B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions, April 22-23

BR-UK StaffFeatured Columnist IVApril 21, 2017

B/R Experts: Big-Game Predictions, April 22-23

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    FA Cup and Premier League action share equal billing in England, while we have the Clasico in Spain.

    Bleacher Report's Dean Jones has his finger on the pulse of English football and gives his verdict on the Premier League and FA Cup, while Italian football guru Adam Digby weighs in on the big games in Serie A.

    Spanish football expert Karl Matchett will look after La Liga, and German football authority Lars Pollmann will select his winners in the Bundesliga.

Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur

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    Premier League title contenders Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium in this FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.

    Spurs do not have a great track record at the national stadium, winning just one game at the ground after using it for their European football home ties this term. However, they could have picked up some crucial lessons by watching Manchester United's win over the Blues on Sunday.

    Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho instructed Ander Herrera to mark Eden Hazard out of the game, and Marcus Rashford had one of his most effective games of the season in attack.

    Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will have noticed how United enjoyed success against the Blues, but Chelsea were also reported to have struggled because of a virus in the camp.

    Pochettino already knows how to overcome Chelsea and their three-man defence. His players have carried out great man-marking jobs of their own this season, and Spurs beat the league leaders 2-0 in January thanks to two goals from Dele Alli.

    A serious worry for Chelsea is the form of Diego Costa. He has not scored for the club in six games, a run that extends to March 6. The west Londoners' recent defeat to Crystal Palace is further proof that Spurs can win.

    Prediction: 1-2

    First goalscorer: Harry Kane

Espanyol vs. Atletico Madrid

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    Espanyol's home form has been impressive recently, and if they avoid the end-of-season malaise that is likely to begin striking mid-table teams around now, they could feasibly be one of the sides to upset Atletico Madrid's excellent recent run.

    It's too late for Los Rojiblancos to mount a title challenge, but third place and the guarantee of Champions League group-stage football is theirs if they don't slip up. Manager Diego Simeone doesn't rotate too heavily, but a tough game against Villarreal just three days after Saturday's fixture might necessitate more changes than usual. That could give Espanyol the impetus they need to take a positive result.

    Prediction: 1-1

    First goalscorer: Pablo Piatti

Bayern Munich vs. Mainz

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    Whether one agrees with the notion that Bayern Munich were screwed out of a berth in the Champions League semi-finals by referee Viktor Kassai or not, it's clear the perennial Bundesliga champions have taken that stance, and it stands to reason they'll let out their frustration against Mainz 05 on Saturday.

    After missing out on their big aim for the campaign, Bayern have to wrap up the league, where the eight-point advantage over the high-flying RB Leipzig should make a record-extending fifth championship in a row a question of when and not if.

    Fifteenth-placed Mainz are very much still in the relegation battle despite a huge 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin on the previous matchday, but they have won only 10 points from 14 road matches all season.

    Martin Schmidt's side was the last to beat the Bavarians at Allianz Arena in the Bundesliga thanks to a 2-1 win in March 2016. Even without the injured Manuel Neuer in Bayern's goal and some expected rotation ahead of a DFB-Pokal semi-final against rivals Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday, a repeat of that heroic feat would be nothing short of sensational.

    Prediction: 3-1

    First goalscorer: Arturo Vidal

Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Borussia Dortmund

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    Despite a valiant effort at a comeback, Borussia Dortmund dropped out of the Champions League somewhat unceremoniously on Wednesday.

    They made too many individual mistakes to expect more from the tie, even if those were all too understandable given the circumstances under which the meetings with AS Monaco took place.

    Now the focus shifts to the Bundesliga, where the Black and Yellows are only fourth, which would mean they would have to go through play-offs to play in European football's premier club competition again next season. The resurgent Borussia Monchengladbach are a tough nut to crack on the road for Dortmund, seeing as the Foals have only lost to Leipzig and Bayern at home in the Bundesliga under head coach Dieter Hecking, who took over in December.

    With influential attackers Raffael and Thorgan Hazard likely still out through injury, however, Gladbach are significantly weakened in important spots. Much of the spotlight is sure to fall on midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, who will join Saturday's opponents in the summer.

    Given Dortmund's problems on the road this season, as they've lost a whopping six of 15 away matches in the Bundesliga, and a potential Champions League hangover—not to mention they're still learning how to deal with a terrorist attack—it would not be surprising if Gladbach kept all three points at home.

    Prediction: 2-1

    First goalscorer: Lars Stindl

Arsenal vs. Manchester City

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    This is an opportunity for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger or Manchester City counterpart Pep Guardiola to end the season with some respect.

    The stick aimed at Wenger has been more harsh this season, but Guardiola could also do with a trophy under his arm following a frustrating first term in charge at the Etihad Stadium.

    This FA Cup semi-final on Sunday should be an open affair, and it is likely both sides will score.

    City have notched three times in each of their past two matches, and Arsenal have only failed to score once in their past 25 matches. The two teams met in early April and shared the spoils in a 2-2 draw.

    Neither team has good mental strength, but it is tempting to side with Guardiola's men here.

    Their convincing win at Southampton was one of the few times they have combined defensive resilience with attacking style this season. Arsenal tried out a three-man defence last time out, and while Wenger was pleased with how it panned out in Monday's 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, trying it against City's attack could prove to be a mistake.

    Prediction: 1-3

    First goalscorer: Leroy Sane

Burnley vs. Manchester United

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    Cast your minds back to October, when United took on Burnley at Old Trafford and were left stunned that the game ended goalless.

    They battered the Clarets, hitting 38 shots as goalkeeper Tom Heaton had one of the best games of his career.

    It was a day when Zlatan Ibrahimovic probably learned just how difficult it is to win the Premier League, and United began to fall off the pace.

    Now is the time to take revenge for that desperate afternoon, but could Burnley perform more heroics on Sunday?

    All 10 of their Premier League wins this season have come at home, and they have conceded just 14 goals at Turf Moor.

    Burnley find themselves in a bit of a slump, though, with just one win from their past 11. If United are going to reach the top four, they have to find a way to win this time.

    Prediction: 0-1

    First goalscorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace

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    This is not a great time to be playing Crystal Palace, so Liverpool face a serious challenge to keep their top-four pursuit on track.

    The Eagles have found a new lease of life over the past month, and Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend's impressive form suggests Liverpool's back line is going to be tested on Sunday.

    We all know Jurgen Klopp's men have a tendency to slip up when they shouldn't, but they won 4-2 at Selhurst Park earlier in the season, and narrow wins over over Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion show the Reds know how to grind out important wins.

    Improved performances from Roberto Firmino have been an important factor over the past couple of games. Liverpool's last home league defeat was to Swansea City back in January, and Klopp needs his side to show there is a strength of mind within his team if they are to qualify for next season's Champions League.

    Prediction: 1-1

    First goalscorer: Christian Benteke

Real Madrid vs. Barcelona

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    This is a huge game for both teams: Real Madrid are chasing an extraordinary league and European double, while Barcelona have to try to pick themselves up and not flop at the final hurdles.

    A Copa del Rey final alone would be a low-key way for Luis Enrique to bow out of the Barca dugout—although that would mirror Pep Guardiola's exit. That's what awaits the Blaugrana if they fail to win here, but Real Madrid have shown impressive restraint and resilience in big games.

    Blancos boss Zinedine Zidane has learned not to go all-out attack when Real don't need to, and a compact, determined Madrid is what we're likely to see, akin to the Champions League second leg against Bayern Munich.

    Barca have the attacking strength to worry their hosts on Sunday, but more frustration could lie ahead—we sense another late goal will see the spoils shared.

    Prediction: 2-2

    First goalscorer: Cristiano Ronaldo

AC Milan vs. Empoli

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    The previous matchday's Milan derby was a huge test for AC Milan, and their thrilling comeback to secure a 2-2 draw with rivals Inter Milan will undoubtedly have boosted the confidence of Vincenzo Montella's side.

    However, Empoli will also be in good spirits, having beaten fellow Tuscan side Fiorentina thanks to their own late heroics last time out. Manuel Pasqual's injury-time penalty saw the Azzurri record a surprising 2-1 victory.

    The Rossoneri have enjoyed themselves at San Siro this term and won each of their past four home games, a record they will look to continue on Sunday as they chase a Europa League berth over the final weeks of 2016/17.

    Prediction: 1-0

    First goalscorer: Gerard Deulofeu

Juventus vs. Genoa

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    Unquestionably buoyed by their progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League, Juventus will hope to carry the good form they showed against Barcelona into this clash with Genoa.

    The Rossoblu are one of four teams to have beaten the Turin giants this term, recording a stunning 3-1 victory when they last met back in November.

    However, Massimiliano Allegri's men have improved dramatically since then and will also lean on their remarkable home form, having won their previous 32 Serie A fixtures at Juventus Stadium.

    The Bianconeri have scored at least two goals in 18 of their past 20 home league games, while also keeping a clean sheet in six of their past eight matches. There has been fewer than three goals scored in six of their past seven domestic outings.

    Prediction: 2-0

    First goalscorer: Mario Mandzukic