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Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Sunday

Goals are likely to be in short supply when misfiring neighbours AC Milan and Inter Milan clash in the 164th Derby della Madonnina at San Siro on Sunday.

AC Milan v Inter Milan, Sunday 31 January 2016 19.45, BT Sport Europe

Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic and Inter counterpart Roberto Mancini have blamed erratic finishing for their troubles as the two giants once again find themselves off the Serie A pace.

Once the highlight of the Serie A season, the fixture has become a sideshow to the title race in recent seasons as both teams’ fortunes have slumped. Inter, leaders earlier in the season, have dropped to joint third alongside Fiorentina (41 points) and are six points behind leaders Napoli, while Milan are a further eight points behind in sixth.

Inter have managed a paltry 26 goals in their 21 outings and Milan 29, compared to 45 for Napoli where Gonzalo Higuain alone has netted 21.

Mancini’s frustration boiled over after his side were held 1-1 at home to relegation-threatened Carpi last Sunday. Mancini said that, even at the age of 50, he was sure he would have done better than Icardi with one of the chances the Argentine missed.

It’s an exaggeration to say the wheels have fallen off because I’m not too sure all four were on in the first place. Inter have been relying on the brilliance of Samir Handanovic all too often and have failed to completely convince as major title contenders for the most part.

Since November, Inter have been to Torino, Napoli, Udinese, Empoli and Atalanta in league football and have been out-shot in all five fixtures (85-58 in total). Neither have they enjoyed more on-target efforts than their hosts in any game – 28-16 in total.

Meanwhile, Milan have been hampered by injuries to forward Jeremy Menez, who has not played all season, and Mario Balotelli, who has been out for three months with a groin problem. Balotelli scored a penalty in the dreadful 1-0 Coppa Italia win over third tier Alessandria on Tuesday but Mihajlovic said he was not ready for the derby.

The Rossoneri have claimed just one derby triumph in their last nine against Inter (W1-D3-L5).

But with just a solitary defeat in eight Serie A outings (W3-D4-L1), the red side of the city should be able to avoid defeat.

Milan will know three points would put them back to within striking distance of Inter but it’s hard to find any faith in a team that’s leaked more goals than any of their top-seven rivals. So instead, another low-scoring derby looks to be on the cards.

Neither side has scored more than once in any of the last seven head-to-heads with fewer than three goals being scored in 12/20 of the duos’ respective home/away league outings in 2015/16.

Milan have seen Under 2.5 Goals backers collect in eight of their last 11 when welcoming top-six teams as well as three of their previous four fixtures. Their attack is nowhere near as strong as in recent years and a stalemate looks to be on the cards at the San Siro with Inter opting for a cagey, defensive approach.

Under 2.5 Goals is a 7/10 shot and that seems more than fair for a much-anticipated encounter that might fail to inspire the neutral supporter like in times gone by.

Recommended Bet:
Under 2.5 Goals @ 7/10

Real Madrid v Espanyol, Sunday 31 January 2016 19.30, Sky Sports 3
Real Madrid missed a fantastic chance to close in on city neighbours Atletico last weekend. With the league leaders dropping points, allowing Barcelona to take up the pace at the top of the table, Los Blancos couldn’t get past Real Betis on Sunday night.

It means Real have taken just two points from a possible nine on the road lately so they’ll be pleased to return to the Bernebeu this weekend. Under Zinedine Zidane, the Spanish giants have improved but having dropped 17 points already this season, there’s no more margin for error.

Madrid trail the top-two by four points and Barca have a game in hand on their rivals too. But while Real have been struggling to grind out the victories on their travels, they remain the ultimate flat-track bullies when hosting bottom-half clubs in La Liga.

Dating back to 2010/11, Los Blancos have returned astonishingly strong figures of W55-D2-L1 – a huge 36/58 (62%) of those triumphs were achieved by a margin of three goals or more. So the 4/6 on offer for Real to beat a -2-handicap against Espanyol looks just the ticket on Sunday.

The capital club boast a fierce W13-D3-L0 head-to-head record with the visitors and have won their last five on home soil, scoring an average of 5.40 goals-per-game.

The hosts have fired in the most shots across Europe this season too, averaging a whopping 19.90 per-game.

Espanyol arrive on the back of a W1-D3-L5 record and their seven successive away league losses is their worst run since 2002. Looking at their return from big-two trips since 2010/11, the Parakeets have lost on nine occasions, six of which were by a margin of three goals or more.

Recommended Bet:
Real Madrid -2 handicap @ 4/6

St Etienne v PSG Sunday 31 January 2016 20.00, BT Sport 2
PSG are out of sight in the Ligue 1 table but they are showing no signs of let up in pursuit of an unbeaten season.

The Parisians scored a collection of Goal of the Season contenders in last weekend’s rout of Angers and were able to rest and rotate for their midweek cup clash with Toulouse. Laurent Blanc’s men remain alive, well and motivated in their bid for four trophies at home and on the continent.

Les Rouges et Noir’s Ligue 1 form is breaking records every week now. In all competitions, PSG have won 16 of their last 17, they’ve triumphed in 14 of their previous 16 away league games and their 60-point tally after 22 games is the best ever record in France’s top-flight.

The capital club are the only unbeaten side across Europe’s top-five leagues and they’ve not tasted defeat in Ligue 1 in 31 outings (W28-D3-L0) – they can equal Nantes’ 32-match record set in 1995 this Sunday night. Want more? Blanc’s boys have notched 56 goals – their best-ever tally at this stage – and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is averaging a goal every 82 minutes in league football this season.

Sure, the Parisians ambled through their two road trips in 2016, only netting once in both victories over amateurs Wasquehal and struggling Toulouse but they’ve shown a capacity to raise their game when it matters most and I expect that to be the case here.

St Etienne rarely lose by large margins but PSG are on another level to Les Verts and should win comfortably.

The -1 handicap is available at 29/20 and that appeals with Christophe Galtier’s troops unable to get over the line in recent weeks.

Alexander Soderlund has made a solid impact since signing but costly injuries to centre-back Loic Perrin and attacking fulcrum Romain Hamouma have rocked the boat and Sainte have now won just five in 15 (W5-D2-L8).

Last weekend the Champions League-chasing hosts let slip a 1-0 lead against relegation-threatened Reims and similar sloppy errors are likely to be punished. Les Verts have W1-D3-L10 in their last 14 head-to-heads against PSG since 2011/12 and they don’t appear to be in any shape to enhance that record this weekend.

Recommended Bet:
PSG -1 handicap @ 29/20

*Prices correct at time of publication