Fixture Forecast: Manchester United to exit FA Cup early, Inter Milan to falter

Ryan Bailey

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 …

Liverpool vs. Everton

The first weekend of January means one thing for soccer fans: the FA Cup third round is upon us!

The moment at which England’s top flight teams enter the world’s oldest domestic cup competition is a mile marker every season, and the Fixture Gods have celebrated the occasion with a Merseyside derby.

Champions-in-waiting Liverpool have passed their festive fixture test with flying colors, navigating a match every three days on average while maintaining their lead at the top of the league and picking up a Club World Cup title in Qatar.

Everton, meanwhile, have taken positive steps under new manager Carlo Ancelotti and may see the FA Cup as a competition in which they can make significant progress.

The Toffees, however, have neither the odds nor the form book on their side.

Carlo Ancelotti gets his first taste of the Merseyside derby this weekend in the FA Cup. (Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)
Carlo Ancelotti gets his first taste of the Merseyside derby this weekend in the FA Cup. (Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images)

Everton haven’t won a Merseyside derby since 2010 and have lost their last two FA Cup meetings with Liverpool (in the third round in January 2018 and the semifinals in 2012).

The Reds, meanwhile, were unbeaten in all competitions at Anfield in 2019 and are showing no signs of breaking that trend.

Liverpool were convincing 5-2 winners when they met Everton at home a month ago. Despite Ancelotti’s progress and an extra day of rest, the visitors may suffer a similar fate here.

Prediction: Liverpool 3-0 Everton

Best Bet: Liverpool to win to nil at +260 on BetMGM. Jurgen Klopp’s side have kept clean sheets in their last four games in all competitions, and haven’t conceded in three of the last four Merseyside derbies.

Wolves vs. Manchester United

With 12 FA Cup wins in their trophy case, Manchester United are the second-most successful club in the history of the competition.

Their journey in this year’s competition, however, may end at the first hurdle.

The Red Devils are up against a Wolves side who have shown superb form over the festive period. They beat Manchester City for the second time this season and were close to taking points from Premier League leaders Liverpool.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side also boast a favorable record against United, having avoided defeat in their last four meetings and knocked them out of the FA Cup quarterfinals last season.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Red Devils go into this game on the back of a fairly insipid performance at Arsenal on New Year’s Day. They are unlikely to feel confident of safe passage in a knockout tournament they used to dominate.

Accordingly, the bookmakers regard Wolves as narrow favorites — and so should you.

Prediction: Wolves 2-1 Manchester United

Best Bet: Wolves to win and both teams to score at +325 on BetMGM. Both teams have scored in seven of their last nine meetings, and Wolves haven’t kept a clean sheet in their last five matches.

Raul Jimenez and Wolves have their sights set on further success vs. the Manchester clubs. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
Raul Jimenez and Wolves have their sights set on further success vs. the Manchester clubs. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

Espanyol vs. Barcelona

La Liga makes its welcome return this weekend and Barcelona are aiming to maintain their two-point lead at the summit when they travel a few miles across town to Espanyol.

Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Arthur Melo will be among the Blaugrana’s absentees for the derby, and a shock Copa Del Rey loss at the RCDE Stadium in January 2018 might be at the front of some Barca players’ minds. The Blaugrana have also drawn two of their last four league visits to their city neighbors.

However, Espanyol face their storied rivals in a state of disarray: They are rock-bottom of the league and fired their coach Pablo Machin shortly before the break.

Fixture Forecast has accurately predicted a few Barca stumbles this season — including the loss to Levante and draw at Real Sociedad — but this match is as close to a “gimme” as Ernesto Valverde’s side can hope for.

Barca are undefeated in all competitions since early November, they won last season’s league fixtures against Espanyol by an aggregate 6-0 scoreline, and the hosts are winless in their last eight league matches.

A routine win for Barca seems like the winning ticket in this one.

Prediction: Espanyol 0-2 Barcelona

Best Bet: Barcelona to win and under 2.5 goals at +360 on BetMGM. It may be tempting to back a big scoreline, but there is better value in the under: four of the last five meetings between the sides have featured under 2.5 goals.

Napoli vs. Inter Milan

As Serie A resumes, Internazionale hold a tenuous grip on pole position in the league. Antonio Conte’s side are ahead of Juventus only on goal difference and must at least equal Juventus’ result against an out-of-form Cagliari when they head to Napoli on Epiphany.

Napoli are aiming to get back on their feet after Carlo Ancelotti’s December firing, and new coach Gennaro Gattuso faces an uphill battle in his search for his second win. Key defender Kalidou Koulibaly is also unlikely to feature in the hosts’ defense.

The bookmakers haven’t picked a clear favorite in this one, but all signs point to a result for Napoli.

Not only have Inter failed to win three of their last four matches, but they haven’t won a league match at the Stadio San Paolo in over 12 years.

Inter’s last away trip to Napoli in May resulted in an emphatic 4-1 defeat, and the Milanese side have only won one of their last six matches against Napoli in all competitions.

Combine all that with Napoli’s inevitable “new manager bounce”, and it looks as if Juventus may return to the top of the table during Matchday 18.

Prediction: Napoli 1-0 Inter Milan

Best Bet: Napoli to win and under 2.5 goals at +525 on BetMGM. Six of the last eight matches between the sides have features less than 2.5 goals, and this one should also be a tight affair.

More from Yahoo Sports: