This weekend's football action offers a thrilling mix of tactical battles and goal-scoring spectacles across Europe's top leagues.
Sevilla v Alaves
This weekend, La Liga will play through their second round of matches since returning from the winter break. The Friday night battle between Sevilla and Alaves sees two struggling outfits go head-to-head, looking for a key three points to try and ignite their season as a whole. Quique Sánchez Flores is the latest man prized with transforming the fortunes of the seven-time UEFA Europa League winners and has overseen two wins and two defeats thus far. Alaves sit above Sevilla by a solitary point in the standings and they’ll be hoping their Copa del Ray triumph over Betis in the week can be the required boost to help them end a five-game winless run in league action.
We should slowly but surely start to see the Flores effect on Sevilla, especially having had some time over the winter to drill into his players what he wants from them. The reality is that they have to win games and he will need that, especially knowing the club is already on its third head coach of the season, don’t think they won’t make it four if they have to. They sit three points above the relegation zone with only three La Liga wins to their name, things just have to improve. Their lowly position is a surprise knowing they average the third-most shots on goal in the league per game, with only Real Madrid and Barcelona bettering that. They’re fifth bottom in the Expected Goals (xG) count, however, so issues in attack needs resolving.
Alaves may have needed eight goals fewer than Sevilla but a higher xG figure suggests that they too can contribute going forward. 15 goals across 19 games may suggest otherwise however and there are some notable figures surrounding their away goals scored this season. They seem to have some offensive success when travelling to opponents you’d perceive to be offensively-minded. Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad and Villarreal fit into that category, but Alaves have scored against them all on the road. I’d put Sevilla in a similar category, and you like to think they could have some joy on the break in a match like this.
70% of Sevilla home league battles this season has seen both teams score and having not scored in back-to-back home games against Athletic Club and Getafe, you’d like to think a pretty sizeable effort will be produced to defeat an Alaves side they are their fans would expect to defeat. They are defensively vulnerable though and just three league clean sheets reflect that, a number that can be matched by Alaves, too.
Therefore, I am more than happy to jump on board with Both Teams to Score in this Friday night match, which pays a handsome 2.10 with StarSports.
Betis v Granada
Saturday, 8 pm
Our second and final trip to La Liga across the weekend comes on Saturday evening as Betis welcomes Granada to Estadio Benito Villamarín. Whilst some may instantly place this into the ‘home banker’ category at the first hearing of this fixture, it is worth noting that Bets are winless in the league since defeating Las Palmas 1-0 at home on November 26th; meaning they’ve won once in nine in all competitions. They are still knocking on the door of the European qualification spots as they normally tend to do, but know they need to get back in the winning groove. Granada on the other hand head into this contest on the back of a rather rare win last time out when they overcome Cadiz 2-0 at home. This ended a dreadful 16-match winless run for GCF, and whilst they remain in the drop zone there is now light at the end of the tunnel following that much-needed win.
A major reason for Betis ultimately not being higher in the table or having a better run of results at present is their inability to turn draws into victories. They lead the league with number of draws at ten, four of which have some within their five most recent games. On the flip side, they are incredibly hard to beat having only been so on three occasions, a number that only the top three of Real Madrid, Girona and Barcelona can say they’ve suffered fewer. On the plus side, they’re at home this weekend, where they are yet to be defeated this season. Five of their six victories have been so in front of their own supporters, and another plus point is that all those wins came to opponents below them in the table.
Another good reason for that is because Granada must surely have that losing feeling prior to even starting any away game this season. They remain one of only four teams in La Liga yet to taste a win on the road, and they’ve claimed just one out of a possible 27 points in the process. That one solitary point came when drawing 3-3 at Almeria; the only team below them in the table as things stand. They’ve at least scored on visits to Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad, but conceded three and five goals respectively in those particular contests. In their defence, those have been the only two heavy road beatings they’ve had, so they can at least keep things respectively more often than not.
After winning their last game, the pressure will be off Granada to a degree here. Expecting back-to-back wins from a side like them is too much to ask in my eyes, especially given their away record. Betis need the win here to end their winless run and it really is the right type of opponent for them. Only two of Betis’ league contests this season has witnessed a minimum of five goals, so don’t expect them to blow Granada to bits here. They’re only averaging just over 1.10 goals per game, so they’ll look to just get the job done here before they welcome Barcelona next weekend.
Betis and Under 4.5 Goals is priced 1.95 with Betway and offers us a more attractive price than purely backing the home victory.
Go Ahead Eagles v Ajax
An attractive-looking contest takes place in the Dutch Eredivisie on Sunday afternoon in what is a top-six encounter between Go Ahead Eagles and Ajax. It would be fair to say that Ajax are starting to get their act together after a too bad to be true start to the campaign and hunting down AZ Alkmaar in third is their next target; who are eight points ahead. GOE on the other hand are bypassing all real expectations this season as a whole, but going four without a win prior to the winter break suggests things are catching up with them, although the break probably came at a good time for them.
The form guide over the last ten league games actually places Ajax in third place behind PSV and Feyenoord, which would resemble something close to what the league table would normally look like. They can’t do anything about the start they had but they are starting to look like their old selves again, although still not quite there. John van ‘t Schip’s side have still shipped 18 goals in that period of game; an average of 1.80 goals per game, so they are generally relying on outscoring opponents at present. It is one clean sheet in their last 11 in all competitions.
Sunday’s home team will really be relishing the chance to take on Ajax. The way in which they play, especially at home, means even they know this is the kind of game where Ajax know they’ll have some problems at times. Only three teams in the league have achieved a lower average ball possession figure than Go Ahead Eagles, so they won’t be too concerned Ajax seeing a lot of the ball here. They however ranked 7th in the league on the Expected Goals Against (xGA) count, so Ajax are going to create a good number of big moments here. It should make for an entertaining watch and I firmly expect goals to be on the agenda as well.
No team in Eredivisie has seen more goals in games than Ajax. They just follow them given how regularly they both find the back of the net (third-highest) and concede in their own goal (joint sixth-worst). 68.75% of their league battles has contained a minimum of four goals, including in six of their eight away from home. As for Go Ahead Eagles, five of eight at home beating the 3.5 goal line also says it all about how they approach games at De Adelaarshorst. FC Twente is the only opponent they’ve played at home out of the sides above them in the table, that game featuring four goals, too.
The case for goals here is there for all to see and that just has to be how we approach it here. There are a number of ways in which you can play it but the 1.95 on offer from 10Bet for Over 3.25 Goals is the way I’d go, and at a good price for measure. Expect an open game with chances at both ends.
Lens v PSG
Without doubt the standout fixture in Ligue 1 this weekend comes in the last clash of the weekend when Lens and PSG take to the field. A typically raucous atmosphere at Estadio Bollaert-Delelis adds further spice to the occasion. It perfectly fits the definition of being a ‘tricky place to go’ as only Metz and Nice have departed from here with three points since the start of last season in the French top flight. Ironically they head into this after losing their last league game to Nice, whilst also being knocked out of the cup by Monaco on penalties last time out. PSG have returned from the winter break and secured the French Super Cup against Toulouse, whilst comfortably knocking lowly Revel out of the cup 9-0 last Sunday. They top the table, but only by five-points as Nice have emerged as their closest challengers for now.
You are looking at an odds-on price for PSG to emerge with the win here, around the 1.90 mark. Many would view this as an attractive price to get on a largely dominant PSG side in domestic action, but this will be anything but straightforward for them. Since this has become a more regular fixture in recent years, PSG are winless on their three visits here, losing twice. Now Lens are finding their feet after a sluggish start to the season, they’re more than a threat in a match like this and relish the big occasion against the bigger clubs.
Lens may have won only one of six meetings against teams above them in the table this season, but all four defeats came when away from home, including 3-1 at PSG in August. In fact, the only home clash they’ve had in this mini-bracket was when beating Marseille 1-0 in November. PSG don’t always convincingly get the job done against the better teams in the league. They lost at home to Nice, drew away at Lille and only edged past Brest on the road, who currently sit fourth. Still, it is often tough to discount them.
I would not be shocked in the slightest if Lens won this game, and so I can’t really touch any side market here with much confidence. I do however think it is the type of match which screams out bet-builder material, as we can picture the kind of contest we are likely to see. PSG will enjoy most of the ball, although Lens like to do so as well, so this game will largely be about who can transition the stronger of the two. Lens will take on the underdog tag and so they’ll come under big pressure at times.
I’ve had to get creative but this is a bet-builder which to my eyes really should come through. PSG Over 0.5 Goals and PSG Over 4.5 Corners is really nicely priced at 1.94 with Unibet. PSG are always good for a goal, plus they’ve claimed five or more corners for six games running, and I suspect they’ll look to the wide areas to try and get through what can be a very stubborn Lens outfit, so their corner count should hopefully tick along quite nicely.
Sevilla v Alaves – Both Teams to Score (2.10 StarSports)
Real Betis v Granada – Real Betis and Under 4.5 Goals (1.95 Betway)
Go Ahead Eagles v Ajax – Over 3.25 Goals (1.95 10Bet)
Lens v PSG – PSG Over 0.5 Goals and PSG Over 4.5 Corners (1.94 Unibet)