WLB boss Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) continues his brand new weekend column, sharing a selection of his favourite fancies form from across a range of major markets.
Game Of The Weekend
Manchester City’s title dreams are in tatters following last weekend’s deserved home defeat in the Manchester derby at The Etihad. The Citizens have slipped 14 points off pacesetters Liverpool after winning just two of their last five Premier League games, leaving Pep Guardiola’s group with a proverbial mountain to climb to successfully defend their crown.
To overturn the Reds at the top of the table, City must win all of their remaining 22 league games, and hope the Merseysiders drop as many points in their final 22 fixtures as they have in their previous 44. We may have seen a collection of extraordinary implosions from similar positions in Premier League history, but this looks like a very tall order.
Stories speculating about Guardiola’s future are inevitable. The Catalan coach can rightly bemoan a bit of bad luck for City’s downturn, but the renowned boss must also take a proportion of blame for failing to address the Citizen’s obvious and ongoing defensive weaknesses that were cruelly exposed by their rivals last weekend.
Man Utd had nine counter-attacks inside the opening half-hour, ripping City to shreds in front of their home supporters. There was no pressure on the ball, and no coordinated press out of possession from Pep’s posse, who were at sixes and sevens for large swathes of that opening 45 minutes. The blueprint has most definitely been set now for Arsenal.
Whether the Gunners have the resilience and bravery in their own backline to produce a similar effort to United on Sunday is questionable. However, the capital club can call upon a collection of the Premier League’s leading counter-attacking specialists in forward areas and so it would be a surprise if Arsenal weren’t able to hurt City in spells at The Emirates.
Interim boss Freddie Ljungberg snapped the Gunners’ worst run without a win since 1977 by overcoming West Ham on Monday night, although Arsenal were far from convincing. The North Londoners failed to land a shot on-target in the first hour before grabbing all three goals in a nine-minute salvo with their only on-target attempts in the full 90 minutes.
Injuries again hampered the Gunners in defensive areas, and whilst it’s great to see Lucas Torreira back in the team, his partnership with Matteo Guendouzi in the centre of the park offers bite but a lack of balance of solidity to a frail back four. I can easily see City asserting themselves in the centre of the park, as well as dominating the flanks on Sunday evening.
I do anticipate an away win but with City failing to keep their sheets clean in 10, and recording two shutouts in eight away Premier League games, it makes the Citizens success alongside Both Teams To Score a realistic proposition at 7/5 (Boylesports). After all, Arsenal have netted in each of their last 27 Emirates encounters across all competitions.
City have won their last five outings against Arsenal by an aggregate 14-2 and the duo have delivered Both Teams To Score profit in 22/32 (69%) of their combined league contests in 2019/20. Following that familiar path should put us in a strong position to profit from Super Sunday’s showdown.
Arsenal v Manchester City (Sunday 4.30pm, Sky Sports)
It makes sense to fill this segment with my European NAP which features Bologna and Atalanta in Serie A on Sunday. I'm taking Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 5/6 (Bet365). Here's an extract from the piece.
“Collectively, 23/30 (77%) of the duos league fixtures have featured Over 2.5 Goals this term with 16 (53%) of those contests breaking the Over 3.5 Goals barrier. The pair have seen 23 (77%) matches bank for Both Teams To Score backers as the two teams have scored in all bar four of those overall 30 Serie A fixtures.”
Bologna v Atalanta (Sunday 2.30pm)
Athletic Bilbao and Eibar have both featured prominently in my recent columns and I see no reason why I shouldn’t return to the same angle of attack when the two Basque clubs face-off on Saturday evening in Spain.
Athletic boasted La Liga’s best defence before heading to Real Betis last Sunday. Les Leones had shipped just nine times in their opening 15 fixtures but a first-half blitz from their hosts saw the Basques three goals down inside the first 20 minutes. Gaizka Garitano’s group rallied thereafter but weren’t able to secure a share of the spoils in a 3-2 reverse.
The loss ended Athletic’s impressive recent run of results (W4-D1-L1) but that shouldn’t deter us from supporting the eight-time champions when they return home this weekend to face regional rivals Eibar. Les Leones have been a team transformed since Garitano took charge 12 months ago with their San Mames efforts phenomenally consistent.
The Bilbao boys are available at 6/5 (Betway) in a game featuring Under 3.5 Goals despite pocketing a wonderful W14-D5-L1 when entertaining La Lia opposition at San Mames under Garitano’s watch. That’s a remarkable 70% win rate and comes alongside a watertight 11 clean sheets in 20 home outings, 17 (85%) of which saw fewer than four goals.
Visitors Eibar have defied perennial pre-season predictions of doom to establish themselves amongst the Iberian elite since winning their very-first promotion to this level. But Los Armeros are in grave danger of losing their place in the top-tier following the departure of key players Joan Jordan, Ruben Pena and Marc Cucurella in the summer.
Eibar operate off a shoestring budget, and so capable replacements have been hard to find. Los Armeros have slumped to nine defeats from their opening 15 fixtures and now sit just two points off the drop-zone following a four-game losing streak. Even wily head coach Jose Luis Mendilibar is looking out of requisite answers to arrest the concerning slide.
Mendilibar’s men make the short journey to Bilbao having been thumped 4-1 at Basque neighbours Real Sociedad on their most recent road trip and the visitors have now been beaten in 13/27 (48%) games as guests since the beginning of last season. To make matters worse, Eibar rank inside the bottom five across a range of major performance data metrics.
Athletic Bilbao v Eibar (Saturday 5.30am, Premier Sports)
First Goalscorer Fancy
There’s a massive match at St Mary’s on Saturday evening as Southampton take on West Ham. Just a solitary point separates the two teams with defeat potentially leading to the next Premier League sacking as both clubs bid to avoid the dreaded drop zone.
There’s been a lot to like about Southampton since Ralph Hasenhuttl was appointed 12 months ago. But the Saints have proven maddeningly inconsistent and make little appeal as odds-on favourites for the six-pointer against bang out-of-form West Ham.
So instead, I’ll focus my attention on Danny Ings, who’s running hot right now. The former Liverpool striker is 5/1 (Bet365) to break the deadlock, an appealing price considering the one-cap England international has bagged the opener with five of his 11 goals this season.
Ings has notched in each of his past five fixtures and is benefitting from a subtle switch in system from Hasenhuttl. The Austrian has tinkered with his team’s tactics and set-up his side in a 4-2-2-2 system, which is getting the best out of James Ward-Prowse in the centre of midfield, plus Moussa Djenepo and Nathan Redmond on the flanks.
Southampton have generated an average of 1.85 Expected Goals (xG) in four outings since the reshuffle with Ings the chief beneficiary. The 27-year-old is averaging a Premier League goal every 120 minutes this season, boasting an exceptional xG output of 0.53, which excludes penalties.
The 27-year-old is attempting three shots per-game – 1.25 finding the target – and should relish taking on West Ham in their current predicament. Manuel Pellegrini’s men have been beaten in seven of their past nine matches, shipping at least twice in each defeat and leaking 14 goals in their most recent half dozen encounters.
The Hammers have allowed over 10 shots inside the penalty area per-away-game this term despite facing just one Big Six team on their travels. Meanwhile, only three teams are conceding a higher xG from open play figure, as the visitors endured similar defensive issues last season with Lukasz Fabianski often proving a decisive last line of defence.
Southampton v West Ham (Saturday 5.30pm, Sky Sports)
Phil Parkinson’s reign as Sunderland boss could hardly have gone worse so far. Appointed in mid-October, the Black Cats have bagged only two triumphs in his 12 games in charge – against basement battlers Southend and Tranmere – lost seven times, exited three cup competitions and seen the Wearsiders slide into mid-table mediocrity.
Parkinson infuriated frustrated fans by fielding a five-man defence against Gillingham last weekend, benching the club’s best player, Aiden McGeady. The former Irish international has since been told he can leave the Stadium of Light in January, a bewildering move considering Sunderland’s sheer lack of attacking inspiration under the current boss.
In seven games as supremo, Sunderland have created just 26 goalscoring chances under Parkinson – compare that to the 48 generated in Jack Ross’ last three matches as manager and you can clearly see where the Black Cats problems lie. The Wearside have been noticeably more direct recently, with the service to the forward line particularly poor.
Parkinson insists that was not part of his game plan at Gillingham and says his players must be ‘braver’ in possession. However, with McGeady banished, Chris Maguire out of favour, plus Josh Maja, Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman all sold over the past 12 months, Sunderland are without last season’s five top goalscorers.
The market has understandably moved against the fractured group this week but 3/1 quotes on a Blackpool win still stand out as an outsider shout. The Tangerines have been going great guns, unassumingly climbing the League One ladder to settle in the top-six following a fine six-match unbeaten streak (W3-D3-L0) since mid-October.
The Seasiders are a pretty unfashionable, safety-first outfit by trade under Simon Grayson but they let the stabilisers off against Fleetwood in last weekend’s Fylde derby. Blackpool excelled in the 3-1 success with returning Armand Gnanduillet playing a leading role once more. The tricky customers have now lost just three times in the league this term.
Sunderland make no appeal at the prices and upwardly-mobile Blackpool should sense a real opportunity to make their mark in the battle for promotion. It’s Grayson’s first return to the Stadium of Light since his sacking and you can bet your bottom dollar his Tangerines team will be organised and effective – characteristics lacking on the current Black Cats CV.
Sunderland v Blackpool (Saturday 3pm)
Play Your Cards Right
Italy's fiercest derby takes centre stage on Saturday night d as city rivals Genoa and Sampdoria clash at the Luigi Ferraris, which both clubs share. The tight, atmospheric stadium always ensures the occasion is a captivating watch and the great Marcello Lippi’s even labelled the encounter as ‘the most special in Italy'.
The Derby della Lanterna – Italian for ‘the derby of the lighthouse’ – takes its name from the ancient landmark and main lighthouse in the city's port. The rivalry is fuelled by the fact that Genoa has a long history (as Italy's oldest club) while Sampdoria is the country's newest continuously operating club.
Games are furiously contested and meetings between the pair have historically produced Europe’s third-highest Bookings Points per-game count, behind the Rome and Seville derby showdowns. However, the fact that both clubs are embroiled in a battle against relegation – even at this early stage – should only heighten the feeling of tension at the Marassi.
It promises to be an emotional encounter and it’s hard not to make the case for cards. The past 14 Serie A fixtures between the pair have featured an average of 6.42 cautions and collectively this season the duo have delivered at least 20 Bookings Points in 25/30 (83%) matches, plus 30 or more Bookings Points in 14 (47%) of those contests.
Overall, Sampdoria average 27.33 Bookings Points and 2.47 cards per-game, with Genoa following suit with 34.00 Bookings Points and 2.60 cards per-game, and so I’m happy to take the 7/4 (Bet365) available on Both Teams Over 0.5 Cards In Both Halves on Saturday night.
Daniele Doveri is the man in the middle for the match-up and he averages 53.46 Bookings Points since the beginning of last season, as well as 4.85 cards, which is admittedly not towards the top end of Serie A officials. Nevertheless, he flashed six cards in the recent Turin derby and has sent off players in two of his past three derby gameas.
Genoa v Sampdoria (Saturday 7.45pm, Premier Sports)
Arsenal v Manchester City – Manchester City to win and Both Teams To Score (7/5 Boylesports)
Bologna v Atalanta – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (5/6 Bet365)
Athletic Bilbao v Eibar – Athletic Bilbao to win and Under 3.5 Goals (6/5 Betway)
Southampton v West Ham – Danny Ings to score first (5/1 each-way Bet365)
Sunderland v Blackpool – Blackpool to win (3/1 Bet365)
Genoa v Sampdoria – Both Teams Over 0.5 Cards In Both Halves (7/4 Bet365)