MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) talks us through his favourite fancies from La Liga this weekend.
Levante v Valencia | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 4
The situation has gotten serious for Levante as their six-year stay in Spain’s top-flight is under threat with the Frogs five points from safety and sitting rock-bottom.
However, a derby clash against Valencia at their cute Ciutat de Valencia home should sir the senses with the hosts bidding for a fourth successive home triumph against their bigger and meaner guests.
Despite the dire position Levante find themselves in, performances have actually been fairly decent under Rubi. A journeyman winger in his playing days, the 46-year-old has now completed half a season as the Frogs’ head coach with a win percentage of 21% – that’s almost twice as much as his predecessor Lucas Alcaraz's (11%).
Results have certainly improved in front of their home supporters (W3-D0-L2) with those two defeats coming against Barcelona (2-0 with a 92nd minute goal from Luis Suarez) and a 3-1 defeat by Real Madrid with an own goal, a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty and a 90th minute strike from Isco. That’s not bad, eh?
In both games against the division’s big boys, Levante looked good and last weekend they returned from Real Sociedad with a creditable draw. The January additions of Verdu and Guiseppe Rossi have bolstered their offensive approach and summer signing Deyverson continues to flourish as the attacking spearhead.
So the Frogs could have more than enough in the tank to find a way to goal against a Valencia side that’s now gone 18 games without keeping a La Liga clean sheet.
Gary Neville’s were downed 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao on Thursday evening in the Europa League so a midday (local time) kick-off on Sunday won’t have gone down too well with the former Manchester United man, who’s side have a tendency to start slowly.
Los Che have fallen behind 1-0 in 13 of their 14 league outings under Neville and although they’ve bagged back-to-back away league wins, have now fallen to defeats in three of their last four.
Anyhow, I expect Levante to strike here but I’d be happy to wager that Valencia would also get in on the act as the hosts have only once kept their sheets clean in nine Ciutat de Valencia encounters under Rubi. With that in mind, Both Teams To Score appeals at 16/19 with 888.
The home side have seen three of their last four feature three or more goals, as well as six of their most recent 10 as hosts. Valencia have followed suit in each of their past five league fixtures and eight of their past 11 at bottom-six clubs. Throw in Aderlan Santos’ suspension and Aymen Abdennour’s vulnerability and I reckon the goals will flow.
Las Palmas v Real Madrid | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 1
All hail Las Palmas!
In the space of eight days, the Canary Islanders have transformed themselves from major relegation certainties into mid-table dwellers, ahead of their first La Liga showdown on the island against Real Madrid for 14 years.
The Yellows were in the relegation zone and three points from safety with injuries stacking up before a trip to Eibar at the end of February. Quique Setién guided his side to a 1-0 success before hammering Getafe 4-0 on home soil but last weekend’s stunning 1-0 triumph at Villarreal really hit the headlines.
David Garcia’s goal was the first Villarreal had conceded in 620 minutes and that defeat was Villarreal’s first in 14 La Liga fixtures.
The nine points accrued from their three wins – all recorded alongside clean sheets – has moved the islanders four points clear of the drop zone and into the heady heights of 14th.
The results had been coming, to be fair. Setién’s side gave Barcelona a real run for their money in the match preceding their winning streak and the organised, well-positioned side are decent in possession and also more unified at the back.
Since Setién pitched up, Las Palmas have collected 25 points from 20 games and the Yellows are now one of Spain’s most attractive teams to follow. Rarely do they lump the ball forward and their 4-1-4-1 formation gives the team greater stability with and without the ball.
In striker Willian Jose, Sunday’s hosts have a bullocking goal threat that’ll cause any back four problems and in Tana and Jonathan Viera, Setién boasts tricky, speedy and exciting offensively-minded players from midfield. It’s a nice blend.
This weekend will be a real test of Las Palmas’ mettle but I do fancy them to at least grab a goal. Only Atletico Madrid have come away from the island with a clean sheet in the Yellows’ last seven home outings and with Real Madrid shipping goals in all but four of their 13 domestic road trips, a repeat is far from unthinkable.
The 10-time European champions have been far from imperious of late, despite their back-to-back wins against Roma (2-0) and Celta Vigo (7-1). In both matches, Los Blancos were comfortably second-best in a laboured first 45 minutes before taking their opportunities when they arrived after the interval.
Zinedine Zidane does have Gareth Bale back fit and available and with Cristiano Ronaldo hungry for more gaols – they’ve scored at least twice in seven of their last nine – it’s difficult not to see them coming out on top if this game goes the way of a shoot-out.
Sure, the capital club have only managed six wins from 13 La Liga away days this season (W6-D5-L2) but they have seen off 12 of the last 15 promoted clubs they’ve visited and really ought to be putting Las Palmas away.
The Real Madrid win and Both Teams To Score option is available at 6/4 with BetVictor and that looks fair enough, to me.
Barcelona v Getafe | Saturday 15.00
Luckily for La Liga fans like myself, this match won’t be screened in the UK as it has the potential to be a serious ass-whipping for poor old Getafe.
Barcelona probably couldn’t have asked for better opposition to play in preparation for their Champions League last-16 second leg with Arsenal and the Catalans come into this contest off the back of their first midweek off since October.
You don’t need me to tell you that the Blaugrana are enjoying a Spanish record unbeaten streak of 36 and their 11-match winning streak in La Liga will almost certainly be extended to 12 at the Camp Nou here.
Javier Mascherano is banned but with Gerard Pique suspended against the Gunners, Luis Enrique will field the cool centre-half with Neymar also retuning to the fold after his collection of yellow cards. Putting it bluntly, the Catalans could and probably should run riot.
Incredibly, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have already scored 100 goals between this this season – only Real Madrid (105) and Borussia Dortmund (103) across Europe’s top five leagues have netted more. Let that sink in for a second…
Now lets talk Getafe. I love Fran Escriba to bits and after a sterling start in his role as Los Azulones' number one, the capital club’s season has plunged dangerously towards the relegation zone.
Getafe ended their worst ever top-flight run without scoring (642 minutes) with Emiliano Velazquez's late equaliser against Sevilla (1-1) last time out as they picked up their first point from a possible 24. But it’s their form on the road that wouldn’t go amiss in a Michael Myers horror flick.
Los Azulones have W1-D2-L14 in their last 17 away games dating back 11 months, shipping at least three goals in their last four on the spin outside of their Coliseum home despite not taking on a top-half team – even lowly Levante (3-0) and Las Palmas (4-0) put the pathetic travellers to the sword.
This weekend Escriba’s team are without their top two scorers in Alvaro and Pablo Sarabia as well as Damian Suarez, Juan Cala and Roberto Lago. In the nine matches that Sarabia has missed since the start of last season, Getafe have picked up just one point while scoring only three goals and suffering seven defeats by more than one goal.
The visitors have conceded three or more goals in nine of their last 10 games as guests against Barcelona or Real Madrid and in seven of their last nine losses to any side they’ve leaked three or more goals. In fact, in 10 of the last 13 outside of Madrid they’ve suffered L-L double results. I could go on here but I’m sure you get the gist…
For what it’s worth, Barca have struck at least four times in five of their most recent seven successes at the Camp Nou, won by four clear goals in nine of 14 against bottom-half sides at the Camp Nou and achieved a similar success in four of their last five when welcoming Getafe.
Paddy Power offer 8/11 on Barcelona with a -3 Asian Handicap start and that’s good enough for me. We’ll get our stake back should the Catalans only achieve a victory by exactly three goals and make money with a win by at least four goals.
Barcelona v Getafe – Barcelona -3 Asian Handicap (8/11 Paddy Power)
Levante v Valencia – Both Teams To Score (16/19 888)
Las Palmas v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Both Teams To Score (6/4 BetVictor)
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