Aris, they are aware that by clinching the fifth position they will secure European qualification for the first time in their history. A disappointed PAOK may struggle to go past Volos in a game where we should expect fewer than 3.5 goals to be scored.
Feyenoord v RKC Waalwijk
Feyenoord have a comfortable run of seven games to finish their Eredivisie title march as well as an eight-point lead at the top. They have grown as a team this season magnificently from the one which had to recover from player sales last summer, and they face RKC Waalwijk on Sunday evening.
Arne Slot will gain lots of credit for the way his side plays despite having no attacking superstar. Nevertheless, Santiago Giménez is growing in his importance for the Rotterdam side, scoring more regularly to add to his all-round centre forward game.
In midweek, Feyenoord lost De Klassieker to Ajax to miss out on a Dutch Cup final. This came not long after their league victory against the Amsterdammers. There’s not a big gap between Feyenoord and Ajax, so it shows that if Feyenoord do ease up, then Ajax still have the potential to steel more silverware.
Joseph Oosting’s RKC are notoriously difficult to play as a top team. They tend to restrain opposition to fewer goals, but they have only picked up one win against a top four side this season (that was AZ at home). Therefore, I am backing RKC to provide an uncomfortable ride for Feyenoord in amongst a hectic schedule of games.
After playing De Klassieker mid-week, and with Europa League quarter-final legs to come, this home game in De Kuip will want to be dealt with quickly and painlessly, but Feyenoord have often won games like this the hard way this season, and plenty of late goals have also been required to sneak a point or a narrow win.
Panathinaikos v Olympiacos
After dropping points in a shocking 0-0 home draw against Volos, a clinical Panathinaikos bounced back with a narrow 1-0 victory away at Aris on Wednesday to remain top of the Greek Super League table along with AEK Athens. On Sunday they will face the only team which has managed to outplay them twice this year, as Panathinaikos were lucky to snatch two draws in the previous two derbies.
Olympiacos were leading 1-0 six minutes into stoppage time, when Panathinaikos were awarded a controversial penalty to grab a 1-1 draw in the first duel between the two teams. As for the second derby of the season, the reigning champions paid for their lack of a finishing touch and wasted a handful of chances in a game that ended in a goalless draw.
Their compact defence has been Panathinaikos’ main weapon this season. PAO have conceded just six goals in 14 home games and boast the best defence in the league with 12 goals conceded in 29 matches. In fact, they have kept an impressive seven consecutive clean sheets, including one away at Olympiacos back in February. Having conceded just one goal in their last five home duels, Panathinaikos will prioritise being compact at the back over taking risks and pushing forwards from the off against Olympiacos.
No team have scored more goals away from home than Olympiacos (25 in 14 games) thus far, but the Piraeus-based side have demonstrated that they struggle to break down solid backlines this season on the road. Meanwhile, PAO are expected to stick to the plan that has brought them all the way here instead of opting for an open game.
Only two of the last six games between the two teams ended with more than 1.5 goals scored, with three of these duels ending in goalless draws. We shouldn’t expect something different from this derby either.
Lorient v Marseille
Marseille’s Champions League push is being fuelled by their away form at present, with Igor Tudor’s side clearly the most comfortable in the league when playing on the road. Through 14 matches, they have picked up 11 wins on their travels and have suffered just a single defeat. Against an injury-hit and out-of-form Lorient side, that run should continue at a sold-out Stade du Moustoir on Sunday.
Lorient have faded badly over the second half of the season while their recent form is unimpressive. From their last 10 matches, they have recorded only a couple of wins against Ajaccio and Troyes – two of the clubs in the bottom three of the standings.
Worse for the home side, they are going to have to negotiate their most severe injury crisis of the season for this match. They are depleted in the midfield and defence particularly, with their top three options at right-back all missing, meaning that Marseille’s dangerous wing-back Nuno Tavares will be licking his lips. This would have been a tough match at the best of times, now it is positively fiendish.
OM have everyone available for this match and are chasing a 10th consecutive away victory since the World Cup break. It’s worth considering the possibility of backing Marseille with a -1 handicap at 2.7 in this game given that six of their 11 away wins this season have come by at least two goals, but supporting them on the nose at 1.65 still offers excellent value.
Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid
While Betis suffered from Atlético’s gain last weekend, the Colchoneros have seen their high confidence continue to skyrocket as a result of Ángel Correa’s late winner. It means that their 2023 form puts them only just behind LaLiga leaders Barcelona, as Atleti have taken 27 points from a possible 33.
Antoine Griezmann has just collected the March player of the month award from LaLiga and continues to be the team’s leading light, though much of their good form is down to their strong defensive record, which has seen them win their last three matches to nil. You’d have to go all the way back to October to find a time that a team put two past Jan Oblak in LaLiga.
Rayo Vallecano have not had such luck of late and are now seven without a win, though they have drawn five of those matches. No team has picked up more points than Atlético over the last six games, with 16 from a possible 18, while no team has picked up fewer points than Rayo’s return of four over the same period.
Diego Simeone’s team have an excellent record against Rayo Vallecano, with their last defeat in this fixture coming in 2013, and they’ll be confident of maintaining that. Andoni Iraola’s team are in a milder freefall than last season, which saw their early season hope fade into relegation fears, but they are far from the side we saw in the first half of the season and come up against a team in the ascendancy.
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