Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Sunday

In the space of eight days, Las Palmas have transformed their season from relegation certainties into mid-table dwellers and the Canary Islanders are now looking forward to taking on Real Madrid on Sunday.

Las Palmas v Real Madrid, Sunday 13 March 19.30, Sky Sports 1
The Yellows went into week 26 a fortnight ago in the relegation zone and three points from safety; problems were mounting for the club for whom pretty much every away game is a 4,000km round trip.

Head coach Quique Setién had a growing injury list to contend with and a side that had managed just one victory in eight. However, a 1-0 win at Eibar in week 26 was followed up by a 4-0 hammering of Getafe and they closed last weekend off with a stunning 1-0 triumph at Villarreal.

David Garcia’s goal was the first Villarreal had conceded in 620 minutes and that defeat was Villarreal’s first in 14 La Liga fixtures. The nine points accrued from their three wins – all recorded alongside clean sheets – has moved the islanders four points clear of the drop zone and into the heady heights of 14th.

The results had been coming. Setién’s side gave Barcelona a real run for their money in the match preceding their winning streak and the organised, well-positioned side are decent in possession and also more unified at the back.

Since Setién pitched up, Las Palmas have collected 25 points from 20 games and the Yellows are now one of Spain’s most attractive teams to follow.

Rarely do they lump the ball forward and their 4-1-4-1 formation gives the team greater stability with and without the ball.

The club and island is buzzing and they’ve already said they can’t wait to pit their wits against Real Madrid. The 10-time European champions have been far from imperious of late, despite their back-to-back wins against Roma (2-0) and Celta Vigo (7-1).

In both matches, Los Blancos were comfortably second-best in a laboured first 45 minutes before taking their opportunities when they arrived after the interval. Zinedine Zidane’s side had been whistled on numerous occasions by an expectant Bernabeu crowd and now they must take to the road again.

Real have managed just six wins from 13 La Liga away days this season (W6-D5-L2), keeping their sheets clean on only four occasions. Sure, Madrid have seen off 12 of their last 15 promoted clubs in their own back yard and notched at least two goals in seven of their most recent nine but I’m not prepared to back them here.

Las Palmas are buoyant, have suffered just three home defeats by at least a two-goal margin and can grab a goal in a match featuring both sides scoring, at 4/6.

Recommended Bet:
Both Teams To Score @ 4/6

Palermo v Napoli, Sunday 13 March 19.45, BT Sport Europe
It’s been another chaotic week for Palermo.

Giuseppe Iachini resigned from his coaching position, leaving training to be conducted by Giovanni Tedesco and Fabio Viviani. Iachini, already the seventh boss to depart this season, has now been replaced by Walter Novellino in time for the weekend.

Novellino has previously managed clubs including Napoli, Sampdoria and Torino but is unlikely to come across such a ramshackle operation as that run by those in charge at the Stadio Renzo Barbera.

There’s no time to waste, either. The Rosanero are bottom of the six-game form table (W0-D2-L4) and have shipped at least two goals in five of those encounters. Palermo now sit just one point and one place above the relegation zone.

So welcoming Scudetto-chasing Napoli won’t have been top of Novellino’s preferred candidates for his coaching bow this weekend. Although Palermo have recorded W6-D0-L2 in their last eight at home to the Partenopei, this is the best Napoli team since the Maradona days.

Should the visitors bring their A-game, there’ll be only one winner.

The Naples travellers remain three points behind table-topping Juventus but have Gonzalo Higuain back amongst the goals after a recent overblown reaction to the striker going four games without one.

The Argentine hitman was criticised by his own club’s president recently but has notched 10 goals in his last eight away games, only failing to score at the Juventus Stadium during that hot-streak.

With Maurizio Sarri set to field a full-strength XI and Napoli recording seven away successes from 14 on the road, including W4-D3-L0 at bottom-half clubs, the 3/4 on Higuain to score in a Napoli win should be just the ticket.

Recommended Bet:
Gonzalo Higuain to score and Napoli to win @ 3/4

Rennes v Lyon, Sunday 13 March 20.00, BTSport 2
Lyon were sitting second in Ligue 1 as the European domestic season gave way to the international break in early November. Les Gones had W7-D4-L2 across the first 14 weeks of the campaign and although the French giants had looked far from invincible, they remained on track for another top-three finish.

However, a terrible downturn in performance levels (W1-D2-L7) and injuries contributed to Hubert Fournier’s sacking and Lyon sliding down to 10th in the Ligue 1 standings. Bruno Génésio was handed the reigns and given the opportunity to rejuvenate OL.

It wasn’t a quick fix but finally we seem to be seeing the old Lyon return. Les Gones dished out PSG’s first domestic defeat of the season with a rampant, polished, all-action performance and their 5-1 demolition of Guingamp last weekend cemented their top-three position on the back of a W5-D0-L1 return.

Maxwell Cornet is now being talked about in the same breadth as Karim Benzema – a former Lyon youth product…

…and it would be a surprise if Génésio failed to continue this upward curve until the season’s conclusion.

But should Lyon be trading as 11/8 favourites for their trip to Rennes on Sunday? I don’t think so.

Les Gones have W2-D3-L7 of their last 12 away Ligue 1 road trips, only beating rock-bottom Troyes and bang out-of-form Angers along the way. OL have fired blanks in five of their most recent eight away days and conceded the opening goal in eight of their last 11. It’s concerning.

So instead, I’ll look to the goals markets with Over 2.5 Goals looking particularly attractive at 11/10. Lyon are an offensively-mined team who aren’t afraid to open up and have a go; the visitors rarely alter their approach no matter who they’re playing and with both Cornet and Alexandre Lacazette playing with freedom and confidence, the visitors can play their part in a decent contest.

Rennes have W2-D2-L4 in their last eight with Lyon, failing to even score in five of their last seven head-to-heads. But Les Rouges et Noirs seem to have found solace under the leadership of Rolland Courbis and last weekend’s 4-1 derby destruction of Nantes was a real standout success.

Stade were clinical in the final third with Ousmane Dembele hitting a hat-trick. Alongside Chelsea loanee Jeremie Boga, Rennes boast a collection of talented and attack-minded youngsters who’ll relish the occasion as they bid to enhance a recent W3-D0-L1 run.

Although the stats don’t point in the right direction for an Over 2.5 Goals play, the two teams have accumulatively scored in 45 of their 58 fixtures and eight of their collective 28 matches home/away have featured clean sheets.

It’s an important showdown in the race for European qualification positions and I reckon we could be in for a rare treat from Ligue 1.

Recommended Bet:
Over 2.5 Goals @ 11/10