EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value in Wednesday evening's La Liga action.
Celta Vigo v Real Madrid | Wednesday 20:00 | Sky Sports
Real Madrid’s task is simple – collect four points from their final two La Liga fixtures and a first league title in five years is guaranteed.
Los Blancos know defeat at Celta Vigo on Wednesday – or Malaga on Sunday – would leave Barcelona requiring victory against Eibar at the Camp Nou to retain their crown so there’s plenty at stake for Zinedine Zidane’s charges here.
The visitors recorded a 4-1 thumping of Sevilla last time out but Steven Jovetic could have scored four goals – twice hitting the bar – before Real blew their opponents to bits late on. The capital club are now dreaming of a first league and European double in 59 years.
Madrid are 1/5 shots to clinch La Liga honours – and there’s still value in that price – but Wednesday night’s showdown has been hyped up following a war of words between the two clubs boards.
War of words
Celta president Carlos Mourino claimed Real were “desperate” to push through the teams' scheduled meeting in February after it was postponed amid safety risks caused by bad weather. And city mayor Abel Caballero waded in too, saying Madrid “arrogantly” applied pressure for the match to go ahead in order to avoid fixture congestion.
Meanwhile, Vigo-born Mourino also said he had always had a fondness for Barcelona as his second side but stressed: “I have never denied a sympathy for Barcelona for their style of play. Nothing more than that.”
Los Blancos have dismissed such suggestions but Mourino’s public approval of Barca can only add to the melting pot of emotions heading in to such a pivotal encounter. This surely won’t be a straightforward walkover win for the challengers.
Recent Celta form
Before we dive in on Real here, it’s worth a wee delve into Celta’s recent run of results. Sure, the Sky Blues have lost their last five in Spain’s top-flight whilst scoring only twice but Eduardo Berizzo’s boys have been fully focussed on the Europa League in that time.
The Galicians effectively sacrificed their domestic efforts as they bid to enhance what was their greatest ever continental campaign. Even at the weekend, Berizzo rested the bulk of his first XI, the majority of which will return here.
Although Celta showed Manchester United too much respect in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final first leg at Balaidos in a performance that lacked that aggressiveness and braveness that defined them, the second leg was a completely different kettle of fish.
The Galicians enjoyed 67% of the ball, fired in 16 shots at Old Trafford, completed more than twice as many passes as their Premier League hosts and missed an open goal as they exited after a 1-1 draw. A similar display here will have Madrid on the ropes.
Rising to the big occasion
Although Celta have lost eight of their last nine against Real Madrid in La Liga – leaking 26 goals – and have been beaten in eight of their most recent 10 against Barcelona or Real, this team aren’t to be dismissed.
The Sky Blues did manage a wonderful 4-3 aggregate win over Los Blancos in the Copa del Rey over two legs earlier this term and don’t forget they’ve overcome Barca at Balaidos in the last two years. In doing so, Berizzo’s charges have earned a reputation as big-game players.
Hard to dismiss European champions
So there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic regarding a Celta challenge here but ultimately, it’s hard to dismiss Real Madrid.
I’ve said on many occasions this season that Zidane’s troops are living off moments of individual genius and too lacking in control but even so, Los Blancos have come to the fore all too often to oppose them.
The visitors have claimed four successive victories since their Clasico loss, recorded seven away wins on the spin whilst scoring at least three goals on six occasions and are in the midst of a record breaking goalscoring run of 62 games. Decent, huh?
Two more away goals in their final two outings will break the league record for most road goals in a season whilst Zidane’s men have also taken top honours in 13 of their last 14 away days at bottom-half teams (yes, I know Celta aren’t really a bottom-half club).
The betting angle
So what’s the angle? Well Nacho’s suspension means the guests are likely to have Danilo at right-back with Marcelo returning to play at left-back. But minus Pepe and Dani Carvajal, it’s difficult to see Real recording a clean sheet here.
Los Blancos’ only shutout on their travels since November came at rock-bottom Granada and each of their past 10 away days have broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
Indeed, the past seven meetings between the two teams has featured at least three goals and Celta have seen seven of their previous nine La Liga encounters at home to Barca or Real produce three goals or more with five of the last eight also seeing Over 3.5 Goals hunters collect.
So another high-scoring game is fancied but with the Madrid win and Both Teams To Score providing profit in six of Real’s last seven league encounters away from the Bernabeu; supporting a repeat at 11/10 (BetStars) seems fair enough.
I’m also going to back Celta with a +2.25 start at 13/15 (188BET). As I've mentioned many time sin the piece, I expect a competitive encounter with this selection we’ll make money should the hosts avoid losing by more than two goals.
Celta Vigo v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score (11/10 BetStars)
Celta Vigo v Real Madrid – Celta Vigo +2.25 Asian Handicap (13/15 188BET)