Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday
Juventus took a major step towards a fifth successive Serie A title last weekend having extended their league at the top of the Italian standings to six points.
Milan v Juventus, Saturday 9 April 19.45, BT Sport 1
The Old Lady laboured to a 1-0 success over Empoli on Saturday night, leaving the pressure on Napoli to reduce that advantage with a positive result at free-falling Udinese on Sunday.
Udinese had taken just seven points from a possible 36 to tumble towards the relegation zone and the hosts had scored fewer goals (26) collectively than Gonzalo Higuain (29) had managed on his own.
But with Pepe Reina injured and Higuain arriving back from international duty late, Napoli looked drained and jaded. Kalidou Koulibaly and Faouzi Ghoulam gave away two sloppy penalties inside the opening half-hour and it set the tone for a miserable Sunday.
Only one of those penalties was scored and Maurizio Sarri’s men did draw level but conceded again in first-half injury time and never did manage to recover. In fact, the Neapolitans went into self-destruct mode as Higuain was sent off and Udinese piled on the misery.
Juventus now need to lose twice in their remaining seven matches to allow their rivals any opportunity to pull level. When you consider that the Bianconeri have dropped a total of two points in their last 21 Serie A fixtures (W20-D1-L0), such a scenario starts to look rather improbable.
Max Allegri’s men have proven unbeatable and invincible on domestic shores since October.
With Gigi Buffon breaking clean sheet records, the Bianconeri have shipped just 16 goals across the campaign – comfortably the lowest tally in the division.
It’s true, against Empoli last weekend Juve enjoyed just 42% of the ball against opponents that hadn’t won since 10th January. But the visitors to the at J-Stadium rarely threatened to pull level after Mario Mandzukic had headed the hosts in front at the end of the first-half.
So the table-toppers head into this weekend’s action in rude health and having already succeeded in each of their last seven against hosts Milan – including each of their most recent two trips to San Siro – and holding a W9-D2-L1 head-to-head advantage over the past 12, another triumph could be on the cards.
Milan marked the sad passing of club legend Cesare Maldini with a dreadful 2-1 defeat in Bergamo against Atalanta, a result that has only escalated rumours that head coach Sinisa Mihajlovic will be sacked this summer.
The Serbian hasn’t seen eye-to-eye with the Rossoneri hierarchy since joining in the off-season and a two-point return from a possible 12 (W0-D2-L2) has left the Italian giants floundering in fifth.
The Rossoneri haven’t enjoyed their encounters with Juventus in recent years and appear to be ailing towards the campaign’s conclusion. With Juve delivering knockout blows in 10 of their last 11 road trips, I’ll take the Old Lady at 21/20 to win and take a step closer to yet another Scudetto.
Juventus to win @ 21/20
Real Sociedad v Barcelona, Saturday 9 April 19.30, Sky Sports 5
Barcelona’s record-breaking 39-match (W32-D7-L0) unbeaten run came to a juddering halt last weekend as arch-rivals Real Madrid pinched a 2-1 triumph at the Camp Nou in the Clasico.
But Luis Enrique’s men resumed normal service in midweek when coming from behind to take a 2-1 first leg Champions League quarter-final lead against Atletico Madrid in a pulsating encounter.
The return fixture in Madrid is scheduled for Wednesday night but sandwiched between the two ties is a tricky trip to Real Sociedad. The Blaugrana are hunting back-to-back trebles and although another La Liga crown is all but secured, the Catalans will be keen not to giveaway further ground to the chasing pack.
Barcelona have W0-D1-L1 in their last two domestic dates – not since May 2014 have they failed to record a victory in three games on the spin – and head to the Basque Country without the suspended Luis Suarez. Munir should take the Uruguayan’s place in attack with Arda Turan and Sergi Roberto expected to rotate into the starting XI here.
Suarez’s absence is a blow but with Lionel Messi and Neymar still available to headline the visitors’ front-three, the Catalans should in theory come out of this content unscathed. The visitors have scored at least twice in each of their last seven away games, returned W8-D3-L0 in their most recent 11 La Liga road trips and avoided defeat in 18 games as guests outside of the Camp Nou.
But it could well be a bumpy ride for Barca, who haven’t the happiest memories of Sociedad’s home. The San Sebastian-side may have been thumped 4-0 in Catalonia earlier this campaign but when welcoming the European champions to Anoeta, La Real have W4-D2-L0 in their past six encounters.
Taking La Liga results on their own, Sociedad have seen off the Catalans in each of their last three meetings in the north of Spain.
Eusebio’s men will also be full of confidence after surprising Sevilla 2-1 last week.
Markel Bergara’s opener and an own goal from Grzegorz Krychowiak earned the points, ending Sevilla’s incredible 17-match winning run in all competitions at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, although Bergara was then sent off midway through the second half and is suspended for Saturday’s clash.
Nevertheless, the Txuri-Urdin outfit have Inigo Martinez fit and available and although a lengthy absentee list could hamper their prospects in taking maximum points here, the hosts have a knack for goals when welcoming the league’s elite.
La Real have failed to keep their sheets clean in six but since 2010/11, the Basques have only been silenced in 11/55 clashes with top-half clubs at Anoeta, with 31/55 (56%) featuring winning Both Teams To Score bets.
During Luis Enrique’s reign, Barcelona have W24-D6-L4 when playing away in La Liga but it’s now only three shutouts in 13 and three clean sheets in 10 games on their travels since early January.
Suarez’s suspension, a weak head-to-head record and a crucial Champions League contest on the horizon are reasons enough to bypass a bet on Barcelona and instead I’ll take the 8/11 on offer for Both Teams To Score.
Both Teams To Score @ 8/11
Wolfsburg v Mainz, Saturday 9 April, 17.30 BT Sport Europe
Last weekend Wolfsburg produced arguably their worst performance of the season when being comfortably beaten 3-0 at Leverkusen. The result left Dieter Hecking’s men in eighth in the Bundesliga and out of the running for a Champions League qualification position.
The Wolves had taken just a solitary point from a possible nine ahead after the Champions League draw pitted the Lower Saxony side with Real Madrid and many staunch supporters feared the worst when Los Blancos pitched up on Wednesday night.
But Wolfsburg rallied superbly and took advantage of Madrid’s arrogance to complete a wonderful 2-0 win at the Volkswagen Arena. So can that positive result rub off on their ailing league form this weekend? Possibly.
Since the start of last season, the Wolves have won 21/31 (68%) of their league fixtures at the VW.
That includes seven of their past 10 when welcoming top-six teams. So should the hosts be trading at 23/20 odds on the back of that supreme midweek result?
Sixth-placed Mainz are no easy cookie to crack and bar a shock success away to Bayern Munich, have largely returned par or below-par displays when on their travels. Since Martin Schmidt arrived on the scene, the O-Fivers have W7-D4-L9 as guests, firing blanks in 9/20 (45%).
Current Bundesliga form suggests not but the longer-term trends make Wolfsburg a great value bet to deliver a much-needed and overdue victory on Saturday evening at 23/20.
Wolfsburg to win @ 23/20
*Prices correct at time of publication.