MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) assesses the odds and picks out his best bets from this weekend’s La Liga action.
Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao | Sunday 17.15 | Sky Sports 4
Atletico Madrid clinched top spot in their Champions League group with a 2-1 victory away to Benfica on Tuesday and can cap off a fine week by beating Athletic Bilbao on home soil this Sunday.
The Mattress Makers have won seven on the spin in all competitions now and bagged W10-D2-L0 from 12. Diego Simeone’s side have closed to within two points of table-topping Barcelona and haven’t conceded a goal in their last four La Liga outings – their best run since the Argentina took charge in February 2012.
Atletico have faced the fewest shots-on-target in Spain (35), have leaked just six goals in 14 league fixtures (the lowest across Europe’s top five leagues) and have scored the opening goal most often (12) this term.
With those sorts of figures, you’re unlikely to raise an eyebrow when learning the hosts have led at half-time in 10 of their last 12 against top-half teams that aren’t Real Madrid or Barcelona and enjoyed W-W double results in 11 of their previous 18 at the Vicente Calderon as well as five of their most recent seven on domestic duty.
I’m keen to exploit that angle and I reckon Atletico could take an early stranglehold on this match, seeing as – an admittedly much-changed- Athletic side were involved in Europa League action on Thursday night. An Atletico-Atletico double result is 6/4 with BetVictor and that looks more than fair.
The Basque side have not defeated the capital club in a La Liga game since Simeone took charge (W0-D1-L3) and have lost by two or more goals in six of their most recent eight trips to top-six clubs.
Mikel San Jose is sidelined after receiving a straight red card against Malaga last Sunday night but Aymeric Laporte should slot straight into the back four.
Nevertheless, Les Leones do their best business in the Basque Country and have returned rather unimpressive W2-D3-L3 figures on their La Liga travels this term despite not yet facing a top-four club.
All three losses saw Bilbao behind at the break whilst the hosts have been ahead at the interval and full-time in four of their seven at the Calderon this term. Since 2011/12, Atletico have had W-W double results in 45/83 (54%) making the 6/4 on offer a decent value bet.
Villarreal v Real Madrid | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 1
The scars are still there and the wounds haven’t yet healed but at least memories are starting to fade, a little. It’s three weeks since Real Madrid were slaughtered 4-0 by rivals Barcelona on home soil but Los Blancos are doing their best to banish that nightmare with a series of commanding displays.
Rafa Benitez’s boys have registered five successive wins since, smashing 21 goals including eight in a record-equalling Champions League victory over Malmo in midweek. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo shared seven of those eight goals between them and last weekend’s tanking of Getafe saw Gareth Bale, Benzema and Ronaldo all score in a single game for the first time this term.
Real trail table-topping Barca by four points with their cross-city rivals Atletico two points ahead of the 10-time European champions but Benitez will be expecting his side to continue their all-conquering displays on Sunday. The capital club have W7-D3-L0 in their last 10 duels with Villarreal and another positive performance should be on the cards.
Since their win at Athletic, Madrid have alternated wins and no wins away from home in La Liga (W3-D1-L1) but they should be capable of putting away the Yellow Submarine, who’ve suffered their own stumbles of late. W5-D3-L5 has stalled their own early season progress, with only six goals in eight, but form in front of their home supporters remains strong.
Villarreal have W7-D1-L1 in their last nine at El Madrigal whilst only Barcelona (21) have picked up more points in front of their home supporters this season than the hosts’ tally of 16. Marcelinho’s men have W5-D1-L1 but kept just one clean sheet in the process and it’s that vulnerable defensive record that’s likely to be their undoing on Sunday.
Looking further back, the Yellow Submarine have run out winners in 21 of their last 29 contests at home across all competitions. However, they’ve kept just six shutouts in their most recent 19. Taking purely La Liga games into account, Villarreal have W15-D2-L4 as hosts but only kept their sheets clean in three of the most recent 14.
Still, Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu have struck up a decent partnership in attack and Real Madrid are far from the finished article at the back. The guests are struggling with a batch of injuries and so, although they’re the most likely winners, it’d be a surprise if they shut Villarreal out.
A Real Madrid win and Over 2.5 Goals is backable at 5/4 (Boylesports) and makes the most appeal. Nine of Los Blancos’ last 10 away fixtures against top-six rivals have delivered three or more goals with half of those matches even proving profitable for Over 3.5 Goals hunters.
Benitez's boys are averaging 2.3 goals-per-game and could catch the slow starters cold considering they were involved in a topsy-turvy 3-3 thriller with Plzen. I'll count on Real doing the business in an enjoyable contest.
Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna | Saturday 15.00
Barcelona will have been kicking themselves last Saturday night. The Catalans dominated Valencia at the Mestalla but coughed up numerous goalscoring opportunities and were hit by a late leveller. The two points dropped allowed Atletico Madrid to move within range and Real Madrid back to within four points.
This is the Catalans final fixture before jetting off for Japan to compete in the World Club Championship and you can be sure Luis Enrique will be desperate to conclude their 2015 efforts with maximum points at the Camp Nou.
Barca have won all bar one of their last 14 home fixtures in La Liga with nine of their previous 12 being clinched by a margin of two goals or more. The hosts have netted in each of their last 28 domestic fixtures and are averaging 2.40 goals-per-game in their 14 outings in 2015/16.
Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored 16 out of the last 17 Bluagrana goals at Camp Nou in La Liga but the Brazilian is out of this weekend’s encounter with Deportivo.
Suarez was one of many big names rested in midweek but Lionel Messi played and scored and between the two of them, they should be able to add to Barca’s record of scoring at least three goals in their last four home La Liga matches.
Obviously backing the European champions isn’t an option at such miniscule prices but if we add in Both Teams To Score, we’re offering a juicy 15/8 from Ladbrokes and it’s a selection I’m keen to pursue considering the Catalans have leaked in four of their last five.
Visitors Depor are really punching above their weight under Victor Sanchez up in sixth with the side from Galicia the last club to stop Barcelona from winning at the Camp Nou – that came on the final day of the 2014/2015 season with the dramatic 2-2 draw giving them the point they needed to avoid relegation.
The Brancoazuis haven’t looked back since and are now enjoying a five-match unbeaten streak (W2-D3-L0) – their best in the top-flight since 2012/13. Indeed, the visitors have lost just once away (W3-D3-L1) – their best such record at this point since 2005-06 – and have been scoring goals.
Depor’s tally of 21 goals is the fourth best return in the division and they’ve found the back of the net in all bar one of their games this season, including against Atletico Madrid. And in Lucas Perez they have a striker in form – the Spaniard’s struck 10 of Depor’s 21 goals and netted eight of their last 12.
Pedro Mosquera is suspended and it’s difficult to see the likes of Sidnei and Alejandro Arribas stopping the star-studded hosts from hacking up with a few goals but I do think La Coruna are capable of getting a goal.
Over 2.5 Goals has proven a successful formula in 16 of the last 20 league fixtures at the Camp Nou with 12/20 even pocketing for Over 3.5 Goals punters so I’ll count on something similar here by taking Barcelona to win and BTTS.
Celta Vigo v Espanyol | Saturday 17.15 | Sky Sports Interactive
Celta Vigo still occupy a fourth-placed position in La Liga with four points from fixtures against Sporting and Betis getting Eduardo Berizzo’s boys back on-song after three defeats in four.
But I’m not just focussing on the Sky Blues in the win-markets here – I’m also chasing goals. Celta have leaked in each of their last seven (W3-D1-L3) with all bar one of their last eight rewarding Over 2.5 Goals punters.
So it’s perhaps unsurprising to see a mammoth 15 of their last 18 La Liga encounters have ensured profit for Both Teams To Score backers. And since the start of last season, 16/26 (62%) of their Vigo games have followed suit with 15/26 (58%) featuring three or more goals.
It’s a similar story with Espanyol. The Parakeets have lost three on the spin on the road and are conceding two goals-per-game on average. But they’ve only failed to score once in five and still carry a decent offensive threat from Felipe Caicedo and Gerard Moreno.
On-loan Real Madrid man Marco Asensio has assisted five of the last eight Espanyol league goals and should again cause problems for the Celta defence but Espanyol’s less-than-impressive road record is likely to come back to haunt them here.
The visitors have lost nine of their last 10 at top-six clubs with six of their last nine against the same opposition ending in defeats by at least two goals. Since the start of last season they’ve returned W7-D4-L15 figures on their travels but 15/26 (58%) of those saw BTTS bank and a huge 18/26 (69%) producing at least three goals.
The duo have seen Over 2.5 Goals bank in 86% of their respective home/away games so I’ll happily follow the two teams’ trend for goals whilst also taking Celta Vigo to win. Throwing Both Teams To Score into the equation gives us a handsome 9/4 William Hill shot.
Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (15/8 Ladbrokes)
Celta Vigo v Espanyol – Celta Vigo to win and Both Teams To Score (9/4 William Hill)
Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao – Atletico Madrid- Atletico Madrid (6/4 BetVictor)
Villarreal v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Over 2.5 Goals (5/4 Boylesports)
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