Just a few key players missing can make a team a whole different proposition.
Man Utd v Newcastle – Saturday 17:30, BT Sport 1
Christian Atsu (LW), Mikel Merino (DM) and Jamaal Lascelles (CB), Newcastle
Merino has started six matches this season and Newcastle have won half those while conceding just four times. In contrast their only win without him in the starting XI came against Palace – and it was actually Merino who scored that winner off the bench. That includes defeats to Bournemouth and Burnley in their last two games – the first times he’s failed to appear at all. Merino has made more interceptions than any other Newcastle player but their captain, Lascelles, has made their most blocks and clearances this season as he’s missed less than 45 minutes of action, but he too is set to miss out with an ankle injury. Atsu looks likely to be their third key absentee and in the last 10 matches he’s failed to start – nine of which were in the Championship – Newcastle have scored just 11 times as he’s developed into one of their most important attackers.
Everything points to United improving on a run of one win in four during which they’ve scored just twice. They’ve won their last six home games to nil while Newcastle’s three away defeats this term have all been by 1-0 scores. The absences suggest the difference will be greater here though and so we’ll simply back the win to nil to cover a variety of scorelines.
Wolfsburg v Freiburg – Saturday 14:30
Florian Niederlechner (FW) and Mike Frantz (CM), Freiburg
Only one Freiburg player has scored more than once this season and he’s out for the rest of the season. They’ve now failed to score in the last three matches where Niederlechner wasn’t in the starting XI, with the two such games this term seeing just one goal in total.
Add in the loss of Frantz until February and Freiburg are missing an important element of their midfield. The last match he missed was a 4-0 thrashing at Leverkusen earlier in the campaign and despite just two places separating these teams in the bottom half of the Bundesliga they could find this a similarly tricky trip. Wolfsburg have won only once all season but their last seven matches have all been score-draws and have included trips to Bayern, Leverkusen and Schalke. With their own injury problems clearing they should be close to full strength and that should see an improvement at both ends. Against a weakened opponent we’d expect them to take all three points and with nine of their 11 victories since the start of last season coming to nil that is our preferred bet here.
Caen v Nice – Sunday 14:00
Youssef Ait Bennasser (CM), Caen; Jean Michael Seri (CM) and Mario Balotelli (FW), Nice
For our third bet we’re heading to France, where the familiar figure of Mario Balotelli is suspended for Nice. He’s been a hit in Ligue 1 but in the five matches he’s failed to start this season Nice have scored just four times and also suffered four defeats. That’s despite four of those opponents being in the bottom half. Meanwhile, they’ve scored just seven times in the 10 matches the much hyped Seri has failed to start since the beginning of last term, most of which were also against relatively weak opposition.
Caen’s best midfielder is also injured and in the four matches Ait Bennasser has missed this season they’ve failed to score three times. Without that, we’d have been siding with the home team and the fact that eight of their last 10 wins have been by 1-0 scores would have made the 8.5 on that result look fantastic value. However, we’re instead covering all the low-scoring results by backing Under 1.5 Goals – a bet that has landed in five of Caen’s last seven home matches.