EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) highlights the value in France on Wednesday night.
Lorient v Toulouse | Wednesday 18:00
Lorient haven’t finished above 15th in Ligue 1 across the past two campaigns and Les Merlus have built their season upon strong foundations at their Stade du Moustoir base in that time.
The Brittany boys had picked up only 10 wins from 49 away days ahead of the weekend but a rare and well-earned 1-0 triumph at Lille was a welcome boost for Lorient who are in the midst of a major battle against relegation.
It was Les Merlus’ third success in six and although the club remain rooted to the bottom of the Ligue 1 standings, survival is back within reach thanks to a rejuvenation project orchestrated following head coach Bernard Casoni’s arrival in November.
Victory on Wednesday night could lift Lorient out of the bottom-three but I’m not yet ready to throw my financial support behind the hosts despite their reasonable 1.54 points per-game average at the Stade du Moustoir this term. Instead, goals should be on the agenda.
Benjamin Moukandjo remains absent following his African Cup of Nations campaign but even so, Lorient are consistent goal-heavy money-makers with each of their last seven at their Brittany home featuring at least three goals.
Despite their toils, Les Merlus have notched in all bar three of their Stade du Moustoir outings, notching at least twice in 5/11 (45%) and keeping only two clean sheets. The 11 matches under Casoni’s watch have averaged 3.91 goals per-game with seven Both Teams To Score winners and all bar Saturday’s encounter rewarding Over 2.5 Goals backers.
Visitors Toulouse have proven pitiful travellers for the majority of this campaign, firing blanks in six of their last seven on the road. Les Pitchouns have W1-D4-L6 in games as guests, managing only four goals in total across the 16-and-a-half hours of action.
However, head coach Pascal Dupraz deserves credit for arresting an alarming slide in 2017 by masterminding Toulouse’s most impressive performance of the season on Saturday. TFC smashed Angers 4-0 with a new-look attack-minded front-three featuring Andy Delort, Martin Braithwaite and Corentin Jean all impressing.
It would be criminal for Dupraz to walk away from such an approach on Wednesday evening and I’d expect Toulouse to play on the front-foot. There’s certainly enough invention and ability in the available forwards to hurt Lorient’s unsteady backline.
So this game seems set perfectly for another bash at Both Teams To Score (16/19 888). It’s a selection that’s landed in 17/30 (57%) Lorient home fixtures.
Bastia v Nantes | Wednesday 18:00
Bastia hit European football headlines for all the wrong reasons three weeks ago due to the unforgivable racist abuse suffered by Mario Balotelli when Nice pitched up at the Stade Armand Cesari.
So as well facing the prospect of a stadium ban for their fans’ disgusting behaviour towards Balotelli, the Turchini are fighting what appears to be a losing battle against Ligue 1 relegation.
The Corsicans slipped to a worrying 2-1 reverse at fellow strugglers Montpellier at the weekend to extend their wretched run of results to just two victories in 16 (W2-D6-L8). Bastia have scored more than once in only two of those encounters, recording just a pair of clean sheets in the same sample.
To make matters worse, head coach Francois Ciccolini is without two of his regular back-four for Wednesday night’s crunch clash with Nantes. Right-back Alexander Djiku and left-back Pierre Bengtsson are both unavailable whilst attacking midfielder Saido Dallo is rated a major doubt for midweek.
Normally so strong on the island, Bastia’s home form has even deserted the Turchini in recent times. Ciccolini’s seen his side record only one home success in Ligue 1 since September (W1-D5-L2) with their record when welcoming bottom-half teams reading just W1-D4-L1.
Nantes performance-levels have improved dramatically under the tutorship of Sergio Conceicao following his appointment in early December. His W4-D0-L0 record has since dissipated to W4-D1-L2 and Saturday’s home reverse to Nancy was unwelcome but there’s still mileage in supporting Les Canaris here.
Amine Harit is banned but Alexander Kacaniklic is a capable replacement and the visitors have picked up nine points from their past three away days so there’s precedent for picking up positive results on their travels.
Conceicao’s overseen a tight ship too – all of his Ligue 1 games in charge have featured no more than two goals and I’m all too pleased to be given the opportunity to back Nantes with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 3/4 (188BET) – we’ll make money should the guests avoid defeat.
Marseille v Guingamp | Wednesday 20:00 | BT Sport
Marseille head coach Rudi Garcia has targeted a fifth-placed finish after seeing his side’s progress dented by defeat at Metz last Friday.
It was OM’s third reverse in four Ligue 1 games in 2017 but wasn’t quite the surprise considering Garcia opted to rotate his squad.
Captain and top goalscorer Bafetimbi Gomis joined Dimitri Payet on the bench and Marseille have struggled for goals in Gomis’ absence. In fact, Les Phoceens have claimed a sole success in games when the ex-Swansea striker hasn’t gotten on the scoresheet.
Gomis will be back leading the line on Wednesday night and Payet’s also expected to play a part as Marseille seek to enhance their solid Stade Velodrome record (W7-D3-L1). The hosts have collected 73% of their points tally from in front of their home supporters and I’m counting on them to produce the goods again here.
OM’s last home outing resulted in a 5-1 destruction of Montpellier and although a repeat is unlikely, six wins in their past seven fixtures on the French Riviera suggests they’re well capable of bagging another three points.
Marseille -0.75 on the Asian Handicap (10/11 888) sees us make money should the hosts win – a full pay-out if Les Phoceens win by two or more goals with a half-stakes profit earned should Garcia’s group win by exactly one goal.
Visitors Guingamp make the journey on the back of a disappointing home loss to Caen. It’s now one triumph in seven for Antoine Kombouare’s troops who’ve failed to keep their sheets clean in that seven-match streak.
EAG have a rotten record in Marseille (W1-D1-L7) and travel without banned left-back Fernando Marcal. The defender is Guingamp’s leading assist-maker this season and will be missed considering the visitors are winless in six games as guests now and with 16/31 (52%) of losses on the road since the start of last season.
The Breton club's return at Ligue 1’s elite also has to be questioned. EAG have W0-D2-L6 at top-six clubs since the beginning of 2015/16 and that escalates to 10 losses in 12 against the same standard of opposition when cycling further back through the records.
I’m a keen admirer of Kombouare and Guingamp as a club but I’m keen to keep Marseille onside here and fancy the home side to run out cushy winners on Wednesday.