La Liga Tips | 21st-22nd February 2015

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MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has four bets to share from this weekend’s action from the top tier in Spain.

Barcelona v Malaga | Saturday 15.00

Crisis? What crisis? Barcelona returned from the winter break and were duly beaten 1-0 on their return at David Moyes’ Real Sociedad. The manner of the defeat provoked fury amongst Blaugrana supporters, leading to calls for coach Luis Enrique to step down and also resulted in the departures of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta and his assistant Carles Puyol. Rumours of a breakdown in relationship between Enrique and Lionel Messi were in full swing and the Catalan giants were in crisis.

But fast forward seven weeks and the on-field response from Barca has been quite something to behold. The Blaugrana have been magical to watch, winning a whopping 11 straight games in all competitions since that Sociedad loss, smashing 42 goals and keeping six clean sheets.

Messi has been at his brilliant best in recent weeks whilst Luis Suarez, Neymar and Pedro are all joining in the fun as the Catalans find their fluidity in forward areas. Last weekend they hammered Levante 5-0 at the Camp Nou and it’s hard to see anything other than another comfortable victory on Saturday.

Visitors Malaga held Barca to a goalless draw at La Rosaleda earlier this season but their good early season form has deserted them since the turn of the year. Three losses from their last five La Liga outings has slowed progress and comprehensive beatings at the hands of Levante and Espanyol are of concern.

And Javi Garcia’s men make the journey north without arguably their two most important players in Nordin Amrabat and Ignacio Camacho. Malaga’s goalscoring rate drops dramatically without Amrabat’s creative qualities whilst they’re conceded 40% more goals-per-game when Camacho has been absent. And there’s also the fact Garcia’s side have kept just two clean sheets in almost a year of La Liga games away from the Costa del Sol.

Barcelona have scored at least three goals in their last six league fixtures at the Camp Nou and in their 11-match winning streak, Enrique’s charges have won by a margin of three goals or more on five occasions. So I’ll back a repeat with 888 Sport offering 13/15 on Barcelona -2.5 in the Asian Handicap market.

Atletico Madrid v Almeria | Saturday 19.00 | Sky Sports 5

I got Atletico Madrid wrong last weekend. I thought the capital club offered excellent value at odds-against quotes but I wasn’t expecting Diego Simeone to field Mario Mandzukic, Fernando Torres and Antoine Griezmann in the same XI. The experiment didn’t work and Simeone took full responsibility for the loss at Celta; it was a rare mistake from the Mattress Makers’ boss and I’d expect a return to form this weekend.

Arda Turan and Koke were both unavailable last weekend but Atleti are boosted by the return of Arda for Saturday night’s showdown. The last time the Spanish champions hosted at the Vicente Calderon they carved Real Madrid apart and in theory, they should prove too good for Almeria.

The visitors head north on the back of their best run of results this season. Juan Ignacio Martínez was appointed in early December and their W4-D1-L3 record in the past eight games has lifted La Unión out of the relegation zone. And surprisingly, Almeria actually boast the sixth best away record in the league.

So Simeone won’t allow his troops to down tools, especially with a fearsome home record to defend. Atleti have W25-D6-L1 of their last 32 La Liga games as hosts and Los Colchoneros have scored at least twice in 11 of their last 12 aforementioned 32 matches.

My angle here is to back Atletico Madrid To Score In Both Halves with Sportingbet offering a very fair 17/20. The Mattress Makers have achieved this feat in nine of their last 10 games at the Calderon and I’d expect a big response from the defending champions after last week’s defeat. Watch out Almeria!

Real Sociedad v Sevilla | Sunday 11.00

Real Sociedad recorded a 2-2 draw at Almeria in their last outing but back in San Sebastian, David Moyes will be hoping his side can collect a morale-boosting win against high-flying Sevilla.

La Real are winless on the road meaning extra emphasis and attention is put on their form at Anoeta. But rather than side with Sociedad, I prefer the option of backing Both Teams To Score at 11/13 with 888 Sport. The hosts have netted in all bar two of their matches in front of their home supporters with seven of those 12 games seeing goals at both ends.

Carlos Vela might be out for the next few weeks but Imanol Agirretxe’s has stepped up to the plate to score in his last two starts as the central striker and it would be a surprise for the hosts not to nick a goal when playing at their Basque base.

Sevilla, for their part, surrendered their position in fourth following three defeats in five but last weekend’s 3-0 rout of rock bottom Cordoba will have raised spirits. Unai Emery’s side remain a real force in La Liga but they’re certainly not impenetrable on the road; six of their 11 away days have also banked in the Both Teams To Score column and a repeat looks likely this weekend.

Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano | Sunday 16.00

Rayo Vallecano were one of last weekend’s big European coupon-busters as they produced a rare home win to see off a Villarreal side that had scored in 28 consecutive matches before their trip to Madrid. The fact Paco Jemez’s team kept a clean sheet in their victory was even more impressive.

This weekend Rayo head north for a date with Athletic Bilbao and Los Vallecanos look underrated. BetVictor are offering even-money on the visitors with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start and that’s good enough for me. For this selection to be a winner, all we require is Rayo to avoid defeat.

Jemez has been linked with Brentford in recent weeks as he continues to impress in charge of the penniless capital club. Known for their intricate short-passing and possession style, the highly-rated boss has fine-tuned his team to maximise their potential through long-ball football in recent weeks. It certainly worked a treat against Villarreal with Gael Kakuta and Alberto Bueno both profiting from their more direct approach, having bossed possession.

Rayo are very much an ‘all or nothing’ team. They’ve managed just two draws in their 23 league outings this season and that’s led to an impressive W5-D1-L6 record on the road. Jemez clearly targets the ‘winnable’ fixtures when playing away as Los Vallecanos boast a W4-D1-L1 record when visiting teams below them in the table.

Hosts Athletic have won just once in 10 games after a goalless draw with Granada, failing to register a shot on target in that stalemate. At the new San Mames they’ve taken just a solitary point from their last 15 available and Ernesto Valverde’s thin squad have been dealing with the strains of competing on three fronts; Thursday night’s away draw with Torino in the Europa League comes just a week after a energy-sapping Copa del Rey semi-final clash with Espanyol.

The Lions are struggling for goals and creativity with a huge overreliance on veteran forward Aritz Aduritz and I reckon this a great chance for Rayo to add to their impressive away record. Back the capital club to avoid defeat at even-money.

Best Bets

Barcelona v Malaga – Barcelona -2.5 Asian Handicap (13/15 888 Sport)

Atletico Madrid v Almeria – Atletico Madrid to Score In Both Halves (17/20 Sportingbet)

Real Sociedad v Sevilla – Both Teams To Score (11/13 888 Sport)

Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano – Rayo Vallecano +0.50 Asian Handicap (1/1 BetVictor)

*Remember, you can earn a bonus of up to 100% on your returns if you place accumulators on the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga or Bundesliga with Bet365. Place a pre-match accumulator of 3 or more selections combining teams in any of those competitions, and if successful Bet365 will add the a bonus to your returns.*

Your View

What’s your best bet from Spain this weekend? Do you agree with Mark’s selections?

We’d love to hear what you’re backing so let us know in the comments box below!

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After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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