Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Friday
What’s that coming over the hill is it a monster? No, it’s Juventus.
Lazio v Juventus, Friday 4th December 2015, 19.45, BT Sport Europe
After various false starts, the Old Lady are motoring and must once again be deemed Scudetto favourites despite trailing the league leaders by seven points.
Max Allegri’s men have churned out four consecutive Serie A victories in uncompromising fashion during a remarkable turnaround in form given they were hovering just above the drop zone only six weeks ago.
The Bianconeri were 3-0 winners in Palermo last weekend and held the Sicilians without a shot on target, the third time this season they have achieved such a feat. And with a Champions League tie against Manchester City sandwiched between their Serie A games at Palermo and Milan, Juve have now kept three clean sheets on the spin.
An attack that once seemed disjointed is beginning to gel, with four different forwards – Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Álvaro Morata and Simone Zaza – all chipping in either a goal or an assist in Sunday’s Sicily saunter. The defending champions have blasted six goals in their last two domestic road trips – as many as they’d netted in the previous six.
Dybala’s the main man and the young Argentine is flourishing in his lead role, playing a part in nine of the Old Lady’s 20 Serie A goals since signing. He’ll again be heading the Bianconeri’s attack as they travel to the capital for a mouthwatering Friday night clash with out-of-sorts Lazio.
Allegri must do without the suspended Paul Pogba and looks set to deploy a rarely used 3-5-2 formation to help shore up his thin midfield but even so, Juventus look a cracking play at 21/20 to enhance a stunning head-to-head record over the Romans. Since 2003, the Old Lady have W15-D6-L0 against Lazio in league action, scoring in each fixture.
Lazio have actually lost five of their last six when entertaining the Bianconeri at the Stadio Olimpico, notching just a solitary goal in the process.
And home boss Stefano Pioli has never tasted success against Juventus across his coaching career (W0-D3-L8). Ouch.
To make matters worse, Pioli is reported to be hanging on to his job by a thread only months after transforming a mediocre Lazio into arguably the league’s most impressive team at the end of last season. The Biancocelesti have suffered five defeats in seven to plummet to 10th, only six points above the bottom-three.
At this stage last season, Lazio had four more points but they look nothing like the confident and well-organised unit that rose to third place. Instead, the capital club are a team devoid of confidence and cohesion and look ripe for plucking.
Felipe Anderson has yet to consistently recapture the lightning-quick counter-attacking style that was such a feature of his – and indeed the team’s – play in the previous campaign whilst injuries to Stefan de Vrij, Stefano Mauri, Eddy Onazi have really hit the team hard.
Lucas Biglia’s fine showings have attracted a host of big European clubs but the central midfielder can’t do it all on his own and despite their excellent return at the Olimpico under Pioli, I can’t see Lazio ending their domestic woes this weekend. At odds-against, Juventus look a decent bet.
Juventus to win @ 21/20
Schalke v Hannover, Friday 4th December 2015, 19.30, BT Sport 2
Schalke remain a work in progress under Andre Breitenreiter and realists would say, results in his first four months in charge have been broadly in line with expectations. But the Royal Blues’ current eighth-place shouldn’t be causing supporters too much consternation at this stage – they’re just two points off the top-four.
The Gelsenkirchen club have W2-D4-L3 in their last nine outings but those fixtures have included games against Bayern Munich, the derby at arch-rivals Dortmund, Gladbach and last weekend’s trip to Leverkusen, as well as three Europa League ties. However, the 1-1 draw at home to Ingolstadt unsurprisingly left fans frustrated.
Schalke were tame for large parts of their 1-1 draw at Leverkusen. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting gave the visitors the lead against the run of play and with practically their first serious attack. It took Leverkusen until five minutes from time to forge an equaliser with Choupo-Moting wasting Schalke’s best opportunity to put the game to bed five minutes earlier.
That’s how it’s been for Breitenreiter – decent but not quite right, yet. For all of the Royal Blues’ commitment, work-rate and individual class of young players like Leroy Sane, they still seem to lack that killer instinct. Based on the last seven Bundesliga games, Friday’s hosts are down in 16th (W1-D2-L4) and have failed to win even half of their home Bundesliga games (W3-D2-L2).
So Schalke are worth avoiding at skinny quotes and although Hannover sit fifth in the form table over that seven-game spell (W4-D0-L3) I’m not ready to trust Michael Frontzeck’s men. Sure, the 96ers have won in Koln and Hamburg, drawn in Wolfsburg and only narrowly lost in Gladbach across their last four road trips but results don’t always tell the full story.
The visitors have faced more shots-on-target than any other in the Bundesliga with only Augsburg and Koln conceding more in away games. Last weekend’s morale-boosting 4-0 win over Ingolstadt looks fantastic on paper but their 3-0 lead after 25 minutes all came from set-piece situations and they’ve yet to truly inspire across 90 minutes.
So rather than risk taking sides, I’m happier getting involved with the 4/5 on offer for Both Teams To Score.
It’s a bet that’s banked in 8/14 (57%) of both clubs’ league outings this season with 5/7 (71%) of Schalke’s Veltins Arena doing the business as well as 14/24 (56%) since the start of last season. Hannover have followed suit in 4/7 (57%) away days and six of their most recent nine matches.
Both Teams To Score @ 4/5
Nice v PSG, Friday 4th December 2015, 19.30, BT Sport ESPN
PSG have already secured their title as Autumnal champions with the Parisians topping Ligue 1 for Christmas. But Laurent Blanc’s men dropped points for only the third time in 16 league matches in midweek as they failed to turn over newly-promoted Angers (0-0).
Next up in a busy schedule of fixtures is a trip south to the Allianz Riviera and after fielding a strong XI on Tuesday night bar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Les Rouge-et-Bleu are expecting to rotate with the Champions League back on the horizon.
Marco Verratti will definitely be missing whilst Blaise Matuidi remains a major doubt having been withdrawn at half-time of the Angers game. Verratti links defence and attack stupendously and his absence has been noticed since his injury and with the possibility of no Matuidi, PSG could struggle to unlock a Nice side that appear to have changed philosophy in recent weeks.
Home boss Claude Puel has deployed a 3-5-2 formation of late and rested key players when being held to a 0-0 by Lorient on Tuesday. Hatem Ben Arfa was downed by a virus but could return as the Eagles look to get back on the scoresheet after two goalless games.
The hosts have won just twice in seven but will be quietly confident of giving the Parisians a run for their money under their new guise. The 3-5-2 system has encouraged the Côte d’Azur club to utilise the counter-attack and that’s an area that PSG have appeared vulnerable in across previous fixtures.
The visitors have lost just three Ligue 1 games since the start of last season and their road record in that time is W16-D9-L3. But only seven victories arrived by a margin of two goals or more and Nice should be capable of staying within that range. Nice +2 on the handicap line can be backed at 8/13.
Nice +2 handicap @ 8/13
*Prices correct at time of publication