Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday


This fixture has decided the fate of the La Liga title race in the past two seasons and Saturday’s contest looks as pivotal as ever.

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid, Saturday 30th January 2016, 15.00
Both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid hold a four-point advantage over Real Madrid and know victory here would give them a comfortable cushion as we begin the final four months of 2015/16.

The Catalans arrive on the back of two fairly stale performances. Last weekend an atrocious first-half display saw Luis Enrique’s side lucky to be level with Malaga at the interval. Lionel Messi’s smart volleyed finish after the break secured the points but the Bluagrana were far from impressive.

And on Tuesday night, Barca were made to work hard to grind out a Copa del Rey quarter-final second leg success over Athletic Bilbao. With three games against the Basques, two cup ties against city rivals Espanyol plus a trip to bogey team Malaga already this calendar year, are Barcelona looking jaded?

The hosts’ slow starts certainly suggest so. And that means there’s an opportunity to find a betting angle based upon the Catalans’ creaky first-half showings.

Barca are unbeaten in 18 La Liga matches at the Camp Nou (W16-D2-L0), scoring an average of 3.44 goals-per-game.

But interestingly, this season they’ve scored only 13 of their 38 goals on home soil before the interval – in total the figure stands at just 17 of their 52 goals.

Atleti were stunned 3-2 at home to Celta Vigo in the midweek Copa del Rey clash and Diego Simeone will be determined to put those wrongs right here. His troops have been level at the break in eight of their most recent 11 games across all competitions and I reckon they can follow suit on Saturday.

We can back the visitors in the Half-Time Handicap market with a +1 start at 7/10 and that looks a little on the large side. The Mattress Makers have seen their defence breached just eight times in 21 fixtures – the best record of any major European club.

Atleti have ground out nine clean sheets in their last 11 league encounters and Barca are the only side in Spain to score more than once against them in La Liga. With five of their last six games being scoreless after 45 minutes, a repeat 0-0 half-time correct score is 9/5 and looks a tastier option when opposing a goal-heavy first-half.

Simeone’s side will sit deep, surrender possession and look to pounce on the counter-attack – they enjoyed just 30% of the ball in the September showdown – but Luis Enrique’s team know exactly what to expect. It tends to take time to unlock the Atletico backdoor and I expect that to be the case on Saturday.

Recommended Bet:
Half-Time Correct Score 0-0 @ 9/5

Roma v Frosinone, Saturday 30th January 2016, 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Roma were top of the Serie A tree at the end of October but a rotten run of results saw the Giallorossi slide down the standings and sack head coach Rudi Garcia.

Veteran tactician Luciano Spalletti was brought back to revive the capital club’s fortunes and after a disappointing draw at home to winless Verona, Wolves’ supporters were hoping the new man could land a big fish by beating Juventus in last weekend’s headline match.

Spalletti fielded a 3-4-1-2 formation with Daniele De Rossi slotting into the centre of defence. Roma left the ball to their opponents and focused on making sure that Juve had few openings to exploit. The unadventurous approach appeared to be working to a tee.

Wojciech Szczesny was untested until the 69th minute but just when the match seemed to be drifting towards an inevitable draw, Paolo Dybala rewrote the narrative and the Old Lady had snatched a 1-0 goal victory. The Wolves now look dead and buried in the title race.

A sequence of four games without a win has seen Saturday’s hosts fall six points adrift of the top-three but they can resume their quest for Champions League qualification with a comfortable win over second-bottom Frosinone in the capital.

Frosinone have taken just two points from a possible 30 on the road although both were secured against teams in the current top-eight. Nevertheless, the guests have lost by at least two goals in six of their 10 road trips, leaking at least twice in each of their most recent five away days.

Roma will require Edin Dzeko to bounce back into form sooner than later – he’s failed to score from open play since doing so in the 2-1 win over these same opponents back in August – and with the Giallorossi recording victories by a two-goal margin or better in seven of their last 12 when hosting promoted teams, Spalletti’s side should be capable of repeating that feat here.

We can back Roma off a -1 handicap at 8/11 and that looks the best option to take for Saturday’s Stadio Olimpico showdown.

Recommended Bet:
Roma -1 Handicap @ 8/11

Stuttgart v Hamburg, Saturday 30th January 2016, 17.30, BT Sport Europe
Finally Stuttgart seem to have found the right balance between a gung-ho attack and a shoddy, unorganised defence.

Alexander Zorninger’s haphazard approach saw him sacked after picking up just 0.80 points-per-game but the calming influence of Jürgen Kramny has brought a degree of confidence and results to the VFB camp.

Krammy’s overseen an upturn in performances and under his watch Stuttgart have collected 1.60 points-per-game including back-to-back Bundesliga victories for the first time this season.

Indeed, the five-match unbeaten streak is their best return since February 2013.

The relegation battlers can continue their good run of results and enhance their survival prospects by beating Hamburg at the Mercedes-Benz Arena. VFB have beaten the northerners in seven of their last 10 as hosts and impressed in dispatching Koln 3-1 last Saturday.

Bruno Labbadia’s visitors performed well in a 2-1 loss to Bayern Munich but HSV have now managed just a solitary point from 12 – their longest winless streak since Labbadia returned to the job (W0-D1-L3) – and with only four sides firing in fewer shots-on-target, they may not have the firepower to match their hosts.

Stuttgart’s performance data suggests they’re a top-half team in the making and Krammy’s tweaks have cemented that assumption so take the Swabians at even-money to make it three wins on the spin this Saturday.

Recommended Bet:
Stuttgart to win @ Evens

*Prices correct at time of publication