MARK O’HAIRE’S (@MarkOHaire) European NAP heads to La Liga on Sunday.
Valencia v Real Sociedad | Sunday 25th February 2018, 17:30 | Sky Sports
Real Sociedad tabled a fourth top-half finish in five seasons last term as the Basques ended sixth in La Liga and La Real raised expectations when starting 2017/18 with three successive victories.
It was the first time since 1981 that Sociedad had began a new campaign in such fine form, a year they went on to clinch the title. Unfortunately, Eusebio Sacristan’s side have struggled to hit the same heights since.
The Basques have bagged only five triumphs in the following 21 La Liga matches and although comfortable back-to-back wins over struggling Deportivo and Levante have allayed any potential relegation fears, Sociedad’s boss remains under pressure following a Europa League exit this week.
Always passing the eye test and often fairing well across the performance data rankings, the San Sebastian side still boast a soft underbelly and are particularly vulnerable defensively, especially so when travelling away from Anoeta.
Sociedad have W1-D2-L5 in their last eight across all competitions – that run includes defeats at Getafe and Leganes, with their sole success arriving by a 1-0 margin at Rosenborg. On La Liga duty, La Real have W0-D2-L5 on their travels, shipping nine goals at Real Madrid and Villarreal in their past two away days.
Indeed, the guests have leaked at least two goals in seven of their 11 road trips this term. The Basques conceded 53 goals in 2016/17 – more than any top-half rival – whilst their record at La Liga’s elite also needs to come under serious scrutiny.
Since the start of last season, Sociedad have picked up just five points from a possible 42 at top-half teams (W1-D2-L11). Ignore Barcelona and Real Madrid and they’ve still been beaten in eight of their 11 encounters in the same sample, failing to keep their sheets clean once.
Basques without key players
A Thursday night trip to RB Salzburg is far from ideal preparation for Eusebio, who’ll have to make-do without a number of key players on Sunday. Star central defender Inigo Martinez was sold in January and without him at the back, La Real have shipped at least three goals in six of 11 outings this season.
Eleven-goal top goalscorer Willian Jose remains sidelined and influential skipper Xabi Prieto will also be unavailable for the visitors, making the price on a home win appeal around the 3/4 mark with most firms.
Whilst I do expect Valencia to seal a third La Liga victory on the spin, goals are also forecast. No side in Spain are averaging more goals per-game than Sociedad (3.79), a familiar theme under Eusebio’s tutorship.
Since the start of last season, La Real have surpassed the Over 2.5 Goals line on 38/62 (61%) occasions with four goals or more produced in 26/62 (42%) fixtures. The Basques will always offer a threat in the final-third and with Valencia far from watertight, I’m opting to keep the draw onside.
Los Che double chance and Over 2.5 Goals is available at 5/6 (188BET) and offers a bit more security to a selection supporting the hosts, as well as a goal-heavy game at Mestalla.
Valencia strong operators against lesser lights
Valencia squeezed out a narrow 2-1 triumph at rock-bottom Malaga last weekend. Marcelinho’s were behind and benefitted from a sending off before clawing their way back into the match to secure back-to-back league wins for only the second time since November.
Los Che are now firmly in the box-seat for Champions League qualification and will be buoyed by their last outing at the Mestalla. Although a controversial encounter, Marcelinho’s men brushed local rivals Levante aside, their eighth success on home soil this season.
If we exclude Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, Valencia have pocketed maximum points in 14 of their 19 league outings thus far, as well as sealing eight wins from eight when welcoming clubs outside of the top-six.
The 2004 champions have notched at least three goals in five of their nine at the Mestalla when again excluding the Big Three and with the likes of Jeison Murillo, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Rodrigo all fully fit again, a repeat wouldn’t be a huge surprise here on Sunday.
However, it’s worth noting Valencia have silenced only six opposition sides this season, with matches averaging 3.00 goals per-game. A massive 16/24 (67%) paid-out for Over 2.5 Goals backers and 15/24 (63%) produced goals at both ends, adding credence to the assumption this will be a high-scoring showdown.
Valencia v Real Sociedad – Valencia double chance and Over 2.5 Goals (5/6 188BET)