Sebastian Oliveira – @sebasolive
As the last of our goosebumps from the midweek miracles settle back down, we prepare for the beginning of the ends. At this point, ramifications on results are either as essential as they’ll ever be or not essential at all, with few in between. In a few weeks time, we’ll have collectively raised our blood pressures and devoured our fingernails, all for the love of the game. For now, let’s enjoy it.
RB Leipzig vs Bayern Munich
Leipzig will feel the full force of the unrelenting support of Borussia Dortmund fans this weekend as they host league leaders Bayern. A win will all but hand Munich the trophy, but the team firmly settled in third might have something to say about that.
Once considered the most hated side in Germany, Leipzig have given Bayern plenty of reason to be conscientious on Saturday. The German Red Bulls side has gone 14 games unbeaten in the Bundesliga since late January, earning 10 wins along the way.
The reverse fixture should also give Ralf Rangnick’s side a bit of belief heading into matchday 33. Just before the turn of the new year, Munich edged Leipzig 1-0 at the Allianz Arena thanks to an 83rd-minute winner from Franck Ribery. Leipzig held a competitive edge on the Bavarians, winning 53 percent of duels and 57 percent of aerial duels. Their impetus to attack the ball was key in manifesting a shaky Munich performance and could be key this weekend.
Ultimately this is Dortmund’s chance to potentially recover from their mistakes in the past weeks, given they take care of business against Dusseldorf. Leipzig hasn’t made Bayern’s recent trips all that easy, earning a win and a draw the last two times the Champions visited. Whatever the result, this fixture will gravely effect the title race.
Meanwhile, Munich continue to roll through Germany onto what could be their seventh successive Bundesliga title. On a 12-game unbeaten streak of their own, Bayern has been bailed out by Dortmund’s inability to take chances while taking full advantage of their rivals mishaps. Sitting atop the table with a four point lead and two games to go, all Niko Kovac has to worry about is his side taking care of business.
Averaging 2.8 goals over their last five games, Bayern are starting to show glimpses of their past dominance as the title race rages on. Finishing out the season with a Bundesliga trophy would put a stamp over an impressive second half of the season, recovering from stumbling out of the gates early on.
Turning from cat to mouse in the span of a few months, Munich are in control of their own destiny. So far they have not let preoccupation on Dortmund affect them on the field too much, and its important that continues this weekend if they want to see their efforts come to fruition.
Munich have managed their slips and won in style down the stretch, leading up to this final hurdle. Leipzig have nothing really to play for. While sometimes that can be one of the most dangerous motivators, going up against a Bayern Munich team who has it all to play for becomes quite daunting. It won’t be easy, but at this point, Munich are more than capable of figuring it out.
Prediction: RB Leipzig 1, Bayern Munich 2
EFL Championship Playoff Semi Finals
Introducing the first two-for-one special in Top Matches history, I found it difficult to only write about one of these matches. The fight for promotion is always intense, and we get to see all the first punches on the same day.
Aston Villa vs West Bromwich Albion
As a shameless advocate for home field advantage, I am excited by these kinds of situations. The two legged semifinal usually takes a strong home performance to be successful. Villa’s recent history in this regard isn’t exactly stellar.
Villa has been susceptible to giving up results at home this season, especially against the rest of the top six. Their four out of 15 possible points against the rest of the top teams ranks last among the playoff clubs. One of those points came very controversially against Leeds not two weeks ago.
Leave it at that and Villa are a shoe-in to lose. However, before their final day loss to Champions Norwich City, the Claret and Blue enjoyed a 12-game unbeaten run. In fact, it was in this run that Villa earned their four points against top six opponents at home.
As one of the hotter teams ending the campaign, Villa fans may reserve a fair amount of optimism heading into the playoffs. What am I saying? When the playoffs begin, you have no doubt in your team’s success.
West Brom will have the chance to tack on a third straight win away to Villa on Saturday, dating back to 2015, when both teams were in the Premier League. They didn’t meet again until earlier this season, where West Brom grabbed a 2-0 win in Villa Park.
The Baggies didn’t end on quite as high of a note as their playoff counterparts, but they enjoyed a successful season nonetheless. The fourth placed finish has set them up as legitimate contenders for promotion.
James Shan’s side also began to construct a consistent attack towards the end of the season, averaging exactly two goals in their last six games. Getting momentum leading into the playoffs is important, considering forwards Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle combined for 55 goals this season, the most for a pair in the Championship.
Coming full circle, I can’t see the home atmosphere not having an effect on the result of the first leg, but Aston Villa have left plenty of opportunities for their opponents and West Brom will for sure be looking to put in a strong performance at home in the second leg.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1, West Bromwich Albion 0
Derby County vs Leeds United
On the other side of the bracket, Frank Lampard leads a triumphant Derby County to try and continue his successful first managerial campaign. A final 3-1 win at home cemented their spot in the playoff, and now they come right back to Pride Park Stadium.
Derby emerged the victors of a tight race between them, Middlesbrough and Bristol City. En route to snagging the final spot, Derby ended the season earning 14 of the last 18 available points.
Saturday also presents Derby with an opportunity to exact revenge for what happened earlier in the season. The Rams suffered a 4-1 loss to Leeds in their very first home match of the season. In fact, Marcelo Bielsa’s men swept Derby throughout the season by a score of 6-1.
Leeds enter Saturday as the highest ranked team in the playoff, and rightly so. Bielsa has instilled a unique style which has reignited belief in a return to the Premier League. In fact, most fans probably would have expected them to have already done so a few weeks ago.
However, Leeds have started to show a myriad of cracks as of late. After leading for quite a substantial amount of time this season, Leeds finished the season winning only two of their last seven matches.
The drop down into the playoff has made for a weary future for the club, cutting their promotion chances to objectively 25 percent. Elland Road has still proved itself as a fortress this season, and bringing back a strong performance this weekend will help instill belief in what they can achieve.
When a team who feels grateful to even be there meets a team who feels they don’t belong, anything can happen. Derby come in as the hotter team, the more motivated team, and the team hosting first. If there’s a team that can make a comeback it’s Leeds, but the start might be a bit slow.
Prediction: Derby County 2, Leeds United 0
Liverpool FC vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
If Liverpool were able to pull off a miracle Tuesday night at Anfield, surely they can conjure something up for Sunday. With everyone’s attention spanning all over the country on the final Sunday of the 2018-19 EPL season, this one seemed to have the most potential for a classic.
The Reds are coming off a night of legends after defeating Barcelona 4-0 in the Champions League semi final, coming back from 3-0 down on aggregate to earn a spot in the final. The key for Sunday is whether Liverpool are coming off that game still buzzing, or hungover.
Even after losing the first leg, in which Liverpool put in a fine effort, Klopp’s side survived a tough test against Newcastle United. The goals are coming in at just the right time as the Reds are averaging exactly three goals in their last six games.
Likely still without Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino, Liverpool will be most heavily relying on Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday. The Reds need a win at the slightest for even a chance at the title, but it’s meaningless if Manchester City don’t stumble.
If there were any ideal opponent City could wish upon their title race rivals on the final day, it would be Wolves. Nuno’s squad has become the kryptonite of the top six this season, earning 16 points against the elite group so far.
In fact, Wolves have been on a tidy run of form against the top six this year. In 2019, Wolves have only lost one of their six games against the big six in all competitions. This impressive success was, however, balanced out by their dismal record against teams in the lower on the table.
In contrast, Wolves earned a whopping 14 points against the bottom six of the Premier League. The numbers are close, but considering the fact that Wolves have performed so well against the top teams, makes their form against the bottom teams all the more confusing.
Wolves already enjoyed the pleasure of knocking Liverpool out of a competition this season, beating the UCL finalists 2-1 in the third round of the FA Cup. Having the final laugh in the Liverpool title race downfall would have a bit more impact than that game in January.
Following one of the most dominant PL campaigns in City’s win last season, we have been blessed with one of the best races in recent memory. Liverpool have a special team this season, and regardless of how it ends, they have etched their spot in history. They unfortunately have to rely on unlikely circumstances, but their part isn’t necessarily a given either. Klopp will undoubtedly lead a wholehearted effort, but we’ll just have to see what Brighton does.
Prediction: Liverpool 4, Wolverhampton Wanderers 2