SPANISH FOOTBALL fanatic Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) delivers his verdict on the best weekend bets from La Liga.
Valencia v Rayo Vallecano | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 5
Gary Neville’s still seeking his first La Liga triumph but that should arrive on Sunday lunchtime as Valencia welcome out-of-sorts Rayo Vallecano to the Mestalla.
Los Che are in the midst of a 21-match unbeaten streak in front of their expectant home supporters (W13-D8-L0) – their longest unbeaten run since 1990 – but they’re bidding to end an eight-match winless spree (W0-D5-L3) – their worst run of results for eight years.
Last weekend Neville’s men slumped to a 2-0 loss at Real Sociedad, leaving the Bats closer to the relegation zone than the top-four.
But Valencia have lost just one of their 16 home games against Rayo in the top flight (W13-D2-L1) and I’m willing to put my faith in Los Che ending their run of four consecutive stalemates with a success here.
Rayo are enduring their own rotten run of results – W0-D2-L6 – their longest winless streak since their last relegation in 2003 and charismatic head coach Paco Jemez sadly appears to be losing the plot in his public press conferences.
The Madrid minnows make the journey without suspended top goalscorer Javi Guerra, have lost six of their last seven away – leaking at least twice in all seven – and suffered 13 losses in their previous 18 road trips.
But most alarming is Rayo’s run of results against top-half clubs under Paco. Since 2012/13 they’ve W6-D2-L27 against La Liga’s elite, losing by at least two goals in 19/35 (54%).
As well as Valencia’s outstanding home form, the hosts have dispatched 11 of the last 12 bottom-six visitors to the Mestalla and won by a two-goal margin in six of their most recent eight against the same bracket of guest.
We can back Valencia at 21/20 (Bet365) off a -1 Asian Handicap start – we’ll see our stake returned should Valencia win the the match by one goal but if Valencia win by at least two goals, we be in profit.
And I’ll also have a wee wager on Valencia winning with both teams scoring at 21/10 with 888 Sport. Both Teams To Score has banked in 5/9 Valencia home fixtures and 6/9 of Rayo’s road trips, implying a 61% chance of a repeat on Sunday.
Of course, Guerra’s absence is a slight concern but Los Franjirrojos have still found the back in all bar one of their nine away days and in Paco’s often turbulent tenure they’ve struck at least once in 45/66 (68%) of their road trips.
Want more? Just six clubs have fired in more on-target attempts than the penniless travellers and only four sides averaging more shots-on-target away.
Las Palmas v Atletico Madrid | Sunday 17.15 | Sky Sports 4
Come on, we all knew this was coming, didn’t we?
Yes, I’m backing Atletico Madrid and yes, I’m backing them to deliver a low-scoring victory in the Canaries on Sunday evening. Do I need to justify it?
So, Atleti still top the table by two points and Diego Simeone’s side have now recorded eight victories from their last nine matches, keeping seven clean sheets. Their defence is so strong, only once in their top-flight history have Atletico conceded as few goals (8) after their opening 19 games.
Seven of those aforementioned eight triumphs were recorded by either a 1-0 or 2-0 correct score and now 11 of the capital club’s last 29 away trips (38%) since the start of last season, as well as in 10 of their last 18 trips to bottom-half teams, have followed this theme.
Back both correct scores and we’re sitting on a 13/5 shot – taking just Atletico to win and Under 2.5 Goals is best odds 2/1, so we’ve already extracted excellent value.
Atletico recorded seven clean sheets in 10 away days this term, winning on each occasion that they’ve shutout their hosts. And just four of their previous 21 La Liga contests have featured three goals or more. See, the case is stacking up…
There’s more, though. Las Palmas have W4-D1-L0 in their last five at their Estadio Gran Canaria home but none of the league’s big-three have visited their fortress. In fact, take out their 4-1 thrashing of relegation-threatened Granada and Quique Setien’s outfit have scored just four in five in front of their home fans since promotion.
Only Espanyol have attempted fewer shots at home as hosts with nine of their 10 on the island falling below the three-goal line.
And just to cement the selection, Las Palmas are operating on a depleted squad through injury. Atletico win.
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 4
Lionel Messi was awarded the 2015 Ballon d’Or for a magnificent fifth time on Monday night and still had enough mileage in the tank to dish out a cutting riposte during Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey tie with Espanyol.
His side’s 2-0 success extended their unbeaten streak to 21 ahead of this weekend’s showdown with Athletic Bilbao in the Camp Nou. It’s a fixture the Catalans have won in each of the last 11 seasons and accusations the Bluagrana have gone off the boil of late should be dismissed.
The hosts have scored in each of their past 17 La Liga outings at the Camp Nou, averaging 3.29 goals-per-game, have kept seven clean sheets in nine and won by at least two goals in 11 of their last 15 when hosting league action.
At the Camp Nou, Luis Enrique’s men have shutout four of their last five visitors and they should be more than capable of doing just that once more when overcoming their Basque guests.
Athletic failed to net in any of their six games at top-six finishers in 2014/15 and Ernesto Valverde’s troops have already lost out in four of their five visits to top-seven sides this season, scoring just three goals in five matches.
Les Leones have only suffered a single reverse in five but this weekend they travel without the suspended Aritz Aduriz, scorer of 22 goals in 29 appearances in 2015/16, and that could prove a crushing blow.
Aduriz has missed 11 games since the start of last season and Athletic have scored just seven times without him. Furthermore, they’ve failed to score in six of the last nine away matches he’s missed. Inaki Williams will lead the line his absence.
Looking back at Bilbao’s record against the top-three since 2013/14, the guests have W0-D1-L6 and failed to score in four. They’re also winless at any top-six side since 2008/09 so the 5/6 from BetVictor on a home win ‘to nil’ looks a solid play to round the weekend.
I should say, for those looking at the hosts in the handicap market, be wary. Athletic are a resilient bunch and under Valverde’s tutelage, Les Leones have been away to Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid on seven occasions and only once lost by more than a two-goal margin, leaking three goals or more just twice.
And whilst the Catalans have W10-D1-L2 when hosting top-half teams under Luis Enrique, it’s telling that their only three of those 10 successes arrived by three or more goals. Barca have actually beaten their visitors by three goals or more just once in nine fixtures.
Villarreal v Real Betis | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 5
Villarreal boss Marcelinho was not a happy bunny after overseeing his Yellow Submarine make it six successive La Liga wins last weekend.
Lowly Sporting Gijon were sent packing with a 2-0 defeat at El Madrigal but the Yellows boss said, “We produced two brilliant plays and nothing else. If we play like this, we will drop a long way down the table.”
He might well be right. For large swathes of that encounter, Villarreal failed to spark but it’s hard to ignore their claims to continue their hot streak on Saturday night as Real Betis arrive.
The Yellow Submarine have W12-D3-L4 and beaten Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Athletic Bilbao and Valencia this term, defying all pre-season expectations that the Yellows would struggle to recapture the form in their previous two campaigns, finishing sixth in each.
Villarreal are now eight points clear of fifth and have equalled their best ever points tally at the midway stage of a La Liga season. Should they overcome the Andalusians, Marcelinho’s men would climb above Real Madrid into third, if only for 24 hours.
The Yellows have W8-D1-L1 at their El Madrigal home, winning each of their last three in front of their home fans ‘to nil’. Since the start of last season the hosts have W20-D2-L7 when welcoming domestic foes, keeping 13 clean sheets. Exactly half of those 20 victories were recorded by a margin of two goals or more.
In contrast, Real Betis are in crisis-mode. After a 1-0 win over Levante in late November, the Verdiblancos were sitting pretty in the top-half having W5-D3-L5 since promotion. But things have quickly turned very sour.
Just two points from a possible 18, a humiliating 6-0 aggregate Copa del Rey exit to bitter rivals Sevilla and failure to score in seven successive games has seen Pepe Mel axed. Betis are the league’s lowest goalscorers and the ultras have vandalised the training ground, showing their displeasure at the direction the team is heading in.
Villarreal should continue their winning streak here but I’ll count on Marcelinho’s men producing the goods with a -1 Asian Handicap start at 11/13 (888 Sport).
The hosts have already dispatched Sporting, Athletic and Espanyol by the two-goal margin at home whilst both Betis’ ventures to top-half teams have ended in comfortable away defeats. If Villarreal only win by a solitary goal, we get our cash back and so the only way in which we could lose out is if Betis avoid defeat.
Villarreal v Real Betis – Villarreal -1 Asian Handicap (11/13 BetVictor)
Valencia v Rayo Vallecano – Valencia -1 Asian Handicap (21/20 Bet365)
Valencia v Rayo Vallecano – Valencia to win and Both Teams To Score (21/10 888 Sport)
Las Palmas v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid to win 1-0 (6/1 Coral)
Las Palmas v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid to win 2-0 (13/2 BetVictor)
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao – Barcelona to win ‘to nil’ (5/6 BetVictor)
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