Mark O’Haire’s European Football Tips – Saturday
At the midway point of the La Liga season, Villarreal are sitting comfortably in a Champions League qualification position having equalled their best ever points haul after 19 games (39).
Villarreal v Real Betis, Saturday 16 January 2016 19.30, Sky Sports 5
Nobody foresaw the Yellow Submarine delivering in such consistent fashion (W12-D3-L4), especially when considering the likes of Luciano Vietto, Denis Cheryshev, Giovani dos Santos, Ikechukwu Uche and Gerard Moreno all left the club in the summer.
But head coach Marcelinho and the club are canny operators and they’ve regrouped magnificently. A flourishing partnership between Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado has proven the framework alongside the solid defensive foundations that have been put in place.
Villarreal are eight points clear of fifth now and their six-match winning streak is their best since 2007.
Should they make it seven on Saturday, the Yellow Submarine would climb above Real Madrid into third. Heady heights.
However, Marcelinho admitted after last weekend’s 2-0 home success against Sporting Gijon that his troops would need to greatly improve their performance levels if this run is to continue. For large swathes of that encounter, Villarreal failed to spark but it’s hard to ignore their claims here.
The Yellows have W8-D1-L1 at their El Madrigal home, winning each of their last three in front of their home fans ‘to nil’. Since the start of last season the hosts have W20-D2-L7 when welcoming domestic foes, keeping 13 clean sheets.
In contrast, Real Betis are in a pickle. After a 1-0 win over Levante in late November, the Verdiblancos were sitting pretty in the top-half having W5-D3-L5 since promotion. But things have quickly turned sour.
Just two points from a possible 18, a humiliating 6-0 aggregate Copa del Rey exit to bitter rivals Sevilla and failure to score in seven successive games has seen Pepe Mel axed. Betis are the league’s lowest goalscorers and the ultras have vandalised the training ground, showing their displeasure.
Villarreal should continue their winning streak here but I’ll add Under 2.5 Goals into the equation too – it’s proven a successful formula in five of their last six when hosting promoted clubs and 16/29 (55%) of El Madrigal matches.
Betis have fallen below the three-goal line in six of their most recent seven away outings and even delivered fewer than two goals in half of their 10 road trips since promotion, so I’m happy to count on a repeat.
Villarreal to win and Under 2.5 Goals @ 12/5
Napoli v Sassuolo, Saturday 16 January 2016 19.45, BT Sport 1
The last 12 winter champions in Serie A have gone on to lift the Scudetto and after a drama-filled Matchday 19, Napoli climbed to top of the tree at the midway stage to take top honours.
Of course, there’s no actual trophy and the tag will mean little come May if the Partenopei don’t finish the season as top dogs but their 5-1 rout of Frosinone was another timely reminder that Mauricio Sarri’s men mean business.
Napoli have not been winter champions for more than a quarter of a century. The last year in which they were, 1990, was the last time they won the league. And now the city of Naples is beginning to dream – this might well be their year.
Even Diego Maradona has lent his support for the side and with Gonzalo Higuain tearing up the goalscoring charts – netting 18 goals in his 19 league games, seven more than his closest rival – it’s hard to ignore the Azzurri.
Napoli lead the way in the majority of the performance data, having already accumulated a +23 goal difference and taken 23 points from a possible 27 points at their San Paolo base. But their solid form is reflected in the miniscule odds and their opponents this weekend are certainly no slouches.
Sassuolo were sixth at the start of last weekend, despite having played one game fewer than all of the sides around them. And the Neroverdi pulled off a fabulous upset by pinching a 1-0 success against previous table-toppers Inter.
Eusebio Di Francesco has built a side whose tempo and furious pressing game can make them a match for just about anybody.
They attacked Inter from the get-go and although both goalkeepers produced outstanding displays, a last-minute penalty from Domenico Berardi gave Sassuolo a memorable victory.
The visitors have now faced all five of the teams ahead of them and beaten or drawn with all of them. On a budget roughly one quarter the size of Serie A’s richest teams, it’s a remarkable achievement and they shouldn’t be swerved on Saturday.
The Neroverdi have lost by a margin of two goals or more on just three occasions in their 29 road trips since the start of last season and have kept four clean sheets on their travels already this season.
I just can’t see this being a one-sided contest. Napoli have only once scored more than twice in their nine home Serie A fixtures under Sarri with only Lazio and Palermo succumbing to defeats by more than a solitary goal at the San Paolo.
With that in mind, I’ll happily put my faith in Sassuolo with a +2 handicap at even-money.
Sassuolo +2 handicap @ EVS
Bordeaux v Lille, Saturday 16 January 2016 19.00, BT Sport 2
Bordeaux and Lille are set to meet in the French League Cup semi-finals in 10 days time having secured progression in midweek but first the duo will battle it out for three points in Ligue 1.
Both clubs are unbeaten in eight league and cup games coming into this contest but it’s Lille I’d rather be with. But first, I’ll present a case to oppose Bordeaux on Saturday night.
Willy Sagnol’s side are unbeaten in four (W2-D2-L0) Ligue 1 fixtures but have only scored exactly once in each. Last weekend Les Girondins were fortunate to leave Montpellier with maximum points in a match that was controlled by their hosts and they’ve looked far from secure defensively in 2016.
Successive clean sheets suggest Sagnol’s found the magic formula at the back but I beg to differ.
And although Bordeaux have W11-D6-L2 in their previous 19 on home soil, failing to score just once, the hosts have a number of attacking question marks coming into the weekend.
For starters, skipper Henri Saivet has moved on to Newcastle whilst Whabi Khazri has asked to leave and Cheick Diabaté is rumoured to be in advanced talks with a number of European clubs – the latter is also a fitness doubt here. If either Khazzri or Diabaté plays and isn’t close to 100%, Les Girondins will suffer.
Much is made of Lille’s poor goalscoring output – only basement boys Troyes have scored fewer than the visitors 16-goal tally – but new head coach Frederic Antonetti has introduced a more courageous and offensively-minded outfit since taking charge two months ago.
After beginning his tenure with a 2-0 loss at surprise-package Angers, Lille have climbed from 18th to 13th with a W3-D2-L0 return. But most impressively, they’ve scored in each of those five fixtures and eight goals in total – you don’t need me to tell you, Lille have therefore notched half of their league goals in their most recent five matches.
Yassine Benzia’s grabbed five of the last nine Lille goals and with Sofiane Boufal back and winger Rony Lopes signed from Monaco, Les Dogues have the tools to score and hurt Bordeaux despite the impression they’re a defensive and dull outfit.
I’m going to take Lille in the Double Chance market at 4/7. Although they’ve managed a solitary success in 10 road trips, only two of those 10 ended in defeat. They’re tough to breakdown and could easily take advantage of Bordeaux’s attacking predicament here.
Lille double chance @ 4/7
*Prices correct at time of publication.