MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has scoured the Spanish coupon to bring us his favourite three bets from La Liga this weekend.
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid | Saturday 17.00 | Sky Sports 5
The La Liga title race continues to take plenty of twists and turns. Last weekend Real Madrid failed to beat an understrength Villarreal side at the Bernabéu to hand back the initiative to their bitter rivals Barcelona. Los Blancos still boast a two-point advantage over their bitter rivals but there’s a Clasico at the Camp Nou on the horizon…
On Saturday Real will look to get their faltering 2015 back on track. There’s no denying the European champions have been well below par since claiming their Club World Cup title before Christmas and Carlo Ancelotti’s side have struggled to show the intensity that the Italian boss has strived for in recent weeks.
Injuries have been an issue but Luke Modric is back in contention and his return can’t be overstated. The diminutive Croatian is the glue that sticks the midfield together and orchestrates the tempo and pace for the capital club. Whether he’ll start or not is another question but having Modric back in the ranks is a huge plus for Madrid.
Real head to Bilbao chasing an 11th La Liga victory and despite their recent dip in form, it would always take a brave man to oppose Los Blancos. At 1/2 they’re almost unbackable but there are ways in means to find a more chunkier price, such as taking Madrid to win and Over 2.5 Goals at evens with Betway.
Since Ancelotti took charge at the start of last season, Real have won 20/31 (65%) away trips to top-half clubs with 23/31 (74%) resulting in Over 2.5 Goals winners. True, in six of their past seven league outings they’ve failed to score more than twice but Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have all been guilty of missing chances.
It’s still worth reminding ourselves that the visitors have scored two or more goals in 11 of their last 13 away matches and come up against a Basque side missing Ander Iturraspe and Mikel San Jose, two important cogs in the Bilbao defence.
Athletic upset the odds to defeat Espanyol 2-0 in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night to book their place at yet another cup final. But Ernesto Valverde’s team could suffer from those exertions when they return to the new San Mames less than 68 hours later.
The hosts have been beaten 4-1 by Atletico Madrid on home soil back in December with Barcelona also running riot (5-2) just a matter of weeks ago in Bilbao. Encouraging they’ve scored in all three fixtures when entertaining the Big-Two under Valverde’s watch and they should fancy their chances of notching against a Real side that’s kept just two clean sheets in their previous seven on the road in La Liga.
Atletico Madrid v Valencia | Sunday 20.00 | Sky Sports 5
Following that aforementioned draw for Real Madrid against Villarreal, neighbours Atletico may feel the door has been left open to propel themselves back into contention to retain their La Liga crown.
But Diego Simeone’s side were held to a 0-0 draw at Sevilla last weekend and the Spanish champions should be more focussed on fighting off the challenge from below, rather than defending their title. The Rojiblancos hold just a one-point advantage over fourth-placed Valencia and the two teams go head-to-head this weekend at the Vicente Calderon in what should be a belter.
Simeone was criticised for his decision to leave Mario Mandzukic and Fernando Torres on the bench for last week’s stalemate while Koke continued his comeback from injury with a place amongst the substitutes. Atleti looked lethargic after their midweek Champions League loss at Leverkusen and their lack of discipline could cost the Mattress Makers vital points.
The defending champions will be without Miranda and Antoine Griezmann for Sunday night’s showdown because of suspension and high-flying Valencia will be encouraged about their chances of pinching at least a point. Atletico’s home record is mightily impressive (W11-D1-L1) but they’ve leaked goals in seven of those 13 fixtures and I’d fancy Los Che to grab a goal.
Valencia have W9-D1-L1 in their previous 11 fixtures and although Nuno’s side can be erratic in nature, they remain a serious threat to the capital club. Without the distraction of Copa del Rey or European football, the Bats have been able to rest and prepare for each game with plenty of time between matches.
Los Che have scored in 21/25 matches this season but only two clean sheets on the road have led to 8/12 Both Teams To Score winners and that’s the angle I’m keen on for Sunday. 888 Sport make Both Teams To Score an 8/7 chance and that looks a touch overpriced, to me.
Real Sociedad v Espanyol | Sunday 16.00
Kicking-off prior to Atletico’s clash with Valencia is Real Sociedad’s meeting with Espanyol. La Real were convincingly beaten at Valencia last weekend to continue their winless streak on the road. But back in San Sebastian, David Moyes’ men remain a force.
Sociedad’s W6-D3-L4 return from their Anoeta fixtures may not look hugely impressive but they’ve suffered just one home reverse in La Liga since the Scot took charge and they’ve returned 13 points from a possible 15 when entertaining the top-five.
The hosts may still be weak in full-back areas and not boast the midfield dynamism that Moyes is striving for, but they’re still more than capable of seeing off Espanyol on home soil. William Hill make La Real a 5/4 shot and I’m happy to get involved at those quotes.
Espanyol make the journey off the back of a morale-sapping Copa del Rey semi-final loss on Wednesday night. The Barcelona-based club failed to score as they limped out at home to Bilbao and it’s in front of their home supporters where Sergio’s side normally thrive.
The Parakeets have returned a woeful 12 defeats from their last 16 La Liga away trips and that’s a worrying trend when you add in a cocktail of cup disappointment and fatigue. Get behind Moyes’ boys as they bid to break the top-half of the Spanish top-flight table.
Athletic Bilbao v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Over 2.5 Goals (1/1 Betway)
Atletico Madrid v Valencia – Both Teams To Score (8/7 888 Sport)
Real Sociedad v Espanyol – Real Sociedad to win (5/4 William Hill)
Who are you backing in La Liga this weekend? Do you agree with Mark’s three selections?
We’d love to hear your thoughts so let us know in the comments box below.