Boston River v Huracan
The Uruguayan’s breezed past Venezuelan club Zamora in the first qualifying round, but now face a much sterner test against Huracan. The Argentine club finishing fourth in the Primera Division last campaign, with only Boca Juniors, Racing Club and River Plate above them. As a result of their league success, this will be their Copa Libertadores debut.
With two wins and a draw domestically this season, Huracan head to Uruguay hoping to take a positive result back to Buenos Aires next week. This will be Boston River’s sixth game already in February, and although they beat Zamora over two legs, the Uruguayan club has lost its last two domestic matches without scoring.
Huracan are proving to be strong at the back having gone 195 minutes without conceding, and their quality should shine through. Huracan’s star midfielder Gabriel Gudino has scored three goals in four matches, whereas 18-year-old striker Juan Gauto scored his first ever goal last weekend and may well feature.
Back on home soil next week, Huracan will be a much shorter price. Therefore, it’s worth squeezing the extra juice this week. Huracan Draw No Bet catches the eye.
AS Monaco v Bayer Leverkusen
If the reverse fixture was anything to go by, AS Monaco vs Bayer Leverkusen should be a thrilling game. The Principality side were 1-0 up inside 10 minutes but goals from Moussa Diaby and Florian Wirtz gave Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen a 2-1 lead. But with 15 minutes left, Krepin Diatta and Axel Disasi secured an important with for Monaco heading into Thursday’s fixture.
Post 3-2 defeat against Mainz at the weekend, Bayer Leverkusen ultras showed their frustration despite a recent run of five successive wins. However, one win and four defeats in their last five games has put a dent in Leverkusen’s confidence. Conceding six goals in their last two games, Bayer Leverkusen must improve if they are to advance.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see how they can turn this around in such a short period. They’ve kept just two clean sheets in their last nine.
Patrik Schick returned for Bayer Leverkusen at the weekend and although just a 40 minute cameo, the Czech forward scored and already offered something different in the final third. Since his injury, Leverkusen have lacked a focal point in attack, and Schick offers that. It’s unclear as to whether or not he will start, but he’s certainly a goalscoring option for Alonso.
Monaco meanwhile are confident at the moment. A 3-1 win against PSG preceded their win against Bayer Leverkusen last week, and they come into Thursday’s fixture following a 2-1 win against Brest. Only PSG create more than Monaco (8) in Ligue 1 but the Principality side are clinical.
Diatta is the one to watch for Monaco. The wide forward completed four key passes against Bayer Leverkusen in the reverse fixture and operating on the right, is likely to cause Piero Hincapie problems again – whilst often excellent, the Colombian often has lapses in concentration.
To advance, Bayer Leverkusen must score. And against Brest at the weekend, Monaco didn’t see much of the ball. Expect the Ligue 1 side to exploit space left behind by Bayer Leverkusen. Over 2.5 Goals again offers excellent value for this Europa League meeting.
Nantes v Juventus
Nantes and Juventus are evenly poised at 1-1 in their Europa League tie, and after a relatively tight first leg, the second may well follow a similar pattern.
Juventus are enticingly priced at 1.8 to get the victory in 90 minutes. Given their advantage in quality that they have on paper, this looks and attractive price, particularly given they have significant motivation to impress in the tournament with European qualification via Serie A likely off the table due to a heavy points deduction.
Max Allegri’s side are, though, making solid progress defensively largely thanks to the quality of their defence. They have picked up three successive league wins without conceding a goal. Indeed, it is a trend for Juventus to win matches with a cleansheet. Each of their 14 Serie A wins this season have been marked by a shutout.
Nantes, meanwhile, are hardly a prolific side. They scored with their only shot on target in Turin and, like their opponents, typically lean on their defensive strength to get points. Prior to last Sunday’s 3-1 loss in Lens, they have played eight successive Ligue 1 games that had not seen both teams find the net.
Juve will fancy their chances of nicking a narrow victory in this game, and indeed odds on them winning and under 2.5 goals at 3.6 look healthy. Both of these teams have a habit of being involved in matches in which only one team scores, so the odds against both teams netting look very healthy.
PSV v Sevilla
This tie is virtually done and dusted, after Sevilla won 3-0 at home in the first leg. But, it should be kept in mind that the first leg certainly wasn’t a 3-0 kind of game. In fact, PSV actually edged the expected goals stats in that match, with 0.92 xG for the Dutch side and 0.83 xG for the Spanish team.
With the tie now moving to the Philips Stadion, PSV Eindhoven should be expected to win this second leg on the night, even if turning the entire tie around might be too big an ask. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s side have been in inconsistent form overall since the World Cup break, but they have won their past four at home by scoring 12 goals and conceding just one.
Sevilla, meanwhile, have been terrible on the road all season. Their recent revival in LaLiga has been fuelled by four consecutive home wins, but they haven’t won any of their past six away matches in LaLiga. It won’t be any easier in the Netherlands, as Jorge Sampaoli has just 16 first-team players available due to a series of suspensions and injuries.
It could yet be a successful trip for Sevilla, but there is a good chance they’ll suffer defeat on the night. If they find themselves one or two goals down entering the final stages, Sampaoli should even go into lockdown mode and try to protect that ‘winning’ defeat.
FC Midtyjlland v Sporting Lisbon
FC Midtyjlland played their first official match in over three games on Thursday, facing off against Sporting in the first round of the Europa League knockout round. Egyptian midfielder Emam Ashour came on for his debut after making the move from Zamalek in the January window, creating FCM’s best chance of the match (so far) with his first involvement, before taking advantage of a botched clearance from goalkeeper Antonio Adán and firing in the opener from long range. Sporting would nevertheless secure a last-second equalizer as Gonçalo Inácio headed Marcus Edwards’ cross into the path of Sebastián Coates, who made no mistake from close range.
Both sides followed up the 1-1 draw in Lisbon with strong weekend displays – FCM won 4-0 at second-placed Viborg, with Ashour opening the scoring within five minutes and Gustav Isaksen scoring a hat-trick as Albert Capellas’ side leapfrogged OB and Randers in the table and moved to fourth place. Sporting, meanwhile, would take the lead in the eighth minute via a penalty from Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves, only to concede the equalizer with João Teixeira firing a rocket from long range to even things up before halftime. Pote restored Sporting’s advantage at the hour-mark and Nuno Santos added a third shortly after, but Chaves nevertheless fought admirably with 13 shots (5 on target) and got a consolation goal in the 96th minute. Sporting, like FCM, sit fourth in the table, 15 points behind league leaders Benfica, 10 behind Porto and and 8 behind Braga, and with 23 goals conceded, they have the third-worst defense in the top-half after seventh-placed Boavista (34) and eighth-placed Arouca (31). Four of their last five European matches have seen both sides find the back of the net, the sole exception being a 2-0 defeat to Marseille that saw them fall to 10 men in the 19th minute and 9 men in the 60th minute, and I’m expecting this one to follow that pattern.
Sporting’s biggest matches of the season have mainly featured ample goals for either side, be that a 3-3 draw with Braga on opening day, a 2-2 draw to Benfica on January 15, or a 2-1 defeat to Porto on February 12. Whilst they delivered their most energetic attacking performance in recent weeks in the weekend’s victory in Chaves, their defensive weaknesses once again came to the fore, veterans like Adán and Coates once again making increasingly regular mistakes and the hosts enjoying plenty of threatening counter-attacking attempts. Sporting have already conceded as many league goals as they did in the entirety of 2021/22, and they’ve conceded more this season (23) than in the entirety of their title winning 2020/21 season (20). One of the reasons for this has been in an inconsistency in the line-up – Pote has been used as a wide forward as well as a central midfielder alongside Manuel Ugarte, and it is unclear if Amorim will go with Pote and Ugarte in the double pivot, as has been the case for the past three games, or introduce Hidemasa Morita and move Pote into the front three alongside Paulinho and Marcus Edwards. It remains to be seen whether Héctor Bellerín or Ricardo Esgaio gets the nod at right wingback, or who will accompany Coates and Inácio in the back three, but I’m expecting plenty of goals in Denmark. Sporting will be feeling inspired after knocking three past Chaves and should come out with all guns blazing, whilst FCM have more than enough quality to exploit Sporting’s leaky defense.
Fiorentina v Braga
After drawing 1-1 to newly promoted Monza to kick off the new year, Fiorentina edged Sassuolo 2-1 via an extra time penalty from Nicolás González, before beating Sampdoria 1-0 in the Coppa Italia, losing 2-0 to Roma and 1-0 to Torino, and closing out the month with a 1-1 draw to Lazio. They would kick off February with a 2-1 win against Torino, with Luka Jović opening the scoring at the hour-mark, Jonathan Ikoné doubling the lead in extra time and Yann Karamoh grabbing a consolation goal in the 93rd minute as La Viola advanced to the semifinals of the Coppa Italia. Vincenzo Italiano’s side would succumb to a 2-1 home defeat to Bologna as well as a 1-0 loss at Juventus before thrashing Braga 4-0 in the first leg of their Europa Conference League fixture. It was their first away win and first away clean sheet since November 6, when they beat relegation battlers Sampdoria 2-0.
Jović broke the deadlock before the break for the visitors and completed his brace on the hour-mark, just five minutes after Braga center back Vítor Tormena received his marching orders. Arthur Cabral replaced Jović in the 75th minute and grabbed a brace of his own as Fiorentina left Portugal with a 4-0 victory, before hosting midtable Empoli on Sunday. The visitors took the lead within a half-hour, whilst Cabral snatched a late equalizer after coming on for Jović as the two sides settled for a 1-1 draw – for the sixth time in eight league matches in 2023, this game would end with under 2.5 goals. Braga, meanwhile, would bounce back from the defeat with a 2-0 win against Arouca, Abel Ruíz breaking the deadlock within 18 seconds and his strike partner Simon Banza sealing the deal in the 81st minute.
La Viola currently sit 14th in the table, eight points above the drop, and they will be looking to salvage their dismal campaign by going far in the Europa Conference League. I’m expecting them to batten down the hatches and successfully defend their lead against a Braga side that, truth be told, has little to play for. The Arsenalistas sit third in the table, eight above fourth-placed Sporting, two behind Braga and seven behind league leaders Benfica, and are on pace to return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 11 years. Having been relegated from the Europa League, their typical stomping grounds, they got off to a nightmare start in the Europa Conference League and have little to no chance of overturning the deficit in Tuscany. What’s more, they have the Dérbi do Minho in the back of their mind, with Artur Jorge’s side set to face off against fifth-placed Vitória on Monday. This local derby is always a competitive match-up – Braga won 1-0 on September 3 with a 98th-minute winner from Tormena, whilst their match-up on January 11 would see them enter the 80th minute trailing 0-2, only to score three in the next five minutes and book their ticket to the Taça de Portugal quarterfinals, where they would defeat Benfica on penalties.
I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a decaffeinated performance from both sides – Fiorentina will likely be more focused on defending their lead than grabbing a fifth goal, whilst Braga’s starters could be in second gear, conserving energy and steering clear of injuries as they prepare for a crucial fixture in Guimarães. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Artur Jorge wave the white flag and opt for a heavily rotated line-up in Italy following last week’s humiliation. Either way, I’m expecting a fairly low-scoring, low-intensity battle with Fiorentina all but certain to advance to the next round.
Manchester United v Barcelona
After the 2-2 draw from the first leg at the Camp Nou, this blockbuster tie between Manchester United and Barcelona is set up perfectly for the second meeting at Old Trafford. Having put in such an impressive performance on the road, United are now the clear favourites to progress to the next round and rightly so. Perhaps they’ll need extra time to do so, but they also look strong enough to get the job done in 90 minutes.
Apart from Christian Eriksen and Anthony Martial, Erik ten Hag will have all of his preferred starters available for this game and United have been coping well without those two anyway. Barcelona, on the other hand, are missing some very important pieces. Both Pedri and Ousmane Dembélé are out injured, while Gavi is suspended, meaning Xavi is without three of his very best performers from this season. These are also three of the most energetic players in this Barcelona squad, so they’ll be missed on a night like this. Plus, Sergio Busquets isn’t 100 percent, even if he returns from injury in this game.
Manchester United absolutely should, and can, exploit this weakened Barcelona side. Ten Hag has his unit in great form and they have lost just one of 17 matches (away at Arsenal) since the World Cup. By taking a draw at the Camp Nou, they’re already more than halfway there. Now, they should finish the job at home against this weakened Barcelona.
Magallanes v Always Ready
Magallanes return to the Copa Libertadores for the first time since 1985, who face Bolivian club Always Ready, having reached the group stage in 2022. Bolivian football teams often perform very well at home due to being accustomed to their incredibly high altitude, but often struggle on the road on a more level playing field. Magallanes will know this, and a lead is almost required before heading to Bolivia next week. Goals will be demanded by the home crowd, who will be looking to play their part.
Domestically, Always Ready have been playing at the top of their game, scoring nine goals in their last two matches. New striker Dorny Romero has scored three across those games, while ex-Manchester City forward Benjani is in line to make his debut.
Elsewhere, Chile’s Magallanes come into this having played eight times in 2023, where four of those have had three goals or more, and seven have seen both teams find the back of the net. With both defence’s set to be tested in a crucial first leg, both teams to score at 1.87 looks to be a slightly safer bet than over 2.5 goals.
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