This can be a difficult time of the season for strong recommendations as title hopes evaporate; teams get lost in mid-table mediocrity with little to play for and those resigned to their fate fail to perform to expectation.
But there are some interesting clashes this weekend as in Serie A six of the top seven take each other on. In the Premier League, Arsenal’s season will finish early unless they can win at Old Trafford. There’s much to be decided at the bottom of the Bundesliga as any three from five could still be relegated and two of them meet this weekend. Ligue 1 is even less defined as only six points separates 12th from 19th and four of the bottom five have the same number of points. Only in Spain could nearly everything top and bottom of the table be resolved this weekend.
English Premier League
Manchester United’s defence of the title has been built on rock solid home performances and taking maximum points from their Big Four rivals in three of the four games played so far. Arsenal have spoilt that record this season and been an irritant to them over a longer period as well. We are also put off taking an interest in the game of the weekend because United have dropped points in five of their last 10 at Old Trafford against teams in similar away form to Arsenal.
Another key Premier League games this weekend is at the Madejski because three points for Reading would all but secure their future for another season and condemn Fulham to the Championship. We think the Royals will do it because the Cottagers have kept only four clean sheets in 33 away games and Reading have won 11/13 when scoring at home against bottom-half sides.
The fact that six of the top seven in Serie A play each other this weekend reduces the number of strong calls in Italy this weekend. On Saturday night, erratic Milan are in Turin to play third-placed Juventus. It’s debatable whether they will score at all, but the main pattern to note here is the visitors’ propensity to score first. On Sunday, Inter welcome Fiorentina to the San Siro. La Viola have been largely poor on their travels to the Big Four, and all-team form data suggests there’s a 60% chance of the home win. We’d take the Inter W-W at 2.60, but it’s not really strong enough to merit inclusion in this topline. The third game pits Roma away to Udinese. Roma are 2.36 favourites, but our records show them winning around one third of the time. If Udinese had a better record against the top teams -they haven’t beaten one for over five years – we might well have backed them on a handicap. As it is, we would stay out of that one.
In France, Lyon and Bordeaux have settled into an end of season status quo of six points separating first from second. We expect that margin to be maintained this weekend as both are at home with strong stats to support their win prospects against their respective opponents, Rennes and Caen. A similarity for both sides is that when they win at home, roughly 75% have been W-W this season and their visitors have 100% records of losing L-L when suffering defeat on the road this season. Whilst those are compelling reasons to take an odds-against option for both games, we’d take the win double which will pay out to approximately 2.25, simply because it is that time of the season when not every strong trend is delivered.
We mentioned last week that Real Madrid are being gifted the La Liga title and so it proved as second-placed, Villarreal and third-placed, Barcelona both failed to make up ground, even though the leaders were held by Mallorca. They could see Real disappear into the distance this weekend because the Madrista have a comparatively easy task at home to Murcia and we expect them to win by at least a couple of goals. Barcelona and Villarreal have tricky fixtures away to Recreativo and Almeria.
Our Spanish bet of the weekend involves one of the longest standing trends for an away team and that should help to define the outcome of the match between Espanyol and Osasuna. The visitors haven’t had a score draw for over two years and as the hosts have had only one such result at home this season that takes one outcome out of the equation. With strong trends to suggest Espanyol will score, it’s significant that Osasuna have lost 20/25 when conceding away since the start of last season. We think Espanyol are a big price at 2.3, even though they’ve had a few wobbles of late.
Much of the interest for us this weekend in the Bundesliga lies with goals. High scoring affairs are likely at Bochum, Bayern Munich, Leverkusen and Cottbus. Bayern were involved in a dramatic UEFA Cup quarter-final on Thursday and that might just take the edge of their performance against Dortmund. The top-six clash between Leverkusen and Stuttgart involves teams with high scoring and concession rates but forced to choose one we’d side with Bochum against Hertha Berlin. The visitors rarely keep clean sheets on the road and when Bochum score at home and Hertha concede on the road, well over 70% of the respective games have had more than a couple of goals and that’s good enough for us.
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