The League Cup final between Chelsea and Manchester City takes centre-stage in England on Sunday, although with interest in the competition waning more people are likely to tune in to the earlier kick off as Manchester United host Liverpool. It’s a huge game at the top of the Premier League table that could go some way to deciding if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gets the United job full-time and if Liverpool can push Man City all the way.
In Europe, Barcelona should comfortably despatch of Sevilla in La Liga, Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen should provide superb entertainment in the Bundesliga, and Monaco face the daunting challenge of Lyon in France.
Man Utd v Liverpool
Solskjaer’s team looked cagey against Paris Saint-Germain and appear increasingly vulnerable when facing top teams in their pomp. United are no longer in a honeymoon period under the new boss, with errors creeping back in; their defence just doesn’t have the quality to stop Liverpool’s front three, particularly given Solskjaer wishes to play an attacking system.
United’s desire to press high and play on the front foot will play right into the visitors’ hands. Liverpool are at their best when given the chance to break beyond a high opposition line. It’s clear that Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof don’t have the positional sense, or the pace, to stop Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Back Liverpool to win at 2.33
Chelsea v Man City
Chelsea’s 6-0 defeat to Man City in the league this month has made Sunday’s League Cup final an ominous occasion for fans of the London club. Maurizio Sarri has shown himself to be a stubborn, inflexible tactician since his arrival at Stamford Bridge, and consequently he is unlikely to adapt his approach for this one.
That means Chelsea will press high onto City, leaving huge gaps on the big Wembley pitch for Man City once they elegantly pass around Sarri’s players. The fact Chelsea play on Thursday night in the Europa League, and played on Monday in the FA Cup, means fatigue will also be a factor that helps Pep Guardiola’s side. It could be another embarrassing day for the Blues.
Back Man City to win at 1.55
Sevilla v Barcelona
A succession of recent defeats for Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid leaves Barcelona in danger of running away with the title this season despite generally average performances. They are seven points clear at the top of La Liga, which means the pressure is off and confidence will be sky high as they travel to Seville. A new contract for Ernesto Valverde this week adds to the sense of calm at Barcelona.
Sevilla are in the exact opposite position, having lost six of their last ten matches in all competitions. Psychology is arguably the most important factor in football, so when a team in a purple patch meets one at a season low it is easy to predict the outcome. Barcelona beat Sevilla 6-1 in the Copa del Rey just three weeks ago.
Back Barcelona to win at 2.04
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Dortmund v Bayer Leverkusen
Leverkusen are on a four-match winning streak in the Bundesliga as they close in on fourth spot in the table, and having defeated Bayern Munich 3-1 during that run will feel capable of an upset in Dortmund. Julian Brandt has been in particularly superb form from midfield, scoring three goals and assisting three more in that time, his bursting runs forward supporting Leon Bailey and Karim Bellarabi as Leverkusen break with speed.
That should work very effectively against the expansive, possession-centric football of Lucien Favre’s Dortmund. What’s more, the hosts failed to win any of their previous four matches prior to Monday’s game at Nuernberg, and have conceded three goals in each of their last three games. Their defence looks disorganised and easily ruffled; this is exactly the wrong time to be facing such a quick, confident Leverkusen side.
Back Leverkusen to win at 4.11
Monaco v Lyon
Leonardo Jardim’s return to the dugout has seen Monaco stabilise, with two wins from their last three, although performances have remained shaky as individual moments of quality made the difference in tight games. Consequently Monaco are unlikely to beat Lyon, whose attacking riches will prove too much for a back line that still needs work.
Lyon have won four of their last five, with Nabil Fekir taking a starring role in central attacking midfield. His energy should prove too much for Cesc Fabregas, who has never performed his defensive duties particularly well, meaning Fekir can create chances for Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembele.
Back Lyon to win at 2.08
Fiorentina v Inter Milan
On an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions Fiorentina still harbour outsider ambitions for a top four finish, although failure to win any of their previous three home games in the league increases the likelihood that Inter – 11 points ahead of Fiorentina – will end the hosts’ run of form. What’s more, Fiorentina have only once beaten a top-four side this season and only scored two goals across those five matches.
Inter, on the other hand, are back on the up. Back-to-back wins in Serie A has steadied the ship, even if Mauro Icardi is now on a seven match scoreless streak in the competition. Fiorentina’s mean defence suggests Icardi won’t end that run this weekend; back a narrow Inter win in Florence.
Back Inter to win at 2.47