MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has analysed the odds from the opening weekend of La Liga and shares his favourite fancies below.
Sevilla v Espanyol | Saturday 21.15 | Sky Sports 3
Sevilla are already three competitive fixtures into their new season but those outings ended in an extra-time UEFA Super Cup loss to Real Madrid and a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup
Now under the watchful eye of Jorge Sampaoli, the Andalusians have performed in fits and starts but Los Rojiblancos supporters will now be hoping their side are ready to rumble for the full 90 minutes this weekend.
Under former chief Unai Emery, Los Rojiblancos were largely a counterattacking side and averaged marginally less than 50% possession in each of his three full seasons at the helm.
In contrast Sampaoli, who led Chile to success at the 2015 Copa America, wants his teams to dominate their opponents with a high share of possession, clever movement and a stifling high press.
Sampaoli has already experimented with various formations and configurations and while there are still a few quirks to be ironed out, there have been positive signs that the players are adapting to the demands of their new coach.
It’ll take time for the southerners to reach full tilt and with Benoit Tremoulinas, Timothee Kolodziejczak and Daniel Carrico all missing this weekend, and with Adil Rami nursing a knock, Sampaoli’s defence is looking stretched and potentially vulnerable here.
Sevilla have won 14 of their past 17 La Liga outings as hosts and have beaten 10 of their past 14 bottom-half guests by two-goals or more. With new signings Luciano Vietto, Franco Vazquez and Ganso available, they should have the tools required to at least get amongst the goals, mind.
Espanyol have suffered six successive losses at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan but there’s a feeling that the Parakeets could be really to make a move on the top-four after an intriguing off-season in the Catalan capital.
The Barcelona-based club brought in Quique Sanchez Flores as their new coach and made headlines with the signings of Leo Baptistao and Jose Antonio Reyes. With Pablo Piatti and Javi Fuego also joining, Espanyol appear flush with forward quality this term.
Baptistao and Gerard Moreno notched in a 2-2 draw against Serie A champions Juventus in a recent friendly, with the Catalan club enjoying an unbeaten pre-season schedule. However, I’m not convinced they’re ready to really make their mark here considering their woeful road record.
Espanyol have lost in 12 of their past 15 away days, shipping two or more goals in nine of their most recent 11 on their travels. The visitors managed just three wins on the road all season in 2015/16 – leaking 46 goals – and Martin Demichelis is unlikely to enhance their chances of a first shutout as guests since 2014/15.
Despite losing 14 away matches last term, Espanyol did score in 11 with 14 fixtures featuring Over 2.5 Goals winners and that looks the best plan of attack here.
Sevilla saw half of their home encounters produce Both Teams To Score winners last year with 11 creeping over the 2.5 goals line. Over 2.5 Goals is 11/14 with 188BET.
Real Sociedad v Real Madrid | Sunday 19.15 | Sky Sports 1
It’s been a strangely subdued summer at the Bernebeau with Real Madrid opting only to bring Alvaro Morata back to the club following his spell with Juventus during a quiet transfer window.
The Champions League winners are well stocked in world-class talent and having lifted their 11th European title in May, it could be argued that major surgery wasn’t required.
Los Blancos concluded their La Liga campaign with 12 successive wins to finish just a point off champions Barcelona but there’s a feeling amongst Madridistas that now might be the right time for Real to end a five-year wait for a 33rd La Liga crown.
Madrid have enjoyed four pre-season wins on the spin and lifted the UEFA Super Cup after a 3-2 extra-time victory over Sevilla recently too but Zinedine Zidane’s squad are missing five key personnel for Sunday’s tricky opening trip to San Sebastian.
Portugal stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe haven’t yet returned to full training whilst Karim Benzema suffering from an ongoing hip problem. Meanwhile, Luka Modric is suspended, Keylar Navas is unavailable and Gareth Bale is likely to start despite playing just an hour of football in pre-season.
Despite their absences, Real remain odds-on favourites having won 13 of their most recent 15 battles with Sociedad, losing just once in 18 league duels. But that doesn’t tell the full story.
Towards the back end of 2015/16, Los Blancos required a late winner from Bale to secure a 1-0 success over Sociedad and the Basques tend to be awkward opponents at Anoeta.
Indeed, the hosts have W5-D1-L2 when welcoming Real or Barcelona to the north of the country since 2012/13 and they’ll fancy their chances of at least grabbing a goal against a Madrid outfit that managed only five clean sheets in games as guests last term.
Under Zidane, Los Blancos W19-D3-L1 in La Liga but they did stutter on their travels at times (W12-D5-L2) and although Sociedad have their own injury concerns, Eusebio Sacristan’s side look well worth supporting at 19/16 (188BET) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start on Sunday.
Last season’s top scorer Imanol Agirretxe is sidelined but summer signing Juanmi is an able replacement. Inigo Martinez is expected to start despite carrying a knock and star goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli remains at Anoeta amid interest from across the continent.
Carlos Vela and Asier Illarramendi are classy operators in the middle and final third, negating the loss of Sergio Canales, and the home side should be playing with plenty of confidence having finished 2015/16 with eight victories from their final 17 outings.
La Real only fired blanks in seven of their 27 matches under Eusebio’s watch, won half of their 14 home games – including a memorable match against Barcelona – and climbed into a top-half finish for the third occasion in four years.
This looks a perfect opportunity for Sociedad to put down an early marker and considering Madrid opened their 2015/16 campaign with a 0-0 draw at newly-promoted Sporting Gijon, I’ve every faith the Basques can repeat that feat and claim a positive result.
Atletico Madrid v Alaves | Sunday 21.15 | Sky Sports 1
I’ll let you into a secret, shall I? I’ve only gone and backed Atletico Madrid to win La Liga – again!
Anyone who still suggests La Liga is still a two-horse race deserves a slap in the chops. It hasn’t been for three years now and this season’s renewal looks as intriguing as ever.
Diego Simeone spent big this summer in an attempt to land a Champions League trophy following two final failures in three seasons.
Kevin Gameiro and Nico Gaitan are the headline acts to arrive and if you believe (like I do) that Koke, Saul, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Angel Correa can only get better then the Mattress Makers are going to be serious challengers.
Atletico still boast arguably the best defence in the world and still play in possibly the most effective system on the planet.
Although Antoine Griezmann’s suspended for Sunday’s opener, I’m still expecting the capital club to do the honours at the Vicente Calderon.
Since 2012/13 the hosts have W58-D12-L6 in front of their vociferous home support. Last season Atleti returned W15-D3-L1 at the Calderon whilst shipping just seven goals – 11 of their victories arriving ‘to nil’.
Across the whole La Liga campaign, Simeone’s side recorded 24 shutouts with 23 (61%) games featuring fewer than three goals. in fact, 14 (37%) produced one goal or fewer including eight Under 1.5 Goals winners in the capital.
Naturally, those trends led to 8/19 profitable pokes on Atletico to win and Under 2.5 Goals at the Calderon and that’s the angle I’m taking here with BetStars offering 9/5.
Since 2010/11 only three of the 18 promoted sides have gone straight back down in Spain and Alaves will be hoping for a decent stay in La Liga having returned to the top-flight for the first time since 2005/06.
The Segunda champions are unbeaten in last five pre-season games, drawing three of them 0-0, following a similar pattern to last season’s title triumph. The newly-promoted visitors scored just 49 goals in 42 games with their matches averaging only 2.00 goals-per-game.
The Alaves board were obviously underwhelmed as they sacked Jose Bordalas in the summer and replaced him with Mauricio Pellegrino. He’s butchered a squad, which still looks limited, and short of imagination and so it’s difficult to see the guests making much impact here.
Alaves saw 29 (69%) of last season’s games feature fewer than three goals with 18 (43%) proving profitable in the Under 1.5 Goals market. Theo Hernandez is ineligible to play, due to a clause in his loan contract and I’m happy to back the newcomers to lose narrowly in Madrid.