Fixture Forecast: Big weekend wins ahead for Liverpool, Barcelona

Yahoo Sports

Predicting the beautiful game can be a fool’s errand, but fortune favors the bold. Yahoo Soccer has run the stats and analyzed the form books for five of the biggest games this weekend …

Liverpool vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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With the international break in the rear view mirror, we can finally get on with the business of the Premier League title race. Manchester City are currently two points behind leaders Liverpool (with a game in hand), but will likely find themselves at the summit by Sunday since they face the relatively undaunting trip to relegation battler Fulham.

That will heap the pressure on Liverpool, which hosts a Tottenham side that needs a result to stay in the running for the top four. This could be a season-defining clash for both sides.

The good news for Jurgen Klopp is that the Reds boast a solid home record against Spurs: The London side’s only victory in its past 24 league trips to Anfield came back in 2011. Mauricio Pochettino’s charges also come into this one in poor form, having taken just a single point from their last four league matches. And to top it off, both Eric Dier and Serge Aurier sustained injuries on international duty and will be unavailable for team selection.

Whatever happens in this game, it seems goals are likely. Only one of their last 14 encounters has ended goalless and three of the league’s most potent scorers will be on the field. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Harry Kane all have 17 goals on the season. Mane is in rude health with nine in his last nine games, while Kane has scored three times in four league appearances at Anfield.

Prediction: Liverpool 3-1 Tottenham

Best Bet: Over 3.5 goals (13/8 with bet365)

It's a good bet Jurgen Klopp, left, and Liverpool will be smiling after their match vs. Tottenham on Sunday. (Associated Press)
It's a good bet Jurgen Klopp, left, and Liverpool will be smiling after their match vs. Tottenham on Sunday. (Associated Press)

Barcelona vs. Espanyol

This weekend, it falls upon Espanyol to try and chip away at Barcelona’s fairly unassailable 10-point lead in La Liga. The Derbi barceloní is typically a hotly contested affair, as the homes of both teams are only a few miles apart in the Catalan city. But it is one of the most one-sided derbies in world soccer: Espanyol have only beaten their neighbors once in the last decade, and their last win at the Camp Nou came in February 2009, during a small blip in Barca’s magnificent treble-winning season.

Furthermore, Barcelona is undefeated in the league since November, while Espanyol sits nine points above the relegation zone, with only a single win in the last five outings.

Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are expected to shake off some recent knocks to start, but millions of fans will be tuning in to see the visitors’ star striker Wu Lei. The Chinese Super League’s all-time top scorer came to Catalonia in the winter window and recently became the first Chinese player to start and score in the Spanish top flight. Chinese broadcasters are ramping up their coverage of this one accordingly.

Prediction: Barcelona 3-0 Espanyol

Best Bet: Barcelona to win to nil (6/5 with SkyBet). The Blaugrana have kept a clean sheet in five of their last seven meetings with Espanyol.

Luis Suarez and Barcelona should own the derby on Saturday. (Getty)
Luis Suarez and Barcelona should own the derby on Saturday. (Getty)

Ajax vs. PSV

Ajax’s rivalry with Feyenoord may be the most storied in Dutch soccer, but De Topper is definitely the Eredivisie’s blockbuster. Despite their incredible Champions League exploits, Ajax currently sits five points behind PSV Eindhoven and will look to close the gap on Sunday at the Amsterdam Arena.

PSV has led the Eredivisie for much of the season and won each of their last two encounters with Ajax by a 3-0 scoreline. Mark van Bommel’s side is also in better form, having gone undefeated since the start of December; Ajax was humbled at AZ Alkmaar before the international break.

However, the Amsterdammers are strong home favorites with the bookies, as they are undefeated in their last 25 home matches and haven’t lost at home to PSV since 2015.

PSV tends to create scoring chances on the break and will undoubtedly look to Mexican international Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, who has scored in three of his last four outings. The Mexican was rested for the international friendly against Paraguay in California earlier this week and should be fighting fit. Ajax, meanwhile, will look to the talents of Brazilian forward David Neres, who enjoyed an outstanding evening with Brazil in a victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

Prediction: Ajax 2-1 PSV. (Ajax has scored at least twice in their last 12 home games and the last three editions of this fixture each featured three total goals.)

Best Bet: Chucky Lozano anytime scorer (13/2 with bet365)

Can El Tri star Chucky Lozano help PSV knock off Ajax? (Getty)
Can El Tri star Chucky Lozano help PSV knock off Ajax? (Getty)

Roma vs. Napoli

There are few careers where you can “fail upward” as much as soccer, but Claudio Ranieri is living proof of the phenomenon in his second stint at Roma, which follows a pretty disastrous reign at Fulham. Ranieri won his first game in charge back with the Giallorossi, but second-place Napoli has won its last two trips to the Stadio Olimpico to face Roma.

And Ranieri faces something of an injury crisis, with Stephan El Shaarawy, Javier Pastore, Alessandro Florenzi, Kostas Manolas, Daniele De Rossi and Lorenzo Pellegrini all potentially ruled out.

To top it off, Roma is also in worse form, with three defeats in the last four outings. Any hopes of “new manager bounce” were eradicated before the international break with a loss at relegation-threatened SPAL.

Lorenzo Insigne should return for Napoli, but Carlo Ancelotti may opt to give his star forward a rest, instead fielding the able duo of Arek Milik and Dries Mertens up top.

Roma has won five of its last six home matches in Serie A and has more to play for, with the prospect of catching one of the Milan sides to secure a Champions League berth. But Napoli is the narrow favorite with the bookmakers and should perform accordingly.

Prediction: Roma 1-3 Napoli

Best Bet: Over 3.5 goals (2/1 with bet365). Napoli’s last two games have featured at least four goals and Roma’s last eight have featured at least three.

Claudio Ranieri's banged-up Roma side could be in for a rough afternoon against Napoli. (AP)
Claudio Ranieri's banged-up Roma side could be in for a rough afternoon against Napoli. (AP)

FC Cincinnati vs. Philadelphia Union

FC Cincinnati has been a going concern in MLS for less than a month but they’re already on the precipice of making history. If they beat Philadelphia on Saturday evening, they will have notched 10 points from their first five games, which would be the best-ever start for an expansion team in the league.

Alan Koch’s side has scored five unanswered goals in their last two outings and hosts a Union side which has taken just a point from two road games this season. Curiously, Cincy may also have an advantage as they have played all of their matches so far on artificial turf. Philly has played three times on natural grass and may be less prepared for the surface at Nippert Stadium.

Both teams, however, are coming off impressive wins in Week 4 and Cincinnati is less of a surprise package with each 90 minutes played.

Prediction: Cincinnati 2-1 Philadelphia

Best Bet: Both teams to score (8/15 with Ladbrokes). Both sides are averaging more than a goal per game and Cincy has scored in every outing thus far.

Allan Cruz and FC Cincinnati figure to have more to celebrate after this weekend. (AP)
Allan Cruz and FC Cincinnati figure to have more to celebrate after this weekend. (AP)

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