Welcome to Pitch Predictions, our new column here at Sports Unbiased, where I’ll be offering breakdowns and picks for the hottest matches of the upcoming week. Normally we’ll be coming out with this column every Friday in advance of the weekend action around the globe, and that will begin this Friday. But, thanks to intercontinental action on either side of the Atlantic, we’re going to open the inaugural week of Pitch Predictions with a bonus edition.
The UEFA Champions League and the Copa Libertadores both feature some important matches this weekend. We’ve got an international derby — ostensibly classified as a friendly — between rivals that are rarely amicable toward one another on the pitch. Europe’s bastard middle child of a competition, the UEFA Europa League, begins quarterfinal round play; the tournament takes on a new sense of importance this spring, thanks to the addition of qualification for the 2015-2016 Champions League qualification to the awards bestowed upon the title winner. Interspersed through the week are also several league matches that bear significance in various leagues around the globe.
So let’s dive in right away. After sifting through the dozens of matches on the docket in the various league and cup competitions taking place at this point around the globe, here are my picks for the top 15 matches taking place through the upcoming work week. (All times listed are Pacific.)
Atletico Madrid v. Real Madrid (UEFA Champions League, Tuesday/11:45 am)
The rivalry that played out in last year’s Champions League final is destined to get two more rounds this season as Atletico and Real are matched against one another in the quarterfinals of this year’s European championships. With Atletico carrying quite the streak against its rival and the first leg taking place at Vicente Calderon, look for Diego Simeone’s squad to get a goal up on aggregate after the first 90 minutes.
PICK: Atletico Madrid 1, Real Madrid 0
Juventus v. Monaco (UEFA Champions League, Tuesday/11:45 am)
Juventus is running away with Serie A in Italy, still 12 points clear of second-place Lazio despite losing to woebegone Parma over the weekend. It is likely that the bianconeri were merely looking ahead to this contest at home against Monaco, a French squad with a propensity for stifling defense. Carlos Tevez could make the difference in this contest as the home side gets a pair of goals but concedes one as well.
PICK: Juventus 2, Monaco 1
Huracan-Cruzeiro (Copa Libertadores, Tuesday/3:00 pm)
The biggest Copa Libertadores match taking place Tuesday pits Argentine and Brazilian superclubs against one another in Group 3 play. Cruzeiro currently leads the group and could essentially claim top spot with a win. Huracan, two points outside of the second slot that provides passage to the knockout stage, needs a win in Buenos Aires if it is to have any hope of advancement.
PICK: Huracan 2, Cruzeiro 0
Paris-Saint Germain v. Barcelona (UEFA Champions League, Wednesday/11:45 am)
These clubs have been breeding the contempt of familiarity for several seasons now. They split their series in Group F this year, with Barcelona winning 5-4 on aggregate to make the difference in the table on the final matchday. Two years ago they met at this point in the Champions League as well, with Barca advancing on away goals. This first leg is likely going to set up another winner-take-all situation in the return match.
PICK: Paris-Saint Germain 2, Barcelona 2
FC Porto v. Bayern Munich (UEFA Champions League, Wednesday/11:45 am)
For Bayern Munich, which boasts the nucleus of the World Cup-winning German side supplemented by high-dollar talent, nothing short of the European Cup will suffice. Porto has been one of the more entertaining sides in this year’s Champions League, and has proven nearly as prolific as the Bavarians. They’ll give Bayern a scare at the Estadio do Dragao on Hump Day, but a couple away goals will save the day for Munich.
PICK: FC Porto 3, Bayern Munich 2
River Plate v. San Jose (Copa Libertadores, Wednesday/3:45 pm)
River Plate is punching way below its pedigree in this year’s Copa Libertadores, tied with San Jose with only four points apiece in Group 6. A victory, coupled with a loss by Juan Aurich against Tigres, would allow either one of these clubs to steal away the second spot in the group. At the Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, the Argentinian behemoths are likely going to do their part in trying to sneak through to the next round.
PICK: River Plate 3, San Jose 1
USA v. Mexico (friendly, Wednesday/5:45 pm)
There is no love lost between these two neighbors. The US men’s national team lineup features another experimental roster for Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, while Mexico will also be shaking out its form ahead of the summer tournament. The match, taking place in San Antonio, has nothing but pride on the line… and with pride on the line, could any other scoreline be predicted?
PICK: USA 2, Mexico 0
Colo Colo v. Independiente Santa Fe (Copa Libertadores, Wednesday/6:00 am)
Colo Colo leads Group 1, but little is decided yet in the group. More importantly, the Chileans suffered their only loss in the group stage when they traveled to Colombia to face Independiente in Bogota. Santa Fe is tied with Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro on six points, so the result is significant for both sides. In what promises to be a wide-open affair, look for the lead to bounce back and forth before finishing in a draw.
PICK: Colo Colo 2, Independiente Santa Fe 2
VfL Wolfsburg v. Napoli (UEFA Europa League, Thursday/TBD)
The last eight teams in the hunt for Europe’s secondary continental championship will be squaring off this Thursday with a spot in the Champions League on the line. Wolfsburg is currently second in the German Bundesliga, while Napoli is sitting in fourth in the Serie A table in Italy. Both clubs are on good form, but the Neapolitans will likely be hungrier given that Wolfsburg should qualify for the Champions League regardless of this result.
PICK: Napoli 2, VfL Wolfsburg 1
Sevilla v. Zenit St. Petersburg (UEFA Europa League, Thursday/TBD)
Zenit St. Petersburg was in the Champions League this season before falling through to the Europa League Round of 32 as the third-placed team in Group C. Currently leading the Russian Premier League, they’ll likely end back up in the Champions League no matter what happens here. Sevilla, sitting fifth in Spain at the moment, could technically secure qualification without the Europa League, but a win would mean more to them.
PICK: Sevilla 3, Zenit St. Petersburg 1
Boca Juniors v. Palestino (Copa Libertadores, Thursday/3:45 pm)
Boca Juniors could qualify with a perfect record out of Group 5 with a win at La Bombonera over Chilean visitors Palestino. The visitors are still grappling with Montevideo Wanderers for the second spot in the group, but that will be of little consequence to Boca. A point is likely the most that Palestino can hope for, but the way the hosts have been playing in this year’s tournament even that is highly improbable
PICK: Boca Juniors 3, Palestino 0
Corinthians v. San Lorenzo (Copa Libertadores, Thursday/6:00 pm)
Corinthians is in a similar spot to Boca Juniors, perfect so far in this year’s Copa Libertadores and needing just one more point to guarantee themselves the top spot in Group 2. San Lorenzo, the defending South American champions, are in a dogfight with Sao Paulo for the runner-up slot. The match in Brazil offers an opportunity for both clubs, but San Lorenzo has pushed its way back up to the top spot in the Argentine Primera Division table and should manage to eke out three on Thursday.
PICK: San Lorenzo 1, Corinthians 0
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Borussia Monchengladbach (Bundesliga, Friday/11:30 am)
Borussia Monchengladbach is unlikely to catch Bayern Munich for the Bundesliga title, 17 points down with six matches left, but VfL Wolfsburg is still in reach for second place and consolidating a Champions League spot is still a priority. The hosts on Friday are currently four points out of a spot in next year’s Europa League, giving them something to fight for as well. But the better side will probably prevail in the late stages of the Bundesliga campaign.
PICK: Borussia Monchengladbach 4, Eintracht Frankfurt 2
NY Red Bulls v. San Jose Earthquakes (MLS, Friday/4:00 pm)
Two of the best teams in the early months of the Major League Soccer season meet in a cross-conference battle in New Jersey. The Red Bulls are adjusting just fine to life without Thierry Henry while going undefeated in its first four matches, while San Jose has taken all or nothing with three wins and three losses in its first half-dozen contests. The hosts are likely going to get the better of this showdown as the pattern continues for the Quakes.
PICK: NY Red Bulls 2, San Jose Earthquakes 1
Tijuana v. Guadalajara (Liga MX, Friday/7:30 pm)
Two of the top three teams in Mexico duel in Tijuana to cap the week in a match that will determine which team will vault to the pinnacle of the table. The visitors currently occupy the top spot with 24 points; the hosts are a point back with 23, but boast a better goal differential at this point. There is little separating the two clubs so far in the standings, and there will likely be nothing separating them on the scoreboard when the final whistle blows on Friday night.
PICK: Tijuana 2, Guadalajara 2