La Liga: Back Sevilla to stay on course for title challenge

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EUROPEAN football expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value in Thursday evening’s La Liga action.

Deportivo La Coruna v Atletico Madrid | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports Interactive

Atletico Madrid’s eight-match unbeaten run (W6-D2-L0) came to an end at home to Barcelona on Sunday; a result Diego Simeone claimed “wasn’t deserved” with Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen proving to be the Blaugrana’s best player.

Champions League glory remains the goal for Los Colchoneros but their position in the fourth (and the final Champions League qualification place) is under threat with both Real Sociedad and Villarreal breathing down their necks. Therefore, Atleti can’t afford to take their eyes off La Liga matters.

On Thursday night Atletico travel to Deportivo having avoided defeat in each of their past nine away trips, notching 20 goals. The capital club struck four times in away triumphs at Sporting Gijon and Bayer Leverkusen in recent weeks and another impressive away day showing shouldn’t be ruled out.

Simeone’s side rarely let punters down in these situations. Already this season Los Colchoneros have W10-D3-L0 against bottom-half clubs – seven (54%) victories by at least two goals and nine (69%) clean sheets – and that record is just as strong when viewing purely away fixtures.

Since the start of 2014/15, Atletico have W16-D6-L3 at teams finishing or currently in 11th or below with 12 (48%) triumphs by a two-goal margin or better and clean sheets kept in 15 (60%) outings.

Drill a bit deeper and Atleti have come out on top in eight of their last 11 games against clubs in the bottom-six over the most recent two seasons, winning by that two-goal margin or better in six of their last eight visits to the same standard of opposition. They’re impressive stats.

Saul Niguez misses out due to suspension but Angel Correa’s an able replacement and so I’m happy to just to back the straight away win at 8/11 (William Hill). The team renowned for its defensive solidity has not kept a clean sheet in five so I’ll swerve any of the more adventurous markets.

Odds of 8/11 imply a 58% chance of success but as we’ve seen above – Atletico are operating at a much higher win rate when travelling to La Liga’s lesser lights.

There is a slight concern Deportivo could raise their game following the sacking of head coach Gaizka Garitano. The Galicians were taken to the cleaners by fellow strugglers Leganes at the weekend (0-4) and have now suffered four consecutive defeats, winning just three games since the opening weekend (W3-D7-L12).

The departure of Ryan Babel has had a marked effect on Depor’s attacking output, as has the loss of form of Florin Andone. The hosts do have Joselu back but have scored just four goals in over 10 hours of La Liga action and managed more than three shots on-target in only 9/23 (39%) games this season.

Former Real Betis boss, Pepe Mel, is the new man in charge but he’ll be without suspended centre-back Raul Albentosa whilst Bruno Gama and Celso Borges are rated major doubts. And although La Coruna have avoided defeat in three of their last four at the Riazor, their record against the leading lights is poor.

Deportivo have W3-D4-L8 when welcoming top-six clubs here since returning to the Spanish top-flight. However, only four losses were by more than a solitary strike as the home side have scored in 11 of those 15 fixtures.

That above paragraph just bolsters my view that sticking to a plain and simple away win – as opposed to venturing into the Asian Handicap or ‘to nil’ markets – is the way forward on Thursday.

Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao | Thursday 20:30 | Sky Sports 5

It’s been a dramatic week in La Liga. With Real Madrid suffering repeated nosebleeds from the vertigo that’s followed leading La Liga and Barcelona in a state of flux, many in Spain are asking whether Sevilla could win a first league title since 1946.

And why not? Los Blanquirrojos survived a first-half onslaught from bitter rivals Real Betis in Saturday’s city derby – trailing 12-1 on the shot count at the interval – to clinch a 2-1 success, inching Jorge Sampaoli’s side further towards title contention.

It’s now four straight triumphs for Sevilla ahead of their return home to the their fortress Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. Here the hosts have won 23 of their last 28 La Liga fixtures and returned figures of W9-D1-L1 this season – only losing to Barcelona.

Sampaoli admitted after the Betis win that his side were in the running for top honours so there’ll be no let-up as the Andalusians chase another home victory over Athletic Bilbao – Sevilla have W12-D7-L1 against the Basques here since 1993.

Of course Los Blanquirrojos could suffer a comedown following barely three days off but Sampaoli boasts a big enough squad to rest, rotate and patch up following a spate of suspensions. Stephen N’Zonzi, captain Nicolas Pareja and leading provider of goals Pablo Sarabria are all banned.

Matias Kranevitter can replace N’Zonzi, Adil Rami will be partnered by Gabriel Mercado at the back and Joaquin Correa deserves an opportunity on the right. Chuck in the likes of Iborra and Wissam Ben Yedder who are both chasing starts and the side doesn’t look too bad after all.

The 4/6 (William Hill) about a home victory implies a 60% chance of wining and seems more than fair. However, I’m going to boost the odds by a point by backing Sevilla -0.75 on the Asian Handicap line at 4/5 with BetVictor.

This selection would see us pick up a half-stakes profit should Sevilla win by exactly one goal with a full-stakes pay-out ensured if the hosts clinch victory by two goals or more.

Sevilla have won 10 of their last 11 when welcoming top-half teams that aren’t Real Madrid or Barcelona to the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan and it’s worth noting too that Sampaoli’s side have kept their sheets clean in three of their last five outings now across all competitions.

Athletic Bilbao remain without four or five first-choice players – as they were in Sunday’s routine home win over Granada – but the most significant of which is striker Aritz Aduriz. He’s notched eight league goals this term and provides the focal point to the Les Leones attack.

Ernesto Valverde’s team have really toiled in the final third on their travels this term, failing to score in their last four games as guests. In fact, Athletic have only scored seven goals in their 11 away days, losing on seven occasions and failing to record a victory on the road since September.

The Basques are returning a rotten 38.37% expected goals ratio in away La Liga fixtures this season with their shots in the box ratio also ranking poorly at 38.51%. The visitors have lost seven of their last eight at top-six clubs and have also been beaten by more than a one-goal margin in seven of 11 at the top-six.

Raul Garcia returns from suspension and should come into an attacking midfield role to help support lone striker Inaki Williams but Oscar De Marcos remains absent and Aymeric Laporte is doubtful. I’m happy to oppose Athletic.

Best Bets

Deportivo La Coruna v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid to win (8/11 William Hill)

Sevilla v Athletic Bilbao – Sevilla -0.75 Asian Handicap (4/5 BetVictor)

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About Author

Profile photo of Mark O'Haire

After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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