The League Cup final takes place on Sunday in England and yet such is the difference in class between the sides it barely ranks among the weekend’s best matches. In fairness, that’s partly because Sunday evening brings two of the season’s most important games: Juventus host Inter Milan and Real Madrid face Barcelona.
By Sunday night we will know who has won the first trophy of the season in England – and also, perhaps, who will be lifting both the Spanish and German league titles.
Here are six previews ahead of the weekend action:
Man City v Aston Villa
Sunday, 01/03/20, 16:30
The League Cup final has come at a terrible moment for Aston Villa. They looked utterly clueless in a 2-0 defeat to Southampton at the weekend when Dean Smith’s 3-4-3 was exposed (not for the first time) for its lack of numbers in central midfield. It was their third loss on the spin, meaning confidence is in the gutter ahead of such a high-stakes game at Wembley. The pressure to win silverware for the first time in 24 years won’t exactly help.
By contrast Man City will be totally relaxed as they look to win their third straight EFL Cup. What’s more, they are back in free-flowing form domestically with Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez in particular excelling; it would appear Pep Guardiola’s side have been galvanised by a sense of injustice following their Champions League ban. That City beat Villa 6-1 in January is the final nail in the coffin.
Cloudbet tip: Back Man City to beat Villa (-2.25 handicap at 1.95)
Juventus v Inter
Sunday, 01/03/20, 19:45
It has been a very tough month for Inter Milan, who have only won two of their last six matches in Serie A and now find themselves six points behind leaders Juve after their loss to Lazio. It goes without saying they simply have to win in Turin, which probably means Antonio Conte’s side will be too open as the game wears on – exposing themselves to the in-form Cristiano Ronaldo.
Things are made worse for Inter by the fact they have a Thursday night game in the Europa League to contend with, plus Juventus have only dropped two points on home turf all season. Back-to-back wins for Maurizio Sarri means confidence is restored before this crucial match. Juve hold all the cards.
Cloudbet tip: Back Juve to win at 2.21
Real Madrid v Barcelona
Sunday, 01/03/20, 20:00
El Clasico could hardly have come at a worse time for Zinedine Zidane, whose Real Madrid team lost top spot last weekend following a shock 1-0 defeat at Levante in which Eden Hazard was lost to injury. Following on from a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo and shortly after an exhausting midweek game against Manchester City, Real’s depleted 11 are in for a tough evening.
Barca aren’t looking very good either, mind, and yet they have that one secret weapon ready to bail them out again and again. Lionel Messi’s hat-trick at the weekend papered over the cracks for Quique Setien, hiding the fact that Barcelona still don’t look like a team. Nevertheless, the sheer number of defensive errors Real are making recently suggest Messi will fire the visitors to victory.
Cloudbet tip: Back Barcelona to win at 2.95
Everton v Man Utd
Sunday, 01/03/20, 14:00
Everton looked very impressive on the counter-attack against Arsenal last weekend, successfully breaking down the left flank thanks to piercing distribution to Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who have forged a very strong partnership under Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian’s midblock 4-4-2 is neatly compressed, too, meaning Everton will happily concede possession and keep things tight.
That is a worry for Man Utd. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team struggle against exactly such a system, only really excelling when allowed to counter-attack; Watford’s strong first half last weekend shows how Everton can doggedly get at the visitors. However, Daniel James and Anthony Martial will fancy their chances of breaking the lines just as Arsenal did on Sunday, when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka showed that Everton’s back four is vulnerable.
Cloudbet tip: Back over 2.5 goals at 2.11
RB Leipzig v Bayer Leverkusen
Sunday, 01/03/20, 14:30
This is a huge game near the top of the Bundesliga; Leipzig are just a point behind Bayern Munich and five ahead of Leverkusen. It should be an entertaining game, too, given that Leipzig have only lost once at home all season and Leverkusen have the third best away record in the country. What’s more, both are superb on the counter-attack.
That points to an end-to-end game, with Leverkusen likely encouraged to hold the majority of possession so that a Timo Werner-led attack can break quickly. The sides drew 1-1 in Leverkusen earlier in the season, but since then both have improved their fluency in the final third. There will be goals.
Cloudbet tip: Back over 3.5 goals at 2.01
Nimes v Marseille
Friday, 28/02/20, 19:45
Nimes have won four of their last five home games in Ligue Un to move within a single point of safety, a dramatic turnaround for a club that looked doomed just a few weeks ago. The main reason for the upturn in form is the emergence of 21-year-old Yassine Benrahou in central attacking midfield, but the youngster will no doubt struggle to score or assist against high-flying Marseille.
Currently second in the table, Marseille haven’t lost an away game in Ligue Un since playing Paris Saint-Germain in October. Their fearlessness on their travels surely means the end of this good run for Nimes, who were beaten 3-1 by Marseille when the sides last met in December.