As we gear up for an exciting weekend of football, our attention is drawn to three intriguing matches across different leagues. In the Japanese J2 League, V-Varen Nagasaki squares off against Iwaki in a clash of contrasting fortunes.

Meanwhile, in the Eliteserien, Sandefjord and Sarpsborg prepare for a potential goal-fest.

Finally, in the Czech Republic, Slavia Prague looks to continue their dominant run against Zlin. Here's our in-depth analysis and predictions for these encounters.

V-Varen Nagasaki v Iwaki – Sunday, 10am

Nothing spectacular catches my eye across the Saturday card of games, so the first of three recommendations ahead of Sunday’s action sees us focus on the second-tier of Japanese football; J2 League. V-Varen Nagasaki against Iwaki is 6th versus 18th, with 14 points separating the two clubs 28 games into the season. We’re now over the halfway stage in this division, and both teams look to have different agendas heading into the next part of the season.

Nagasaki sit just inside the play-off positions on goal difference, largely thanks to their output in front of goal. They’re the third-highest scorers in the league on 46, whilst their strong home record is another major reason for their success so far. Last season this was their Achilles heel, but they’ve now seemingly fixed their issues playing at Transcosmos Stadium Nagasaki. Only top-of-the-table Machida have recorded more points in front of their supporters. Iwaki sit just three points above the relegation zone, but one defeat in eight means they’re one of the form teams in the league right now.

They do take some risks at the back, however, and shipping 35 goals is proof of that. This is the joint-second worst defensive record in the top half, so Iwaki may feel as though they can get at their higher-placed opponents this weekend. They’ve kept only three home clean sheets, but they’ve found a way to get results, so they’re likely to have to outscore Iwaki if they’re to record another victory.

That may not necessarily be much of a concern given that Iwaki are one of the lower-scoring outfits in J2 League, and also possess a rather leaky defence. Whilst that may be the case, a look at the Expected Goals (xG) and

Expected Goals Against (xGA) actually puts very little between these two teams, despite the huge gap in the actual league standings. That to me says V-Varen Nagasaki have that little bit of star quality that can get them over the line in games.

One interesting statistic going into this game is that both teams average below 45% possession across their league games this season. Something is going to have to give here in that case. Nagasaki won their last game 4-1 at home to Kumamoto (just above Iwaki in table) despite only having 38% possession. They are a more flexible side than Iwaki, who really does benefit from playing on the break, so this is a game which could well contain goals, and BTTS cannot be ruled out, either.

The home win however is the way I’m approaching this, especially if Bet365 are going to offer 2.30 for that market. There is just more to this Nagasaki side compared to Iwaki, who really needs things to fall their way to be successful. The hosts may have only won two of their last six but four of those clashes were on their travels, and they clearly prefer it at home, and they’ll be eager to get the job done and maintain their spot in the top-six.

Sandefjord v Sarpsborg – Sunday, 4pm

There may arguably be more attractive-looking matches on the Eliteserien card this weekend but Sandefjord versus Sarpsborg was one which instantly jumped off the page in my eyes for one particular reason; more on that later. This puts together a bottom-half against the top-half encounter, with Sandefjord sitting in the bottom three, but a morale-boosting win at Valerenga last time out will do them no harm at all. Sarpsborg ended a three-match losing streak when overcoming Haugesund at home.

Sandefjord will be really hoping that win will really kick-start their season. It was only their third three-point haul of the campaign, and consistency just hasn’t been their strong point. They had a similar result in June when defeating Odd 4-1 at home, hoping that indeed would get their up-and-running. However, they responded with a five-game winless run; conceding goals for fun in the process.
Conceding goals is quite simply their biggest concern. Their last five defeats read scores of 5-2, 4-2, 3-2, 5-0 and 6-1, with that 6-1 loss coming when they travelled to Sarpsborg only a month ago. They was 3-0 behind inside 20 minutes in that game and no doubt will be eager for a much stronger start. In fact, no team has conceded more first-half goals than Sandefjord, and having to come from behind constantly is clearly no recipe for success, making it hard to gain points.

Sarpsborg are a classic hot or cold kind of team in that they can look world beaters one week and the complete opposite the next. That was ironically typified from when they defeated Sandefjord 6-1 as they followed it up with a 5-2 loss at Stromsgodset, which was the beginning of a four-match losing sequence. They edged out Haugesund in their previous outing, but it was more a case of job done as opposed to an excellent team performance.

The immediate thought I had over this match is that goals should really be the name of the game. They played out a seven-game clash not so long ago, whilst we shouldn’t necessarily expect that many goals, it should be an open and end-to-end encounter that promises entertainment. Both teams have seen their respective league matches average well over 3.00 goals. Sandefjord have the highest xGA figure in the league, whilst Sarpsborg’s last nine away from home in all competitions has contained at least three goals.
Over 3.00 Goals is delightfully priced at 2.10 with LiveScoreBet and I see it giving us a real good run for our money to achieve a full win. We get refunded if exactly three goals are scored, but all being well we finished above this by a goal or two.

Slavia Prague v Zlin – Sunday, 5pm

Slavia Prague have been one of my favourite teams to bet on in recent years, but it can be sometimes challenging to find backable value on their games, given their general dominance of football in Czech Republic. Having said that, they didn’t win the title last season, and coming second best to arch-rivals Sparta Prague will no doubt have hurt. They’ve started the season with real purpose and two comfortable wins, and will expect a third when Zlin visit on Sunday.

Zlin have finished between 12th and 16th across the previous five seasons, so it would be fair to say they’re a team relatively content just to avoid relegation. They only lost 1-0 at home to the reigning champions, Sparta, last time out, but the fact of the matter is they sit joint-bottom; one of two teams yet to record a point so far. The perfect performance is required when taking on Slavia, who themselves would need to seriously underperform if the visitors are to have any chance.

Slavia will begin their UEFA Europa League campaign in the days after this weekend's match, which possibly may be a slight distraction for them. That may give a small glimmer of hope to Zlin, with Slavia facing Ukrainian side Dnipro-1 in a first-leg qualification match on Thursday. Still, Slavia have a deep squad; much to the envy to the likes of Zlin. Don’t expect them to drop off, especially knowing how hungry they are to win back the top prize in Czech football.

Recent history points towards another one-sided contest as well, as Slavia have won each of the previous nine head-to-head meetings in all competitions. They’ve netted at least three goals in the most recent four of those, too. Zlin have already suffered a heavy away defeat this season when doing down 4-1 at Karvina on the opening day; Karvina being a newly-promoted side. They’ve therefore started not only with two defeats but two defeats in which they were outplayed quite significantly. Confidence can’t be high and a trip to Slavia Prague will be one they are dreading.

Bet-builders are often called for when I like to back Slavia Prague and Bet365 has priced up Slavia Prague/Slavia Prague HT/FT and for them to score over 2 goals at 1.91. They will create chances and all being well they’ll take them, something they’re used to doing against them opposition. The hosts will hope for the easiest game possible ahead of a big European match in the week, so a fast start is anticipated.

Tips

  • V-Varen Nagasaki v Iwaki – V-Varen Nagasaki (2.30 Bet365)
  • Sandefjord v Sarpsborg – Over 3.00 Goals (2.10 LiveScoreBet)
  • Slavia Prague v Zlin – Slavia Prague/Slavia Prague HT/FT and to score Over 2 Goals (1.91 Bet365)
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