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 are nine points adrift of league leaders Liverpool after their 3-1 defeat at Anfield prior to the international break. Pep Guardiola has never been more than three points off the top of the table at this stage of the season in his managerial career and the Catalan coach admitted he “didn’t know” if the Citizens could claw back that deficit.
In current climes, it’s difficult to see City reeling the Reds in, however, it would be folly to rule out the Etihad outfit as contenders before Christmas. Clearly Man City have a catalogue of defensive issues that require ironing out but few can argue about the quality at their disposal in attacking areas, which should make Saturday’s showdown an entertaining affair.
Guardiola’s group are streets ahead of the Premier League pack from an offensive analytics perspective with this weekend’s visitors Chelsea their closest challengers. The Blues have produced eye-catching attacking efforts throughout Frank Lampard’s short tenure and there’s no suggestion they’ll take a backwards step in Manchester.
Chelsea should be well capable of causing City problems but their own backline woes can’t be ignored. The capital club have kept a solitary shutout on their Premier League travels in 2019 with only 10th-placed Burnley (18) shipping more goals in the top-half than the guests’ tally of 17.
Over 3.5 Goals appeals at odds-against – it’s landed in eight of Man City’s last 11 when hosting Big Six opposition – whilst the duo have combined to produce fixtures with at least four goals in 14 of their collective 24 league contests this term. Those matches averaged 3.84 goals with an Expected Goals (xG) average coming in at a hefty 3.44 also.
But the 4/5 (Bet365) on Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score is just as appealing when playing a slightly safer stroke. The two teams have only fired Premier League blanks once in the 2019/20 campaign.
Manchester City v Chelsea (Saturday 5.30pm, Sky Sports)
I’m going to fill the second segment of this column with my European NAP selection: Sparta Rotterdam v Vitesse Arnhem to see Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Bet365). Here’s an extract from the piece posted on Thursday evening:
“With the two teams combining to score in 22 of their collective 26 Eredivisie encounters, whilst recording only five shutouts, I’m keen to support goals with Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score available to back at 4/5 (Bet365). The duo have delivered 18/26 (69%) BTTS winners with 21 (81%) featuring Over 2.5 Goals and 11 (42%) banking for Over 3.5 backers.
The pair have seen 3.43 goals per-game on average with xG averages coming in at a very healthy 3.24. Meanwhile, the Eredivisie has proven to be Europe’s top scoring major league this term with a 3.38 goals per-game average – 68% of those contests produced Over 2.5 Goals profit and 59% of fixtures copped for Both Teams To Score hunters.”
Sparta Rotterdam v Vitesse Arnhem (Sunday 3.45pm)
Atalanta take on Juventus in arguably Serie A’s standout match-up this weekend but Sunday’s showdown between Sassuolo and Lazio also deserves top billing.
Lazio have racked up at least two goals in each of their last seven unbeaten encounters in Italy and the Roman outfit have looked exceptional in offensive area. Only Atalanta can match the Biancocelesti’s attacking numbers when looking over Expected Goals (xG), xG from open play and shots from inside the penalty area.
Simone Inzaghi’s team have struck three times or more on five occasions and the top-four contenders should be given ample opportunity to hack up again this weekend.
Sassuolo have proven to be one of Serie A’s great entertainers under Roberto De Zerbi and have already lost 4-3 to Inter Milan, 4-1 to Atalanta and 4-2 to Roma. A similarly high-scoring affair is expected when the two teams lock horns.
Sassuolo have delivered nine Over 2.5 Goals winners in their 11 outings this term and at their Mapei Stadium base, the hosts have seen Over 2.5 Goals in 17 of 25 matches since the beginning of last term, with Over 3.5 Goals copping on 13 occasions.
De Zerbi’s outfit have scored in 21 of those 25 tussles and will be confident of breaching a questionable Lazio backline. Despite their terrific forward play, the visitors have only bagged six clean sheets in 25 games as guests going back to the start of 2018/19.
Taking this season alone, Lazio have crossed the Over 2.5 Goals barrier in 9/12 (75%) contests, meaning collectively the pair have produced profit for Over 2.50 Goals backers in all bar five of their combined 23 games, 11 of which returned full-stakes pay-outs, and 15 were ticked off for Both Teams To Score backers.
Those 23 matches averaged a whopping 3.62 goals per-game, and so I’m happy to take the 5/6 (Bet365) on Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score again.
Sassuolo v Lazio (Sunday 2pm)
First Goalscorer Fancy
Middlesbrough remain marooned in the Championship relegation zone as their winless run extended to nine games at QPR before the international break (W0-D4-L5). The Teessiders made a fast start to the capital showdown but were second-best for the final hour, reliant on the exploits of goalkeeper Darren Randolph and a gift-wrapped equaliser from the R’s.
Hull saw their three-match winning streak ended by table-topping West Brom with a 1-0 loss at the KCOM Stadium but the Tigers won all the major performance data indicators that day and restricted their visitors to just 0.59 Expected Goals (xG) with Grant McCann piling praise on his players after an excellent second-half shift following a system switch.
The Humbersiders could potentially only have one fit and available striker this weekend – Tom Eaves – with Norbert Balogh a major doubt and fellow frontman Josh Magennis suspended. That will put extra pressure on dynamic duo Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki for attacking inspiration in the Tigers ranks.
The pair have combined to create a divisional-high 23 chances for one another this season and with Hull troubling the scoresheet in all bar three games overall and sitting third for Expected Goals (xG) from open play generated, there’s still enough quality in the squad to cause Middlesbrough plenty of headaches.
Bowen and Grosicki have combined to score as many goals (13) as Boro’s collective tally (13) and the former is an interesting option at 6/1 (Boylesports) to break the deadlock here. The 22-year-old is averaging a goal every 160 Championship minutes in 2019/20, and has 31 goals from 62 Championship appearances since the beginning of last season.
Bowen is averaging 0.45 xG per-game with in-demand Tiger taking 3.50 shots on average with 1.60 hitting the target. Meanwhile, no second-tier side has scored more first-half goals than Hull (11), with Boro (14) also leaking the most goals in the opening 45 minutes, suggesting the visitors could profit from another fast start at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough v Hull (Sunday 12pm, Sky Sports)
Two of Italy’s most famous clubs face-off on Saturday evening in Serie A and there’s a solid argument to suggest than Milan can out-perform their pre-match 12/5 (BetVictor) odds against Napoli. The price implies the Rossoneri have just a 29% chance of success at San Siro but the Stefano Pioli’s posse are beginning to find their groove.
Ensconced in the bottom-half with only four triumphs to their name thus far, Milan have already dispensed of the services of Marco Giampaolo in a car-crash opening third. Nevertheless, AC have were much improved against Juventus last time out and very unfortunate not to leave Turin with at least a share of the spoils.
The Rossoneri have been working hard under Pioli to finally get their campaign up-and-running and Saturday’s contest could be the kick-start required. Because, whilst Milan have suffered their fair amount of strife in 2019/20, visitors Napoli are in the midst of a mini mutiny off the field.
The Partenopei players rebelled against president Aurelio De Laurentiis by refusing to go on a training retreat, whilst Eljif Elmas broke an organised media blackout. To make matters worse, performances and results have been poor (W1-D4-L1) since September with head coach Carlo Ancelotti feeling the heat as he struggles put together a functioning collective.
Napoli have only beaten newly-promoted Lecce on their travels since the opening day and have dropped significantly down the Serie A performance data ratings to suggest they’re vulnerable 6/5 shots for the San Siro showdown.
Milan v Napoli (Saturday 5pm, Premier Sports)
Play Your Cards Right
Sunday night’s offering from Serie A isn’t particularly exciting on paper but the encounter between Lecce and Cagliari could prove profitable from a red perspective. The two teams are averaging just shy of three cards per-game each, but the game comes alive when viewing Maurizio Mariani’s record with the whistle.
Incredibly, Mariani has already dished out an eye-bulging 11 red cards in 11 games this season covering Serie A, Coppa Italia, Europa League qualifying and U19 internationals. Eight of those dismissals have been straight reds with six sendings off coming in six top-flight fixtures in Italy alone.
Admittedly, four of those came in the bad-tempered Genoa-Milan match-up, but Mariani’s penchant for red has history. Looking purely at Serie A, the 37-year-old has dismissed 14 players in 21 outings since the start of last term with 21 reds shown in 37 games going back to the beginning of 2017/18 – that’s a strike rate of 57%.
The Serie A official averages 6.29 cards per-game since the start of last season and a huge 74.76 Bookings Points, suggested the 3/1 (Unibet) on Mariani to use his red once again on Sunday night is worth a wee go.
Lecce v Cagliari (Sunday 7.45pm, Premier Sports)
Manchester City v Chelsea – Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score (4/5 Bet365)
Sparta Rotterdam v Vitesse Arnhem – Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score (4/5 Bet365)
Sassuolo v Lazio – Over 2 Goals and Both Teams To Score (5/6 Bet365)
Middlesbrough v Hull – Jarrod Bowen to score first (6/1 Boylesports)
Milan v Napoli – Milan to win (12/5 BetVictor)
Lecce v Cagliari – A red card to be shown (3/1 Unibet)