The European football season is drawing to a close, but before we start warming up for the World Cup, there are still a couple of decisive games to play. With most of the league-winners already decided, finishing as high up as possible on the log is the priority for a couple of Premier League teams – most notably Liverpool and Chelsea. Over on the rugby side of things, some pivotal Super Rugby encounters are lined up – ones which will determine the amount of pressure teams face for the second portion of the season. We’ve rounded up the 7 most important matches to watch, below:
Highlanders v Lions (Super Rugby)
After valiantly overcoming the Bulls a fortnight ago, the Highlanders fell to a surprsignly-impressive Sharks performance last week; but they’re back home now and wil host the Lions, who haven’t had the best tour so far. Dealing with numerous injuries and setbacks, the Lions have been lacklustre on the road, and will need to redeem themselves with an extremely-strong performance against the Otago men at Forsyth-Barr stadium. The Lions and Highlanders are quite similar teams, who play wide, attacking rugby, but the Highlanders have enough All Black quality to come away with another win for their campaign, unless the Lions stun everyone with a turnaround performance.
Predicted Result: Highlanders by 5.
Stormers v Chiefs (Super Rugby)
The Stormers played a strong game of rugby against the Bulls this past weekend, showcasing that they do have the forwards to hold off a surging pack, along with the backline to exploit weaker defenders. They’ll have a tough task at home again, though, with the Chiefs arriving and adamant to notch their first win on the road. All eyes will be on the flyhalf battle between two exciting playmaking prospects: Damian Willemse and Damian McKenzie, but it’s likely that the homeground advantage of Newlands will give the Stormers the added support to secure a win, as has been the case in past Cape encounters.
Predicted Result: Stormers by 3.
Bulls v Sharks (Super Rugby)
The age-old rivalry between the Bulls and Sharks returns this weekend, in what should be an interesting encounter to see how good either of these teams actually are. The Bulls have improved dramatically over past weeks, despite the recent loss to the Stormers in Cape Town; whereas the Sharks have had a tremendously inconsistent season, varying from the poor to brilliant, and we hope for the sake of a spectacle, that the Sharks show up at Loftus. That said, the Bulls have looked good at home and should be too strong for the Sharks to handle.
Predicted Result: Bulls by 10.
Leinster v Racing 92 (Champions Cup final)
Leinster take on French side Racing 92 in the final of the Champions Cup, with the Irish side looking to win their fourth European title, while Racing look to secure their first after losing out in the final to Saracens two years ago. Leinster are dealing with a number of key injuries, while Racing has their big guns, including Dan Carter (which is likely his last European game), rearing to go. It will be a battle between two of Europe’s finest teams, but given their aptitude for playing clinical rugby when it matters most, the French giants may have the edge here.
Predicted Result: Racing by 6.
Liverpool v Brighton (Premier League)
Liverpool have an exciting end to their season ahead with the Champions League final against Real Madrid looming at the end of the month. They don’t have the benefit of coasting through their final Premier League game, though, because if they suffer a loss and Chelsea record a victory, they’ll drop into fifth place and could potentially miss out on the Champions league next season. Having suffered a bit of a surprising loss against Chelsea last week Liverpool’s confidence won’t be too high, especially considering that Brighton managed a shock victory against Manchester United a week ago. Brighton also managed to draw against Spurs recently, so Liverpool won’t be taking them lightly and won’t really have the luxury of resting too many players ahead of their Champions League final.
Predicted Result: Liverpool 2 – 0 Brighton
Newcastle v Chelsea (Premier League)
Newcastle have enjoyed a surprising resurgence in the second half of the season that saw them turn from relegation favourites into comfortable-enough survivors. Benitez doesn’t have the best squad at his disposal, but he’s managed to turn them into of a sufficiently coherent unit. Antonio Conte on the other hand has managed to under-perform with last year’s league winners, and while his departure is almost all but confirmed, he’ll still want to secure Champions League football for his team. Depending on the Liverpool result Chelsea are in with a shout at still making it into next season’s Champions League, so a lot is riding on this away game. Chelsea’s away form has been rather disappointing, so they’ll need to step their game up. Fortunately, they’ve just come off a win against Liverpool at the weekend, so the team should feel confident that they’ll be able to manage one last victory to keep a foot in the European door.
Predicted Result: Newcastle 1 – 2 Chelsea
Levante v Barcelona (La Liga)
Barcelona are on the cusp of creating some La Liga history – but a surprising side in Levante stands in their way. Since the league changed to the 20-team format no club has managed to go unbeaten for a full 38-game season, but Barcelona is only two games away from achieving that unprecedented feat. The Catalans breezed to a comfortable 5-1 victory to Villarreal last time out, but Levante are on a storming 4 game win streak, with a total of 5 wins in their last six matches. What makes this most surprising is that they’re in 16th place, making their form quite that much more impressive. Barcelona’s squad has been visibly fatigued in the past few weeks, so they’ll need to show Levante the respect they’re due or risk their unbeaten season slipping away. Barcelona should manage a win, but their defence gives every opponent opportunities, if Levante capitalise on them they could rain on the league winners’ parade.
Predicted Score: Levante 1 – 1 Barcelona
Words by Jeremy Proome & Elan Solomon.
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