MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) is heading back to Spain for his best continental bet with Sunday night’s encounter from San Mames standing out.
Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 2
Athletic Bilbao’s hopes of securing Champions League qualification this season were given a severe bashing in the past week.
The Basques dropped precious La Liga points at Espanyol (1-2) and when welcoming Granada (1-1), to fall away in the chase for a top-four finish. Those rotten results meant Les Leones’ Europa League quarter-final clash with Sevilla took on extra significance.
Ernesto Valverde’s charges were supposed to be targeting Europa success as a means to gaining a route into next season’s Champions League, so a 2-1 home reverse in Thursday’s first leg encounter wasn’t what the doctor ordered.
Athletic tend to be awesome operators at San Mames but since December their home return has dropped to just W7-D6-L3. They’ll be keen to right Thursday’s wrong when Rayo Vallecano arrive on Sunday night.
However, it’s hard to find the faith to support a home success with long-term injury keeping key centre-half Aymeric Laporte out of action and Bilbao’s dodgy defence leaking goals in 10 of their last 12. Each of the last four league visitors to the Basque Country have notched and it’s now just one San Mames clean sheet in seven.
Carlos Gurpegi and Borja Etxeita will continue at centre-half as Valverde has few other backline options to bring in. Aritz Aduriz, scoring of 17 league goals this season, could be rested ahead of the second leg with Sevilla but lively forward Inaki Williams is available to lead the line for the hosts.
Les Leones have notched in 46/53 (87%) of home La Liga games under Valverde’s watch and they should get on the scoresheet again here. The hosts hold a strong return when taking on bottom-half teams in the Basque Country, (W19-D6-L4), firing blanks in just three of those 29 encounters.
Athletic have scored 15/49 (31%) of their La Liga goals through headers and with only Eibar (11) conceding more headed goals than Rayo (10) this season, the hosts are bound to target set-piece situations and look to bombard the visitors’ box with crosses.
Rayo head north knowing they rarely come away with anything but a defeat at top-half teams. In the Paco Jemez era, Los Franjirrojos have W6-D2-L27 at top-10 clubs, including a pointless return from six trips in 2015/16.
However, the capital club have found the back of the net in four of those six games and delivered winning Both Teams To Score bets in 19/35 (54%) against top-half teams.
Rayo have netted in 14 fixtures on the spin – their best ever scoring streak in the Spanish top-flight – and seen five of their past six road games end exactly 2-2. BTTS has proved a profitable punt in each of their last 10 away days; unfortunately, the visitors have shipped two or more goals in nine consecutive games as guests.
Ze Castro and Adri Embarba are back from bans this weekend but Tito and Yoel now sit out through suspension and there’s a suggestion that Paco Jemez could go even more offensive than usual for this encounter, starting both Miku and Javi Guerra together in attack.
The Vallecas-club are on a high having landed a major knockout blow to a relegation rival when seeing off struggling Getafe 2-0 last weekend and know back-to-back victories could prove crucial to preserving their La Liga status.
Fixtures between these two teams tend to entertain with seven of the last eight meetings breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier, whilst the last 10 league contests in Bilbao have produced an average of 3.20 goals-per-game. I’m expecting another ripsnorter on Sunday night.
Both Teams To Score has been quoted at 8/11 by SkyBet and that looks far too kind based on the short and long-term trends of these two. It’s most definitely a value price.
Rayo have scored in 51/72 (71%) of road trips under Paco Jemez as they’ve kept just 13 clean sheets. Only Barcelona, Real Madrid and Seville are averaging more on-target attempts than the travellers this term and so I’m confident they can play their part in another winning BTTS selection here.
Athletic Bilbao v Rayo Vallecano – Both Teams To Score (8/11 SkyBet)
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