MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from matchday 14 from La Liga.
- Spain have made their fourth managerial change since June 2018 and the decision for Luis Enrique to return as national team coach has generally been well received except, perhaps, for the manner in which it all came about. RFEF President Luis Rubiales claimed that he learned about Enrique’s desire to return to coaching via Robert Moreno himself but something doesn’t add up when you consider the fact Moreno departed the Wanda Metropolitano in tears, without speaking to the media after a 5-0 victory which secured top spot in the group – the Spanish media now have their first stick to beat the team with if things don’t go well in June.
- Diego Costa could be ruled out until spring with a cervical disk herniation and, while he won’t be a huge loss in terms of goals, his absence will be felt in an area in which Atlético Madrid are already light. Nikola Kalinić could return from his loan spell at Roma in January.
- Paco López and Jagoba Arrasate have been rewarded for very solid starts to the season with new contracts until 2022 by Levante and Osasuna.
- Athletic Bilbao’s last two league games have been a Sunday 2pm kick off, this weekend they play at Sunday 2pm and their next two games after that will be played on a Sunday at 2pm. The Basque fans are not happy. Sunday lunchtimes are the new Friday/Monday night for the Bilbao outfit.
- “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order,” say Wales. “Disrespectful. Wrong. Ungrateful. In that order,” say Marca.
Real Betis v Valencia | Saturday 23rd November 2019, 15:00
Talk of a Quique Setién return continues to loom over the Benito Villamarín, which even by Spanish football’s standards would be surprising given the way a huge chunk of fans turned against him towards the end of his spell as coach. But there is little doubt that Rubi is on borrowed time and a defeat this weekend for Betis could finally trigger change.
After conceding the first goal at home for the sixth time in seven games, Betis went on to lose the Seville derby, a fixture they rarely win. They didn’t play badly but Rubi got it badly wrong, throwing on a bunch of attackers in desperation towards the end and all shape in midfield was lost and the game was up.
Things probably won’t be much easier this week as Valencia come to town but this will be Betis’ first home game during daylight hours this season and who knows, they might actually start a match awake for once! However, this is not a fixture which los verdiblancos have enjoyed in recent years, winning one of their last seven.
Valencia come into this one pretty much thrown together due to a long list of injuries including Geoffrey Kondogbia, Carlos Soler, Francois Coquelin and Goncalo Guedes but are also the only team in La Liga who return to domestic action on the back of consecutive league wins and, with Villarreal and Real Madrid ahead in the coming weeks, they will be determined not to lose further ground on Sevilla when they visit Seville this Saturday.
Rubi is down to his last few credits but he won’t have a better chance of a season-defining win this weekend given Valencia’s personnel problems and the fact they have a huge Champions League game against Chelsea midweek. Even so, it’s hard to have any confidence in this Betis side at the moment and the draw is a big player here but maybe, just maybe, the change in kick-off time might see a change of fortune for the home side.
Real Betis draw no bet is 21/25 at Marathon.
Real Madrid v Real Sociedad | Saturday 23rd November 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports
We’re now over a third of the way through the season in Spain and it feels that, at last, Real Madrid are beginning to take this thing seriously. It took much longer than it should have for the penny to drop and for Zinedine Zidane to realise that a midfield three of Casemiro, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric was simply well past its expiry date and the rise to prominence of Uruguayan Fede Valverde has been a key part of Madrid’s resurgence.
Moreover, the win over Eibar felt like the first time where Eden Hazard really took a game by the scruff of the neck and looked like the team’s Galactico.
Prior to last season’s double over Zidane’s men, Real Sociedad had suffered seven consecutive league defeats to los blancos. Three of the last four meetings have seen both Over 3.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score and it would be fair to expect another entertaining clash this time around.
Madrid have scored in 29 of their last 34 home league games. The men from Donostia have won four and drawn one of their seven games on the road but in the real acid-test clashes at Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla, they were blown away and left wanting when faced with a real physical challenge.
Sociedad's 3-2 defeat at the Sanchez Pizjuán doesn’t look so bad on paper but there would have been no complaints had the home side racked up a score and it’s going to be interesting to see how La Real approach their first game as overwhelming underdogs in La Liga this season. Do they have the ambition and courage to really go for Madrid when the opportunity arises – against this Madrid team opportunities always arise – or will they fail to rise to the occasion like in the Basque derby or in Seville?
Martin Odegaard returns after injury and is free to play given the absence of a “cláusula del miedo”, Asier Illarramendi remains a significant loss of leadership but Mikel Merino has done a very solid job in the middle of the field. Considering Madrid’s 2.82 Expected Goals (xG) against Betis, it’s clear that the final score, which saw both teams fire a blank, was a complete fluke.
Either side of the stalemate against Rubi’s men, Madrid scored five against Leganés in the Bernabéu and six when Galatasaray came to the Spanish capital before crushing Eibar 4-0 in truly horrendous conditions, in what was their most convincing, ruthless performance of the season.
The only fear is that the international break could have halted the momentum being built by Zidane’s men in recent weeks; Hazard finally looked like the player we all know he can be and the Belgian will be looking to produce a long-awaited marquee performance in front of his own fans.
If Madrid play to the same level as they did in Ipurua they will take the three points here, but it’s all about consistency. They’ve kept a clean sheet in their last three outings in La Liga but La Real should pose a sterner test with the likes of Oyarzabal, Portu and Willian José in attack.
At the other end, Imanol’s men have kept a clean sheet in only three of their last 13 league games on the road and I’m going for a home win here and over 1.5 goals to nudge up the value that bit more to 8/15 (Coral).
Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao | Sunday 24th November 2019, 13:00 | Premier Sports
With each passing week it’s becoming more and more difficult to envisage someone storming fortress EL Sadar. It will eventually happen, of course it will, and the visiting fans from Bilbao will be encouraged by recent visits to Pamplona where they have been triumphant on each of the last three occasions.
But this is a different Osasuna. This is an Osasuna who have recaptured the ferocious spirit which has made El Sadar one of the most notoriously difficult grounds in Spain to visit and there is a real connection between this squad and management and the city it represents on a weekly basis.
Let’s not kid ourselves; this will not be a pretty affair, but that’s not to say it won’t be fascinating, especially for us “traditional” football aficionados. There’ll be elbows and headers and crosses and clearances. ‘Chimy' Avila will run, a lot, and Athletic Bilbao will be up against a mirror image of their San Mamés selves as Osasuna will do onto them as Gaizka Garitano’s men do onto those who enter the “Cathedral” in Bilbao.
Athletic Club have won one of their last 11 away games in La Liga, a 1-0 win at already-safe Leganés last April but more worryingly for Garitano will surely be their inability to threaten opposition defences on the road, drawing eight blanks in this 11-game stretch.
Draws at Getafe, Mallorca and Leganés – games which could be compared to Osasuna in terms of style – suggest that Athletic will once again struggle to find joy away and this will not be helped by the crucial absence of their sole creative force, Iker Muniain, due to injury.
Osasuna’s last home outing – forecasted to be a brutal arm-wrestle as they hosted Alavés – turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of the season, but it’s hard to see another goal fest this Sunday lunchtime.
All six of the Basque giant’s away games have seen the Under 2.5 Goals click but Jagoba Arrasate’s boys have scored two, three, and four in their last three games against Villarreal, Valencia and Alavés, while four of the last five games at El Sadar have seen backers in the Both Teams to Score market collect.
All things considered, Osasuna are deserved favourites here and the 5/6 (10BET) in the Draw No Bet market appeals and I also like the angle of Osasuna Double Chance and Under 4 Goals at 8/13 with Bet365.
Villarreal v Celta Vigo | Sunday 24th November 2019, 17:30 | Premier Sports
Last season, the fortunes of these two teams were virtually identical throughout the campaign, both finding themselves in a relegation scrap well into Spring and it was only when Iago Aspas dragged his hometown team from 2-0 down to defeat Villarreal in the pouring rain did there, at last, appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel in Vigo.
Eight months later and things have changed drastically – for the Yellow Submarine. Despite recent disappointing results (zero wins in their last three), Villarreal have been much improved this season – their potential has been well-documented in these columns in recent months. They have scored 26 goals in 13 league games, more than the bottom three (Celta, Espanyol and Leganés) combined, while Celta have scored seven, SIXTEEN less than their tally at this stage last season.
Curiously, Celta won both meetings last season 3-2 but the chance of a three-peat seems highly unlikely given the visitor’s woeful stats in attack this season. They have lost their last five league games, scoring twice and rank third-bottom overall in terms of shots on-target (36), while Villarreal (75) rank second overall behind Real Madrid, more than double Celta’s total.
It’s important to highlight that there is a new man at the helm in Vigo which is sure to improve things – it can hardly get worse. Óscar García has a tough job on his hands and serious improvement needs to be made in midfield, and I found it curious that Fran Escribá opted for a more defensive style instead of playing to the team’s actual strength, its attack.
García will surely look to get the likes of Aspas, Denis Suarez and Rafinha (when fit) more involved in the play; too often this season Celta have looked disjointed with far too much space between the attack and rest of the team, making their counters look slow and clunky and easy to defend against.
The new Celta coach would have been grateful for the timing of the international break; very few of his key players were called up by their respective countries and he has had the chance to take advantage of three double training sessions since his arrival but, still, I don’t see any apparent quick fix for the team in blue.
Raúl Albiol misses out for Villarreal due to suspension, goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo is a doubt while Santi Cazorla, Pau Torres, Gerard Moreno, Toko Ekambi and Samu Chukwueze have been away with their national team so there’s little doubt that Celta should be the better prepared team for this one and surely we will see a much improved performance.
After the international break there is always the fear of a sluggish affair and, looking at the stats, this one might take a while to get going. Over a third of the Yellow Submarine’s goals have come in the final quarter of games which is eclipsed by Celta’s 43%, perhaps a misleading number due to their overall lack of goals.
Villarreal should edge this one because of their variety and depth in attack but Celta have had a long run-in to prepare which should not be overlooked. We should see goals and a late flurry is possible so I’m going with Both Teams To Score (8/11 Bet365) and a dabble on Over 1.5 Second-Half Goals (1/1 Paddy Power) plus a goal to be scored after 74:59 (5/6 Bet365) appeals.
Real Betis v Valencia – Real Betis draw no bet (21/25 Marathon)
Real Madrid v Real Sociedad – Real Madrid to win and Over 1.5 Goals (8/15 Coral)
Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao – Osasuna draw no bet (5/6 10BET)
Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao – Osasuna double chance and Under 4 Goals (8/13 Bet365)
Villarreal v Celta Vigo – Both Teams To Score (8/11 Bet365)
Villarreal v Celta Vigo – Over 1.5 Second-Half Goals (1/1 Paddy Power)
Villarreal v Celta Vigo – A goal to be scored after 74:59 (5/6 Bet365)
Week 14 Predictions:
Levante v Mallorca X
Leganés v Barcelona 2
Real Betis v Valencia 1
Granada v Atlético Madrid X
Real Madrid v Real Sociedad 1
Espanyol v Getafe X
Osasuna v Athletic Bilbao X
Eibar v Alavés X
Villarreal v Celta Vigo 1
Valladolid v Sevilla 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.