The Premier League isn’t the only league coughing up cracking fixtures post-international break, with plenty of high-quality games with a lot at stake being played across Europe.
Sunday night sees two massive games in Serie A and Ligue 1 respectively, as PSG host Lyon in a bid to extend their league at the top of the table, whilst Napoli look to all but secure the Serie A title with a win over the current champions AC Milan.
Both games kick off at 19:45, and to make it even more entertaining for us, our Scouts have put together this unique European Fouls Boost, with Sky Bet boosting it from 14/1 to 20/1!
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PSG v Lyon
Ligue 1’s undoubted match of the weekend pits PSG at home against Lyon in a battle between two of France’s biggest clubs.
In the previous meeting between these sides, earlier this season – a 1-0 PSG win in the Rhone Valley – Lyon committed 15 fouls to six. Given the possession-dominant nature of PSG, it is unsurprising that they might be the cleaner side and that pattern would be expected to continue back in the capital.
What is worth noting is that the four Lyon players who committed more than a single foul last time out may have a reduced role to play in this game. Malo Gusto is all-but ruled out injured, Maxence Caqueret missed out for France U21s and Moussa Dembele is out of favour. Even Alexandre Lacazette may be treated gingerly due to muscular issues and should not be considered likely to see out the 90 minutes.
Incidentally, Lacazette (44) and Caqueret (37) are Lyon’s leading foul makers in Ligue 1 play this season, while curiously Nicolas Tagliafico who is third in that respect, was one of just two outfield starters from Lyon that day did not commit an infringement.
A man who is more used to being seen on the goals market than the fouls market, it’s worth keeping an eye out on Mbappe giving away a free kick, particularly if Lyon can frustrate PSG for any length of time. Indeed, there have been signs in recent matches of Mbappe becoming frustrated with the poor performance of his team.
Against Bayern, Brest, and Rennes with PSG, and then against Ireland with France in midweek, substandard team performances have seen Mbappe become frustrated and give away free kicks. In his last five games, he has given away six. The exception was France’s 4-0 win over the Netherlands, in which it was plain sailing from early on. Coming back after the international break is notoriously tricky for big club teams, though, and a slow start from PSG may prompt Mbappe to become overzealous.
There’s a lot to like about Johann Lepenant committing at least two fouls against PSG. Firstly, he plays a central midfield role that is bound to see a lot of defensive action, while he is the type of industrious defensive player who is always busy trying to win possession and, therefore, will inevitably make misjudgments, particularly given his lack of experience in this type of arena. He also stands a good chance of starting with Caqueret struggling.
Indeed, he was handed a starting berth by Laurent Blanc last time out against Nantes when OL had all their midfield options available. On average this season, he is committing a foul once every 57 minutes, but he is liable to be tasked with a good deal more defensive work in this game against a more streetwise opponent, so look for that number to rise.
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Napoli v AC Milan
The biggest game of the Serie A Matchday 28 weekend sees current champions AC Milan head south to take on the new champions in waiting, Napoli.
Luciano Spalletti’s side boasts a frankly ridiculous 19-point lead and it could be just a matter of weeks before they are mathematically crowned the champions of Serie A, whilst Milan continue to scrabble for a Champions League qualification spot that could very feasibly elude them come the end of the campaign.
Milan need to assume a role here that they have not been used to over the last couple of seasons as the plucky underdogs looking to put in a big away performance and really do a job on a much better side.
They may look towards Lazio’s performance against Napoli that ended in a 1-0 win for the Biancocelesti in which Maurizio Sarri made his team play with an intensity fairly high up the pitch, not letting Napoli have too much time on the ball, and then taking the chance when it came.
One thing is for sure, Milan will have to be smart with their tactical fouls in this one as Napoli have fast runners and tricky dribblers all over the pitch who will be backing themselves to score. The defence and midfield will have their work cut out, whilst Napoli must be wary of Milan’s threat on the break.
Whilst it is Napoli that are expected to have much more of the ball and be the team on the front foot, the player in Napoli’s midfield that is most heavily tasked with disrupting the opposition is Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa.
He has become one of Europe’s best defensive midfielders at Napoli although it would be remiss to only view him as a defensive player. He is great on the ball and aids the Napoli attack extremely well.
That being said, when AC Milan break forward and someone like Rafael Leao or Brahim Diaz is trying to get his team high up the pitch, it will almost certainly be Anguissa that is the player closest to them and will be tasked with either winning the ball or bringing them down, depending on the situation. He is faster than Stanislav Lobotka and Piotr Zielinski and he is also more physically imposing than them.
He has committed 29 fouls so far this season in Serie A which is the second-highest of the entire Napoli squad. Due to his height and general physicality, he is the sort of player that often gets penalized by the ref for accidentally putting an arm across someone’s face or chest too forcefully, usually a player much smaller than him.
In what is expected to be a pretty combative game, he could be finding himself getting some attention from the referee whilst likely putting in another superb display.
There is actually a minor chance that Stefano Pioli chooses to start with Rade Krunic in this game but it would be a surprise if that were to happen. Considering the quality of the opposition, it should be Ismael Bennacer to start in midfield with Sandro Tonali.
The Algerian midfielder often does a bit more of the dirty work in comparison to Tonali and he is the Milan player who has committed the most fouls so far this season with 33. That puts him 21st out of everyone in the division.
Even if he were to be introduced later in the game, that would likely be in a situation where Milan have something to protect and then you can bet he will be bringing out the tactical fouls, making the bet even safer.
Runners like Hirving Lozano and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will make life very hard for Bennacer and the marauding runs of Anguissa will also pose another challenge. His primary task could be to just disrupt Napoli and whilst Bennacer is a great tackler, completing that task will certainly require some fouls too.
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