Mark O’Haires European Football Tips – Friday’s Matches


Last season Valencia’s aim was clear and obvious – Champions League football was essential.

Valencia v Granada, Friday 25th September 2015, 19.30, Sky Sports 5
Heavy investment in the squad and club meant Los Che would struggle to cope without the financial gains of competing amongst Europe’s elite. But the Bats achieved their targets by finishing fourth and overcoming Monaco in the qualifiers earlier this season. All good at the Mestalla then…

Not so. On Tuesday night, Valencia suffered only their second La Liga defeat in 22 games at Espanyol and the knives are already out for head coach Nuno Espirito Santo. The Los Che fan base are a notoriously demanding bunch and with supporters bewildered by boardroom wrangling, a bad atmosphere is echoing around the club and filtering it’s way down onto the pitch.

It’s no exaggeration to say, Friday night’s date with Granada is a must-win. The hosts have won just once in league action this term – a late goal at Sporting Gijon – and they’ve only managed two goals in five La Liga fixtures. Valencia failed to breakdown Betis on home soil last weekend and only 28,000 turned up for their Champions League group-stage return against Zenit St Petersburg. The feel-good factor is long gone.

Jose Gaya and Andre Gomes are Nuno’s only injury absentees and with Aymen Abdennour and Shkodran Mustafi providing the defensive platform, you’d assume Los Che have a firm base to play off. They’ve beaten Granada in seven of their last eight meetings but can they turn it on when it matters most?

The visitors arrive on the back of three successive La Liga losses. Jose Sandoval’s side performed admirably at the Bernebeu last weekend but produced an abject display against out-of-sorts Real Sociedad midweek. Doria will be axed from centre-half following his horror-show in that defeat and El Grana will need to stop the bleeding fast – they’ve conceded at least three goals in three of their opening five outings.

Since Nuno arrived at Valencia they’ve returned outstanding W23-D14-L6 figures in league action. That record looks even more eye-catching when taking only Mestalla matches into account W15-D5-L1 – they’ve netted at least twice in 14 of those fixtures, won by two or more goals on 12 occasions and enjoyed W-W double results in 10 encounters in front of their home fans.

I’m certain the wind will change sooner than later and Los Che will finally find their feet in 2015/16. Of the above trends, the -1 handicap represents the best value bet. With a 57% win rate under Nuno in home league games, the equivalent odds should be 3/4 but we’re able to back it at 5/4 on Friday night.

Recommended Bet:
Valencia -1 Handicap @ 5/4

Koln v Ingolstadt, Friday 25th September 2015, 19.30, BT Sport Europe
What a week it’s been for Koln. The Billy Goats earned their first home Rhine-Derby victory over bitter rivals Borussia Monchengladbach in 10 years last weekend and although they were beaten 2-0 in a tough midweek trip to the capital to face Hertha on Tuesday, fans are probably still celebrating their success over Gladbach.

Anyhow, Peter Stöger’s charges are back at the Rhein-Energie Stadion Friday for a Bundesliga battle against newly-promoted Ingolstadt, keen to get their campaign back on track. Koln finished 12th last term and their return to the German top-flight last season was built upon an organised and resolute defence and that’s proving to be the blueprint to emulate by the visitors.

Ingolstadt head coach Ralph Hasenhuttl has taken Die Schanzen from the bottom of the second division to the top-flight, and he has done it by instilling discipline and determination in his troops. Every player knows the system, and every player sticks to the system. Four clean sheets in their first six matches says it all, and FCI have every reason to believe they can avoid the drop in their debut Bundesliga season.

During their victorious 2.Bundesliga campaign, Die Schanzen were beaten just four times as they conceded fewer than one goal-per-game. They were held to draws in eight of their 17 road fixtures with those matches averaging just 2.00 goals-per-game, so it’s difficult to see a high-scoring encounter with two cautious teams who prefer the counter-attack on show.

Koln’s games were the lowest scoring in the league last season and 41% had fewer than two goals, as nine of their matches finished 0-0 and 62% were level at half-time.

That includes five of their 17 Rhein-Energie Stadion matches ending 0-0 and seven banking in the Draw/Draw double result as they settled for a point in all but one of their eight half-time draws at home.

No team scored more than twice in Koln and the only one of their four defeats came by more than the odd goal – of course, that was Bayern Munich. So with only 7/20 (35%) of the Billy Goats’ Bundesliga matches on home soil breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, it’s difficult to envisage anything other than a low-scoring duel, especially when you inspect Ingolstadt’s similar safety-first style. With that in mind, we must oppose a goal-heavy game and a 0-0 half-time correct score is available at 6/4.

Recommended Bet:
Half-time Correct Score 0-0 @ 6/4

Reims v Lille, Friday 25th September 2015, 19.30, BT Sport 2
Reims looked like serious relegation candidates before former player Olivier Guegan was brought in on a fire-fighting mission last season. A spell of one win in 12 gave way to an excellent W3-D1-L3 return from the new boss and Stade stayed up by seven points.

With an encouraging pre-season behind them, Reims have shown no sign of letting up. After matchday seven they sit in third thanks to an excellent W4-D2-L1 return and were even able to come away with a 0-0 draw at Angers on Tuesday despite making wholesale changes – Guegan clearly targeting this clash with Lille.

Stade’s strong home form has proven a strong base for the club since the start of last season. They’ve suffered just eight losses in 22 outings at the Stade Auguste Delaune and have already held PSG to a draw on home soil. And like 2014/15, goals continue to be a trend – last term they managed only nine clean sheets, conceding a remarkable 66 goals. This time around they’ve managed just two shutouts with four fixtures already seeing Both Teams To Score bank.

Visitors Lille are Under 2.5 Goals specialists. All bar one of their matches since Herve Renard arrived in the summer have seen BTTS or Under 2.5 Goals backers collect and their less than expansive game plan resulted in 24/38 Under 2.5 Goals games last season. Sure, plenty of personnel have changed in the off-season but early indicators suggest double African Cup of Nations winning coach Renard is keen to build from the back, like his predecessor.

Reims have scored more than once in only three of their first seven but conceded two or more goals against PSG only. Since the start of last season, Lille have netted twice or more on their travels just three times and leaked more than once on only eight occasions. The duo have both drawn their last three Ligue 1 encounters and so a small poke on the Draw and Under 2.5 Goals at a handsome 12/5 appeals.

Recommended Bet:
Draw and Under 2.5 Goals @ 12/5

*Prices correct at time of publication