Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday

The planet’s biggest club match takes place on Saturday night and the latest version of El Clasico promises to be another humdinger of a tie.

Real Madrid v Barcelona, Saturday 21st November 2015, 17.15, Sky Sports 2
Real Madrid and Barcelona are bitter rivals in every sense of the word – footballing, political and ideological and the price of collecting maximum points from the weekend’s contest could well open or close the La Liga title race.

Real’s defeat at Sevilla just before the international break means they trail Barcelona by three points and defeat in front of their home fans at the Bernebeu could have dire consequences for Rafa Benitez’s boys. Should the Catalans collect a victory, they’d hold a six-point advantage with trips to both Madrid clubs, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Celta all out the way before December.

Conversely, a win for Los Blancos would send Madrid back to the top of the table and with the hosts having W19-D3-L0 in their last 22 La Liga fixtures at HQ (and just one goal against in five this season), Real shouldn’t be written off.

Despite the criticisms of Benitez in the aftermath of Real’s Sevilla loss, the former Liverpool boss has made the capital club a more rounded, stable and balanced side. He’ll have been boosted by the news that both Keylor Navas and Sergio Ramos are fit but his major quandary remains over the inclusion (or not) of a fully fit James Rodriguez.

Casemiro’s filled the defensive midfield role excellently for the hosts this term but James’ return would see Toni Kroos shift back into his unfavoured holding role and the Colombian lining up alongside Luka Modric. It’s a wonderfully exciting sight but Los Blancos would lose the balance and stability that cost them so dearly in last season’s biggest matches under Carlo Ancelotti.

In attack, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will be chomping at the bit but question marks remain over Karim Benzema’s mental state. Could the Frenchman’s off-field distractions leave him undercooked when his club need him most? Perhaps.

Interestingly, Real have W2-D1-L4 in their last seven La Liga matches when welcoming their most hated opponents and in all competitions that record reads a paltry W3-D3-L6. But can we back the Catalans considering they’ve already been beaten at Celta and Sevilla and could be without Lionel Messi from the start?

The Argentine magician has been out of action for eight weeks and although he’s returned to full training, is unlikely to be in peak condition to play 90 minutes. Nevertheless, Barca have got by without him as Neymar and Luis Suarez have combined magnificently to keep the Bluagrana ticking along nicely, netting each of Barcelona’s last 17 goals.

With the two teams displaying signs of vulnerability and fragility, our best option is to avoid the Match Odds market and dip into a goals-based bet. The Clasico rarely lets punters down when it comes to goals and the last 18 have delivered winning Both Teams To Score bets.

BTTS is understandably short but there are options elsewhere.

Four of the last six head-to-heads have actually seen the Both Teams To Score selection bank inside the first-half and a repeat can be snapped up at a juicy 12/5.

Barca have leaked before the interval in seven games already this season whilst Madrid have done so in each of their last two. We’ll stick BTTS in the first-half down as a nice starter.

Of those aforementioned 18 fixtures, 16 broke the Over 2.5 Goals barrier and nine also reached Over 3.5 Goals. With a 50% success rate, even-money on Over 3.5 Goals is what we should be expecting, so the 6/5 on offer represents fantastic value and should be taken as our main course play on Saturday night.


Recommended Bets:
Both Teams To Score In First-Half @ 12/5
Over 3.5 Goals @ 6/5

Schalke v Bayern Munich, Saturday 21st November 2015, 17.30, BT Sport 1
Bayern Munich’s tally of 34 points from their opening 12 games is a new Bundesliga record but it’s their goal difference of +33 that really blows the mind when reviewing the Bavarians’ form across the first three-and-a-half months of league action.

However, Pep Guardiola’s men haven’t proven quite as prolific or ruthless on the road and that goal difference reduces to just +8 when viewing Bayern’s away fixtures. The visitors have conceded just once on their travels but the partnership of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller has already yielded 25 league goals, making the defending champions an almost immovable object.

FC Hollywood haven’t lost to Schalke since 2010 with their last nine league meetings recording an aggregate 25-4 in favour of Bayern. Indeed, since Manuel Neuer left the Royal Blues for Munich, he’s never lost to his former side (W6-D2-L0) and whilst we all expect another victory, it may take the all-conquering travellers time to get over the line.

Bayern have been level at half-time in all bar two of their most recent 11 away days at top-six rivals and whilst Schalke have only W0-D3-L3 in their last six (W1-D1-L3 in the Bundesliga), Andre Breitenreiter’s men can protect themselves from total humiliation by displaying a repeat of the dogged and high-spirited performances we’ve been accustomed to under the young coach’s watch.

Backing Draw-Bayern in the Half-Time/Full-Time market at 29/10 holds plenty of appeal, especially when consider Douglas Costa could miss out through injury for the dominating visitors.

Recommended Bet:
Draw-Bayern Munich @ 29/10

Juventus v AC Milan, Saturday 21st November 2015, 19.45, BT Sport 1
Milan start the match a place above champions Juventus in the Serie A table but that status may well be reversed by the final whistle in Turin. Milan have been ticking along nicely against mid-table teams but they have lost to high-flying Fiorentina, Inter and Napoli and could be outclassed by a Juve side that have won their last three home games.

By their standards, Juve have endured a horrific first few months of the season with the Bianconeri going from near invincible Scudetto winners to mid-table mediocrity in the space of few months. There have however been signs of life from the Old Lady of late and there is feeling that they can still be a factor in the Scudetto race this season as they work their way back up the table.

Juve have won each of their last five Serie A clashes against Milan but never secured six on the spin in the league. Trailing the league leaders by nine points, there are no margins for error for Max Allegri’s men but wins in 12 of their last 14 encounters at home to top-six clubs should ensure the Turin club are confident of picking up another crucial victory.

Milan have been beaten in five of their previous eight at top-half teams but do enter this clash on the back of a five-match unbeaten streak (W3-D2-L0). Despite criticisms from the Rossoneri support, Sinisa Mihajlovic appears to have found the right approach with his team who’ve looked sharp and incisive when playing on the counter-attack.

Although I don’t see the visitors winning (Juve have lost one home league game in 53), they can cause problems on Saturday night. Alessio Cerci, Luiz Adriano and Carlos Bacca are a match for any defence and a recent 3-1 win at Lazio in Rome showcased what’s possible when everything clicks into gear.

Neither side has impressed in the defensive stakes this season – together they’ve managed just four clean sheets in 24 Serie A fixtures –

and so a play on Both Teams To Score looks well worth considering at 11/10.

It’s paid out in four of the last five head-to-head tussles in Turin whilst the hosts have only failed to net once in 56 home league outings.

And as I’ve already suggested, I believe Juventus will show their teeth and ultimately claim maximum points. So rather than back the 4/7, add BTTS into the equation and we can back a home win and Both Teams To Score at a bulbous 3/1.

Recommended Bets:
Both Teams To Score @ 11/10
Juventus to win and Both Teams To Score @ 3/1

*Prices correct at time of publication