MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from Matchday 21 from La Liga.
Valencia v Barcelona | Saturday 25th January 2020, 15:00
1-0 down at Segunda B side Ibiza with over 75% possession while failing to register a single shot on goal for over an hour, Barcelona looked ripe for a cupset until Antoine Griezmann spared Blaugrana blushes in midweek.
This possession-heavy, low-output style is likely to continue in the coming weeks as the Barca players adjust to Quique Setien’s style and Setien adapts to managing players he publicly salivated over in recent years. Transitions aren’t easy and this will take time.
Lionel Messi, Sergi Busquets and Gerard Pique return for what is one of the standout games of the La Liga calendar and when the big boys come to Valencia, Mestalla rarely backs down.
Captain Dani Parejo is a huge loss, after picking up his fifth yellow card during their disastrous defeat at Mallorca and it’s difficult to do justice to just how important he is to Los Che; he dictates the flow and direction of their attack and it will be interesting to see who takes the mantle of leading the team in his absence. A double-pivot of Francois Coquelin and Geofrrey Kondogbia is likely.
The last five meetings in all competitions have seen Both Teams To Score click and the previous two clashes at Mestalla in La Liga have ended 1-1.
Luis Suarez is once again a huge loss for the visitors, especially for a team still finding its feet in a new system: his ability to pop up at crucial moments when his team is struggling is what has made him one of the best strikers in the world in the last 15 years.
One Cadena Ser commentator remarked after the Ibiza escape that “Barca are learning how to drive again,” and they are extremely vulnerable at the moment as they continue to adapt to new patterns of movement and play.
With Parejo, Valencia would have a huge opportunity to catch Barca at Mestalla but his loss is huge and the draw is a big player here.
Kondogbia should have a bit more responsibility to get forward in Parejo’s absence and he could be a threat from anywhere around the edge of the Barca area and from set-pieces where the Catalans don't inspire too much confidence. He is worth an each-way nibble to opener the scoring at 28/1 (Bet365)..
Sevilla v Granada | Saturday 25th January 2020, 20:00 | La Liga TV
Sevilla put in a better performance at the Bernabéu last weekend than in previous seasons – against a lacklustre Real Madrid team missing two key players in Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde – and they still came up short.
Sevilla return to domestic action on Saturday night with the aim of restoring the Sánchez Pizjuán to its previous stature as a real fortress.
Youssef En Nesyri will make his home debut and he will provide Sevilla with much needed physicality, mobility and general ‘UMPH’ in attack. There’s no doubt he will be raring to go and his addition should enable Sevilla be able to apply pressure further up the field and surround the Moroccan with numbers and runners, something De Jong lacked.
We should expect Granada to come with little ambition to turn this into a classic; they will sit deep and get numbers behind the ball, a formula which has reaped rewards for teams like Athletic Bilbao and Villarreal in Sevilla recently.
Julien Lopetegui will once again be looking for width from his extremely effective wing backs Sergio Reguilón and Jesús Navas in order to supply crosses to En Nesyri, a proper colossus in the air. Lucas Ocampos will also pose a threat cutting in from wide areas.
They might have to be patient, Sevilla, but they should be far too good for the visitors and I like the corners angle here.
Over 6.5 Sevilla corners appeals at 5/6 (Bet365). They won the corner count 9-1 v Athletic Bilbao; 14-2 v Villarreal and 7-4 v Leganés at the Sánchez Pizjuán and I’m expecting similar numbers this time around.
A bet builder of a Sevilla win and Over 6.5 corners might also be a nice play for those seeking that bit if extra value.
Celta Vigo v Eibar | Sunday 26th January 2020, 13:00 | La Liga TV
Celta Vigo have failed to win since 24th November and it feels like a slip-up this weekend could seriously jeopardise Oscar Garcia’s position as coach of the Vigo outfit.
We tipped Celta at 6/1 for relegation back in August and have continued to lament their lack of…anything really. It’s a team that lacks an identity; it lacks fight and a physical presence in areas where physical battles make the difference, and in attack they have struggled to find any shape or rhythm.
Celta don’t do anything particularly terribly but they don’t do anything particularly well either and it feels like this team is in limbo, searching for its soul while drifting closer and closer to the Segunda. The Galicians have also just sold influential Slovakian midfielder Stan Lobotka to Napoli which is a huge blow.
This weekend is absolutely massive and once again feels like a “final”. Eibar will be in flying form having beaten Atletico Madrid 2-0 in Ipurua last weekend and two clean sheets at Mestalla and San Mamés – no mean feat. They will come to be aggressive and press Celta high and they should play into the hosts’ hands.
Celta have struggled badly against deep-lying teams and there should be ample space in behind if they’re capable of beating the now famous Eibar press. But that’s a big if. When it works, it’s great; when it doesn’t, it can get ugly.
It’s almost impossible to justify any significant confidence in this Celta side, especially at skimpy prices. Seven of their past eight meetings have seen Both Teams to Score backers cursing their luck and given the importance of this game, I’m expecting it to be cagier than usual.
Valencia v Barcelona – Draw (10/3 Bet365)
Valencia v Barcelona – Geoffrey Kondogbia to score first (28/1 each-way Bet365)
Sevilla v Granada – Sevilla to win Over 6.5 Corners (5/6 Bet365)
Week 21 Predictions:
Osasuna v Levante 2
Espanyol v Athletic Club X
Valencia v Barcelona X
Alavés v Villarreal X
Sevilla v Granada 1
Atletico Madrid v Leganes 1
Celta Vigo v Eibar 1
Getafe v Real Betis 1
Real Sociedad v Mallorca 1
Valladolid v Real Madrid 2
1 = home win, 2 = away win, x = draw
Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.