Hack the Weekend: Italian surprises loom as a top-of-the-table clash awaits in Poland

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Hack the Weekend: Italian surprises loom as a top-of-the-table clash awaits in Poland
In the autumn, Slask beat Lech 3-1 in the Polish Ekstraklasa
In the autumn, Slask beat Lech 3-1 in the Polish Ekstraklasa
Profimedia, Flashscore
Who will win the big game? Well, that is the key question that sports fans and pundits around the world ask themselves daily. Most of the time, however, they are guided more by feelings and impressions than by raw data. The right answer to this question can often be extremely valuable especially if the numbers suggest that the favourites might just slip up.

That's why Flashscore, in cooperation with a team of analysts from Czech data company 11Hacks, brings you a data-driven overview every Friday about where those (un)expected results might occur in the wide world of football to help you ultimately hack the weekend.

Cittadella vs Catanzaro - Saturday 14:00 CET

Serie B side Cittadella have been going through a rough patch in recent weeks and are proof of how much can change in football in a very short period of time. Just a month ago, coach Edoardo Gorini's side were close to the promotion places. Now, after five losses in a row, they are an abysmal 10 points off that mark and quite deservedly so.

Although Cittadella have played opponents from the bottom half of the table on four occasions in that torrid run, they have scored just five goals and fared even worse at the other end of the pitch. Their defence has allowed a huge volume of dangerous chances and conceded a staggering 12 goals. Only last-placed Lecco have been worse, conceding one more. This fact is all the more puzzling given that just a month ago Cittadella could boast the second-best defence in Serie B according to the metric of expected goals (xG).

Their unprecedented misery culminated in the last round, when the team visited currently seventeenth-placed Spezia and lost 4-2 after their captain Simone Branca saw a red card at the end of the first half. Two minutes after the break, young stopper Matteo Angeli received a second yellow card to boot. And it is the absence of Branca that could deepen the team's crisis this week against Catanzaro. It is no exaggeration to say that few other teams in the league are as dependent on the performance of one particular player as Cittadella are on him.

Among all defensive midfielders in the league, he has the highest volume of defensive duels and wins a huge number of balls in important areas according to advanced mathematical models. What's more, thanks to his great reading of the game, he can regularly intercept passes and actively collect the ball. In addition, he maintains a high rate of success in duels and is also an excellent executor of set pieces.

According to the expected points metric, which takes into account the quality of chances created and allowed, these are a pair of very evenly matched teams. Therefore, with Branco's absence, another loss for Cittadella against their neighbours in the league table seems quite likely.

Lech Poznan vs Slask Wroclaw - Saturday 17:30 CET

Saturday's match between second-placed Slask Wroclaw and third-placed Lech Poznan will be the clear highlight of the 22nd round in the Polish Ekstraklasa. Only two points separate the teams in the title race, which also involves Jagiellonia, who are leading on goal difference. The bookmakers are heavily favouring the home team from Poznan, partly perhaps because of the recent results of both teams. Slask have won just once out of their last five league matches.

Lech are doing better in terms of results, but their performances are not as convincing. A good example was their recent match against Jagiellonia. They triumphed 2-1, scoring from a long-range attempt and a penalty kick but failed to create consistent pressure and resisted numerous offensive forays. Statistically, they lost by an overwhelming 26-6 on shots and 1.96-0.19 on xG after the penalty kick was deducted.

Captain Mikael Ishak should be ready to play for Lech along with winger Adriel Ba Loua, although it is not clear whether they will be able to start after injuries. Slask will certainly be at full strength and ready to use their strengths. While Lech will try to undo the lowest defensive block in the league, Slask will threaten from numerous breaks and try to exploit their advantage in the air.

Not only do Slask boast one of the highest success rates in offensive headers, but Lech is also the second least successful in defensive headers behind only Gornik Zabrze. Slask will rely on the league's top scorer, Erik Exposito, who has scored a third of all his goals from corners or free direct kicks. Having said that, Slask are quite variable in the final third and certainly don't rely solely on crosses. This will certainly be a tight match.

Genoa vs Udinese - Saturday 20:45 CET

After a series of tough games against teams from the top half of the table and an unlucky draw with Cagliari, Udinese have great motivation to win away at Genoa. While the Serie A newcomers hold a promising 10-point gap from the relegation places, Udinese are only three points away from the drop zone.

Full standings
Flashscore

According to the expected points metric, however, Udinese should have nine more points and be comfortable in mid-table about two places above Genoa. In what will be a match between two similar defences, Udinese's offence should have the edge as they have created significantly more dangerous chances, especially in recent months. Genoa's attack over the whole season is among the worst in terms of xG produced.

This match is very likely to be decided by goals from crosses or set pieces. Udinese are one of the best crossing teams in the league while Genoa often have great difficulty defending passes into their area. This was already proven in the first game between the two sides this season, which ended in a 2-2 draw. Udinese failed to convert several dangerous headers in that match but might be luckier this weekend.

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