Football betting analyst Mark O’Haire returns for 2020 to share his two favourite fancies from the weekend’s action.
Happy New Year to all Insights readers – hope you all had a fantastic festive period and are successfully battling those January blues. It’s been a topsy-turvy period for punters with no significant rhyme or reason behind a few surprise results during a hectic run of fixtures.
Thankfully, a slice of normality has returned this week and I’m hopeful we can kick start 2020 with two angles of attack from home and abroad.
Resurgent Boro Backed Against Rams
I’m never normally one to leap upon a small form side but it’s difficult to dismiss Middlesbrough’s prospects of extending their four-game Championship winning streak when Derby arrive at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Boro were in turmoil in late November after a 4-0 thrashing by league leaders Leeds left the Teessiders in the midst of the relegation battle. Valid questions were asked over rookie head coach’s Jonathan Woodgate’s role, leadership and suitability for the job and such concerns were hardly eased as we began the festive period.
However, a second-half battle back against Stoke inspired an upturn in fortunes. It was the first of the four recent league triumphs – all arriving alongside clean sheets – and included a surprise success away at promotion-chasing West Brom. The recent revival has pushed Middlesbrough into mid-table safety and eight points off an improbable top-six berth.
Woodgate’s troops followed those fixtures with a richly-deserved 1-1 draw at home to a near full-strength Tottenham side in last Sunday’s FA Cup third round showdown. Sure, there were plenty of nervy moments, but Boro’s recent resurgence ensured the hosts were reasonably comfortable, composed and confident throughout the cup clash.
Last week the club brought in Manchester City pair Patrick Roberts and Lukas Nmecha on loan deals to pep up their attack but it’s Ashley Fletcher whose been earning recent plaudits in forward areas. The 24-year-old is in the form of his career, ending a 13-game stretch without a goal, to hit six goals in 11 outings, including four in his last five fixtures.
And in defensive areas, Woodgate’s somehow masterminding Man of the Match displays out of midfielder-by-trade Jonny Howson at centre-half. The ex-Leeds man was instrumental in a back-three alongside Paddy McNair and Dael Fry in the side’s 3-4-2-1 that was missing the league’s best keeper, their captain, their vice-captain and record signing against Spurs.
At the Riverside this season, Middlesbrough have W6-D4-L3 in Championship action – two of those defeats came against the top-three – the Teessiders have actually enjoyed top honours in all six match-ups with the bottom-half, leaking a solitary strike. Across all venues, the hosts have suffered only three losses in 14 league games since mid-October also.
The improvements have also been seen in the underlying performance data and process as Boro have moved into the top echelons for ratio rankings across both Expected Goals (xG) and xG from open play figures. To put simply, the winning streak has been coming with the foundations being built for the club’s upswing dating back around 12 weeks now.
This weekend, Middlesbrough can be backed at 2.19 to overcome a -0.50 Asian Handicap hurdle against Derby, an appealing play.
The Rams eased their own concerns at the wrong end of the table with back-to-back wins at home to Charlton and Barnsley following the arrival of new club captain and England’s record goalscorer Wayne Rooney.
But Derby’s displays have been maddeningly inconsistent for Phillip Cocu this campaign. County have been chalk and cheese between Pride Park and on the road, owning the second-best home record in the division, compared to the third-worst when taking to their Championship travels under the Dutch boss.
The Rams have been beaten in seven of 12 away days, failed to score in seven of those 12 fixtures and shipped two goals or more on seven occasions. If we ignore the bottom-five, the visitors have picked up a solitary point from a possible 24 in games as guests and I’m happy to oppose County again when they head to the north-east on Saturday.
Lazio To Extend Record-Breaking Run
Lazio are the form team in Italy right now. Sitting just six points behind pace-setters Inter Milan and Juventus (with a game in-hand), Simone Inzaghi’s side have churned out nine successive Serie A victories – a record only previously matched by Sven-Goran Eriksson’s famous title-winning Biancocelesti team of 1998-99.
During that sample, Le Aquile turned over Juve comfortably (3-1) at the Stadio Olimpico and over the festive period, Lazio repeated the feat against the Old Lady when taking Super Cup honours. Returning to domestic duty, Inzaghi’s outfit picked up maximum points at Brescia last weekend to extend an unbeaten run of results that dates back to mid-September.
Lazio are also achieving their feats in fine style.
The capital club have scored at least twice in each of their last 12 league outings – the best run since the Torino team of 1948 – with only Atalanta scoring more goals, generating a larger Expected Goals (xG) output, producing a better xG from open play return or attempting more shots from inside the penalty area.
Back at the Olimpico on Sunday night, I’m happy to support Lazio at odds-against quotes of 2.15 against Napoli.
The visitors were beaten 3-1 at home by Inter on Monday night with Gennaro Gattuso complaining about the Partenopei making numerous “avoidable mistakes” with key defenders Kalidou Koulibaly and Nikola Maksimovic absent through injury.
Napoli were easily exposed in transitions and if Gattuso is still without his leading lights at the back, you have to be concerned over the Partenopei’s ability to cope with the demands of Ciro Immobile, Luis Alberto, Joaquín Correa and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in full flight, particularly so if Giovanni Di Lorenzo continues as a makeshift centre-back.
Since taking over from Carlo Ancelotti, Gattuso has overseen two Serie A home defeats and a stoppage-time win at Sassuolo. Meanwhile, over the course of the campaign, Napoli have W0-D2-L6 against top-half opposition, leaking at least twice in six of those eight encounters, making the guests easily opposed at the odds on offer.
- Middlesbrough -0.50 – 2 units @ 2.19
- Lazio -0.50 – 2 units @ 2.15