Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Sunday
There were tears, there were regrets, there was anger, there was frustration and there was sorrow.
Barcelona v Valencia, Sunday 17 April 2016 19.30, Sky Sports 3
Barcelona blew arguably the best ever chance to successfully defend a treble on Wednesday night. With Champions League dreams in tatters, head coach Luis Enrique has been fighting ‘crisis’ talk in the Catalan capital this week.
The Blaugrana surrendered their European title in fairly meek circumstances in Madrid. A 2-0 reverse to Atletico that extended Barca’s slump to just one win in five.
The wobble began back at El Madrigal before the international break; two goals up on Villarreal, they drew 2-2 and were rocking on their heels for 20 hard minutes. Defeats to the two royal clubs, Madrid and Sociedad in La Liga were sandwiched between their less than assured first leg win against Atleti.
The Catalans appear to be saddling a severe degree of mental and physical fatigue. Across their three biggest matches since the international break – Madrid and the two ties against Atletico – we’ve witnessed moments when Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta appear unable to control the ball, pass the ball or make the right decisions when in possession of the ball.
For the first time in his career, Messi has failed to assist or score a goal in five consecutive fixtures.
The Argentine great has been stuck on 499 career goals for five matches now – his worst run since 2009 – and has rarely escaped defenders’ attentions in that time.
Luis Enrique’s side now have to focus on the domestic double. They still have a three-point lead in La Liga and a Copa del Rey final to come against Sevilla; however, the dream of becoming first team to retain the Champions League in the modern era has been extinguished. And it hurts.
So how will the Catalans cope on Sunday night? Enduring their worst winless spell (W0-D1-L2) since Luis Enrique arrived, Barcelona haven’t lost three La Liga games on the spin since 2003 – they’ve not failed to record a victory for longer than three games since 2009.
Having walloped Valencia 7-0 in their most recent Camp Nou meeting in the Copa del Rey semi-final, the hosts will be expected to breeze to another three points and cement their position at the top of the table. And working on the basis that form is temporary and class permanent, it’s a fair assumption.
After all, the Blaugrana have W30-D2-L3 on Luis Enrique’s watch when welcoming league opposition. A huge 24/35 (69%) were won by a margin of two goals or more with 19/35 (54%) triumphs claimed by at least three goals. In 22/35 (63%) of outings they’ve scored at least three goals.
I’d feel a fool if I didn’t have a few nagging doubts going into the weekend but back at their Camp Nou base, I’m expecting Barcelona to bite back with a bang. However, their less-than-impressive backline could present Valencia with a few opportunities, making a home win and Both Teams To Score a preferable option at 13/10.
The 7-0 Copa del Rey reverse at Barca under Gary Neville was Valencia’s heaviest defeat since 1993 but Los Che managed to put a halt to a run of four consecutive losses last weekend when seeing off a rested and rotated Sevilla. The visitors dominated the match but needed a 92nd-minute goal from Alvaro Negredo to secure the points.
The risk of relegation has now been all but averted and stand-in boss Pako Ayestaran will be hoping to conclude the campaign on a high. However, Valencia have failed to keep their sheets clean in each of their past 22 La Liga encounters – their worst ever run in top-flight history – and have lost nine of their past 10 trips to the Camp Nou.
Barcelona have kept three shutouts in 15 fixtures now and Los Che have notched in 25 of their last 35 road trips in La Liga, as well as in six of their previous visits to either the Camp Nou or the Bernebeu. This season the away side have scored at top-half teams such as Atletico, Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Malaga and should find a way onto the scoresheet in an ultimately fruitless journey.
Barcelona to win and BTTS @ 13/10
Sampdoria v Milan, Sunday 17 April 19.45, BT Sport Europe
Milan gave all-conquering Juventus a serious test of their credentials last weekend but their 2-1 defeat signalled the end for Sinisa Mihajlovic with the Serbian sacked following a winless run of five games.
It was a curious call from the outset but internal politics rendered Mihajlovic’s future infeasible and so the Rossoneri moved quickly to appoint Cristian Brocchi on an interim basis until the end of the season.
Brocchi said he’d be looking for his team to take the initiative and not sit back, preferring to press opponents and take on an aggressive mentality. The new head coach is said to favour a 4-3-1-2 system with Giacomo Bonaventura playing behind a front pairing of Carlos Bacca and Mario Balotelli.
Since the start of last season, Milan have won just eight of their 35 away days but a whopping 22/35 (63%) have featured winning Both Teams To Score bets and it’s the angle that makes most appeal, considering Brocchi’s intentions to play front-foot football.
Sampdoria’s 2-0 win against Udinese made it three clean sheets in six for Vincenzo Montella’s men.
It’s an impressive improvement considering the Blucerchiati were shipping 1.80 goals-per-game in the preceding 26 Serie A contests.
But the hosts are without the suspended Andrea Ranocchia here, meaning Niklas Moisander will play in the centre of the defensive trio, with Modibo Diakite favourite to play on his left side, disrupting Montella’s favoured and trusted backline operators.
Sampdoria’s decent recent run has moved them eight points clear of both Udinese and Carpi and their W14-D14-L7 return since the beginning of 2014/15 at the Marassi makes them dangerous opposition. But with survival all but assured, a key backline presence missing and a Milan side eager to attack, I’m happy taking BTTS.
Both Teams To Score has proven a profitable formula in 19/35 (54%) of Samp’s home matches over the past 18 months and odds of 3/4 are more than fair considering.
Both Teams To Score @ 3/4
Monaco v Marseille, Sunday 17 April 20.00, BT Sport Extra 2
Marseille make the short hop along the coast looking to end a winless run of nine Ligue 1 games when they visit Champions League-chasing Monaco.
Despite their wretched run of form, L’OM have lost just once on the road since October, churning out 13 draws in their last 19 league games. Last weekend’s 0-0 draw with Bordeaux was a perfect example of Les Phocéens ailing campaign.
Marseille dominated proceedings but with Michel’s men far too individualistic in possession, they failed to create enough openings, or prove clinical enough in the final third, to clinch maximum points. The goalless draw ensured Sunday night’s travellers have recorded just two wins since the winter break.
This weekend L’OM are again without the suspended Roman Alessandrini and with morale and confidence at an all-time low in the Stade Velodrome camp, it’s almost impossible to support the guests here.
Back-to-back losses have seen Monaco’s top-three bid begin to falter.
Leonardo Jardim’s troops suffered a 4-1 loss to Lille last time out as their opponents showed their teeth with an impressive array of finishing to settle the game convincingly despite a reasonably balanced 90 minutes.
Les Rouges et Blancs are missing full-backs Fabio Coentrao and Elderson Echiejile this weekend meaning Andrea Raggi will move across from central defence to cover and Wallace returning to the fold. It’s certainly not ideal for a side that’s only recorded 15/35 (43%) triumphs as hosts since the start of last season.
Cumulatively, these two teams have settled for draws in 25/70 (36%) of their respective home/away Ligue 1 matches since 2014/15, implying odds of another stalemate here to be around the 17/10 mark. So I’ll happily snap up the 23/10 on offer for the points to be shared in Sunday night’s derby date.
Draw @ 23/10