Mark O’Haire returns with two bets for the weekend.
The Solskjaer Era Continues To Roll
I’ve reached the end of my tether with Fulham. I’ve not afraid to admit that in pre-season I suggested this Cottagers team were as good as Wolves and well capable of battling it out amongst the leading lights in the Premier League this season. In some parishes, I even claimed the West Londoners were worth supporting for a top-half finish.
Fast forward eight months and I most definitely have egg on my face.
Following a dreadful opening stanza, Fulham have been marooned at the bottom end of the table and looking every inch prime candidates for an immediate trip back down to the Championship. Even the coaching change with incoming Claudio Ranieri unable to stem the bleeding.
In fairness, the Italian returned W2-D3-L3 in his opening eight encounters, although those glimmers of green shoots have long since blown over. The Cottagers have lost five of their past six across all competitions – conceding at least twice in each outing – and posted W4-D5-L16 across their league campaign, shipping twice or more in 19/25 (76%).
Understandably, Fulham boast the division’s worst defence – they’ve conceded nine more goals than any league rival – and only Burnley (1.90) are giving up more Expected Goals (xG) per-game than the Cottagers’ tally of 1.86. Saturday’s hosts are allowing an eye-watering 1.40 xG from open play on average.
Those blatant backline issues are sure to be a major concern for home supporters when coming up against a rejuvenated Manchester United outfit. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge of the club, the Red Devils have W9-D1-L0, scoring an average of 2.5 goals-per-game by an overall aggregate of 25-7. Confidence has been restored.
Last weekend’s reasonably sketchy 1-0 success over Leicester was only the second time in those 10 tussles that United failed to score at least twice, whilst their xG numbers have also been impressive as the Old Trafford giants have generated an average of 2.06 per game. And the visitors’ record at Premier League strugglers is also encouraging.
Exclude the Big Six and United have W13-D4-L2 in Premier League action – that enhances to W6-D2-L0 against bottom-six teams with the Red Devils racking up 23 goals in just eight games. Considering Fulham have been beaten in all eight meetings with the Big Six since promotion by an aggregate 5-24, the hosts are easily opposed.
Man Utd do take on PSG on Tuesday night in what’s a crucial Champions League tie, however, Solskjaer is unlikely to take his eye off the main prize of securing a top-four finish between now and May. A victory here would push the away side temporarily above Chelsea into fourth.
I’ll back United to overcome Fulham with the -0.75 Asian Handicap most appealing at 1.81. All but one of Fulham’s losses this season have seen them concede at least twice – only shot-shy Huddersfield failed to manage it – and I can’t see the Red Devils having to work too hard to notch at least twice, bringing the steeper handicap into play.
Home Warriors Gladbach
Borussia Monchengladbach are table-topping Borussia Dortmund’s closest rivals in the Bundesliga title race as we head into Matchday 21 in Germany. The Foals were impressive 2-0 winners over Schalke on the road last weekend to overtake Bayern Munich in the standings and close the gap on Dortmund to seven points.
Dieter Hecking’s troops have built their wonderful campaign upon a stunning unblemished record at their Borussia Park base, and it’s worth supporting the North Rhine-Westphalians making it 10 wins from 10 at generous 1.74 quotes when Hertha Berlin arrive on Saturday.
Gladbach have produced a splendid 25-3 goal difference as hosts, winning by a margin of two goals or more in eight of their nine victories. Under Hecking’s watch, the hosts have W18-D4-L4 here since the start of last season, scoring two or more goals on 19 occasions. That swashbuckling attacking style should hold the Foals in good stead here.
The returning Thorgan Hazard had a hand in both goals last weekend and his expertise, along with the likes of Alassane Plea and Jonas Hoffman has helped propel the club into contention. And the trio should be backed to cause a Hertha side that’s conceded twice or more in six of 10 away days plenty of problems here.
The visitors will have little time to prepare for this encounter. On Wednesday, Hertha are involved in DFB Pokal action against Bayern Munich, giving the capital club only two free days before travelling to the Bundesliga’s most efficient hosts. What’s more, the Berlin boys are arriving off a dour 1-0 home defeat to Wolfsburg last weekend.
Pal Dardai’s limited outfit have now picked up only three triumphs since September and their road record continues to uninspire. Hertha have won just three times on their travels – two of which came at the bottom-two – and the guests have W4-D6-L25 when visiting top-half teams under the Hungarian head coach’s tutelage.
Gladbach are the only Bundesliga side yet to concede a goal after Christmas, beating Schalke, Leverkusen and Augsburg along the way, and they’ll hold no fear about a meeting with Hertha. The Foals have won each of their five meetings with the Berlin club here since 2013/14 by an aggregate scoreline of 14-3.
- Manchester United -0.75 Asian Handicap (1.81)
- Borussia Monchengladbach to win (1.74)