Mark O’Haire’s European Footy Tips – Saturday’s Matches
Atletico Madrid’s clash with Barcelona on Saturday is without doubt the game of the weekend on the continent.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona, Saturday 12 September, Sky Sports 3
It’s no exaggeration to say this contest could well have serious implications on the destination of the 2015/16 La Liga title. The two challengers arrive with 100% records from their first two fixtures but something has to give at the Vicente Calderon.
Having selected Atletico as my best outright bet in Spain, I was delighted with their superb 3-0 result in Sevilla before the international break. Sure, Diego Simeone’s side huffed and puffed in their 1-0 victory over newly-promoted Las Palmas in their opener but the Mattress Makers proved what an immovable object they can be, when winning in Seville.
The scoreline flattered Simeone’s men but they’ve added brains, brilliance and pace to their attack with an already resolute defence the backbone to their success. It’s a fantastically exciting prospect for punters and circumstances have also made Atleti a dangerous prospect for Barcelona on Saturday.
The hosts have suffered just one loss in 17 La Liga matches and arrive without any injury or suspension concerns – the same cannot be said of Barca. Luis Enrique’s charges make the journey to the capital without Claudio Bravo, Dani Alves or Gerard Pique, robbing the Catalans of three of their first-choice back five.
The Bluagrana have come out on top in their last four meetings with Atletico but this is arguably their toughest recent test against the Mattress Makers. Barca simply don’t have the squad depth that bitter rivals Real Madrid or even Atleti have to hand and although they’ll field a strong-looking XI, including their fearsome front three, they know they’re far from their best.
Luis Enrique’s visitors are yet to show their brilliant best and can expect another battle at the Calderon. Star man Lionel Messi has been in the US on international duty with Argentina and is unlikely to be at the peak of his powers and so I just have to find a way of siding with the combative hosts.
Atletico can be backed at 5/4 in the Draw No Bet market and it’s a bet that really stands out. Since Simeone landed the role in charge of the Mattress Makers, the capital club have W50-D11-L7 when entertaining La Liga opposition. When taking on the Big Two, that record wanes but it’s hard to recall an encounter where one of the big guns has been so weakened by injuries, suspensions and a lack of reinforcements.
Everything is in Atleti’s favour on Saturday night – I just don’t see them losing.
If you prefer to play the Draw, add in Under 2.5 Goals to the mix at a bulbous 29/10 – eight of the last 10 showdowns in all competitions between the two sides have featured fewer than three goals whilst Barcelona’s tally of two goals in two games this season is their worst goal return at this stage since 2008/09.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona – Atletico Madrid draw no bet (5/4)
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona – Draw and Under 2.5 Goals (29/10)
Eintracht Frankfurt v Koln, Saturday 12 September, BT Sport Europe
Eintracht Frankfurt bagged their first win of the new season before the international break as head coach Armin Veh returned from his old club Stuttgart with a fabulous 4-1 victory. The result was kind on the Eagles but following a brave performance when going down to Wolfsburg and a frustrating display when held at home to Augsburg, it was just what the doctor ordered.
Eintracht will now look to record back-to-back wins for the first time this calendar year whilst hoping their Commerzbank-Arena form remains strong. Frankfurt have W7-D5-L0 when welcoming Bundesliga opposition since Bayern Munich’s visit back in November 2014 with their W9-D5-L3 return on home soil deservedly receiving plenty of plaudits.
But Saturday’s tea-time encounter with Koln is arguably the biggest clash of styles we’ll see in the German top-flight this season. Frankfurt are an attack-minded outfit with Veh keen to continue the Eagles’ menacing offensive ways since taking charge – last season Eintracht’s Commerzbank-Arena matches produced a divisional-high 118 goals with nine of their most recent 16 encounters on home soil returning Over 3.5 Goals winners.
Meanwhile, the seven points accrued by Koln is their best start to a Bundesliga season since 1996/97 with Peter Stöger’s cagey counter-attacking tactics reaping plenty of rewards when dispatching Stuttgart 3-1, Hamburg 2-1 and holding well-fancied Wolfsburg 1-1 – the Billy Goats dominating the Wolves in that latter encounter.
Anthony Modeste has settled straight in to the Koln attack and the visitors’ patience could well work against their gung-ho hosts. Since winning promotion back to the German top-flight, the Billy Goats have won or drawn 55% of their 18 away games.
With that in mind, I like the idea of backing the visitors at 23/20 in the Draw No Bet market.
Despite Eintracht’s excellent home record in which they’ve won 50% of their league fixtures in the same sample, the value lies with the visitors.
Eintracht Frankfurt v Koln – Koln draw no bet (23/20)
Juventus v Chievo, Saturday 12 September, BT Sport Europe
Well this is awkward. For the first time ever, Juventus have started a Serie A season with two defeats from two. It’s also the first time ever a defending champion has suffered successive losses at the start of a new season. Even more embarrassing for the Old Lady? Saturday night’s guests Chievo have bagged two wins from two and sit top of the tree!
The Bianconeri had not lost two consecutive games in the league since March 2011 and prior to their opening day defeat at their Turin home to Udinese, Juve had gone 47 home games unbeaten (W42-D5-L0). No wonder the local media are up in arms with crisis calls being branded about the club as the players swanned off for international duty.
Juventus were soundly beaten by Roma in the capital and although it’s too early to make grand defining statements regarding their season, it’s no great surprise to see them struggling to overcome the huge losses of Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal this summer. I said in my outright preview, the Old Lady must be opposed and the early signs suggest it may take time for the team to function again.
Max Allegri’s men are just 4/11 to pocket maximum points against Chievo on Saturday evening and despite their travails in 2015/16, they should still get their campaign off to a belated winning start. The hosts have won 17 of their 24 Serie A showdowns with the Flying Donkeys with W9-D3-L0 figures returned when entertaining.
Chievo have improved drastically under Rolando Maran’s tutorship and although their 2-1 victory at Empoli on the opening weekend was far from convincing, the 4-0 demolition job handed out to Lazio seven days later was mighty impressive. It means Maran’s men now boast the joint-most prolific attack in this Serie A with seven goals – last season, the Veneti took 11 games to score the same number!
So whilst I expect the Bianconeri to enhance a W16-D3-L1 record at Juventus Stadium in league games under Allegri, I’m not ready to invest my faith in their unconvincing defence doing the business. Since the former Milan boss took charge, Juve have only recorded shutouts in half of those 20 fixtures. Chievo’s last six Serie A matches have produced 19 goals and I reckon the free-scoring Donkeys can notch a goal in defeat.
Juventus and Both Teams To Score is a 14/5 shot, which looks more than fair.
Juventus v Chievo – Juventus to win and Both Teams To Score (14/5)
*Prices correct at time of publication.