MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the best bets in La Liga this weekend.
Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao | Saturday 15.00
Few sides can boast such a commanding record against Athletic Bilbao as Real Madrid. Los Blancos have beaten the Basques in each of their last 10 La Liga meetings at the Bernabeu and recorded W10-D1-L1 in their last 12 league showdowns at home or away.
In fact, the 10-time European champions have proven victorious in 20 of their last 23 contests against Athletic across all competitions and their previous six wins in the capital against the same opponents have come by an aggregate of 23-5. It’s pretty ridiculous, right?
Zinedine Zidane's side have the opportunity to pile pressure on league leaders Barcelona this weekend by pocketing three more points on Saturday afternoon – a win would move Madrid to within a point of the Catalans who don’t play until Sunday night.
And Real should be relied upon to produce the goods. Even without Marcelo and Gareth Bale, Los Blancos boast enough quality to put Bilbao to the sword. The hosts have managed to bag four wins from their previous five and have also tightened up at the back, leaking just three goals.
At the Bernabeu, Madrid have scored at least three goals when winning each of their last six fixtures – averaging 5.50 goals-per-game – but it’s their stunningly strong Half-Time/Full-Time record that stands out most from a punting perspective.
Real have bagged W-W double results in eight of their last 10 as hosts as well as six of their most recent eight clashes with Athletic. And since their last La Liga title, Madrid have welcomed 25 top-half teams that aren’t Barcelona and returned W20-D3-L2 – 17/25 (68%) were delivered with winning W-W Half-Time/Full-Time results.
In theory, Athletic should provide Real with a stern examination. Les Leones have notched in seven of their 12 road trips this term and have quality across the board. The visitors are hard-working, physical and awkward opponents under Ernesto Valverde.
But this weekend they’ll be without holding midfielder Mikel San Jose and the exciting Inaki Williams – two key absentees. The guests have lost nine of the 20 matches San Jose has missed since the start of last season compared to just 12 of 41 with him and their record without Williams reads 16 defeats in 32, scoring just eight goals in 16 away matches he’s been unavailable for.
And the Basques have a tendency to capitulate when visiting La Liga’s cream. Athletic have lost each of their last 10 away days at Barcelona or Real Madrid and in six of their most recent eight, they’ve suffered L-L Half-Time/Full-Time results.
Taking purely that aforementioned 25-game sample from Real Madrid since 2012/13 we’d be looking at something shorter than a 1/2 shot this weekend. So Ladbrokes’ 17/20 holds plenty of appeal.
Villarreal v Malaga | Saturday 17.15 | Sky Sports 2
Credit to Villarreal. The Yellow Submarine are comfortably positioned in La Liga’s top-four with last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Athletic Bilbao stretching their unbeaten streak to 10.
Marcelinho’s men have kept seven clean sheets in that 10-match run, including five on the spin at El Madrigal – no wonder they boast the third best defensive record in the Spanish top-flight after Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
It’s worth dishing out more praise to Saturday’s hosts too – only Barca, Real Madrid and Sevilla have picked up more points on home soil their only El Madrigal loss came narrowly to Celta Vigo back in October. Sevilla, Atletico and Real have all left Villarreal’s home empty-handed.
But that’s where the pleasantries will end. Why? Well, I get the feeling the Yellows are just going through the motions of late. They’ve not been playing poorly but they’ve been far from impressive when grinding out the results.
Sure, they’ve W6-D2-L0 in their last eight when welcoming La Liga opposition but this weekend their solid backbone is missing centre-half Eric Bailly and new full-back Daniele Bonera. And it’s not like their attack has been pulling up trees all season.
Cedric Bakambu and Roberto Soldado have impressed in flutters but not consistently. For example, did you know only Sporting Gijon, Espanyol and Real Betis have fired in fewer shots-on-target than Villarreal’s average of 3.52 per-game this season?
The Yellow Submarine’s return improves slightly on home soil but even then, their bang average shots-on-target ratio – their share of the total shots-on-target in matches – sets off alarm bells. Nine clubs are returning better figures in 2015/16 than Marcelinho’s men.
So I’m opposing the Yellows this weekend with Malaga in town. I’m aware you’ll probably need a bit of convincing to follow, especially when you consider the visitors have lost six of their last eight away days at top-half teams that aren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid.
But Malaga boss Javi Gracia is crafting a superb reputation in Spain having turned the Anchovies ship around. By late November, the Costa del Sol side had only W2-D3-L7, failing to even score in 10 of those 12 outings.
Fast forward 10 weeks and Malaga have accrued 21 points (W6-D3-L2) to motor from 18th and into the top-half. The Anchovies have W3-D2-L1 in their last six away days and already this season they’ve recorded clean sheets at Athletic Bilbao, Atletico Madrid, Levante, Celta Vigo and Getafe.
Only Sevilla (away) and Barcelona (home) have managed to beat Gracia’s group since November and both sides were given a real workout by the southerners. And what’s more, Malaga have both key defenders Raul Albentosa and Weligton back from suspension this weekend.
It’s bound to tight, tactical and low-scoring but I firmly believe Villarreal are overrated and Gracia’s capable of masterminding a result with Malaga. Bet365 have made the Double Chance a 5/6 shot in Malaga’s favour and I’ll get onboard.
Real Sociedad v Granada | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 5
Just three weeks ago, Real Sociedad were slaughtered 5-1 away at fellow strugglers Sporting Gijon. The talk of the town was, Eusebio Sacristan, David Moyes’ replacement, was on borrowed time.
But La Real have bounced back with successive and convincing victories over Real Betis (2-1) and Monday’s thrilling 5-0 triumph at Espanyol. Sociedad delivered a devastating attacking performance with Carlos Vela grabbing the pick of the goals.
The Basques return to Anoeta this weekend eager to build on their promising performances by enhancing their already strong record on home soil. Since Eusebio took charge, La Real have W4-D1-L1 with their only defeat coming against fourth-placed Villarreal (2-0).
Being tough to beat at Anoeta has been a tradition for Sociedad. Dating back to the beginning of 2010/11 we can see the hosts have won 54/106 (51%) of their La Liga contests with 18/31 (58%) victories bagged against bottom-six guests.
But at 8/13 quotes, we’re not going to get rich quick backing La Real on Sunday. So it’s the Basques penchant for high-scoring games against lowly visitors that catches the eye here. A huge 12 of Sociedad's past 15 when welcoming bottom-six teams have seen three or more goals with 19/31 (61%) following suit from that aforementioned sample.
Six losses in eight have kept Granada marooned in a relegation battle and José Ramón Sandoval’s side struggle away from their Andalusian home. El Grana have been beaten in seven of their 12 away trips this term and 13 of their previous 20 further back.
But the beleaguered guests are getting amongst the goals. Despite failing to find the back of the net in three visits to top-four teams, Granada have managed 13 away goals in 2015/16 and been involved with a chunky 15/19 Over 2.5 Goals winners on their travels.
So I’m going to combine the two long-term trends and back Sociedad to win and Over 2.5 Goals at a very fair 13/8 with Ladbrokes.
Sevilla v Las Palmas | Sunday 15.00 | Sky Sports 2
Sevilla confirmed their place in the Copa del Rey final with a 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo on Thursday night and Unai Emery’s troops should continue their renaissance with a comfortable home success on Sunday.
Los Rojiblancos have bagged 10 consecutive La Liga wins at their Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan base – their best winning streak on home soil for 10 years. Include all competitions and Sevilla have succeeded in each of their past 14 fixtures in front of their home supporters. Pow.
Emery’s almost a fully fit and available squad to pick from. January signing Federico Fazio is missing due to suspension but even so, the side with the third best record as hosts should brush aside La Liga’s worst travellers.
Since the start of 2013/14 when Emery had hit feet firmly in the door, Los Rojiblancos men have won 34/50 (68%) of home La Liga ties. A hunky 20 of those fixtures (40%) were victories by a margin of two goals or more, including six of their last nine when welcoming newly-promoted clubs.
Las Palmas, who are winless away (W0-D3-L8) and without a clean sheet on their travels, have shipped at least two goals in eight of their last 10 La Liga away days and trailed at the half-time interval in nine of their 11 matches outside the Canaries.
Champions League-chasing Sevilla have scored at least twice in nine of their last 10 league outings at the Sanchez Pizjuan and should be good enough to clear a -1.5 Asian Handicap at even-money with Bet365.
Real Madrid v Athletic Bilbao – Real Madrid-Real Madrid (17/20 Ladbrokes)
Villarreal v Malaga – Malaga double chance (5/6 Bet365)
Real Sociedad v Granada – Real Sociedad to win and Over 2.5 Goals (13/8 Ladbrokes)
Sevilla v Las Palmas – Sevilla -1.5 Asian Handicap (1/1 Bet365)
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