Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – SaturdayStats
The 232nd Clasico takes centre-stage this weekend as bitter and bickering old rivals Barcelona lock horns with Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.
Barcelona v Real Madrid, Saturday 2 April, 19.30 Sky Sports 2
It’ll be an emotional evening following the recent tragic passing of Johan Cruyff and so, despite strolling towards a second successive La Liga title, and with the Blaugrana on course to secure back-to-back trebles, the Catalans will approach this fixture with the respect it deserves.
A tricky Champions League tie against Atletico Madrid is on the menu for Tuesday and a scattering of the record-breaking hosts’ squad only returned from arduous international duty in South America on Thursday afternoon, so could the Catalans have their pockets picked by their greatest rivals? I wouldn’t rule it out.
Nevertheless, nothing focuses the mind quite like a Clasico and whilst priorities for both teams should be on their midweek continental ties, it would be remiss to believe either will be taking this fixture lightly with decades of history and tradition to uphold.
It’s a fixture that Barcelona have flourished in, in recent seasons.
The Catalans have claimed top honours in four of the last five meetings – including that stunning 4-0 rout at the Bernabeu earlier this season.
In addition, the Blaugrana have only been beaten in three of their last 15 head-to-heads with Real.
Without a defeat in 22 (W20-D2-L0) at the Camp Nou and on a stunning 39-match unbeaten streak across all competitions, Luis Enrique’s men are perhaps understandable short 4/7 favourites here to clinch another three points. But I’m just unwilling to support a home success at the odds on offer.
Both Atleti and Sevilla have given Barca a stern examination in Catalonia in recent weeks and along with the fact Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Claudio Bravo were involved in World Cup qualifiers over the past 10 days, there are major doubts over Jordi Alba’s participation.
With Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano already sidelined, Barcelona may have to shoehorn Thomas Vermaelen back into the side at left-back, a disastrous proposal with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fit and ready to fire from the flanks.
Madrid’s only hope of silverware this season is the Champions League but Zinedine Zidane’s men don’t face Wolfsburg until Wednesday. And with neither Bale nor Karim Benzema involved in international duty, and Ronaldo only going as far as Lisbon, the Los Blancos front-three should be fit, fresh and raring to go.
Now Madrid’s road record doesn’t exactly give us the confidence to support an away success at 4/1; Real have only claimed maximum points in half of their 14 La Liga games as guests and have an ugly W14-D7-L14 record travelling to top-half teams since their last La Liga title triumph.
But there are signs that Zidane’s Real are adapting to a more possession-centric approach, utilising their marauding full-backs in attack and giving the side a more balanced and stable option in midfield with Casemiro shielding the back four.
Neither James Rodriguez nor Isco will start on Saturday but Pepe and Sergio Ramos return to give the central defensive areas bulk and experience. And Los Blancos will look to expose Barca’s shortcomings in the air with plenty of balls into the box; the capital club have scored six goals from crosses in their last three games.
The 4-0 win against Sevilla flattered Madrid but they’ve now turned out five successive victories and unlike Barcelona, their standout stars are primed and in peak condition.
Since Luis Enrique arrived, Barcelona have only led at the break in 5/17 (29%) of their La Liga outings at the Camp Nou. And with the hosts’ key players possibly fatigued, I’m happy to support the visitors to open the scoring at 17/10.
Meanwhile, it’s understandable to see the goals markets prohibitively short in most areas. A huge 18 of the past 19 Clasicos have featured winning Both Teams To Score bets whilst the last nine meetings in Catalonia have all broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
But rather than attacking the standard goals markets, take a look at the first-half angle where Over 1.5 Goals can be snapped up at even-money. It’s proven a profitable formula in five of the most recent seven Clasicos whilst accumulatively the two teams have recorded just seven clean sheets in their last 22 outings
And so I’ll leave the most obvious selection to last – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score at 7/5. With strong BTTS claims and shoddy defensive records in both camps, it makes sense to build your outright selection around both sides scoring. If Barca do show their class, they’ll be too good for the capital club.
Real Madrid to score first @ 17/10
Over 1.5 first-half goals @ 1/1
Barcelona to win and BTTS @ 7/5
Borussia Dortmund v Werder Bremen, Saturday 2 April, 17.30 BT Sport Europe
Dortmund aren’t yet giving up the ghost of the Bundesliga crown. The second-placed side have been close to invincible at their Westfalenstadion home (W11-D2-L0) this season, amassing 35 points from a possible 39.
That’s a club record home return for Thomas Tuchel’s troops who’ve also broken a club record having collected 64 points from their first 27 games. Oh, and they’ve also set a new Bundesliga record for shipping just three goals in 10 games at the start of a year. Impressive eh?
Nine of Dortmund’s 11 home successes were achieved by a margin of two goals or more and with Werder Bremen in town on Saturday evening, BVB will be expected to put the terrible travellers to the sword once more.
The Black & Yellows have beaten Bremen in each of their last eight meetings at the Westfalenstadion.
They have also put away eight of their most recent nine bottom-six visitors by at least a two-goal margin.
The hosts have plundered at least two goals in 15 of their last 17 on home soil and should be capable of filling their boots against a Werder outfit that’s yet to keep a clean sheet in 30 top-flight fixtures and boasts the division’s leakiest backline, conceding 2.00 goals-per-game on average.
The visitors have been destroyed 5-0 at Bayern Munich, 5-1 at Monchengladbach and 6-0 at Wolfsburg so another wide-margin defeat looks to be the most likely outcome with centre-half Papy Djilobodji suspended.
Bremen have lost five of their past eight on the road and eight of their 13 Bundesliga losses in 2015/16 have arrived by a margin of at least two clear goals and so another one-sided contest looks on the cards here.
We can back Dortmund to score Over 2.5 Goals at 11/10 and that makes most appeal.
Borussia Dortmund to score Over 2.5 Goals @ 11/10
Juventus v Empoli, Saturday 2 April 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Juventus have taken 58 points from a possible 60 across their last 20 Serie A matches and although Leonardo Bonucci, Alex Sandro and Sami Khedira are all absent for Saturday night’s clash with Empoli, the Old Lady should be relied upon to pick up maximum points.
Paulo Dybala’s return should give Max Allegri’s men the invention going forward.
Even in Bonucci’s absence, the Bianconeri’s record-breaking backline should prove the backbone for victory.
Juventus have recorded clean sheets in each of their last six in Turin and will fancy their chances of making that seven when the out-of-form Tuscans pitch up. Empoli are winless in 11, dropping like a stone and haven’t beaten the table-toppers in the league since 1999.
The visitors have suffered four defeats in their most recent six and been beaten by at least a two-goal margin in half of their last eight trips to top-six sides.
Palermo, Genoa and Atalanta have silenced Empoli in recent weeks so you’d have to assume Juventus can follow suit and record a win ‘to nil’ at 3/4.
Juventus v Empoli – Juventus to win ‘to nil’ @ 3/4
*Prices correct at time of publication.