MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from Matchday 16 from La Liga.
- A golden goal,” proclaimed Mundo Deportivo on its Monday morning front page after another moment of Lionel Messi magic proved, once again, to be the difference between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Atletico huffed and puffed and somehow the ball stayed out, but when you have Messi, sometimes that’s all that matters.
- Javi Calleja admitted after defeat in Mestalla that his Villarreal team had to be a little more “bastardy” after the Yellow Submarine saw more points slip away. Truth be told, they deserved more but Valencia somehow found the necessary energy reserves after an exhausting Champions League battle with Chelsea to get over the line. “A heroic Valencia,” declared Marca. “This squad finds strength where there is none,” said manager Albert Celades. Villarreal have conceded 24 in 15 and are plummeting.
- With each passing week, the numbers begin to look increasingly grim for Espanyol. With 10 defeats in their 15 league fixtures to-date – eight of which with at least a two-goal margin – it is difficult to see how new manager Pablo Machin can turn things around. There will surely be investment in January but key players like Borja Iglesias needed to be replaced in the Summer. They have secured one point and zero clean sheets at RCDE Stadium and have conceded a whopping 18 goals in eight home games.
- Seven of Sevilla’s nine wins in La Liga have been to-nil and this side is showing a backbone not traditionally associated with the team from Nervión. Diego Carlos continues to be exceptional in defence and last Sunday’s 1-0 win over Leganés was almost certainly a game where Sevilla would have dropped points in previous years.
- Getafe have equalled their best start to a season (2009/10) with 24 points, all the more impressive given their extra Europa League commitments and, after the highs of last season, to be able to go again. With five wins and two draws in their last eight league outings, Getafe are getting back to their best after an uneasy start and are well-positioned for another challenge for the European football places.
Under and Overachievers – what the stats say
They say the league table never lies but a number of La Liga teams will feel that the current classification is not an entirely fair depiction of their efforts and luck (or lack thereof) and they will point to the in-vogue stats of expected goals (xG), expected points (xPTS), expected goals against (xGA) etc.
According to Understat.com, Alavés are the team whose league position aligns the closest with expected points (actual 18 v xPTS 17.35) while Leganés are the team with the largest discrepancy between points on the board and the total which the analytics claim they should have (actual 6 v xPTS 15.93).
The biggest overachievers statistically are Barcelona where we have a difference of over five points between actual and expected and this can largely be attributed to Messi’s moments and Ter Stegen’s stops.
Athletic Bilbao (actual 9 v xGA 15.33), Levante (actual 21 v xGA 28.38) and Real Valladolid (actual 18 v xGA 24.50) lead the table in terms of conceding significantly less than the expected amount thanks to their respective goalkeepers, opposition wastefulness and some good old-fashioned luck.
On the other hand, Villarreal (actual 24 v xGA 19.44) and Espanyol (actual 28 v xGA 22.21) continue to outperform the data – not in the way they would like – and show the biggest discrepancy in terms of actual goals conceded compared to the expected amount.
Levante v Valencia | Saturday 7th December 2019, 17:30 | Premier Sports
I always say that life is like a box of Levantes: you never know what you're gonna get.
Paco Lopez’s men have already had some incredible highs this season: they beat high-flying Real Sociedad at Anoeta and, three days later, came from behind to beat Barcelona at home. This is also the same Levante whose only home league defeat came to the truly atrocious Espanyol and, less than a week ago, they were hammered 4-0 at Getafe.
This weekend, Levante host el derbi valenciano where they will face a Valencia team who continue to scrap despite being down to the bare bones in terms of personnel and they have all the signs of a team who have very little left in the tank. Last Saturday’s victory over Villarreal will have been a huge psychological boost but Albert Celades knows that his team cannot afford any slip-ups if they are to stay in the hunt for a top-four place. He rewarded the team with a two-day rest after last Saturday’s win.
All things being equal, this should be a lively, open game. The last four derbies have produced a total of 14 goals with Both Teams To Score (BTTS) bets clicking in each. Levante have suffered only one defeat in their last 13 home league games; 10 of these games saw BTTS land, nine with Over 2.5 Goals.
Valencia’s struggles have been well-documented in these previews in recent weeks but they still have a lot of quality and will surely have enough to pose a substantial threat to Aitor Fernández in the Levante goal. Valencia’s last five away games in all competitions have seen BTTS click and that is the angle I am going for here.
Levante have conceded around seven goals less than the expected stats, and the actual and expected numbers should begin to align a little in the coming weeks and months. The home side have a number of injury problems in defence and Valencia-based Superdeporte are reporting that Paco Lopez could be without all five central defenders, meaning that defensive midfielders Nemanja Radoja and Nikola Vukcevic could be deployed as a makeshift duo – not exactly ideal, and only time will tell whether this change will completely destabilise the entire team or not.
Levante have scored a huge 78% of their goals after the half time break while Valencia are notorious for their strong finishes to games and it’s fair to expect yet another fascinating finish this weekend, while weather conditions look conducive to another cracking Valencian derby.
Curiously, despite being the city giant, Valencia have not tasted victory at Estadio Ciudad de Valencia in La Liga since November 2011. Things won’t be any easier this time around and the draw is a big player here and a correct score punt on 2-2 appeals while a nibble on Valencia to win 3-1 looks value for those who think Levante’s luck is set to turn sooner rather than later, all the more likely given their current casualty list in defence.
If there is to be a winner, it seems that the men in white are the more likely to take the three points back across town.
Levante v Valencia – Valencia to win and Both Teams To Score (14/5 888)
Levante v Valencia – Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 Goals (5/6 Bet365)
Levante v Valencia – Over 1.5 Second-Half Goals (13/15 Sportingbet)
Week 16 Predictions:
Villarreal v Atletico Madrid X
Real Madrid v Espanyol 1
Granada v Alavés X
Levante v Valencia 2
Barcelona v Mallorca 1
Eibar v Getafe 2
Real Betis v Athletic Club 1
Real Valladolid v Real Sociedad 2
Leganés v Celta Vigo 1
Osasuna v Sevilla X
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.