MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his insight on Wednesday night’s Copa del Rey quarter-final second legs from Spain.
Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo | Wednesday 19.30
Atletico Madrid surrendered top spot in La Liga as they failed to make their dominance count against 10-man Sevilla on Sunday.
The visitors were without a win on the road and played the final half hour a man down following Victor Vitolo's red card. Antoine Griezmann headed against a post from Atletico's best chance but in truth, they never looked like notching the all-important goal as only three of their 21 shots landed on-target.
Diego Simeone's side now face a top-of-the-table meeting with Barcelona at the Camp Nou on Saturday but first they must overcome Celta Vigo in the second leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final following a goalless game last midweek in Galicia.
Those back-to-back clean sheets mean the Mattress Makers have leaked a solitary goal in 10 matches across all competitions, dating back to mid-December. But their winning form is ever more remarkable – having held city rivals Real on 4 October, Atleti have gone on a W17-D5-L1 run.
Sure, three of those five stalemates arrived in their most recent six games but I’m putting my faith (yet again) in Simeone’s troops getting the job done.
The Argentine rotated his team in the first leg but the likes of Diego Godin, Koke and Griezmann all featured and there’s a real appetite from the hosts to progress.
If Atleti are disappointed by their W3-D3-L0 return of late, Celta might be inconsolable after W3-D1-L4 post-Christmas. Two of those triumphs came against Segunda side Cadiz and Eduardo Berizzo’s boys have been worryingly and regularly shredded since the start of December.
Their 3-0 hammering at Rayo in the capital last time out was sobering. The Vigo-based club could have conceded 10 as they were out-shot 26-3. It means their last four away La Liga days have seen them face an eye-watering 78 attempts, 21 of which were on-target.
In contrast, the Sky Blues’ attack has failed to function without talisman Nolito. Those aforementioned four road trips saw Celta conjure up seven shots-on-target – in three games they managed no more than a solitary effort on-target.
Include home/away league games since the turn of December and Berizzo’s boys have lost the shots-on-target count in six of their eight outings by an aggregate 20-38. It’s humbling stuff.
It’s boring as hell but I’ll back Atletico to win 1-0 and 2-0 in the correct score market again – 14 of their wins this season have come via either scoreline and 888 Sport are offering 5/1 on a 1-0 victory and 13/2 on a 2-0 triumph.
Back both bets and you’re looking at a minimum 2/1 winner, and that’s more than fair.
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao | Wednesday 20.30
If Celta Vigo were a shambles at the weekend, Barcelona weren’t far from diabolical. Luis Enrique’s charges were cut to ribbons by a Malaga side that had just sold their best attacking player to Watford, Nordin Amrabat.
I could barely believe my eyes, especially in the first 45 minutes. The Catalans were pulled apart, unable to hold onto possession and somehow escaped the first-half without conceding more than one goal.
The Bluagrana did opt to rest Gerard Pique and Dani Alves – Jordi Alba remains injured – but even Sergio Busquets was below-par. Thomas Vermaelen was hooked at the interval and even Andres Iniesta admitted post-match, “I can’t remember a first half as bad as that; they were the better team.”
Despite only enjoying 34% possession, Malaga managed nine shots-on-target to Barcelona’s six and won the shot count 13-10. Still, Lionel Messi’s 51st-minute goal proved decisive as Barca moved back to the top of the La Liga tree before turning their focus towards the Copa del Rey.
Luis Enrique did field close to a best XI for the first leg of this quarter-final contest in Bilbao bar the injured Messi and Neymar but with Atletico Madrid coming to town on Saturday, he might be tempted to rest and rotate. Nevertheless, we should still expect a full throttle performance.
The Catalans came away from San Mames, their fifth meeting this season, with a 2-1 win but again, Barca lost the shot count. But hey, they’re unbeaten since 3 October (W19-D5-L0) and have W16-D1-L0 at the Camp Nou since being held by the Basques in Super Cup back in August.
Athletic were involved in a thrilling Basque derby with Eibar on Sunday lunchtime. Their 5-2 victory moved Les Leones up to eighth with Aritz Aduriz playing another starring role – he scored twice to take his tally to 14 league gaols and 25 across all competitions this season. Superb.
The visitors beat Villarreal at El Madrigal in their last Copa del Rey away trip but defeats at Barca, Sevilla and Atletico in the past month cement the assumption that Ernesto Valverde’s team are a mere speed bump for the bigger fish in Spain.
Barcelona have a job to finish and I expect they’ll do just that but we’ve no chance in backing the Bluagrana at a reasonable price. Therefore I’m adding Over 2.5 Goals to the equation – it boosts the odds to a more than respective 3/4 (Sportingbet).
Seldom do we get an opportunity to support the World Cup Champions and Over 2.5 Goals at a decent price so I’m going in feet first – Barca have been involved in 9/11 Over 2.5 Goals winners of late with their past 16 home fixtures also featuring at least three goals as the Catalans have overcome the goals barrier themselves in 12 of their most recent 13 Camp Nou contests.
Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo – Atletico Madrid to win 1-0 (5/1 888 Sport)
Atletico Madrid v Celta Vigo – Atletico Madrid to win 2-0 (13/2 888 Sport)
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao – Barcelona to win and Over 2.5 Goals (3/4 Sportingbet)
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