Spanish football returned from the winter break with a bang last weekend. Both Real Madrid and Barcelona suffered defeats as the La Liga title race took another twist. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) gives his verdict on the weekend’s action.
Real Madrid v Espanyol | Saturday 15.00
Successive defeats have seen Real Madrid come under fire from local media. But boss Carlo Ancelotti has played down the significance of losing in Valencia and Atletico Madrid in the past week. The Los Blancos coach knows Real’s density remains entirely in their own hands.
Those with good memories will remember Madrid suffered back-to-back league losses in August and September. How did Real react? They went on a club-record 22-game winning spree. And it wouldn’t be a total surprise if they repeated that feat again.
Espanyol are the first side to step into their eye-line after a hurtful 2-0 loss to city rivals Atleti in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night. And the Parakeets visit the Santiago Bernabeu with one of the worst away records in La Liga, winning just twice on the road in the last 11 months. Eek.
Cristiano Ronaldo was rested for that cup defeat but he’ll return to a Real side that has blasted at least three goals in each of their last five league matches on home soil.
And looking at results since the start of last season, Los Blancos have won 21/22 league matches at the Bernabeu (excluding Barcelona and Atletico) with 14 of those victories coming by a margin of three goals or more and nine by at least four clear goals.
Espanyol put in a brave 45-minute display against neighbours Barcelona earlier this season but still ended up on the end of a 5-1 thrashing. They’ve lost nine of their last 12 away with six of those defeats by more than a one-goal margin.
I’m expecting a backlash from Madrid and backing the hosts -2.5 in the Asian Handicap at 8/11 with Paddy Power is the bet. With this selection, we’ll have a winner as long as Real Madrid win by three goals or more.
Malaga v Villarreal | Saturday 17.00 | Sky Sports 5
Malaga meet Villarreal with the two teams hoping to continue their challenge for a top-four finish in La Liga. Both sides suffered damaging results last weekend and will be hoping to bounce back at La Rosaleda.
But the smart money should be on Over 2.5 Goals at 5/4 with William Hill. The hosts haven’t failed to score in a league match since September with eight of those 11 matches producing three goals or more.
Visitors Villarreal were involved in a thrilling 2-2 draw at rock bottom Elche last weekend despite racing into a two-goal lead. It was the sixth occasion in nine La Liga matches that the Yellow Submarine’s matches featured Over 2.5 Goals. And they've scored at least twice in five of their last six.
I don’t believe the bookmakers should be expecting a low-scoring game on Saturday evening and so I’m happy to play the Overs at a solid price.
Barcelona v Atletico Madrid | Sunday 20.00 | Sky Sports 5
The game of the weekend in Spain and it also includes my European NAP. You can read my view on the match right here.
Real Madrid v Espanyol – Real Madrid -2.5 Asian Handicap (8/11 Paddy Power)
Malaga v Villarreal – Over 2.5 Goals (5/4 William Hill)