Mark O'Haire
4 months ago - 9 minute read

MARK OHAIRE – UNDERRATED PAIR CAN KEEP CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DREAMS ALIVE

European football fanatic Mark O’Haire shares his favourite selections from across the continent this Easter weekend.

Not for the first time in 2018/19, we enjoyed a very successful midweek Champions League punting via the award-winning Matchbook Podcast. However, nothing had prepared me for the exquisite encounter from The Etihad on Wednesday night – that match will live long in the memory as one of the greatest the game has ever produced.

Back to domestic matters this weekend and I’m keen to focus on two tussles from Europe, with a particular focus on teams fighting at the wrong end of the Bundesliga and Serie A standings as we enter the final furlong.

AUGSBURG CAN EDGE CRUNCH BASEMENT BATTLE

The battle to survive at the bottom of the Bundesliga appears relatively clear-cut with five games to play. Hannover are seven points from survival with Nurnberg three points adrift of Stuttgart, who occupy the relegation play-off position. Six points better off are Schalke and a place and point above the fallen German giants are Augsburg.

So Saturday’s showdown between Augsburg and Stuttgart could have a major effect on the two teams’ fortunes between now and mid-May.

Stuttgart enjoyed a big victory over Hannover six weeks ago, a result that was supposed to propel the Swabians towards safety. However, VFB have accumulated just two more points (W0-D2-L3) – against Nurnberg and undeservedly so against Hoffenheim – whilst slumping to a damaging and dominating 1-0 defeat at Leverkusen last weekend.

Sure, Stuttgart started brightly but once Leverkusen took a stranglehold on proceedings midway through the first-half, VFB were indebted to poor finishing and smart stopping from goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler to stay in with a shout. The Swabians then saw midfield enforcer Santiago Ascacibar dismissed in stoppage-time and subsequently banned for six weeks for spitting.

Ascacibar’s absence is an obvious blow. With skipper Christian Gentner a major doubt, Stuttgart could be forced into a major midfield reshuffle – not ideal for a side that’s won once in 14 Bundesliga games since mid-December (W1-D4-L9). Indeed, the visitors have struggled to impress under Markus Weinzierl, averaging only 0.70 points from his 22 games.

The guests have been beaten 11 times in 14 on their travels, shipping two goals or more on 11 occasions. VFB give up 1.67 Expected Goals (xG) on average away, have conceded 2.10 goals-per-game– the second-worst in the division – and recorded just three clean sheets. Meanwhile, the Swabians’ xG ratio return on the road is just 34%.

Augsburg upset the odds to win at high-flying Eintracht Frankfurt last week in Martin Schmidt’s first match in charge. The Fuggerstädter were unrecognizable from their heavy recent losses to Nurnberg and Hoffenheim, enjoying plenty of freedom in their new-look 4-1-4-1 system with Philipp Max and Dong-Won Ji left out.

Augsberg’s New Manager Martin Schmidt got his tenure off to a flying start last weekend.

So the 2.10 on a home success here on Saturday appeals. The hosts have W3-D2-L0 when welcoming bottom-seven sides, scoring at least twice in four of those fixtures. Augsburg also enjoy the upper hand over Stuttgart across all major data metrics, whilst only five sides have fired in more shots on-target than the Bavarian side.

Nevertheless, Augsburg have endured their own defensive issues, silencing only three opponents in 2018/19. With that in mind, plus matches involving the Fuggerstädter featuring the highest rate of shots inside the penalty area, I’m also keen to exploit the rather low goals line with Over 2.5 Goals trading at 1.78.

Augsburg’s home games average 3.50 goals with 11 of 14 crossing the Over 2.5 Goals barrier. In fact, all bar one has produced at least two goals with eight (57%) even beating the Over 3.5 Goals barrier. At any destination, 12 of their last 14 tussles have seen this selection bank, and the duo have collectively seen 2.83 xG in their games this season.

GOALS TO FLOW IN SERIE A SHOWDOWN

Sampdoria enjoyed derby day honours last weekend as they saw-off Genoa 2-0 at the Marassi. The result extends head coach Marco Giampaolo’s unbeaten streak to six against the Blucerchiati’s city rivals and pushed Samp to within five points of a European qualification place. A superb achievement from the ex-Empoli boss.

Sampdoria have now claimed five victories from seven and since November’s international break, Giampaolo’s group have averaged a solid 1.65 points-per-game. With four of their final six contests against sides occupying the bottom-third, there’s a real chance for further progression and a return to continental football in 2019/20.

The Blucerchiati’s campaign has been an intriguing watch. Often falling short against the league’s elite, Samp have excelled against Serie A’s lesser lights; Saturday’s visitors have W3-D1-L10 against the top-eight, compared to W11-D5-L2 versus sides in 10th and below. Giampaolo’s troops have W5-D4-L1 away to sides outside the top-five, scoring 24 goals.

So there’s plenty of positives if punters want to support Sampdoria with a + start on the Asian Handicap lines this weekend. However, it’s worth highlighting relegation-haunted Bologna’s recent revival under Sinisa Mihajlovic since late-January.

Sinisa Mihajlovic’s Bologna side are trending up in recent weeks.

Under former head coach Filippo Inzaghi, the Rossoblu were sleep-walking to Serie B playing a dreadfully dour, defensive-first style. Since Mihajlovic pitched up, the Serb has released the shackles and brought about a much-needed improvement in the final third. Bologna have W5-D2-D4 under Mihajlovic having won just twice in 21 previously.

Bologna have scored in all bar two of their 11 outings under the current regime having fired blanks in 11 of 21 tussles beforehand. The Rossoblu fired in 28 on-target efforts and scored seven times in their last three outings at their Stadio Renato Dall’Ara base and have generated 1.67 xG since Mihajlovic arrived – further evidence to their new-look approach.

Obviously, that change towards a more forward-thinking system and tactical change from 5-3-2 to a 4-2-3-1 that morphs into 4-3-3 in possession also sees Bologna a little more open at the back. And that’s why I’m quite keen to take advantage of the low goals line and support Over 2.5 Goals at 2.05 quotes against Sampdoria on Saturday.

Despite Bologna’s largely dour output across the whole campaign, seven (47%) home fixtures have featured at least three goals this season, whilst games under Mihajlovic ‘s watch are averaging 2.70 xG. Meanwhile, Over 2.5 Goals has landed in 12/16 (75%) Sampdoria away days this term with matches averaging a huge 3.63 goals.

Visiting boss Giampaolo has seen his side score in 42 of 54 road trips since he arrived at the Genoese club, with 63% of those showdowns seeing this bet provide profit.

There’s been steady cash for a repeat throughout this week and I’m still amazed to see the selection available to support at odds-against.

Recommended Bets

  • Augsburg to win – 2 units @ 2.10
  • Over 2.5 Goals in Augsburg v Stuttgart 2 units @ 1.78
  • Over 2.5 Goals in Bologna v Sampdoria 2 units at 2.05