Mark O'Haire: Bhoys Backed To Deliver Defining Old Firm Success

12 min

The international break is over and club football returns to the agenda this weekend with Mark O’Haire picking out two of his best value bets from across the continent.

A penalty three minutes into stoppage-time denied this column a full sweep of Euro 2020 qualifying winners last weekend. Both Iceland and Luxembourg produced positive profit-making results in their opening outings, although Armenia’s late strike denied Bosnia a victory by two goals or more to see our third selection sink.

We’re back to club football now until June and the return from the international break brings plenty of opportunities to seize upon value from across the continent, as well as British and Irish shores.

Bhoys Backed To Deliver

Neil Lennon has taken seven points from a possible nine since returning to Celtic, as well as guiding the group to a Scottish Cup semi-final. The Bhoys have extended their advantage at the top of the Premiership to 10 points ahead of Sunday’s Old Firm showdown against bitter rivals Rangers with the ‘treble treble’ still very much on.

There have been a few subtle differences since Lennon pitched back up in the east end of Glasgow. Celtic are crossing the ball into the box more often, and you could say there’s a more solid foundation to their approach. The defending champions remain wedded to a 4-2-3-1 system but the Bhoys have only faced 25 shots in four games despite making tricky trips to Hearts and Hibs, as well as hosting Aberdeen.

Sure, Celtic have been a little laboured at times in possession but the international break will have done them good. Scotland playing Thursday and Sunday also allowed the internationals a good opportunity to get a bit of rest time and Lennon is also buoyed by having an almost fully-fit squad to select from this weekend.

The baton has been passed on from Rodgers to Lennon and for Mark it’s been a seamless one.

Ryan Christie is missing but the hosts finally appear to be through their major injury crisis and are certainly looking stronger on paper for it. and I fancy Celtic to justify their odds-on favouritism with victory; after all, the Bhoys are unbeaten at Parkhead against Rangers since 2010 and have taken 43 points from a possible 45 here this season (W14-D1-L0).

Those 15 home fixtures have returned a goal aggregate 41-5 in Celtic’s favour and in five home outings against high-flying Aberdeen, Rangers and Kilmarnock the hosts have shipped a solitary goal. In the Premiership here, Celtic are conceding fewer than five shots, less than 1.50 shots on-target and below 0.60 Expected Goals (xG) per-game. Strong stats.

Since Rangers returned to the top-flight, they’ve travelled to Parkhead for six league or cup showdowns, scoring just twice – Celtic have struck 16 goals and were clear and deserving winners here earlier this season. Sure, Rangers won at Ibrox but they’re a different beast on the road where they’ve failed to win eight of their 15 away Premiership matches.

The narrative since Steven Gerrard took charge is that that Rangers are closer to Celtic than they have been for quite some time, which I don’t necessarily object too hugely to. However, raw results show that 12 months ago the gap between the two teams was also 10 points at this stage of the season.

Mark feels the gap between Steven Gerrard’s Rangers and Celtic is bigger than popular opinion.

The Gers arrive winless in four across all competitions, winning only twice in eight at leading lights Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts or Hibs under Gerrard. And the visitors will be without key left-back Borna Barisic. It means Andrew Halliday probably fills in and so there’s enough evidence to suggest Celtic win this match much more often than the 55% the odds imply.

It’s also worth opposing goals with Under 2.5 Goals trading 1.84. Five of Celtic’s six meetings with Rangers or Aberdeen across all competitions featured fewer than three goals, with the hosts claiming 1-0 victories in three of four at Parkhead, the other encounter ending goalless. It’s been a similar story for Rangers, who have seen Under 2.5 Goals in all but one of eight meetings with Celtic or Aberdeen, with half featuring a solitary strike.

La Dea May Dominate Parma

Atalanta bagged a sole success from their opening eight Serie A encounters this season (W1-D3-L4), stalling progress in an inauspicious start to 2018/19. Wily head coach Gian Piero Gasperini had seen his squad pilfered over the previous 18 months after guiding his group to heady fourth and seventh-placed finishes.

However, La Dea have bounced back superbly since the October international break to deliver seven victories from 12 outings (W12-D3-L5) to move into a strong position in the European qualification berths. With Milan – and Champions League football – only six points above, there’s plenty still to play for.

A frustrating 1-1 draw at home to Chievo last time out saw Josip Ilicic cancel out a remarkable Riccardo Meggiorini strike, a result Gasperini admitted he must accept after a largely below-par performance. Nevertheless, La Dea remain a beast to be wary of and they look well capable of bouncing back on Sunday.

Atalanta have W7-D0-L3 in their past 10 away days in Serie A, and La Dea have scored at least twice in nine of their 14 contests on the road throughout the course of the campaign. Only Juventus and Inter are returning more impressive performance data in games as guests making the visitors appealing at the prices.

Slovenian midfielder Josip Ilicic was on the score sheet for Atalanta last time out against Chievo.

We can support Atalanta at 1.76 when taking the Bergamo outfit with a -0.75 Asian Handicap hurdle for Sunday’s clash at Parma. Gasperini’s group are in the top-four in all the advanced performance data metrics in Serie A, including Shots In The Box ratio, Expected Goals (xG) ratio, as well as xG from open play ratio.

Parma are relishing their return to the Italian top-flight after the doom and gloom of bankruptcy and near extinction over the past 15 years. Three successive promotions have brought the Gialloblu back to the big time and boss Roberto D’Aversa has led his team into the relative safety of mid-table.

Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the Gialloblu’s good work has come against the league’s lesser lights and that makes the underdogs easily opposed. The hosts have W1-D1-L9 against the top-seven, including suffering defeat in all five fixtures when welcoming the division’s elite since promotion. Parma rank rock-bottom in Shots In The Box ratio and are likely to outclassed by a menacing Atalanta outfit this weekend.

Recommended Bets

  • Celtic -0.50 Asian Handicap 3 units @ 1.81
  • Under 2.5 Goals in Celtic v Rangers 3 units @ 1.84
  • Atalanta -0.75 Asian Handicap 2 units @ 1.76

Host Ali Maxwell is joined by Ian Broadrick and Mark O’Haire – taking in games from England, Scotland and Italy, with betting angles for West Ham vs Everton, Celtic vs Rangers and Frosinone vs SPAL. Ian Broadrick is a football tipster for Betting Emporium. Mark O’Haire is the brains behind WeLoveBetting and contributes to the Matchbook Insights Blog.