D3: The Battle for 2nd and the Playoffs

It’s the final round of matches in D3 on Thursday night, and it’s pretty tight still at the top of the table. While CSKA are home and dry after a fantastic season under Fred Dodger’s stewardship, five clubs separated by three points still have realistic hopes of automatic promotion, and another four with just two points between them will hope to claim the last playoff place.

Starting at the top, the big game is undoubtedly at the San Mames where arguably the two best teams in the division – on recent and current form – face off against against each other as Mike T’s revitalised Athletic Club host Andre Libras-Boas’s resurgent Hellas Verona. This one looks too close to call, and while either side could win, I’m going for a score draw, 2-2. Hell for Hellas, but will it be enough for the Bilbao side?

Third placed Sampdoria face what you might think would be a tricky task in Moscow at the home of the champions. But with CSKA having nothing to play for, and with a relatively poor home record to boot, I fancy Samp and Gareth Crisp to grab the three points that will guarantee them automatic promotion.

Another Moscow team, Lokomotiv, have slipped recently against the champions and Athletic, but should find a return to winning ways at The Linder’s struggling Crystal Palace, who sadly look doomed. That win would put Loko on 60 points and crucially improve their goal difference to give Attila Olah’s side the third and final automatic promotion place by a couple of goals!

In the remaining games, Josh McMillan’s Saint Etienne are guaranteed a playoff place, but would need two or three of the four clubs currently above them to lose, for victory against Hamburg to give them automatic promotion. Do they go all out for victory on the off-chance of going up, or save their first team for the playoffs? At full strength, and with a strong home record, I fancy ASSE to hold on for a draw and crush Hamburg’s hopes of sneaking into the final playoff place.

RJ Alston’s Galatasaray, meanwhile, face local Istanbul rivals Besiktas. Even if Hamburg fail to win, Gala still need three points to guarantee the final playoff spot. While they have a great away record, I can’t see anything other than a draw here, too!

That just leaves Bob ‘Groucho’ Sal’s Sassuolo to beat Cruzeiro – the worst team in the division on current form – to snatch the final playoff spot right at the death! (I’d bet actual money on this result, which – unfortunately for Aston Villa – means even victory over Newcastle will not be enough for them.)

If results go as I predict (which is about as likely as Hamburg winning the league), the final table will look something like this:

One interesting scenario that could play out in this case, is a rerun of Thursday’s big game between Athletic Club and Hellas Verona in the Playoff Final!

Best of luck to all involved.

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