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

Only once before have Inter managed to open their Serie A account with five wins on the spin and that came back in 1966.

Inter Milan v Fiorentina, Sunday 27 September 2015 (19.45), BT Sport Europe
The Nerazzurri have bagged victories in all five fixtures thus far, by a one-goal margin – four ending in 1-0 successes for Roberto Mancini’s men.

Naturally, the blue side of Milan are thrilled with their start to 2015/16. Inter are three points clear at the top (ahead of Sunday night’s opponents Fiorentina), six points better off than bitter rivals AC and crucially, 10 points ahead of defending champions Juventus. Are the Nerazzurri worthy title challengers? You bet.

Owner Erick Thohir has thrown millions at the squad and their summer signing of Monaco midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia for €35m was the third most expensive purchase in their history. Stevan Jovetic has sparkled on his return to Serie A and with Ivan Perisic, Alex Telles, Felipe Melo and Adem Ljajic all arriving on deadline day plus many other big-name arrivals, Mancini has a completely new team at his disposal. Of last season’s XI, only goalkeeper Samir Handanovic and striker Mauro Icardi are guaranteed starters.

So it’s reasonably surprising to see Inter start so well. They’ve not proven to be totally convincing, mind. The fixture list has been kind and late goals against Atalanta and Carpi were followed by a shaky display in the derby. Still, four clean sheets in five isn’t to be sniffed at and for now, they deserve the plaudits.

Fiorentina, now under Paulo Sousa’s watch, have continued where they left off last season. The Viola have won nine of their last 10 Serie A fixtures between this and last season, keeping a clean sheet in five of the last six. They’ve also taken the lead in each of the six games played in all competitions (W4-D0-L2) and like their hosts, this encounter promises to be the litmus test on their own credentials for a top-three finish.

Mancini’s now seen Inter W15-D9-L8 since returning to the San Siro with their home record reading W7-D5-L4. The Nerazzurri are 5/6 favourites and that may appeal when considering Fiorentina have been beaten in 12 of their most recent 17 visits to top-six teams.

But I prefer to get with the goals whilst we’re still learning about the two clubs’ prospects and Both Teams To Score is 4/5.

A huge eight of La Viola’s last 10 on the road have delivered three or more goals, as have 13 of Inter’s 18 when welcoming top-six opposition. Already there’s a whiff of goals in the air and it’s stronger when you consider the visitors have scored in all bar four of their 21 away days since the start of last season, keeping just four shutouts across the same fixtures.

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Inter Milan v Fiorentina – Both Teams To Score (4/5)

Real Sociedad v Athletic Club, Sunday 27 September 2015 (19.30), Sky Sports 1
It was almost make-or-break time for David Moyes. Heading into Tuesday night’s trip to Granada, Real Sociedad have scored just two goals and taken two points from their first four La Liga games. With European qualification sought, it was a dismal return and anything other than a victory in Andalucia would have intensified calls for his departure.

But La Real produced the perfect response – an Imanol Agirretxe hat-trick guided the San Sebastian club to a 3-0 win and gave the Scot a major boost ahead of the Basque derby grudge match against Athletic on Sunday night. But hey, should Sociedad fail to beat their Bilbao rivals at Anoeta, his precarious position could well come into question once more.

Moyes arrived in November 2014 with the club hovering around the bottom-three with only nine points from 11 games. It’s been a rather unsexy 10-month spell for the former Manchester United manager but he was determined to make his mark this season having snapped up prolific Brazilian striker Jonathas and captured former midfielder Asier Illarramendi amongst a host of new arrivals.

But the going has been tough and uninspiring. La Real were actually quite decent last weekend before losing 3-2 at home to Espanyol and I get the impression Moyes will be doing everything possible, just to avoid defeat. The Scot is staying in San Sebastian’s most luxurious hotel at the club’s expense and defeat could well see him checking out sooner than later.

The Espanyol loss was only his third in 15 La Liga games at Anoeta (W7-D5-L3) and with their visitors claiming only 14/40 (35%) of wins on their travels under Ernesto Valverde, it would be difficult to find a pro-Athletic angle. Bilbao have had a day’s less rest and were involved in a fiercely competitive and energy-sapping showdown with Real Madrid on Wednesday.

So instead, it’s a straight play on Under 2.5 Goals at 8/13.

Since Moyes arrived in Spain, he’s overseen 20/32 (63%) winning Under 2.5 Goals bets in La Liga and the same bet has proven profitable in 26/40 (64%) of Athletic’s away days. What’s more, nine of the previous 12 Basque derbies featuring these two clubs have featured fewer than three goals, dating back to 2006.

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Real Sociedad v Athletic Bilbao – Under 2.5 Goals (8/13)

St Etienne v Nice, Sunday 27 September 2015 (20.00), BT Sport 2
St Etienne are worth siding with for the visit of Nice with Les Verts available to back at 3/4. The home club have W12-D5-L2 of their last 19 top tier games, scoring in all bar one encounter.

Looking at their home record, Christophe Galtier’s men have W8-D3-L0 in league football and their overall record under the head coach reads W53-D26-L19 when entertaining Ligue 1 opposition. That’s a 54% win ration with 31/98 matches ending in a home success by two goals or more and 74 fixtures also seeing Les Verts score two or more goals.

Nice have really struggled to field anything close to a first-choice defence this season and although they offer plenty of threats in attacking areas, these tools may be blunted by a St Etienne side that prides itself on defensive solidity and clean sheets.

The hosts have shutout their opposition in 42/98 games on home soil and so backing another St Etienne victory makes plenty of sense.

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St Etienne v Nice – St Etienne to win (3/4)

*Prices correct at time of publication.