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Fixture Forecast: Barcelona to stumble at Valencia, plus Juventus to pick up key win

Predicting the beautiful game can be a fool’s errand, but fortune favors the bold. Yahoo Soccer has run the stats and analyzed the form books for five of the biggest games this weekend …

Shrewsbury Town vs. Liverpool

It’s hard to argue with the assertion that Liverpool are the best team on the planet right now. The reigning European and world champions are riding high at the top and haven’t lost a domestic game with their first team since last year’s FA Cup defeat to Wolves. 

Wouldn’t it be amusing if they were finally knocked off their perch by a side fighting relegation in third-tier League One?

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. The Reds may choose to field a weakened side in this FA Cup fourth round match, which comes against a side with plenty of recent experience in facing Premier League opposition. The Shrews have been eliminated from the competition by top flight sides in three of the last four seasons, including Wolves last season, West Ham in 2018 and Manchester United in 2016. 

Notably, Shrewsbury have lost only one of their last 17 home FA Cup ties (the aforementioned United defeat), so New Meadow is something of a fortress in this competition. They will also be aware that Liverpool haven’t cleared this round of the competition in the last four seasons.

However, the Shrews come into this tie with only one win in their last seven outings. Liverpool, meanwhile, have won 15 of their last 17 FA Cup ties against teams outside the top two divisions, and naturally deserve their status as the bookmakers’ favorites (-250 with BetMGM). 

Prediction: Liverpool 2-0 Shrewsbury

Best Bet:  Liverpool to win to nil at +140 on BetMGM. Jurgen Klopp’s side have kept clean sheets in seven of their last eight matches and Shrewsbury didn’t score in two of their last three meetings with Premier League teams. 

Valencia vs. Barcelona

New Barcelona manager Quique Setien faces a tough task at Valencia this weekend. (REUTERS/Albert Gea)

Barcelona remain atop La Liga only by virtue of goal difference and face a tough trip to the Mestalla this weekend. The Blaugrana go into this game following a shaky midweek Copa Del Rey performance at Ibiza, while the fixture itself will sit in the specter of the Catalans’ pursuit of star Valencia striker Rodrigo Moreno

Valencia has not lost a home game in the league since April, and Barca’s title rivals Real Madrid could only leave the Mestalla with a point shortly before the Christmas break. 

Despite this, Quique Setién’s side are overwhelming favorites with the bookmakers (+400 on BetMGM), perhaps in part due to the head-to-head record. Valencia have won only one of their last 11 league meetings with Barca, and suffered a 5-2 humbling at the Camp Nou on the final day of last season. 

The smart money, however, might be on the draw (+300 at BetMGM). Three of the last five league meetings between the sides have ended in a stalemate, including the last two at the Mestella. Barcelona have also drawn three of their last five league games — a trend that could continue as Setién continues to find his feet as head coach. 

It would also be prudent to expect goals in this one. Neither side has a watertight defense, and no fixture between them has ended goalless since October 2009. 

Prediction: Valencia 1-1 Barcelona

Best Bet: Under 2.5 total goals (+145 on BetMGM). Six of the last seven matches between these teams at the Mestalla in all competitions have featured under 2.5 goals. 

Napoli vs. Juventus

On Sunday, Maurizio Sarri returns to the Stadio San Paolo for the first time since his unceremonious exit in 2018. He claimed his Napoli sacking broke his heart, and the stage appears set for his Juventus side to return the favor this weekend. 

While Juve cruise at the top of Serie A on the back of five successive wins, Napoli are languishing in 11th place. Gennaro Gattuso has lost four of his five league matches since taking charge.

A side who are used to finishing near the top of the pile — and who took Juve down to the wire in the title race under Sarri in 2016-17 — are enduring one of their worst campaigns in recent memory. 

Juve have won their last three encounters with Napoli, including the bonkers match at the start of the season where Napoli came back from 3-0 down to tie it up at 3-3, only to lose to an injury-time own goal. 

Neutral fans will hope for similar levels of entertainment in this one, but an away win that will help Juventus’ march to a ninth consecutive title is on the cards. 

Prediction: Napoli 1-3 Juventus

Best Bet: Juventus to win and over 2.5 total goals (+180 on BetMGM). There have been over 2.5 goals in Juve’s last eight league games and the last three encounters between these teams.    

Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus are looking to do the Serie A double over Napoli. (Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Bayern Munich vs. Schalke

Hansi Flick’s Bayern came out swinging from the Winterpause with a resounding 4-0 win at Hertha Berlin last weekend. Die Roten have scored 15 goals in their last four games and look set to compensate for a weaker opening half to the campaign, much like they did last season.

On Saturday, however, they face a much-improved Schalke side who most recently stated their intent to reside in the top four with a 2-0 win over Borussia Monchengladbach. David Wagner’s side will hope to inflict Bayern’s third home defeat of the season. 

Yet the form book does not favor the visitors from Gelsenkirchen. Bayern have won nine of their last 10 meetings in all competitions, and the last time Schalke declared victory over the Bavarians was March 2011. 

Accordingly, the odds do not fancy the away team, who sit at an incredibly long +1300 with BetMGM. In a two-horse race — featuring a porous Bayern defense that is far from full strength — those odds are very tempting. However, a victory for the hosts appears much more likely here.  

Prediction: Bayern Munich 2-0 Schalke

Best Bet: Bayern to be winning at halftime and full-time is likely, as they have done this in their last six meetings with Schalke. However, the odds are not compelling at -162 on BetMGM. Instead, back Robert Lewandowski to score the first goal at +200 on BetMGM. Incredibly, the Pole has scored in each of his last nine matches against Schalke, including a hat trick in the most recent meeting. 

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