Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday’s Matches


When former bank manager Mauricio Sarri agreed to take over at Napoli, he’d have known what he was getting himself in for.

Napoli v Juventus, Saturday 26th September 2015, 19.45, BT Sport Europe
The intense pressure and spotlight of Serie A was on him from the off, supporters were disgruntled a bigger name hadn’t been brought in and there was a rather underwhelming reaction to his appointment.

But that’s harsh. Rafa Benitez left the club with only a Coppa Italia and an Italian Super Cup to his name despite large swathes of cash being spent and the Partenopei finishing a full 24 points behind Scudetto champions Juventus in each of their past two campaigns. Sarri performed superbly to keep Empoli in the top-flight following promotion on a shoestring budget whilst also playing some cracking football.

However, Napoli still appear to be in a state of constant flux. Their two-points haul from their first three games was their worst start to a top-flight campaign since 2000/01 but three successive clean sheets since shows progress. But after 5-0 demolitions of Club Brugge and Lazio at the San Paolo, Sarri’s side were held to a goalless draw at tiny Carpi. It’s two steps forward and one step back. They’ll certainly need to up their game for Saturday night’s clash against their old rivals Juve.

The Old Lady’s 2-1 win at Manchester City in the Champions League appeared to have kick-started their campaign but a midweek draw at home to Frosinone has once again raised serious question marks. Still, it’s hard not to believe the Bianconeri won’t take advantage of the Partenopei’s famed defensive woes.

Since the start of 2009/10 these two teams have met on 16 occasions and those head-to-heads have produced a huge 57 goals at an average of 3.56 goals-per-game.

Unsurprisingly, 12 of the 16 games featured Over 2.5 Goals and that again looks the best route of attack at 11/10.

The hosts have seen 12 of their last 13 league games feature three goals or more, netting at least twice in 11 of those outings. Unfortunately, the Partenopei have also leaked two goals or more in nine of their most recent 12 Serie A battles.

At the San Paolo, Napoli have scored in all bar one of their 21 fixtures since the start of last season. However, they’ve only managed six clean sheets in that time and Over 3.5 Goals have been recorded in six of the last 11 fixtures taking place in Naples. It all adds up to a goal-filled game on the peninsula.

Recommended Bet:
Over 2.5 Goals @ 11/10

Villarreal v Atletico Madrid, Saturday 26 September 2015, 19.30, Sky Sports 2
Just three years ago Villarreal were competing in the Spanish second-tier but under the astute leadership of Marcelinho, the Yellow Submarine have returned to the top-flight with a bang. Successive sixth-placed finishes have brought a return to European competition and consolidation amongst La Liga’s big-hitters. And the Yellows have made a fabulous start to 2015/16.

Wednesday night’s 1-0 success at goal-shy Malaga lifted Marcelinho’s men level on points at the top of the table (W4-D1-L0) and suddenly dreams of a top-four finish are coming back into sight. Roberto Soldado’s picked up where he left off in Spain to help fire Saturday night’s hosts up top whilst Cedric Bakambu’s made an immediate impact from Turkey.

Still, Villarreal did finish a full 16 points off fifth-placed Sevilla last season and it’s probably worth pointing out that the men from within the Valencian community are yet to really be tested – four of their five opponents are languishing in the bottom half of the league so Saturday’s meeting with Atletico Madrid should tell us much more about the Yellow Submarine’s prospects.

Villarreal will certainly fancy their chances of an upset. Marcelinho’s charges have W23-D7-L10 at El Madrigal since returning to the top-flight but that record reads W6-D3-L9 when entertaining top-half teams. Last term the Yellow Submarine were sunk in front of their home fans by the top-five as they failed to even net in four of those outings.

Unfussy Atletico have only been stopped by Barcelona as Diego Simeone plots another charge on the Spanish title and assault on Champions League glory. When we exclude Barcelona or Real Madrid from the Mattress Makers’ road trips under the Argentine, Atleti have W11-D8-L7. Last season they managed just W2-D3-L2 against the same standard of opposition.

It’s by no means perfect nor mightily impressive but the capital club are effective operators under Simeone’s watch. They’ll scrap and fight for every ball, are defensively sound and as I’ve mentioned before, now have the tools to play dangerous counter-attacking football once more. The visitors have already won away in Sevilla and are worth siding with at 7/10 in the Draw No Bet market.

Recommended Bet:
Atletico Madrid Draw No Bet @ 7/10

Hamburg v Schalke, Saturday 26th September 2015, 19.30, BT Sport Europe
Well, this is weird. Hamburg have kept clean sheets in their last three Bundesliga games. The last time the Dinosaur achieved that feat? 2007. Yep, eight years ago.

HSV have maintained their record as the only team to play in every season of the Bundesliga since its foundation in 1963 by the skin of their teeth in the past two seasons but having gone through seven coaches during those two campaigns, Bruno Labbadia appears to have finally found some stability with the Red Shorts.

Brought in with six games to play in 2014/15, Labbadia oversaw three wins before the dramatic play-off survival. Those matches saw Hamburg score nine times and given they’d scored just seven times in their previous 14 matches, the new man made an immediate impact. Now at the helm for 12 games, Hamburg have W6-D2-L4 and are up in sixth after matchday six.

HSV remain unbeaten at the Volksparkstadion under Labbadia (W3-D2-L0) and their home form has remained fairly constant, even through the tough times. The Dinosaur W3-D4-L2 when hosting top-half clubs last season and did manage five shutouts and just 18 goals against in front of their home fans. The arrivals of Emir Spahic and Albin Ekdal have certainly aided their efforts and suddenly Hamburg no longer look like the crisis club of the Bundesliga.

Saturday evening’s opposition Schalke have been through turmoil themselves in recent seasons. Roberto Di Matteo presided over their worst season since 2010/11 last year with Royal Blues supporters bored silly with his dull, underwhelming style of football. The Gelsenkirchen club’s games averaged just 2.41 goals-per-game last term.

Andre Breitenreiter has been brought in with the aim to make Schalke a more entertaining side to watch and return the Royal Blues back to Champions League competition. The fallen giants certainly appear more rounded under their new boss and three consecutive Bundesliga victories have lifted the club to third (W4-D1-L1).

Traditionally poor on their travels (W3-D4-L10 last season), Schalke have managed two wins from three on the road this time around. However, they were pitiful at Wolfsburg and only survived with three points at Stuttgart thanks to a Man of the Match display from goalkeeper Ralf Fuhrman.

The visitors have been chalked up as favourites for this encounter and I’m not sure that does justice to the progression made by Hamburg under Labbadia. I still need convincing Schalke are the real deal on the road so taking Hamburg in the Double Chance market at 6/10 looks a wise and safe solution.

Recommended Bet:
Hamburg-Draw Double Chance @ 6/10

*Prices correct at time of publication