Huddersfield v West Ham
Huddersfield manager David Wagner described Monday night’s win over Fulham as one of the most important he’s achieved during his three-year tenure with the West Yorkshire club. The Terriers were the last of the 92 English teams across the Football League to pick up a vital first victory from the 2018/19 campaign.
It was only Town’s fourth triumph in the Premier League since Christmas and the same energy, endeavour, discipline and commitment that’s characterised the club since Wagner’s arrival was there in spades. Huddersfield dominated the ball, pressed the Cottagers high and cut off any counter-attacking opportunities.
Captain Jonathan Hogg and fellow central midfielder Philip Billing worked tirelessly in the centre of the park and I’d anticipate a very similar approach from the Terriers this weekend, in what’s a very winnable match for the hosts.
Huddersfield’s hardship has come from their inability to score goals.
Defensively they’ve performed reasonably well for the large majority of matches but the hosts haven’t scored more than one goal in any of their last 21 top-flight games, managing a measly total of just eight in that sample.
In 2018/19, Town have accumulated five goals – nine Premier League players have notched more – and the home side are averaging just 5.2 efforts from inside the box, and only 0.50 Expected Goals from open play. Since their arrival at this level, Huddersfield have fired blanks in 28 of 49 Premier League outings.
The Terriers do tend to get their best work done at the John Smith’s Stadium against the lesser lights – returning W6-D6-L4 when excluding the Big Six – although there’s more mileage in opposing goals on Saturday, with Under 2.25 Goals trading around the 1.87 mark.
Wagner’s men have seen fewer than three goals scored in 17 of 25 home contests in the top-tier. If we exclude the Big Six, that record enhances to 14/16 (87%) Under 2.5 Goals winners, nine of which concluded with no more than a solitary strike. The average goals per-game in that 16-match sample is just 1.56.
Visitors West Ham benefitted from Burnley’s wretched defensive display last weekend and the early goal certainly helped the Hammers get on their way. That was only the third league success under Manuel Pellegrini, mind, and the Londoners haven’t won back-to-back Premier League games since January 2017.
West Ham have won just four times on their travels since the start of last season and they remain without a host of frontline performers, most notably attacking Manuel Lanzini and Andriy Yarmolenko. This puts the bulk of offensive responsibility on the inconsistent Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic.
I’m not sure any of the Hammers’ best XI can be described as clinical and with many of Pellegrini’s opening encounters light on entertainment, a low-scoring showdown could play out at the John Smith’s on Saturday.
Southampton v Watford
I was pretty peeved to see our punt on Watford go down in flames last week.
The Hornets dominated the first hour at St James’ Park, creating countless opportunities without managing to make the goalkeeper work. Javi Gracia’s group hit the woodwork and had another effort cleared off the line; it was one-way traffic until the Magpies pinched the points with a goal via a set-piece.
The Hertfordshire club shouldn’t be too despondent, though.
Never before have Watford returned as many points (19) from their opening 11 games, or victories (six) and the Hornets have excelled in a large proportion of their encounters in 2018/19, as well as in the major performance data metrics.
Watford’s only defeats prior to last weekend came when they were excellent at Arsenal, down to 10 men early on against Bournemouth, and away at Manchester United.
In six of their eight clashes with non-Big Six clubs, the Hornets have scored at least twice, returning W5-D1-L1 against sides below them in the table.
Gracia’s charges are cemented inside the top-eight teams when viewing the most important pieces of data, including shots from inside the box and Expected Goals ratio, whilst their averaging more touches in the opposition penalty box than any side outside of the Big Six. What’s more, only Manchester City are giving up fewer quality open play opportunities.
With that in mind, I’m happy to support the away side with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at struggling Southampton. The Saints were annihilated at Man City last weekend and have now failed to win in their past seven Premier League matches.
Mark Hughes’ men have been desperately disappointing in the final-third – Danny Ings’ goal at The Etihad came from the penalty spot, meaning Southampton have now not scored from open play for 595 minutes in league football, that’s almost 10 hours of action.
In fact, Saints’ last open play goal was a 30-yard screamer by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, meaning five of their seven goals this term have arrived via penalties or attempts from outside the box.
Whilst the south coast club may have fired in the fourth-most shots in the division, they’re scoring on average with every 22.5 attempts, a seriously dreadful conversion rate.
Southampton’s only victory came against a Crystal Palace team without Wilfried Zaha, they’ve won just four home games since the beginning of 2017/18 and scored more than once in only six of their 24 St Mary’s matches in that time. One Watford goal should be enough to avoid defeat on Saturday.
Angers v Montpellier
Montpellier have risen to second in the Ligue 1 standings after stunning Marseille with a superb 3-0 success at their Stade de la Mosson home last weekend. Top scorer Gaetan Laborde starred with two goals to leave head coach Michel Der Zakarian delighted with La Pallade’s plight.
Der Zakarian was particularly pleased as his team bounced back from Coupe de la Ligue elimination with a third consecutive win in an unbeaten run that now stands at 11 league matches (W7-D4-L0) since the opening day.
Montpellier’s summer signings are starting to settle and performances have been eye-catching.
Damien Le Tallec’s presence in midfield has given Ellyes Skhiri more freedom and Florent Mollet’s creativity has fuelled the physical dynamism of Andy Delort and Laborde. They have all impressed at various points in their careers, but their work-rate and talent has never been used as effectively as by Der Zakarian right now.
La Pallade have remained as defensively stubborn as ever – giving up the third-fewest quality opportunities per-game in Ligue 1 and recording seven shutouts already – whilst that sprinkling of attacking stardust has seen the former Ligue 1 champions excel in attack, firing a solitary blank.
Considering their obvious improvements, I’m surprised to see Der Zakarian’s outfit available to support at 1.82 with a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line.
Montpellier have lost just twice in 14 at bottom-half dwellers since the start of last season and are well capable of downing an average Angers side.
Angers are overseen by long-term boss Stephane Moulin but his side are on the slide after regressing in each of the past three campaigns. The hosts have triumphed in only three of their first 11 fixtures, and arrive at Saturday’s showdown following a gut-wrenching late 4-3 loss at Sainte-Etienne.
That defeat has left Angers marooned in the bottom-half. The hosts have won just once when welcoming their last 13 top-half guests, are averaging the fourth fewest touching in the box in France and operating from a 42% Expected Goals ratio (compared to Montpellier’s 54%) and so are easily opposed.
- Huddersfield v West Ham – Under 2.25 Goals (1.87)
- Southampton v Watford – Watford +0.25 Asian Handicap (1.83)
- Angers v Montpellier – Montpellier +0 Asian Handicap (1.82)
Mark joined Ali Maxwell and Nigel Seeley to preview the weekend Football action on the Matchbook Betting Podcast. If you haven’t already subscribed, search for ‘Matchbook Betting Podcast’ on your preferred podcasting app.