The oldest cup competition – the English FA Cup is down to the last 16 finalist. We have a repeat of 2018 FA Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester United, but this time, it is in the fifth round and will be taking place at Stamford Bridge in London. Can giant killers – Newport add another feat in their fairytale run when mighty Manchester City travel to southern Wales for this fifth round engagement? In Italy, Milan make the short trip to Bergamo to face free-scoring Atalanta at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia in the battle for the final Champions League spot. The race for European places in Spain is getting fascinating with a big clash at Estadio Benito Villamarin between Real Betis and Alaves.
Here is our preview of matches across top four European Leagues and the English FA Cup.
We begin in France;
LILLE OSC v MONTPELLIER – SUN. 17 FEB 2019, 15.00HRS
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Lille welcome Montpellier to Stade Pierre Mauroy in excellent form winning their last five league matches as they aim to keep third place Lyon far from them in the race for Champions League places behind runaway leaders Paris Saint-Germain. Visiting Montpellier will arrive in Lille on a five game unbeaten run in Ligue 1 but have managed just one victory in that run. Michel Der Zakarian and his troops will have revenge on their mind considering Lille walked away with an away victory when both sides met earlier in the season. These two teams have overachieved in the current campaign so far and we expect them to provide the fans with high quality football on Sunday evening with each team eyeing three points to help maintain their European qualification pursuit.
VERDICT – Montpellier have drawn their last three away Ligue 1 matches. Lille should have the advantage at home as Montpellier lack fluidity in attack without when Florent Mollet is unavailable. Montpellier have been good on the road, losing just twice on their travels this season, but Lille have just once at home in 15 home league matches with only Saint Etienne and PSG having more wins at home than Les Dogues. The home team are slight favorites to win this encounter.
SAINT ETIENNE v PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN – SUN. 17 FEB 2019, 21.00HRS
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Les Verts host confident PSG at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard for the final game of round 25 in the French top flight. Saint Etienne leapfrogged Montpellier to fourth spot thanks to their midweek victory over Strasbourg. Paris Saint-Germain earned a richly deserved win in their Champions League game against Manchester United and will be happy to be back to domestic football where they have dominated all campaign. However, all their last away trip to Lyon, they came unstuck so they would weary as they make similar trip to Saint Etienne. Thomas Tuchel is likely to adopt a similar approach to the Manchester United game in spite of Les Verts indifferent form in the league, losing two of their last four Ligue 1 matches.
VERDICT – Tuchel is likely to rotate his squad for this game which could see Eric Choupo-Moting lead the line alongside Kylian Mbappe if Cavani is unable to shake off his knock. Robert Beric should partner Wahbi Khazri in attack in Diony’s absence, having impressed in midweek. Saint Etienne recorded an impressive result midweek against Strasbourg, but will find PSG as a bigger fish to fry. The capital club will be full of confidence and will hope to replicate a similar performance like they did at Old Trafford on Sunday night in Saint Etienne. Quality should prevail; PSG have the edge.
EINTRACHT FRANKFURT v BORUSSIA MOENCHENGLADBACH – SUN. 17 FEB 2019, 15.30HRS
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Both teams had surprising outcome to their games last weekend. Frankfurt fired blank; a rarity that has barely happened this season with Luka Jovic, Sebastein Haller and Ante Rebic playing together. Gladbach’s unbeaten home record in the league ended in their 3-0 home loss to Hertha Berlin. Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Moenchengladbach will be looking to reverse their fortunes at the Commerzbank Arena on Sunday afternoon. Die Adler still harbor Champions League qualification hopes but will have to secure all three points to ensure Leipzig do not extend the gap any further than five points as it stands. After two seasons without European football, Dieter Hecking’s Foals are keen to return to Europe; they are third currently, four points better than Leipzig and are just three behind Bayern Munich which makes this a very important game for both teams.
VERDICT – Adi Hutter’s team will have to navigate this fixture which is sandwiched between their Europa League tie against Shakhtar. Frankfurt have lost only one of their six games immediately after a midweek European fixture so far this term (W3, D2). Both sides have proven goal scorers in the ranks; Luka Jovic is Bundesliga top scorer with 14 goals and Eintracht’s talisman while Alassane Plea leads the way for Gladbach with 10 league goals and closely followed by Thorgan Hazard. Both team are clearly to cancel each other out as well as getting on the scoresheet.
NURNBERG v BORUSSIA DORTMUND – MON. 18 FEB 2019, 20.30HRS
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Are nerves setting in already? By the time Dortmund would be playing on Monday night, their lead at the top of the table is likely to be down to two points in what has been a miserable week for Die Schwarzgelben. Without talismanic skipper Marco Reus, English teenage sensation Jando Sancho will shoulder the responsibility of creator in-chief as the league leaders will aim to return to winning ways. Basement club Nurnberg have their own fair share of struggle; former head coach Michael Köllner and sporting director Andreas Bornemann were fired last week and the club has placed Boris Schommers and former player Marek Mintal in temporal charge. Dortmund are the last visitors Schommers and the fans will want to entertain at Max-Morlock Stadion considering their wretched run of five defeats and a draw in their last six Bundesliga games.
VERDICT – The game pits the best attack (54 goals scored) in the league against the second worse defense (46 goals conceded). Nuremberg have taken just four points from their last 15 Bundesliga matches with the club on its longest winless run in the Bundesliga at 17 matches. This should be good news to Die Borussen fans, however, it should be pointed that BVB are winless in the three games Marco Reus has missed due to injury (D1, L2). This is a good game for Lucien Favre’s team to regroup and get back on track.
ATALANTA v AC MILAN – SAT. 16 FEB 2019, 20.30HRS
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One point is all that separates fifth place Atalanta and fourth place Milan in the battle for the final Champions League spot in Italy. Genaro Gattuso and his troops face an uphill challenge as they travel to Bergamo to face in-form Atalanta. Gasperini’s team are arguably the team to beat in the Italian peninsula right now; winning five of their last six matches in all competitions, scoring 16 goals in the process. For Milan, the objective is returning to the Champions League, a competition where they have enjoyed success in the past and should be competing in every season. The game at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia sees two team in good form going head to head with two outstanding strikers in the league. Duvan Zapata is Atalanta livewire; he contributed 16 goals in total, with 15 of those coming in his last 10 Serie A matches including a hat-trick and a four-goal haul in that period. Milan have their own weapon in Krzysztof. Since he joined from Genoa, he looks to be providing Milan with the goal-scorer they have craved so desperately in recent years. He has four goals in a Milan shirt in his four games so far, which added to the 19 he had with Genoa in all competitions before his move. He now has 23 goals in 25 official appearances this season.
VERDICT – Given the two incredibly prolific goal-scorers in both teams, this could well be a game full of goals. Atalanta have the most goals in the league with 50 (18 more than Milan) but have conceded 31 (10 more than Milan), so Gattuso’s men will fancy their chances of getting on the scoresheet. Atalanta are unbeaten in their last seven Serie A meetings with Milan, winning two and drawing five. Last season fixture ended in a 1-1 draw but the top tip is Zapata and Piatek to both score, Over 3.5 Goals.
NAPOLI v TORINO – SUN. 17 FEB 2019, 20.30HRS
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Torino travel to San Paolo unbeaten in the last three league matches with two victories in the process. Napoli slim Scudetto dream came to an end at Stadio Artemio Franchi where they could only manage a draw and Juventus moved 11 points clear. Barring any unexpected collapse, the Partenopei should finish as runner up for the third season in a row and can start rebuilding for the future following the sale of Marek Hamsik to Dalian Yifang. Carlo Ancelotti’s side has only been beaten three times this season, the last time against Inter in December but have hit a poor patch recently winning just one of their last three league matches, with draws against Fiorentina and Milan. Walter Mazarri’s team recent form is up and down to say the least, with two wins, two draws and a defeat in their last five league games.
VERDICT – Napoli are undefeated in their last 17 home matches, whilst Torino have drawn five of their last six games away from home so confidence should still be high. However, Torino have not conquered the Stadio San Paolo in Serie A since May 2009, followed by four losses and two draws. Napoli have seen Over 2.5 Goals in their last seven matches against Torino in all competition, so expect this one to be a truly entertaining affair.
RAYO VALLECANO v ATLETICO MADRID – SAT. 16 FEB 2019, 16.15HRS
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This is a small matter of a local Madrid derby between heavyweights Atletico and minnows Rayo. Atletico’s recent collapse isn’t coming at the best time; they have surrender second spot to Real Madrid and will have one eye on the Champions League game against Juventus next week. It’s not all gloomy for Los Colchoneros, Diego Simeone just signed a contract extension to continue leading the Mattress Makers. Rayo seem to have fallen back into their old ways; after the impressive run of three wins and a draw recently, the Vallecas club have lost their last two against Leganes and Espanyol but are just one point of safety which would provide a measure of consolation for Los Franjirrojos fans.
VERDICT – Rayo are making it hell for visiting teams at the Vallecas, they have been tough to beat at home of late, beating the likes of Celta Vigo, Levante and Eibar, as well as drawing with in-form Real Sociedad. Atleti have better quality than the listed rivals and would look to breach a defense that has shipped two or more goals in four of past five league outings. Alvaro Morata should be eyeing his first Atleti goal in the local derby as he settles in to the team. The home team would be fortunate to get anything out of this game.
REAL BETIS v ALAVES – SUN. 17 FEB 2019, 20.45HRS
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Real Betis continue to impress and frustrate in equal measure this season. Just a fortnight ago, they beat Atletico Madrid then followed it up with a disappointing 3-0 defeat at Leganes which infuriated their fans; threw away a two goal lead in Copa semi-finals against Valencia but showed their battling spirit in France to secure a draw against Rennes in Europe. Alaves managed to an end their poor run in the two nil win over Levante. A victory which has seen the Basque club move closer to achieving the objective of the season – survival. Anything else is a bonus as they find themselves in Europa League spot currently after 23 games. The onus is on Betis to react to last week’s debacle at Butarque and Quique Setien will stressing the importance of a good start though we are likely to see their energy level drop due to their participation in Europe.
VERDICT – Betis can overtake Alaves on the table with a win at home on Sunday evening. Los Verdiblancos won two and drew one of past three encounters with Alaves but will need to improve defensively – shipping eight goals in the last three outings. It is a congested period with run of games for Betis which means Alaves will arrive at Benito Villamarin feeling confident they can upset the home team and snatch all three points. Last season, Betis won both fixtures; the reverse fixture ended in a stalemate in Vitoria. Alaves supporters still have fond memories of April 2017 when they walked over Betis at home. Both teams might end up sharing the spoils again on Sunday night but there should be goals in this one.
To England (FA Cup);
NEWPORT AFC v MANCHESTER CITY – SAT. 16 FEB 2019, 18.30HRS
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This is a classic case of David facing Goliath at Rodney Parade in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Newport are up against the galaxy of stars from Manchester. They should be motivated to add another major scalp to their fairytale run after beating the likes of Metropolitan, Wrexham, Leicester City and Middlesbrough. However, Manchester City are on a different level right now, the Citizens took Chelsea apart with ease last Sunday and have been scoring goals with ease with an average of 2.6 goals per game. Last season’s shock exit to Wigan will still be fresh in Guardiola’s memory and he is unlikely to underestimate the South Wales club though he might have one eye on their Champions League trip to Gelsenkirchen next week.
VERDICT – Both teams possess different styles; City are possession orientated while Newport will pump the ball as quickly as possible into their opponent’s half and box to disrupt their rhythm. There are no replays from this round anymore so City would hope to finish off the game inside 90 minutes. Man City have won the three previous meetings between these two with the last dating back to 1957. There is only one outcome from the match, a Manchester City win.
CHELSEA v MANCHESTER UNITED – MON. 18 FEB 2019, 20.30HRS
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Chelsea broke their 2019 away duck getting two goals in their Europa League victory over Malmo in Sweden. Maurizio Sarri is under pressure to start producing the type of performances that caught the attention of Chelsea Directors as he might be running out of time to implement his philosophy on a team which seem to lack leaders on and off the pitch. Manchester United unbeaten under Solksjaer came to an end on Tuesday night against Paris Saint-Germain in a game which highlighted the challenges the Norwegian has to work on in improving his team. Was Tuesday night defeat a blip or the beginning of things falling apart? The FA Cup is increasingly looking like the only silverware the Red Devils might be able to win this season so all focus and energy is likely to be put in this game.
VERDICT – It doesn’t come any bigger than a Chelsea-United game; both teams do not need further motivation. Chelsea will be looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss to Manchester City. A victory over the Red Devils will help them regain a much-needed confidence. Gonzalo Higuain is likely to lead the line for the Blues and should pose a big threat for the opposition defenders. The Red Devils have been producing fine performances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but, were outsmart by PSG. It is going to be interesting to see how United’s interim boss responds to his first defeat. This is potentially be a huge match for both managers. Sarri is still under pressure, while a successive defeat for Solskjaer would seriously dent his ambitions of getting the job on a full-time basis. United have not won at Stamford Bridge since 2012 and have generally struggled away to Chelsea since then.
This wraps up our preview for the week. Predict and win big by visiting our Sports shop Babaijebu.ng for mouthwatering offers in league matches across top four European leagues and the English FA Cup this weekend.