Nick Haynes from Form Labs continues his Friday round-up of the weekend’s sporting activity. The Nations League and French Open top the bill this time, but not before he looks back on results that rescued the bookies a week ago.
Goals have been coming thick and fast at the beginning of this campaign, and even with the relaxation of the hand-ball law last weekend we didn’t see a drop off. Though what came hand in hand with a lot of goals were some unpredictable results.
Results that rescued the bookies
When Chelsea opened the weekend with a convincing 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, the bookies got off to a poor start, but from there on it was upset after upset. Leeds held Man City to a 1-1 draw to maintain their strong start to life back in the top flight and when Sunday rolled around it was clean up time for the providers.
West Ham opened the day with a 3-0 win at Leicester and Spurs’ 6-1 victory at Old Trafford was somewhat overshadowed by the game that followed, with Aston Villa taking reigning champions Liverpool to the cleaners 7-2 at Villa Park.
Those results boosted the upset figures for this season. 12 results of 2/1 or more have come in this season from just 38 matches. In fact, betting providers may look to shorten underdog value in the weeks ahead as lack of crowds somewhat nullifies home advantage, meaning blindly backing the underdog in all 38 matches this season would have yielded a 31% profit so far.
That figure rises to 50.7% in the Bundesliga, though would be in the negative for all of Serie A, La Liga and Ligue 1, showing that as goals fly in across England and Germany, the underdogs look worth getting onside. With goals all over the English and German top divisions, can that be transferred over to international football this weekend and will the market react accordingly?
England (9/5) v Belgium (31/20) Match Preview
Gareth Southgate can call on some exceptional home form under his reign, going W14-D4-L1 at Wembley since his appointment in September 2016, winning seven on the bounce and netting a whopping 27 times across those last seven games, though the majority of those wins have come against sides far lower ranked than Belgium.
Indeed, against the better sides they’ve faced in this time: Germany, Brazil, Croatia, Italy and Spain, the Three Lions are just W1-D4-L1 at Wembley, so they’ll want to claim a scalp in this group and this is just the time to do so.
The Red Devils have one of the most star studded squads in world football, with Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku among their key attacking threats. Roberto Martinez’s side have now won 12 on the bounce since the group stages of this competition two years ago, though again haven’t faced much quality in that time having been in a Euro qualifying group with Cyprus, Russia, Kazakhstan and Scotland.
That said, a 2-0 win away at Denmark in the last international break is no mean feat, and the only real solace the hosts can take here is that Eden Hazard will be missing through injury.
These two sides were the top two scorers in the qualifiers last year, and there’s absolutely no shortness of firepower for either side. Though, as mentioned, they both had extremely easy groups to contend with in the grand scheme of things, and when big sides go head to head there’s rarely as many goals.
The visitors have seen a maximum of two goals in eight of nine clashes with top sides France, Brazil, Italy, England, Netherlands and Portugal since June 2016, including both meetings with Southgate’s men at the World Cup while the only exception saw them shift from their usual three at the back in that same competition against Brazil.
England have seen ‘Unders’ in 15 of Southgate’s last 19 matches with the current top 20 in the world, so it’s surprising to see Under 2.5 goals at just 10/11 for this clash.
Elsewhere in the Nations League: Key Stats
World Cup holders France (23/20) host Euro and Nations League winners Portugal (14/5). A Selecao win looks relatively short since they haven’t beaten a top team outside of Portugal since they went to Italy in June 2015, while Les Bleus haven’t lost on home soil for 15 matches, beating all of Netherlands, Uruguay, Germany, Italy and Croatia in that time. Rarely are Portugal seen as underdogs, but on this occasion it seems justified.
A trans-Irish Sea encounter sees Wales (11/6) travel to Dublin to face Ireland (19/10). Four of the five meetings between the two sides have seen no more than a single goal, while the hosts have seen ‘Under 2.5 Goals’ in 15 of their last 17 matches, with the same outcome occurring in 25 of Wales’ last 31 games prior to their clash with England. Goals have long been a struggle for both.
The other sides in England’s group Iceland (10/3) and Denmark (10/11) go head to head this weekend in another that doesn’t promise much in terms of output. Iceland have built on a strong Euro 2016 and while they don’t pose too much in front of goal, they’ve become more resilient so it’s no wonder five of their last eight (prior to facing Romania) have seen a single goal or fewer.
Denmark don’t get rolled over easily, and they only tend to put very weak teams to the sword as excluding games against Gibraltar, Georgia, Luxembourg, Kosovo and Faroe Islands, as well as non-FIFA friendlies and a 3-0 defeat to Slovakia when fielding a second side, 21 of 24 have seen the ‘Unders’ market come in.
It has been a rather strange French Open in the women’s draw with just four matches being played out between two seeded players this fortnight, while both Sofia Kenin and Iga Switek will be playing in their maiden Roland Garros final. Only Garbine Muguruza (29/20) and Jelena Ostapenko (159/50) in 2016 and 2017 respectively have been able to lift the title as underdogs since 2010, so we’re hardly expecting too many surprises on Saturday.
That goes even more so in the men’s draw, with the favourite winning 14 of 15 finals since 2005. Of course, that has mainly been down to the dominance of Rafa Nadal on this red surface, but with just one considerable upset over that whole period, when Stan Wawrinka (53/10) lifted the title after beating Novak Djokovic in 2015, we’re hardly expecting anything out the ordinary in their draw either.
The lack of domestic football allows us to have a look at what’s going on around the world, and we’re deep into the MLB Postseason with the LA Dodgers favourites for the World Series at 9/5 (+180). They’re 2-0 up in their division series clash with San Diego, while Atlanta lead Miami by the same scoreline.
11 teams have won their opening two quarter-final matches over the past four seasons. More than half of those needed just three meetings to settle the contest, while only one went the full five-game distance.
Stat of the day
Randy Arozarena is Tampa Bay Rays’ first ever player with multiple hits in four back-to-back postseason matches.