EL CLASICO dominates the La Liga scene this weekend. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his best betting thoughts on the big clash from the Camp Nou as well as favourite fancies from the Spanish coupon.
Barcelona v Real Madrid | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 2
El Clasico is number one. There’s no club game that can match the rivalry of Real Madrid against Barcelona whether it be footballing, political or ideological and Saturday night’s encounter should deliver the goods once more. If you’re uninterested in this bout, I doubt we’d get on…
But the build-up to this weekend’s blockbuster has been slightly subdued. Clasicos have a habit of proving decisive but with Barcelona already slipping another La Liga title in their back pocket and Real Madrid 10 points off the pace, next midweek’s Champions League fixtures take on extra significance.
That’s not to say Saturday’s showdown doesn’t matter; of course it does. Every Clasico matters but the harsh truth is, Tuesday’s tie between Barca and Atletico Madrid is bigger than the Clasico this weekend.
Of course, the lengthy international break has also played its part in dampening the hyped pre-match build-up too with a collection of the Catalans’ stars only arriving back from South America on Thursday. With little to lose, potential fatigued players and a majority focus on the Champions League, are the Blaugrana vulnerable? Very much so.
However, the recent tragic passing of Johan Cruyff should ensure Luis Enrique’s record-breaking hosts invoke the understandable emotional reaction and approach this fixture with full respect for the occasion.
Nothing focuses the mind quite like a Clasico and with the decades of history and tradition to uphold, the symbolism will feel even greater for the homage to Cruyff. It’s also an opportunity for Luis Enrique’s troops to pick-up lost momentum ahead of Tuesday.
It’s a fixture that Barcelona have flourished in, in recent seasons. The Catalans have claimed top honours in four of the last five meetings – including that stunning 4-0 rout at the Bernabeu earlier this season – and the Blaugrana have only been beaten in three of their last 15 head-to-heads with Real.
Without a defeat in 22 (W20-D2-L0) at the Camp Nou and a stunning 39-match unbeaten (W32-D7-L0) streak across all competitions, it’s perhaps understandable to see the hosts chalked up as short pre-match favourites. But I’m just unwilling to support a home success at the odds on offer.
Both Atleti and Sevilla have given the Catalans a stern examination in Catalonia in recent weeks and along with the fact Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano and Claudio Bravo were involved in World Cup qualifiers over the past 10 days, there are major doubts over Jordi Alba’s participation.
With Jeremy Mathieu and Adriano already sidelined, Barcelona may have to shoehorn Thomas Vermaelen back into the side at left-back, a disastrous proposal with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale fit and ready to fire from the flanks.
Madrid’s only hope of silverware this season is the Champions League but Zinedine Zidane’s men don’t face Wolfsburg until Wednesday. And with neither Bale nor Karim Benzema involved in international duty, and Ronaldo only going as far as Lisbon, the Los Blancos front-three should be fit, fresh and raring to go.
Now I’m not suggesting Madrid are a bet here but they do stand a better chance than the best-price (19/4 Coral) that’s offered on the away success. Still, the visitors have only claimed maximum points in half of their 14 away La Liga trips and have an ugly W14-7-L14 record travelling to top-half teams since their last La Liga title triumph, so we’ll look elsewhere.
There are signs that Zidane’s Real are adapting to a more possession-centric approach, utilising their marauding full-backs in attack and giving the side a more balanced and stable option in midfield with Casemiro shielding the back four.
Neither James Rodriguez nor Isco will start but Pepe and Sergio Ramos return to give the central defensive areas bulk and experience. And Los Blancos will look to expose Barca’s shortcomings in the air with plenty of balls into the box; the capital club have scored six goals from crosses in their last three games.
The 4-0 win against Sevilla slightly flattered Madrid but they’ve now churned out five successive victories and unlike Barcelona, their standout stars are primed and in peak condition. So lets have a look at a few of bets on offer…
Since Luis Enrique arrived, Barcelona have only led at the break in 5/17 (29%) of their La Liga outings against top-half clubs at the Camp Nou. And with Real Madrid netting the opening goal on 24 occasions this season, finding a way to get Los Blancos onside in the first-half markets makes most appeal.
Simply backing Real to score in the first 45 minutes is 23/20 (Betfair) and looks a corking options considering the Catalans have kept their sheets clean on just three occasions across their last 11 outings.
I’m also going to snap up even-money from Boylesports for Over 1.5 Goals to be scored in the first-half – five of the past seven Clasicos have featured at least two goals in the opening skirmishes with 18 of the past 19 head-to-heads producing profitable Both Teams To Score selections.
And finally, I just can’t resist snapping up the 29/20 on a Barcelona win and Both Teams To Score; accumulatively the two teams have recorded just seven clean sheets in their last 22 outings and should the Blaugrana rise to the occasion, they’ll prove too strong over 90 minutes.
Eibar v Villarreal | Sunday 17.15 | Sky Sports 5
There’s a slice of deja vu when viewing Eibar’s 2015/16 camapign.
Like last season, the Basque minnows enjoyed a fabulous first-half of the season to sit comfortably amongst the top-half of La Liga. However, the Gunners have followed in the footsteps of 2014/15 and been unable to maintain their excellent start.
Luckily for José Luis Mendilibar’s plucky underdogs, Eibar have already won seven more points than at this stage of last season and no La Liga side has ever been relegated having accrued 38 points from their first 30 fixtures.
The hosts have recorded just a solitary success in 10 (W1-D2-L7) and returned disappointing 1-1 draws against struggling Getafe and Rayo Vallecano before the international break.
The Basques have been impressive performers at their tiny Ipurua home up until recently too. Since mid-January the hosts have been turned over in three of their four outings when welcoming league opposition and a W1-D2-L4 return when taking on top-half opponents contrasts vastly from their W6-D1-L1 efforts at home to bottom-half dwellers.
Both Ivan Ramis and Adrian are sidelined with suspensions meaning Mauro Dos Santos will partner Aleksandar Pantic at centre-back. And so Mendilibar’s men look vulnerable on Sunday evening.
Villarreal have W1-D4-L1 in their past six road trips in 2016 with the Yellow Submarine claiming just two victories from 11 on their travels.
But Marcelinho’s visitors have been beaten in only six of their 30 league encounters and therefore represent fantastic value at 4/5 (Bet365) off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line.
This selection works in exactly the same way as a bet on the Draw No Bet market, just at a better price. Like a DNB punt, we’ll get our stake returned should the game end in a draw.
Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola is back to full fitness for Villarreal who should head into this contest in high spirits after coming back from two goals down to take a 2-2 draw with league leaders Barcelona before the international break.
Sevilla v Real Sociedad | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 5
There are few stranger tales than that of Sevilla in 2015/16.
Unai Emery’s troops have been scintillating on home soil, seeing off each of their last 17 visitors to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, scoring an average of 2.40 goals-per-game and keeping 13 clean sheets.
Here’s just a select few of the sides to have fallen to Los Nervionenses in that 17-match streak – Basel, Villarreal, Athletic Bilbao, Juventus, Valencia and Real Madrid. Runaway league leaders Barcelona have also been beaten at the Pizjuan.
Bizarrely, Sevilla are still searching for their first victory on the road this season. A 4-0 shellacking at Real Madrid last time out was unfortunate and a tad harsh but returning to their fortress base in Andalusia, normal service should resume.
Playmaking genius Ever Banega is back from a ban to feature in the starting XI once more off lone striker Kevin Gameiro whilst Vitolo’s returned to full fitness and should be given a starting berth on the right-hand side of an attacking midfield.
Only Real Madrid and Barcelona are averaging more on-target attempts as hosts and if we needed any more convincing, Emery’s charges have won 26/34 (76%) La Liga duels at the Pizjuan since the start of last season.
That 76% success-rate implies betting odds of just 3/10 but the kind chaps at Coral have chalked Los Nervionenses up as 7/10 shots on Sunday night, a huge value price that just cannot be missed.
The international break arrived at just the right time for Real Sociedad. Eusebio’s men had suffered successive 1-0 defeats to extend a winless run to five (W0-D2-L3). But leading goalscorer Imanol Agirretxe remains sidelined and the Basques tend to flounder when meeting La Liga’s biggest guns.
La Real have lost by at least two clear goals in seven of their last eight trips to top-six teams and 11 of their last 14 further back. Expand the sample to 2012/13 (the season Sociedad finished fourth) and down to top-half clubs, the visitors have managed just W7-D7-L21 as guests. It’s pretty black and white.
Rotten away form is nothing new for the northerners, mind. Sociedad have W6-D11-L17 on their travels since the start of 2014/15 with 12 of those losses clearing a one-goal handicap and only seven shutouts recorded in 34.
Ordinarily I’d be heading towards the Asian Handicap market here for a slice of Sevilla -1 (we’d see our stake returned should the hosts only pick up a victory by a one-goal margin) but in this instance, I’m more than happy to take a big bite out of the 7/10; it’s not a price that’ll send us to Barbados but it’s a rock-solid selection at incredibly generous odds.
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to score Over 0.5 Goals (23/20 Betfair)
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Over 1.5 Goals in the first-half (1/1 Boylesports)
Barcelona v Real Madrid – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (29/20 BetVictor)
Eibar v Villarreal – Villarreal 0 Asian Handicap (4/5 Bet365)
Sevilla v Real Sociedad – Sevilla to win (7/10 Coral)
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