WANT the best bets from Spain this weekend? La Liga fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has trawled the coupon and shares his favourite fancies below.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 3
Guys, I’m bloody excited for this. I’ve postponed Saturday night’s plans until 10pm to burrow myself away to watch without distractions. The other half will be ordered off the premises – this weekend is all about what goes on at the Vicente Calderon from 7.30pm-9.30pm.
I’m happy to even say, this fixture could well decide the La Liga title race. That might sound ridiculous but having nailed my colours to Atletico’s mast from day one, I’m genuinely jumping at the chance to see them take on Barcelona. A weakened and wounded Barcelona. A Barcelona that’s been far below their best and visiting an Atleti side that’s been improved, enhanced and are dangerously hungry for more La Liga success.
Saturday night’s showdown features the last two league winners and both sides have plenty to prove. The hosts began their campaign with a subdued 1-0 win over Las Palmas in front of their home fans. Sure, the result hardly sent shockwaves around the globe but Diego Simeone’s men controlled proceedings and deservedly pocketed the points with minimal stress.
However, the 3-0 win the Rojiblancos racked up away at Sevilla a week later certainly did make pundits stand up and take note. Atleti weren’t as dominant as the scoreline suggests but it proved the 2015/16 vintage are one hell of a bunch. Simeone’s retained their combative core and their dogged defensive nature but thrown in a number of quality players further forward to provide an exciting mix of attacking talent.
Atletico can once again mix and match their offensive style to suit – it’s something they couldn’t offer last year with Mario Mandzukic’s lack of pace spearheading the attack. With Jackson Martinez and the irresistible Antoine Griezmann in tow, the Mattress Makers have the players to hold up the ball, play the channels or break on the counter. And that’s without Lucien Vietto even getting off the bench!
I’ve absolutely no doubt that Simeone’s troops can challenge for top honours at home and abroad this season and Saturday’s date with Barca represents their first major psychological test. Since the Argentine took charge at the Calderon, Atletico have returned W0-D2-L8 in La Liga games against the Catalans. The Mattress Makers have lost four of their five games when entertaining the Bluagrana too.
But Luis Enrique’s visitors make the journey without three of their first-choice back five – Claudio Bravo, Dani Alves and Gerard Pique are unavailable – and Lionel Messi has been in the USA on international duty with Argentina whilst also celebrating the arrival of his second son; hardly ideal preparation for such an encounter.
Barca are also defending an unblemished opening pair of Liga fixtures but Luis Enrique’s side have looked far from invincible. Messi’s yet to score and the travellers have only notched two goals in their last four outings across all competitions. They pinched a 1-0 win in the same showdown from 2014/15 but I’m adamant the Catalans are a weaker animal than that day, whilst Atletico have only gotten stronger.
This really is a fabulous chance for Atletico to stamp their authority on La Liga once more and fire a warning shot to their bitter city rivals, Real. The Mattress Makers have suffered just two defeats in 38 Liga outings in front of their home fans and have W50-D11-L7 in Calderon league games under Simeone’s watch. They also head into the contest with a full squad to choose from. They really won’t get a better opportunity to end that winless La Liga streak against Barca.
For me, it’s simply unforgiveable not to find a pro-Atletico angle. I’ve had a look through the markets various times and it might be my cautious nature but I just cannot ignore the 22/23 from BetVictor for Atleti +0.25 in the Asian Handicap market; it just screams value at almost even-money.
With this selection, we’ll pocket a full pay-out should the hosts win the match. But if the game ends all square, we’ll still take home half of that potential pay-out – the only way in which we’ll finish the match penniless is if Barcelona come out on top. So how does that sound? Money in our back pocket if Barca fail to win? Suits me.
Real Betis v Real Sociedad | Saturday 21.00 | Sky Sports 3
It’s a big weekend for Real Betis. Los Verdiblancos look likely to throw Rafa van der Vaart and returning hero Joaquin straight into the mix with the two silky veterans available to Pepe Mel for the first time whilst experienced German Heiko Westermann is expected to replace German Pezzella in central defence.
Understandably, Betis fans are enthused at the prospect of seeing big-name stars back at the Benito Villamarin stadium in the green and white but I can’t help but feel a little unnerved by it all. Probably because I saw my own side QPR fail with a similar policy and although there’s no evidence to suggest a repeat could be on the cards for the Big Greens, it’d be a shame to see one of Spain’s biggest clubs continue to toil.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel also made the trip to Seville to join forces with Mel’s squad but he’s unlikely to displce the prolific Ruben Castro in attack. The early suggestions are, Betis will begin to play on the front foot and having been held to a 1-1 draw with Villarreal in their 2015/16 bow on home soil, the Verdiblancos supporters are craving maximum points.
As I’ve already alluded to, Betis are, by reputation, one of the biggest La Liga clubs about but having spent a season in the Segunda, are certainly not top-half material right now. However, that’s how they’ve been priced up for Saturday night’s contest with Real Sociedad and I’m keen to take advantage.
The hosts were handed a rude awakening to life back in the top-flight when being pummelled 5-0 by Real Madrid before the international break and whilst pundits point towards Real Sociedad’s rotten road record (just two wins in 21 away days), there are chinks of light in the Basque’s stats under David Moyes’ watch.
Since the Scot took charge, La Real have returned W2-D7-L6 away from their San Sebastian base. The visitors have netted more than once in just two of those games with 11 finishing with fewer than three goals including eight of the last nine. Sure, it makes ugly reading but look a little closer and you’ll see what I mean.
Five of the six losses came at last year’s top-six. Take those results out of the equation and they’ve a respectable W2-D7-L1. Include them and La Real have still avoided defeat in 60% of their league games as guests under Moyes.
Drab goalless draws at Deportivo and Sporting Gijon have understandably frustrated fans but on the positive spin – it’s the first time since 1996/97 that the Basques have begun their campaign with back-to-back clean sheets. Asier Illarramendi’s return will bolster their midfield and with Carlos Vela, Jonathas, Sergio Canales, Ruben Pardo, Xabi Prieto, Chory Castro and Bruma available, Moyes has the tool at his disposal to get results on the road.
I think the odds are a little disrespectful to Sociedad and therefore the 4/6 from BetVictor on La Real +0.50 in the Asian Handicap is well worthy of support. Should the away team avoid defeat, we’ll have ourselves a winner.
Granada v Villarreal | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 3
Spanish players don’t enjoy early kick-offs. Spanish players especially don’t enjoy early kick-offs in September and in the south of the country with temperatures in the high 20s.
So Villarreal are unlikely to be too chuffed about the league’s decision to move this match into the 11am (UK time) slot. The Yellow Submarine are winless on the road in 2015 (W0-D9-L3) and can opposed against a Granada outfit that boasts a W2-D1-L0 record at Nuevo Los Carmenes against their opponents.
In fact, Villarreal have failed to even score in three previous visits to their Andalusian hosts and with skipper Bruno suspended, I’m more than happy taking them on. Manu Trigueros and Tomas Pina are an able midfield partnership but the Yellow Submarine have W0-D7-L1 without their talisman in the most recent eight games he’s missed and their flurry of away draws makes an away win unlikely.
The visitors have been held to a draw in nine of their previous 12 La Liga games as guests with 11/19 road trips ending all square last season. Roberto Soldado’s made a positive impact since his move from Spurs and Cedric Bakambu might be handed a start following his brace from the bench last time out but defensively, I’m just not convinced Marcelinho’s men are equipped to justify their short price on Sunday.
Granada got their campaign up and running with an opening half-hour flurry at Getafe last time out to come out on top 2-1 and they’ve now managed to find the back of the net in all but one of their last seven outings. Jose Sandoval’s appointment in May has certainly spurred the club on and El Grana even held Atletico Madrid to a goalless draw at the Nuevo Los Carmenes last season.
Both teams feature prominently in the Under 2.5 Goals stakes – it’s a bet that’s banked in 12/15 Granada home games and in nine of 11 Villarreal away days. With the hosts drawing more than half of their home games last term (10/19), including six of eight against the top-eight, I like the idea of backing the Draw and Under 2.5 Goals at 14/5 with Betway – a 0-0 or 11 correct score will see us collect.
Malaga v Eibar | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 4
I worry about Malaga. The club has had another tricky summer with various bigger fish cherry-picking the best talent at La Roselada. Javi Gracia’s a more than capable head coach but I do feel for him as his playing pool gets smaller and smaller.
Central midfielder Sergi Darder was the latest to leave and so with Ignacio Camacho still sidelined, Malaga will be without their two impressive midfield mystros from previous seasons. Also unable to feature against Eibar on Sunday night is injured new signing Roque Santa Cruz as well as Weligton, leaving the Costa del Sol side short on quality.
It’s not an ideal situation for Gracia who’s now seen his team win just once in 13 La Liga outings (W1-D4-L8). Worryingly, the Anchovies have conceded in 12 of those fixtures and also failed to record maximum points in their most recent six encounters in front of their home supporters – their worst run since October 2010.
In contrast, Eibar have started life in rampant form. Granada and Basque rivals Athletic have both been beaten and Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men have rightly earned plenty of plaudits for their cavalier approach. The squad is a shadow of last season and Los Armeros supporters are understandably confident they can come away from La Roselada with their unbeaten record intact.
I tend to agree too. Eibar can be backed at 11/10 (Bet365) in the Double Chance market, which makes plenty of appeal. With Malaga struggling for success and players, the minnows can take advantage by avoiding defeat at odds-against quotes.
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona – Atletico Madrid +0.25 Asian Handicap (22/23 BetVictor)
Real Betis v Real Sociedad – Real Sociedad +0.50 Asian Handicap (4/6 BetVictor)
Granada v Villarreal – Draw and Under 2.5 Goals (14/5 Betway)
Malaga v Eibar – Eibar double chance (11/10 Bet365)
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