THE second legs of the Copa del Rey semi-finals take place on Wednesday night. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out the best bets.
Villarreal v Barcelona | Wednesday 19.00 | Sky Sports 5
If you’ve not yet been introduced to the brilliance of Villarreal, you’re in for a treat. The Yellow Submarine have been a breath of fresh air in Spain this season; their counter-attacking game has given all the La Liga big guns problems and although they’re chasing the tie (trailing 3-1 on aggregate), there’s a feeling they could treat us to another ding-dong battle with Barcelona.
The two teams lock horns for the fourth time this term and although the Catalans have come out on top in the previous three, it’s been far from straightforward. Barca are just 1/25 to seal their place in the Copa del Rey final but don’t let that put you off watching this tie unfold.
Two bets stick out at El Madrigal and the first is Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 10/11 with Bet365. It’s proved a winner in all three previous meetings, while Villarreal have scored in all bar one of their last 33 outings. Luis Enrique’s have failed to net in five fixtures over the same timeframe but it would be a surprise if these two failed to live up to expectations.
Looking at the hosts first, Marcelinho’s men were full value for the point earned at Real Madrid on Sunday night. The Villarreal boss made seven changes to the side that won away in Salzburg on Thursday (effectively fielding a second string) but the Yellow Submarine were exceptional in possession and in their organisation. Marcelinho even suggested they could and probably should have pinched the points.
The home side are taking a different approach to most clubs in England and abroad by prioritising the Europa League (as a potential route to Champions League football) and the Copa del Rey (bidding for their first piece of major silverware). And Marcelinho was adamant his side would ‘give everything’ in their bid to claw back their two-goal first leg deficit.
Luciano Vietto, outstanding as a second-half substitute at the Bernabéu on Sunday, will start while Denis Tcherychev will also return as Villarreal line-up in their tried-and-trusted 4-4-2. Skipper Bruno remains sidelined but there’s enough attacking quality within the ranks to notch at least once on home soil, where the Yellow Submarine have W11-D1-L0 in their last 12 outings.
However, in Barcelona they’re meeting one of the form sides on the continent. The Catalans have bagged 13 wins from their last 14 matches after producing a professional performance at Granada on Saturday. Enrique’s charges made a slow start but soon overcame pitch concerns to run out comfortable 3-1 winners with Luis Suarez continuing to grow into the role as Barca’s central striker.
There’s no doubt the visitors are concerned and will be wary of the threat Villarreal pose but like their quarter-final clash with Atletico Madrid, the fact the hosts must chase the game should play straight into Barcelona’s hands. Therefore, I can’t resist a nibble on the 2/1 from William Hill that the Catalans win and Both Teams Score.
It’s proven a winner in all three head-to-heads this season as well as in Barcelona’s previous four road victories, while the hosts have netted in five of their last six defeats.
Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao | Wednesday 21.00 | Sky Sports 5
Espanyol are in the driving seat as they look to reach their first Copa del Rey final since their 2006 triumph. The Parakeets were by far the better side in the first leg 1-1 draw and know they have the away goal onside, for now. They’ll also be aware that Athletic Bilbao are winless away to the Catalans since 1998, losing on nine of their last 12 visits.
The Barcelona-based hosts have been one of Spain’s surprise packages this season, playing an enterprising attacking game under Sergio that’s led the Parakeets to eighth in La Liga. But it’s their solid record at the Power8 Stadium that’s been the catalyst to their impressive season.
Espanyol were comfortable 1-0 winners over Cordoba at the weekend, making it eight wins in their last 10 starts in front of their home supporters. In fact, the Catalans have lost just twice in 15 at their Barcelona base and arrive at this match having scored in 20 of their last 23 matches.
They should have notched more than once in Bilbao but it would be a big surprise if the likes of of Sergio Garcia, Cristian Stuani and Felipe Caicedo failed to grab a goal on home soil this Wednesday night. The question is, can they keep Athletic out for 90 minutes?
The Lions arrive without a defeat in their last five away trips and only two in their previous 14 road games. Bilbao exited the Europa League last Thursday and left star striker Aritz Aduritz (scorer of nine of their 22 La Liga goals) on the bench alongside Aymeric Laporte, Markel Susaeta and Andoni Iraola for their Basque derby win at Eibar last time out, as they readied themselves for the trip south.
Despite a topsy-turvy campaign, Ernesto Valverde’s team sit just one place and two points behind their hosts in the league standings and have kept clean sheets in six of their last 11 fixtures. But Athletic remain a difficult side to second-guess, making this second leg contest an intriguing and difficult tie to call.
I’m going to take a punt on Both Teams To Score as I believe it’s underrated at 23/20 (Coral). We’ve mentioned Espanyol’s fine goalscoring records and Athletic have notched themselves in nine of their last 10 as well as eight of their previous 12 on their travels. Valverde’s men go into the game knowing they need a goal and they certainly do have the tools to get onel.
Villarreal v Barcelona – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (10/11 Bet365)
Villarreal v Barcelona – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (2/1 William Hill)
Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao – Both Teams To Score (23/20 Coral)
What’s your best bet from Spain on Wednesday night? 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!