Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday


So Pep Guardiola IS joining Manchester City next season.

Bayer Leverkusen v Bayern Munich, Saturday 6th February 2016, 17.30, BT Sport Europe
We’ve known for a long while now that Bayern Munich’s boss was leaving Bavaria at the end of the current campaign and to be fair, the switch to the Citizens was one of football’s worst kept secrets.

But will it affect FC Hollywood’s relentless pursuit of the treble? I’d vigorously reject that notion with regards to Pep himself but what about his players? Could they take their eyes off the prize? It’s a question I can’t definitively answer but I’d happily speculate their focus may be compromised, if ever so slightly.

This Saturday evening Bayern travel to the BayArena, a venue they failed to score at in two previous visits during the Roger Schmidt era. In fact, all four of the previous Schmidt v Guardiola battles in domestic German action have been fabulously close encounters.

Bayern hold a W2-D1-L1 upper hand but in this season’s showdown at the Allianz Arena, two of their three goals (3-0) were penalties and Leverkusen had opportunities to hurt the champions. The guests that day landed four shots-on-target compared to Bayern’s six.

But at the BayArena last season, Leverkusen were without doubt the better team. Die Werkself won the DFB Pokal clash, landing eight efforts on-target and out-shooting their opposition 18-7, whilst the league meeting ended scoreless despite Schmidt’s side again winning the shot count 14-7.

Schmidt, a lower division player of modest achievements, took on his first management job as part-time coach of the sixth division Delbrücker SC while he was working as an engineer processing raw materials and working in quality control for a car-parts manufacturer in Paderborn in 2005.

The self-taught coach enjoyed a rapid rise to the top and his system of collective ball hunting and high-pressing has given many a side nightmares. Few teams are as thrilling to watch as a Leverkusen on their day and Bayer believe they’re well capable of toppling the Munich juggernaut this weekend.

I give them a good chance of upsetting the odds too. They were fabulous at the Camp Nou in the Champions League earlier this season, not far off taking a deserved point – even a victory. And despite Pep’s obvious achievements, FC Hollywood haven’t convinced against the biggest Bundesliga clubs on the road during his tenure.

When visiting top-six sides under Pep, Bayern have W6-D3-L3. Since the start of last season, those figures return a rather soft W2-D2-L3 – remember Gladbach rolling them over before Christmas with an inspiring, all-action performance?

Across the same sample, Leverkusen have W6-D1-L1 when welcoming top-six clubs to the BayArena

…and against struggling Hoffenheim and Hannover this calendar year they’ve looked fresh, mean and hungry.

So with Jerome Boateng, Javi Martinez, Medhi Benatia and Rafinha missing in the away defence, Die Werkself look a decent value bet with a +1 handicap at 6/5 this weekend.

Recommended Bet:
Bayer Leverkusen +1 Handicap @ 6/5

Athletic Bilbao v Villarreal, Saturday 6th February 2016, 19.30, Sky Sports 5
Athletic Bilbao take on Villarreal for the fourth time this term on Saturday night and the value is most certainly with the Basque hosts.

Les Leones proved too strong in both Copa del Rey encounters last month despite resting numerous big-hitters and Ernesto Valverde’s team are beginning to motor after a slow start tot the season.

Athletic took just three points from their first 15, including losing away to Villarreal, but have bitten back impressively.

Their next 17 La Liga outings returned W9-D4-L4 with 17 points from a possible 21 taken at their San Mames home.

When welcoming top-half teams that aren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, the Basques have W8-D6-L2 under Valverde and I reckon they can enhance that record here. However, I’m going to chuck Both Teams To Score into the mix and take the hunky 31/10 odds on offer.

A whopping 12/16 (75%) of those games against top-half clubs (excluding Barca and Real) have featured both sides scoring whilst only Sporting Gijon, Levante and Malaga have fired blanks at Athletic’s Basque home in 2015/16.

Only four teams have landed fewer on-target attempts on their travels than Villarreal but the Yellow Submarine still boast enough capable goal-getters in attacking areas to take advantage of Bilbao’s porous backline.

Under Marcelinho’s watch, Villarreal have scored in 10 of their 16 visits to top-half teams when excluding the big-two, with exactly half of those encounters landing for BTTS backers.

Recommended Bet:
Athletic Bilbao To Win and Both Teams To Score @ 31/10

Bologna v Fiorentina, Saturday 6th February 2016, 17.00, BT Sport 1
Bologna began life back in Serie A with a wretched return of eight defeats from their first 10 matches. The experienced Delio Rossi, who’d guided the Rossoblu back to the big time, was duly dismissed.

Former Italian national team boss Roberto Donadoni was appointed and his first initiative was to channel Al Pacino’s “Inches” speech from the movie Any Given Sunday, to keep Bologna’s season alive and the players inspired.

Immediately, the Greyhounds raced back into life. With just six points from a possible 30 under Delio Rossi, Donadoni’s team had equalled that tally in his first two fixtures – a 3-0 rout of Atalanta was followed by a 2-0 win away to Verona. Not bad for a club whose only previous successes had arrived by one-goal margins over fellow newly-promoted sides Carpi and Frosinone.

The man who’d kept coaxing out gritty performances from a Parma side that hadn’t been paid in months last season has lead Bologna into the top-half of the Serie A table.

The 23 points Bologna had accrued in 12 rounds under his tutelage had only been bettered by the top-two- Juventus (36) and Napoli (29) before Wednesday night’s loss at lowly Frosinone.

Donadoni opted to rest and rotate in midweek, starting his two most effective offensive players Mattia Destro and Emanuele Giaccherini on the bench. Expect both in-form forwards to return to ranks on Saturday night as the Rossoblu prepare to take on Fiorentina.

La Viola’s purple patch – W9-D0-L3 from their first 12 – has given way to a run of W5-D3-L3 and Paolo Sousa’s side were forced to scrape a last-minute winner at home to Carpi on Wednesday night. Nevertheless, trailing pace-setters Napoli by eight points now, Fiorentina’s title challenge looks as good as over.

The visitors have W1-D1-L4 on the road to teams in the top-12 positions so they’re certainly not guaranteed to produce the goods at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara on Saturday but I do fancy La Viola to play their part in a goal-heavy game.

Over 2.5 Goals is offered at 21/20 and that seems very generous when you compare and contrast the two clubs’ recent performances.

For example, Bologna have beaten the goals line in six of their past seven on home soil, notching at least twice in six of those contests and leaking two or more goals in five of their most recent six at the Renato Dall’Ara.

Fiorentina haven’t proven quite as profitable when playing away but they’ve only twice failed to find the back of the net and since the start of last season, 17/30 (57%) of their road trips have delivering winning Over 2.5 Goals bets.

Neither side have looked watertight in recent weeks and with the two head coaches preferring to play on the front foot, we should be in for an enjoyable encounter and with a decent value goals-based bet to cheer on too.

Recommended Bet:
Over 2.5 Goals @ 21/20

*Prices correct at time of publication