Football betting analyst Mark O’Haire returns to share his favourite fancies from the weekend’s European action with a pair of plays from Spain and Serie A.
DISTRACTED VILLARREAL ARE VULNERBALE
Villarreal stunned Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tie on Wednesday night, picking up a richly-deserved 1-0 success. The Yellow Submarine were superb from the outset and led inside 10 minutes before seeing a goal ruled out for offside, whilst Gerard Moreno hit the post as the Spaniards pushed for a second.
Unai Emery’s well-organised outfit defended diligently and restricted Bayern to only four attempts on target – none of which arrived in the first half – and can now look ahead to the return tie in Munich on Tuesday night with a potential semi-final berth on the cards.
With Villarreal sitting seventh in La Liga and 12 points adrift of the top-four, that second leg is bound to be top of Emery’s agenda and that makes the 2021 Europa League winners vulnerable for the visit of Athletic on Saturday.
The Bayern game will have taken a lot out of the players and the quick turnaround from Wednesday is far from ideal.
Athletic certainly aren’t the sort of side you would wish to play against if you’re feeling weary, jaded, or distracted.
The Basques represent awkward, physical and capable opposition that relish their role as disruptors.
Under Marcelinho, Les Leones are a difficult team to swipe aside and the Basque boys hold plenty of appeal here with a +0.50 start.
Emery is expected to make changes to his starting XI, resting and rotating his squad ahead of Wednesday’s match-up, and the former Arsenal boss has shown in previous seasons he’s quite content for league fixtures to take a back seat when his team are challenging for honours in domestic or European competition.
Villarreal have tabled only three triumphs against top-half opposition this term and recent La Liga performances suggest the Yellow Submarine are attempting to peak for their Champions League commitments.
That should encourage an Athletic outfit that have lost just five of 26 league dates when excluding games against Barcelona and Real Madrid.
On the road, Les Leones have been beaten in only four of 15 away days – two of which were against the top-two – and Athletic’s rearguard has allowed just two home teams to score twice or more against them this season. In fact, the Basques boast seven shutouts on their travels, conceding the second-fewest away goals, and can make life difficult for Villarreal.
BOTH SIDES CAN OBLIGE IN TUSCANY
Serie A safety has yet to be completely confirmed but both Empoli and Spezia are looking relatively safe as we approach the business end of the season in Italy.
The duo were expected to struggle and were amongst the relegation favourites back in August.
Newly-promoted Empoli made a fabulous start to life back in the top-flight, although the Tuscans are winless in 14 fixtures now going back to mid-December.
Nevertheless, Aurelio Andreazzoli’s outfit remain a live danger to opposition sides with the Azzurri offering plenty in the final third, particularly at their Stadio Carlo Castellani base.
Indeed, Empoli have netted in all bar two of their 15 matches here, bagging multiple goals in almost half of their home dates thus far.
The expansive hosts have W6-D8-L6 when facing the teams outside the top seven and should see this weekend’s match-up as an opportunity to confirm their Serie A status for 2022/23 and end their rotten recent run.
Andreazzoli’s issue has been keeping the backdoor shut.
For all of the Azzurri’s eye-catching efforts in the final third, Empoli are still yet to record a shutout as hosts, conceding two goals or more in 11 of those 15 contests.
It means the Stadio Carlo Castellani is comfortably the highest-scoring venue in Serie A, averaging a whopping 4.07 goals-per-game.
Over 2.5 Goals has clicked in 12/15 (80%) fixtures here with the same hit rate paying out for Both Teams To Score backers, already making a persuasive case for a repeat when Spezia pitch up on Saturday.
Spezia have produced their best work against the league’s lesser lights, posting W6-D4-L1 when facing the bottom seven. That sample includes recent victories over fellow strugglers Sampdoria and Venezia, and so Thiago Motta’s team will fancy their chances of departing with at least a share of the spoils from their trip to Tuscany.
Interestingly, the Aquilotti have found the back of the net in all 11 of their contests with the bottom seven with four of their five away days in that sequence rewarding Both Teams To Score backers.
Indeed, Spezia have scored in 7/7 games as guests with clubs in 10th or lower, and have only twice recorded clean sheets when playing away from their Liguria home.
With neither team in any immediate danger, the pressure should be slightly off going into Saturday’s showdown, allowing the two teams to play to their strengths.
The potential for Both Teams To Score remains relatively strong and I’m happy to support the 1.76 available in the Serie A curtain-raiser this weekend.
- Athletic +0.5 in Villarreal vs Athletic – 2 units @ 1.76
- Both Teams To Score in Empoli vs Spezia – 2 units @ 1.76