Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Sunday
Serie A hosts its own version of Super Sunday this weekend with four of the top-five locking horns as the race for the Scudetto intensifies ahead of the winter break.
Napoli v Roma, Sunday 11 December 17.00, BT Sport 1
Napoli take on Roma at the San Paolo sitting two points off the summit following last weekend’s disastrous 3-2 defeat at Bologna. It was their first reverse since August (W9-D4-L1) and despite fielding a scratch side in the Europa League on Thursday night, the Partenopei still blitzed Legia Warsaw 5-2.
That victory saw Maurizio Sarri’s side qualify for the knockout stages with the only perfect record in the group-stages of Europe and the feeling is Napoli are ready to mount a serious challenge at landing a first league title since 1990.
The hosts remain unbeaten at home in Serie A this season, recording six wins on the spin since an opening draw with Sampdoria.
And in all competitions they’ve dispatched each of their last nine guests at the San Paolo.
A tightened defence under Sarri alongside Gonzalo Higuain hitting the best form of his life have helped the Naples outfit on their way. The Argentine hitman has already smashed 14 league goals this season, netting four braces – no other player has netted 2+ goals more times across the top-5 European leagues this season.
Roma have been the main challengers to Juventus over the past two or three years and looked the most obvious and stable candidate to take the vacant crown following Juve’s early season slump. But Rudi Garcia’s charges have lost confidence and momentum and now the French boss is holding onto his job by a knife-edge.
There’s a growing feeling in the Eternal City that Garcia will be a goner after this weekend’s fixture as the capital club arrive with just a solitary win in five and just one clean sheet in 12 league outings.
With Mohammed Salah and Gervinho crocked, goals have been hard to come by too. The Giallorossi haven’t scored a domestic goal from open play since November 8th and head to Napoli without a league win in three on their travels.
The winter break can’t come soon enough for the visitors whose shoddy backline performances and propensity to concede soft goals has left them looking the most vulnerable of the chasing pack. Considering the home side has won this fixture on each of the last eight occasions, there’s plenty of reason to believe Napoli will prove too good on Sunday evening.
But the Partenopei are too short to entertain so take the 23/20 that Higuain scores in a home victory.
Napoli to win and Gonzalo Higuain to score @ 23/20
Villarreal v Real Madrid, Sunday 11 December 19.30, Sky Sports 1
The scars are still there and the wounds haven’t yet healed but at least memories are starting to fade, a little. It’s three weeks since Real Madrid were slaughtered 4-0 by rivals Barcelona on home soil but Los Blancos are doing their best to banish that nightmare with a series of commanding displays.
Rafa Benitez’s boys have registered five successive wins since, smashing 21 goals including eight in a record-equalling Champions League victory over Malmo in midweek. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo shared seven of those eight goals between them and last weekend’s tanking of Getafe saw Gareth Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo all score in a single game for the first time this term.
Real trail table-topping Barca by four points with their cross-city rivals Atletico two points ahead of the 10-time European champions but Benitez will be expecting his side to continue their all-conquering displays on Sunday. The capital club have W7-D3-L0 in their last 10 duels with Villarreal and another positive performance should be on the cards.
Since their win at Athletic, Madrid have alternated wins and no wins away from home in La Liga (W3-D1-L1) but they should be capable of putting away the Yellow Submarine, who’ve suffered their own stumbles of late. A W5-D3-L5 record has stalled their own early season progress but form in front of their home supporters remains strong.
Villarreal have W7-D1-L1 in their last nine at El Madrigal whilst only Barcelona (21) have picked up more points in front of their home supporters this season than the hosts’ tally of 16.
Marcelinho’s men have W5-D1-L1 but kept just one clean sheet in the process.
It’s that vulnerable defensive record that’s likely to be their undoing on Sunday.
Looking further back, the Yellow Submarine have run out winners in 21 of their last 29 contests at home across all competitions. However, they’ve kept just six shutouts in their most recent 19. Taking purely La Liga games into account, Villarreal have W15-D2-L4 as hosts but only kept their sheets clean in three of the most recent 14.
Still, Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu have struck up a decent partnership in attack and Real Madrid are far from the finished article at the back. The guests are struggling with a batch of injuries and so, although they’re the most likely winners, it’d be a surprise if they shut Villarreal out.
A Real Madrid win and Over 2.5 Goals is backable at 3/4 and makes the most appeal. Nine of Los Blancos’ last 10 away fixtures against top-six rivals have delivered three or more goals with half of those matches even proving profitable for Over 3.5 Goals hunters.
Real Madrid to win and Over 2.5 Goals @ 3/4
PSG v Lyon, Sunday 11 December 20.00, BT Sport 2
PSG fielded a surprisingly strong squad for their final Champions League group-game against Shakhtar in midweek. The Parisians ran out comfortable 2-0 winners and were able to preserve their energy for the most part in a fairly routine performance.
Laurent Blanc’s side were already guaranteed second spot in the pool and with European progression secured and top spot in Ligue 1 bolted down, the defending champions have been on cruise control for a number of weeks now.
On Sunday they welcome back the hugely talented Marco Verratti from injury and they’ll be keen to flex their muscles against one of their supposed title challengers.
The hosts are the only team across Europe’s top five leagues to remain unbeaten but their 45-point tally is only the second best record after 17 games – Sunday’s visitors Lyon collected 46 points in 2006/07.
There’ll be more comparisons between the two dominant clubs from each era ahead of the weekend’s match-up, adding a bit of spice to proceedings. So we should be able to rely on the Parisians to put on a beefed-up show; they’ve W23-D3-L0 in their past 26 Ligue 1 games at the Parc des Princes and their 40 goals total at this stage of the campaign is their best ever return from 17 games.
The capital club have W5-D2-L0 when entertaining Lyon in league action, keeping five clean sheets, and with Les Gones still struggling to come close to last season’s levels, I’ll happily back PSG in the Half-Time-Full-Time market at 4/5. It’s a bet that’s landed in 13 of their past 14 on home soil.
Lyon were surprise winners at Valencia in midweek but both goals came against the run of play and with Hubert Fournier’s men already consigned to the bottom of the group pre-match, the victory was of little significance.
More worryingly, striker Alexandre Lacazette picked up an injury and is now a doubt for the trip to Paris and with playmaker Mathieu Valbuena still trying to solve his legal issues from the sex tape scandal, the travellers could be without their two leading offensive threats.
Lyon’s decline began when the Valbuena affair came to light and they’re now winless in four Ligue 1 outings (W0-D1-L3). Les Gones have managed a solitary win in six on the road (W1-D3-L2) at rock bottom Troyes and shouldn’t come close to knocking PSG off their perch on Sunday night.
PSG-PSG Half-Time/Full-Time @ 4/5
*Prices correct at time of publication.