Soccer – UEFA Champions League – Final – Juventus v Barcelona – Olympiastadion

Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Sunday

La Liga is often branded ‘boring’ and ‘uncompetitive’ but Spain’s top tier is once again shaping up to be one of the most thrilling and exciting title races across Europe.

Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao, Sunday 17 January 2016 19.30, Sky Sports 4
Barcelona’s stumbles have allowed Atletico Madrid to lead the way in 2016 and Luis Enrique’s club world champions will be determined to keep pace with their capital foes by overcoming Athletic Bilbao on Sunday evening.

The Catalans have won this fixture in each of the last 11 seasons now and whilst there’s accusations the Bluagrana have gone off the boil of late, Barca have still managed to churn out a 21-game unbeaten run across all competitions.

The hosts have scored in each of their past 17 La Liga outings at the Camp Nou, averaging 3.29 goals-per-game.

They have kept seven clean sheets in nine and won by at least two goals in 11 of their last 15 when hosting league action.

At the Camp Nou, Luis Enrique’s men have shutout four of their last five visitors and I like the idea of backing Barcelona to do just that once more when overcoming their Basque guests.

Athletic failed to net in any of their six games at top-six finishers in 2014/15 and Ernesto Valverde’s troops have already lost out in four of their five visits to top-seven sides this season, scoring just three goals in five matches.

Les Leones have only suffered a single reverse in five but this weekend they travel without the suspended Aritz Aduriz, scorer of 22 goals in 29 appearances in 2015/16, and that could prove a crushing blow.

Athletic have had L-L double results in all bar three of their previous 10 away days against Barcelona or Real Madrid and I expect the dominating hosts to extend their winning streak over Bilbao without conceding a goal.

The home win ‘to nil’ is backable at 3/4.

Recommended Bet:
Barcelona to win to nil @ 3/4

Milan v Fiorentina, Sunday 17 January 2016 19.45, BT Sport 1
Milan meet Fiorentina in what should be a sumptuous encounter on Sunday evening from the San Siro. It’s a fixture the Rossoneri tend to struggle in and I see no reason why this weekend’s showdown will be any different.

Curiously, Milan have only W1-D4-L5 in their last nine head-to-heads with La Viola, picking up a solitary point from a possible 12 when hosting the Tuscans. In fact, the last time the Italian giants scored more than once against Fiorentina was 2006.

Sinisa Mihajlovic is said to be under intense pressure to keep his position as head coach of the Rossoneri, a role he was only appointed to during the summer. And a big improvement will be required on home soil where the hosts have W1-D2-L1 in their last four, leaking in each of their last three.

Milan did hold Roma to a draw last weekend but they remain 10 points adrift of the Champions League qualifying positions and come up against a Fiorentina side eager to sweep last week’s memories aside.

La Viola were surprisingly beaten at home by out-of-sorts Lazio – the Romans were direct and full of pace and fully deserved the points. But Paolo Sousa’s guests have travelled well this term and have now claimed victory in five of their nine away days and opened the scoring in 11 of their last 12 road trips.

Fiorentina have actually led in 15 Serie A matches in 2015/16 and for more minutes (845) than any of their divisional rivals.

With Josip Ilicic in electrifying form, La Viola deserve our support off to get their Scudetto challenge back up and running.

But rather than back the straight away success, chuck in Over 2.5 Goals to the equation for a mouthwatering 4/1 proposition. The Tuscans have notched in 26 successive league games- a club record – and seen Both Teams To Score backers collect in all bar three of their away days in 2015/16.

BTTS has also proven profitable in three of Milan’s last four and together the two teams are averaging more than three goals in well over 50% of their corresponding home/away outings. It should be a goal-filled cracker but I’ll trust Fiorentina to depart with maximum points.

Recommended Bet:
Fiorentina to win and Over 2.5 Goals @ 4/1

St Etienne v Lyon, Sunday 17 January 2016 20.00, BT Sport 2
Sunday night sees the 100th Ligue 1 edition of the Derby Rhône-Alpes and things couldn’t be much tighter between the two teams with 36 wins for St Etienne, 33 for Lyon and 30 draws.

However, it’s Lyon who have monopolised this fixture in recent years and their record of only three league losses to St Etienne (W17-D11-L3), including only one reverse in 15 (W8-D6-L1) at Les Verts’ Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, gives Les Gones the upper hand.

The visitors began life under Bruno Genesio with a comfortable and expected victory over basement boys Troyes last weekend but Lyon did impress despite making plenty of changes for their midweek cup trip to all-conquering PSG. OL were beaten 2-1 but did enough to suggest they’re not too far off finding their best form once more.

Goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, midfielder Clement Grenier and forward Alexandre Lazaette are all expected to return here whilst playmaker Mathieu Valbuena returned to training this week and may feature from the bench.

The victory over Troyes was only Lyon’s first in seven league matches (W1-D1-L5) and their road record (W1-D3-L4) is also a little off-putting. But their penchant for high-scoring games ties in nicely with recent history in this fixture.

The last five Derby Rhône-Alpes’ have all produced at least three goals, as have 10 of Lyon’s last 17 away days.

In fact, 16 of Les Gones’ last 29 road trips have all delivered for Both Teams To Score backers and Over 2.5 Goals hunters.

St Etienne are in the midst of their own slump (W1-D1-L5) but just one defeat in 41 (W27-D10-L1) home league matches makes Christophe Galtier’s hosts dangerous opponents. And although Les Verts are often accused of being overly defensive, Sainte have scored in all bar one of their most recent 18 at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.

Galtier’s men were outplayed at Nantes despite opening the scoring in their 2-1 loss but the coach has moved fast in the transfer market to strengthen his attack – Alexander Soderlund was Norway’s top domestic goalscorer and Oussama Tannane has also arrived with an excellent reputation.

Both new recruits are expected to be unleashed at some stage and I reckon we’ll be in for a bit of a treat. So go against the grain and take a punt on Over 2.5 Goals at 21/20 on Sunday night.

Recommended Bet:
Over 2.5 Goals @ 21/20

*Prices correct at time of publication.