Champions League: Defensive injury crisis spells trouble for Dutch

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THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE return on Tuesday night. Here Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from the coupon.

Monaco v Besiktas | Tuesday 17th October 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport

It’s no major surprise to see Monaco struggling to hit last season’s heights following the sales of a number of high-profile players in the summer. Les Monegasques saw five key components of their dazzling team move on and recent performances have pointed towards teething problems.

Head coach Leonardo Jardim is on his third rebuilding job in Monte Carlo and although initial results suggested the Ligue 1 club might be capable of coping with the overhaul, Monaco’s 3-2 defeat at Lyon on Friday night was their fourth across all competitions already this term.

Sure, Fabinho, Jorge and Radamel Falcao were unavailable through suspension and fatigue from international duty but the game followed a familiar theme for Monaco thus far. Les Rouges et Blancs have been making elementary defensive mistakes a little too often for their liking.

Goalkeeper Danijel Subasic – prone to a clanger – failed to stop Nabil Fekir’s entirely saveable 94th minute free-kick winner and may well lose his place to Diego Benaglio here. Elsewhere, Terence Kongolo and Jorge have struggled to fill the left-back berth, so much so that Jardim could opt to alter his system.

The hosts are under pressure having failed to win their first two games of a Champions League campaign for only the second time. The 3-0 reverse at home to Porto was a major surprise (but richly-deserved) and now Monaco must pick up points against group leaders Besiktas to keep their knockout dreams alive.

The Turks rode their luck when claiming a victory in Porto on matchday one but seized the pool initiative when beating RB Leipzig in Istanbul last time out. Never before have the Black Eagles reached the knockout phase of Europe’s premier club competition but Besiktas are in poll position this time around.

However, Senol Gunes’ side don’t arrive at the Stade Louis II in the greatest of shapes themselves. Friday night’s shock loss at Genclerbirligi saw the domestic champions fall eight points behind Galatasaray in the Super Lig with Ryan Babel the fourth Besiktas player to be sent off in their last four matches.

The Black Eagles have claimed a sole success in those four fixtures but they’ll welcome a return to the continental stage. Over the past year this team have churned out victories at Napoli and Porto (W2-D1-L1) in the Champions League and so deserve more respect from the pre-match markets.

Besiktas can be supported at 5/6 (Stan James) with a +1 start on the Asian Handicap line, a selection that would see your stake returned should Monaco win this encounter by exactly one goal. An away triumph or draw would see the bet pay out profit.

But I’m going to snap-up the bigger odds available on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (11/10 SkyBet). Both clubs are superb counter-attacking operators with goals a regular feature; all eight of Besiktas’ Champions League duels since the start of last season have produced at least two goals with BTTS banking on six occasions.

Indeed, three of the visitors’ four away days in this competition saw Over 2.5 Goals backers collect, whilst nine of Monaco’s last 11 outings in European action has followed suit. The same market has produced profit in eight of Monaco’s previous 11 Champions League games at the Stade Louis II with the hosts failing to silence any of their last 10 opponents at this level.

Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk | Tuesday 17th October 2017, 19:45 | BT Sport

Feyenoord’s 18-year wait to be crowned top dogs in the Netherlands was ended in May but the Rotterdammers have struggled to hit the heights of last term in 2017/18.

The Eredivisie outfit already trail domestic table-toppers PSV Eindhoven by five points following Saturday’s dreadful 0-0 draw at home to PEC Zwolle. Having already been turned over at De Kuip by newly-promoted NAC Breda, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s boys aren’t in the greatest of shapes.

In fairness, the Dutch champions are in the midst of a rotten injury crisis. Although leading striker Nicolai Jorgensen has returned, defender Renato Tapia was forced off early at the weekend and joins fellow defenders Jan-Arie van der Heijden and Eric Botteghin on the unavailable list here.

Considering key components of last season’s squad – Eljero Elia, Terence Kongolo, Rick Karsdorp and Dirk Kuyt – are no longer at the club, the Rotterdammers do appear significantly weaker and that’s been highlighted on the continental stage already.

Feyenoord managed one effort on-target – the lowest from matchday one – as they were cut to ribbons by Manchester City here and no side in the group stage has managed fewer efforts at goal across the opening two games (15), or fewer touches inside the opposition penalty box (12).

Having suffered group-stage elimination in the Europa League last term and without a host of last season’s squad, I’m not holding out a huge amount of hope on van Bronckhorst’s group improving their recent run of results (W2-D1-L4). And it’s worth noting the home side fired blanks in four of those seven matches.

Shakhtar Donetsk are in a much healthier state. The Ukrainians have regained control of domestic matters over the past 12 months, finishing 13 points ahead of bitter rivals Dynamo Kiev in last season’s title race, whilst the gap between the two is already at seven points at this early stage of 2017/18.

Paulo Fonseca’s been credited with the rejuvenation of the Miners. Underpinned by an all-Brazilian attacking trio of Marlow, Bernard and Taison, Shakhtar rely on Argentinean striker Facundo Ferreyra for goals with the visitors looking very dangerous in possession despite their defeat at the Etihad last month.

The visitors have claimed 12 triumphs in 15 outings across all competitions this term and have also claimed top honours in seven of their last nine away days in European competition (admittedly, the bulk of which came in the Europa League).

Maksim Malyshev, Sergey Krivtsov and Darijo Srna remain absent but Shakhtar still boast the tools to takedown Feyenoord, so I’m happy to take the 5/4 (Bet365) available on the away win here.

Best Bets

Monaco v Besiktas – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (11/10 SkyBet)

Feyenoord v Shakhtar Donetsk – Shakhtar Donetsk to win (5/4 Bet365)

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After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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