Martin Laurence: My Saturday European trio

8 min


Frankfurt vs Hamburg

I’m off to the Bundesliga for my first bet this weekend and keeping a keen eye on another great escape attempt from Hamburg. A staple of the German top-flight, HSV have flirted with relegation for years, twice winning play-offs to avoid the drop, but it had seemed as though their nine lives were up a month ago. At the foot of the Bundesliga at the start of April, after the comically named Bernd Hollerbach was replaced by the even more comically named Christian Titz, the latter has forged a spirit in the side that has them dreaming of another season in the top tier yet.

Indeed, three wins from the last four matches have moved Hamburg to within two points of a Wolfsburg side that they beat last time out. Another relegation play-off looks likely to be the best they can hope for, but given their previous successes when it has mattered most they will be confident of overcoming the odds yet again.

The loss of Manager Niko Kovac to Bayern Munich next season has had an adverse effect on the Eintracht players in recent weeks.

Their opponents this weekend are on the slide by comparison, and it’s impossible not to connect the announcement that Niko Kovac will take the Bayern hot seat next season with a recent slump from Frankfurt. The young manager could be forgiven for having one eye on his upcoming Munich mission, but his current club are now at risk of slipping out of a likely European finish that had encouraged the Bavarians to make their move. With just one point from the last 15 available, and morale within the camp seemingly low, a price over evens on Hamburg double chance takes my fancy.

Athletic Club vs Real Betis

Having done me proud some weeks back with a point away to Atletico Madrid, I’m putting my faith in in-form Betis again in what is a game without any real consequence against Athletic Club. Quique Setien’s visitors guaranteed a Europa League finish last time out and are set for a superb fifth-placed finish after a highly entertaining first season under the former Las Palmas boss.

A 2-1 victory at Malaga last time out was their seventh in eight unbeaten LaLiga matches. The arrival of Marc Bartra has remedied a suspect defensive record to say the least and it’s perhaps no coincidence that the former Barcelona man was suspended last time out as his new club conceded for the first time in six matches. The centre-back is back available for the trip to San Mames, and as such the chances of a home win seem even more remote.

The arrival from Barcelona of centre back Marc Bartra has helped solidify a once porous Betis defence.

Jose Angel Ziganda has endured a difficult debut season in charge of the club that he represented for much of his playing career, struggling to make home advantage count. Indeed, only the three sides already doomed to relegation have picked up fewer points as hosts (23), with Athletic failing to beat a top half team on home soil since October. As such, odds of 3.40 on an away win are very tempting but my safe tip would be to back Betis +0.5.

Sporting CP vs Benfica

The Lisbon derby is always a tense affair but Saturday night’s encounter has even higher stakes, and as such there may well be nerves on show at the Estadio Jose Alvalade. Both teams know that they must win to keep their faint hopes of a title bid alive ahead of Porto’s Sunday showdown, currently tied on 77 points, five adrift of the top with just two games remaining.

It’s the home side that will enter the match in higher spirits this weekend, however, after Benfica’s shock defeat at home to Tondela last time out all but wrapped up the title for their aforementioned rivals. The reigning champions will have to pick themselves off the floor but this is far from an ideal fixture in which to try to bounce back. Sporting have been sensational at home this season after all, and their defensive record in front of their own fans has been quite remarkable.

Indeed, the hosts have conceded in just one of their last 17 home matches, and haven’t shipped a single goal in Liga NOS since November. That’s despite playing Porto twice in that time – with the cup tie between the sides going all the way to penalties – as well as Atletico Madrid last month. The visitors’ main goal threat Jonas is not fully fit either, and while he may still start this looks likely to be a low scoring affair. Each of the last five meetings between these sides at Sporting have seen under 2.5 goals and a repeat at 1.90 is good value.

Recommended Bets:

  • Hamburg +0.5 at 1.98
  • Betis +0.5
  • Sporting CP-Benfica Under 2.5 at 1.90

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