Napoli v Fiorentina
The newly-crowned Serie A champions are now set to begin their victory parade around Italy, with the first stop being their own Stadio Diego Armando Maradona where they take on Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina.
The focus may be more on the stands rather than the pitch during the opening exchanges as 54,000 sleep-deprived and perpetually drunk Neapolitans pile into the stadium to honour their champions, the first to deliver such joy in 33 years.
We have to entertain the possibility that the days-long party that the players are now a part of in Naples will have a toll on their performance, but they are also certainly good enough to just come out and produce another fine display knowing that they no longer have the pressure of actually delivering the title.
It is more fun to think that they will do the latter, but Fiorentina will know that they potentially have a great opportunity to come to the champions and get three points if they can catch Napoli lacking from the start.
Italiano’s team are predominantly playing to ensure that they can finish in a respectable eighth place, with any higher looking impossible now. Their form has started to stutter, but their 3-3 draw with Salernitana shows that they are prone to exciting, goal-laden games and this could be quite a mad match given the circumstances.
AGF Aarhus v Viborg
Two of the oldest and proudest clubs from Jutland meet in this six-pointer where the third place is at stake. Just three points split the two clubs.
AGF are coming off an impressive run that has seen them collect four points against first and second in the Superliga. Last week, they defeated FC Nordsjælland 1-0 away, and they week before they drew 0-0 at home against FC Copenhagen. AGF’s best asset is their defensive organization. They have conceded just four goals in their ten games this spring. Offensively however, they are struggling with just three goals scored in their last five games. They are entirely too dependent on 33-year-old striker Patrick Mortensen, and have a hard time creating chances.
Viborg are arguably the strongest side in the Superliga at the moment. The green and whites are currently third in the league, which would be the club’s best ever finish. They have won their last two matches, 3-1 against Randers and 1-0 against Nordsjælland, and are just three points behind Copenhagen in first place. They are six points off the top, but don’t rule out Viborg winning the championship, which would be a surprise of a similar scale to Leicester’s Premier League triumph in 2016.
The matches between AGF and Viborg are always close. Six of the previous seven meetings between the two clubs have finished with under 2.5 goals, and we expect that trend to continue in this crucial match that neither side can afford to lose.
Royal Antwerp v Genk
Genk and Antwerp both began the championship play-offs with a win, and the title race looks to be mostly between them. Antwerp also won the Croky Cup against Mechelen on Sunday, giving a huge confidence boost to Belgium’s oldest club. They are currently two points behind Genk, so a win here would put them top of the table for the first time since the opening months of the season.
Antwerp play with commitment, and plenty of power and drive. They have been referred to as the Atletico Madrid of Belgium. They play cautiously when they have possession, but they do limit their opponents chances to counter-attack. They can rely on their size for set pieces, with Alderweireld, de Laet and Janssen all aerial threats.
Janssen is crucial to this Antwerp side, his press allows them to keep opponents pinned back even without the ball. At Genk, centre-forward Samatta is less mobile, and has been struggling for form lately. Fortunately for the visitors, January signings Sor and Arokdare have returned from injuries, though they are not yet match-fit.
The previous three games between these two have been fascinating. Early in the season, after a strong start, Genk outclassed Antwerp in a 3-1 win. However, Antwerp managed a surprise 3-0 win in the Croky Cup, before squeaking out a narrow 1-0 win in the league.
Whilst Genk played an open, expansive game against all opponents earlier in the season, after being stung by some of the better sides in the Pro League they now play a more considered style in tougher games, leaving less space in behind and having their forwards track back to help out on the defensive end.
Antwerp cannot afford to lose this game, and they are unlikely to come out all guns blazing, whilst a draw suits Genk just fine also, maintaining their 2 point cushion. This should be a chess match, presumably low-scoring and high-intensity, so under 2.5 goals looks an excellent selection.
Olympiacos v Panathinaikos
A solid Olympiacos side held firm and drew 0-0 away at joint-leaders AEK Athens on Wednesday night. The reigning Greek Super League champions may have nothing to play for, but they are the team who could decide the title race outcome, as they face the other team in the title race, Panathinaikos on Sunday. The game will be played behind closed doors following the Olympiacos fans’ riots against police on the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium pitch last week, which means that this time it may not feel like a proper derby.
No team have conceded fewer goals (seven in 17 games) away from home than Panathinaikos in 2022/23. Ivan Jovanovic’s side have failed to impress in attack, having scored just one goal in their last two games, against AEK and PAOK, but they have kept a frankly ridiculous 11 clean sheets in their last 14 games. Meanwhile, 20 of their last 24 games have ended with under 2.5 goals scored and this is what we should expected from Sunday’s derby too.
Just one of the last seven games between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos ended with more than 2.5 goals scored, with the reigning champions failing to score in the last two derbies. A few days after putting five past a poor Volos side, Olympiacos failed to score away at AEK.
Boasting the best defence in the league, with just 14 goals conceded in 34 games, Panathinaikos are expected to avoid taking risks away at Olympiacos, who have nothing to play for but they already forced title contenders AEK to drop points on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Panathinaikos have scored fewer goals (46) than the rest of the top-5 teams, struggling to capitalise on their chances due to the absence of a clinical striker.
Aris v AEK Athens
As the title race intensifies heading into the last two games of the season, AEK Athens drew 0-0 on home soil against Olympiacos on Wednesday. AEK didn’t pay for dropping two crucial points, but they missed out on a huge opportunity to overtake Panathinaikos and take a two-point lead at the top of the Greek Super League table. The two teams remain joint leaders and they both have difficult encounters this weekend.
While Panathinaikos will be trying to secure their second straight win over fierce rivals Olympiacos, AEK will be playing away at Aris, who have mathematically sealed fifth spot and European qualification for next season after beating Volos 4-2 on Wednesday. This means that the hosts have nothing to play for in the remainder of the season.
AEK have won all their last three duels against Aris this season, including a comfortable 2-0 victory on the road back in October. Only Panathinaikos have managed more away wins than AEK (11 in 17 games) thus far, with Matias Almeyda’s side having won six of their last seven games on the road. The only match from which they failed to come out victorious was last week’s 0-0 draw against Panathinaikos.
AEK outshot Panathinaikos 17-5, hit the woodwork twice and recorded 1.26 XG but failed to find the back of the net at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium. This means that Panathinaikos now have the advantage, as they are aware that they could lift their first league trophy since 2010 if they win both their last two games of the season.
All AEK can do is win at Aris and hope for Panathinaikos to drop points away at Olympiacos. Almeyda’s side will face a side who have nothing to play for and may even rest some starters, as they don’t have the squad depth to deal with the congested calendar.
Lecce v Fiorentina
This is a huge game at the bottom of the table and there is one possible result that would likely be terminal for one of these two teams. Hellas Verona have looked doomed for much of the season but they have managed to fight back to a position where they could drag someone into the bottom three in their place.
Lecce are one of the two teams that are in danger of getting dragged down, which is what makes this match at the Stadio Via del Mare in Salento so crucial. The Giallorossi are currently four points above Verona who occupy the last relegation spot. Spezia are sandwiched between the two of them, in real danger.
If Lecce can get all three points here, it wouldn’t mean the end for Verona, but it could be the win that Lecce need to secure their place in Serie A for next season. There is no doubt that they are a better team than Verona, but they are prone to stretches of poor form and they have been in one recently.
When you compare the performances of the two sides in midweek, with Lecce narrowly losing 2-1 away to Juventus and Verona getting battered 6-0 at home by Inter, you have to think that Lecce will have enough in the bank, in front of their own fans, to get the win that they need.
However, with such a tough match to call, it seems sensible to play it a little safer, and back draw no bet at 1.45. Though, if you are looking for better odds, 2.20 for Lecce to win represents good value.
Pacos de Ferreira v Sporting
After a rollercoaster month that would see them lose to Juventus in the Europa League quarterfinals, draw to Gil Vicente and Arouca and pick up four league wins, Sporting will be looking to kick off May with a victory at Pacos de Ferreira. Ruben Amorim’s side ended April with a 2-0 win at Vitoria and a 2-1 win against Famalicao, and they’ll be looking to pick up their 21st league win of the season as they face off against the Beavers, who sit four points above Santa Clara, two behind Maritimo and eight away from automatic safety.
Since the start of February, Sporting have had just four matches that featured under 1.5 goals: a 1-0 win against Rio Ave on February 6, a 1-0 win against Portimonense on March 4, a 0-0 draw to Gil Vicente on April 5 and a 1-0 loss to Juventus on April 13. Pacos have had three: a 1-0 loss to Portimonense on February 6, a 1-0 win against Santa Clara on March 11 and 0-0 draw to Vitoria on April 1. I’m expecting this match to have more than 1.5 goals and I’m expecting Sporting to come away with a victory and put a major dent in Pacos’ efforts to escape the drop.
Pacos suffered a dismal start to the campaign that would see them sack Cesar Peixoto and bring in club legend Jose Mota 14 years after his departure, but Mota lasted just seven matches before being sacked and replaced by Peixoto.
Whilst Pacos have enjoyed an impressive rebound in the second half of the campaign and have given themselves a legitimate chance of finishing in the relegation play-off spot after beating Vizela 2-1 at the weekend, they have lost three of their last four and have won just three games since the start of February. It could be too little too late for Pacos, who will face Chaves, Rio Ave and Braga. Sporting, meanwhile, are all but guaranteed to finish fourth, currently sitting seven points behind Braga, but they will be looking to close out the campaign on a strong note under Amorim.
They’ll be counting on their attacking firepower of Marcus Edwards and Pedro Goncalves to exploit Pacos’ leaky defence – with 52 goals conceded, only Maritimo (56) have let in more – as well as a sensational midfield of Hidemasa Morita and Manuel Ugarte. Sporting have won each of their last 14 matches against Pacos and they have what it takes to continue that streak at the Estadio Capital do Movel.
The Strongest v Aurora
The Strongest may have lost their last two Libertadores games away by a scoreline of 1-0, in Brazil and Peru, but in the Bolivian league it is another story, with 23 out of a possible 27 points to their name. What’s more, their strikers are all scoring regularly, after the first eight games Arias and Triverio have scored five goals each.
Aurora for their part, are on a two game clean sheet winning streak and more impressively are up to fourth in the league table. This is high for a team which are more accustomed to fighting relegation rather than challenging for Libertadores places.
Prior to the 1-1 draw in February in February these two sides had gone seven games without both teams scoring. What’s more, there have been barely 14 goals scored in the last seven games which gives an average of barely two.
Few goals to be scored here seems very likely, which is why we’re taking the under here. Aurora are punching above their weight and will be hoping to snatch a point, so should arrive with a defensive mindset, whereas The Strongest are good enough to win, but unlikely to do so in a free-scoring manner.
Seattle Sounders v Sporting Kansas City
The Western Conference will be the focus deeper into the early hours of Sunday morning when a much improved Vancouver Whitecaps team play host to Minnesota United at what should be a buoyant BC Field.
Vancouver look very much like a team on the up. That didn’t look like it would be the case when they lost their opening two matches but they are undefeated in seven since then and made it through to the quarter finals of the Champions League in that time before running into the juggernaut that is Los Angeles FC.
Minnesota United aren’t as good on the eye this season but despite the absence of their string puller in Emmanuel Reynoso, the Loons sit in the playoff spots in the West, but head to Canada without a win in their last four matches.
These two teams struggle for goals but don’t give much away and that is a trend I expect to continue here. Vancouver have 11 goals in their nine MLS outings this term, which is an acceptable number, but slumps a little when you take away the five they scored against a terrible Montreal side.
Minnesota have only scored eight goals in their eight MLS matches and only four in their last six. Given the issues they have had with Reynoso it is no surprise that their goal output has diminished.
Goals for isn’t the only thing these two teams have in common. They don’t concede many either. The Whitecaps have conceded seven in their nine games, four of which came in the first two this term. Minnesota have leaked just eight in their eight games.
Only one of the last seven Vancouver games have had more than 2.5 goals in them while just two of the last six Minnesota ones have gone over 2.5 goals, one of which had a horrendous goalkeeper error on the third goal.
These two have already played out a 1-1 draw this season and I don’t see any more goals in this one than there was at Allianz Field.
Resistencia v Cerro Porteno
Resistencia continue to search for a win after a run of five matches without a victory, meanwhile Cerro Porteño will take to the field after a historically embarrassing 4-0 home defeat to Bolivian side Bolívar in the Libertadores.
The defence has been a continued issue for Sergio Orteman’s side who have only kept two clean sheets in 15 matches. They fell to a 1-0 defeat in their last match against Guaraní which was the ninth time they have failed to find the net. The return to the starting line up of striker Nelson Da Silva under Orteman hasn’t reaped rewards, the 26 year old has just one goal in his last seven starts.
Cerro Porteño have played fantastic football under Facundo Sava for the most part but this week’s 4-0 reverse to Bolívar follows a 5-0 loss in the league to Libertad at the start of April. They responded to that set back by winning four games in a row – and you would expect to see a response in this game. Captain Juan Patiño is back from injury, he was on the bench on Wednesday night and is expected to get minutes from the off here.
The last time these sides met it was Sava’s first home game in charge and it ended 1-1 and interestingly El Ciclón have a better away record this year under the new boss. They have won four out of six, only losing once – the aforementioned meltdown at Libertad. One theme throughout have been goals, over 2.5 has landed in five of the last six Cerro games.
Nacional v Chicó
Nacional are slowly getting their act together. Considered Colombia’s biggest club, but having underachieved considerably over the last few seasons, 2023 has been about reconnecting with the club’s identity. No flashy signings were made pre-season with Brazilian manager Paulo Autuori instead promoting the next batch of youngsters from Nacional’s youth system.
And what a vintage generation they seem to have. From Colombia U-20 full-backs Andrés Salazar and Édier Ocampo at the back, to 20-year-old Tomás Ángel, son of Juan Pablo and scorer of a brace to beat América midweek up front, Nacional have young talent spread across the positions and, in particular, in midfield where first-teamers Nelson Palacios (21) and Nelson Deossa (23) are backed up by the raw and wonderful talents of Jhon Solis (18) and Juan Pablo Torres (18).
The future’s bright, but this transition back to the club’s roots hasn’t been smooth and Nacional have looked stodgy and short of ideas in the final third at times this season. Fans aren’t exactly enamoured. That though, might be slowly changing. Manager Autuori has now finally identified his best team, the settled starting XI that was very unlucky not to beat Olimpia in the Copa Libertadores midweek (xG 3.13 vs 1.27).
Two days later, the reserves beat Colombian giants América de Cali in the league to leave Nacional within a whisker of guaranteeing their spot in the final eight of this year’s title race. A win here at home to stuttering Chicó will allow Nacional to relax domestically and turn their full attention to the Copa Libertadores.
But with no international competition coming straight off the back of this match, the Medellín giants will play a strong XI against Chicó with a clear objective in mind. Furthermore, after having been forced to play their home games behind closed doors for the last two matches, Nacional’s stadium turnstiles will again be clicking here. Chicó somehow remain fifth in the league, but their form this season has been almost entirely based on results they have picked up in their high-altitude home.
Expect Nacional to continue with their recent improvement, and win again here today.
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