MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has scoured the La Liga card this weekend and shares his favourite fancies from Spain.
Barcelona v Valencia | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 2
Had Barcelona beaten Real Madrid in the Clasico, the Catalans would have been 13 points clear of their bitter rivals. Should Atletico Madrid and Real win this weekend, the three teams at the top will be separated by a solitary point before Barca take on Valencia.
It’s been quite a spectacular fall from grace for the Blaugrana, who appeared to be in the strongest possible position to successfully defend their treble just a week ago. But a run of one win in five has thrown their campaign into chaos with Luis Enrique now under intense pressure.
There were tears. There were regrets. There was anger and there was frustration. There was sorrow and a lot of comforting required on Tuesday night as Barcelona blew their Champions League hopes.
The big question is – how will they react here on Sunday? Will they bite back with a bang? Or will they continue to slumber?
The Catalans appear to be saddling a severe degree of mental and physical fatigue. Across their three biggest matches since the international break – Madrid and the two ties against Atletico – we've witnessed moments when Lionel Messi, Neymar, Luis Suarez, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Andres Iniesta appear unable to control the ball, pass the ball or make the right decisions when in possession of the ball.
For the first time in his career, Messi has failed to assist or score a goal in five consecutive fixtures. The Argentine great has been stuck on 499 career goals for five matches now – his worst run since 2009 – and has rarely escaped defenders’ attentions in that time.
Barcelona must now focus on the domestic double but head into the Camp Nou clash on back of their worst winless spell (W0-D1-L2) since Luis Enrique arrived. However, the hosts haven’t lost three La Liga games on the spin since 2003 and they’ve not failed to record a victory for longer than three games since 2009.
Having walloped Valencia 7-0 in their most recent Camp Nou meeting in the Copa del Rey, the hosts will be expected to breeze to another three points and cement their position at the top of the table. And working on the basis that form is temporary and class permanent, it’s a fair assumption.
After all, the Blaugrana have W30-D2-L3 under Luis Enrique’s watch when welcoming league opposition. A huge 24/35 (69%) were won by a margin of two goals or more with 19/35 (54%) triumphs claimed by at least three goals. In 22/35 (63%) of outings they’ve scored at least three goals.
So back at their Camp Nou base, I’m expecting Barcelona to deliver the goods. But I’d feel a fool if I didn’t have a few nagging doubts and it might not be quite as straightforward as we’ve become accustomed to; therefore there are three possible punting angles to consider.
The Blaugrana’s less-than-impressive backline could present Valencia with a few opportunities, making a home win and Both Teams To Score our starting selection at 5/4 (Boylesports).
The hosts have kept just three shutouts in 15 fixtures now, shipping goals in each of their last six and only keeping their sheets clean against Getafe at the Camp Nou across their last five home outings.
Valencia have notched in 25 of their last 35 road trips in La Liga, as well as in six of their previous 10 visits to either the Camp Nou or the Bernebeu. This season the away side have scored at top-half teams such as Atletico, Athletic Bilbao, Celta Vigo and Malaga and should find a way onto the scoresheet in an ultimately fruitless journey.
Next, backing Valencia with a +1.25 start on the first-half Asian Handicap market (4/5 Bet365) houses plenty of appeal. Valencia managed to put a halt to a run of four consecutive losses last weekend when seeing off a rested and rotated Sevilla and journey north knowing risk of relegation has now been all but averted.
The visitors dominated the match against Sevilla but needed a 92nd-minute goal from Alvaro Negredo to secure the points. Stand-in boss Pako Ayestaran was chuffed with his side’s display and will be hoping to conclude the campaign on a high.
Although Valencia have failed to keep their sheets clean in each of their past 22 La Liga encounters – their worst ever run in top-flight history – they do boast a canny knack of being very competitive during the first 45 minutes.
Los Che have recorded half-time draws in 16 of their last 21 La Liga matches, as well as four of their last six meetings with Barca. The visitors have only lost two road games by more than a solitary goal – against Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao – as they’ve proved competitive at Atletico, Sevilla and Villarreal, whilst recording wins at Malaga and Celta Vigo.
Barcelona have tended to be slow starters, leading at the interval in only 9/16 (56%) of their Camp Nou dates this term. In only five of those fixtures have the Catalans led by more than a one-goal margin at the break – we’ll pocket a half-stakes win should the hosts lead by one goal at half-time but bag a full-stakes win should Valencia be level or ahead after 45 minutes.
And building on that previous bet, I can’t resist a wee wager on Draw-Barcelona at a bulbous 9/2 with William Hill. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see Luis Enrique’s men start slowly after their rotten recent run.
Getafe v Real Madrid | Saturday 15.00
I was a little sad to see Fran Escriba getting the boot from Getafe this week.
I’m not saying it was the wrong decision – far from it – but the man who made his name by taking penniless Elche into the throws of mid-table last term clearly has something good going on.
However, Escriba was unable to stop the rot that had set in around the Deep Blues and Getafe were heading on a fast-track ticket back to the Segunda.
Last weekend’s 2-0 reverse to Villarreal was the final straw for the club’s hierarchy and with El Gata picking up just two points from a possible 36 (W0-D2-L10) – including nine without scoring – Escriba was sent packing.
Argentine Juan Eduardo Esnaider has been given the gig and faces a tough task in reviving the side from the southern suburbs of the capital. Getafe are two points adrift of safety and no La Liga side has scored fewer than their tally of 28 goals.
Esnaider, a former assistant at the club in 2009/10, has had short spells as Zaragoza B head coach and at Cordoba in the Segunda since 2013 – he’s been out of work since. So it’s straight into the furnace this weekend when the Deep Blues welcome Real Madrid to the Coliseum.
The hosts have lost their last six against the city rivals, shipping at least three goals on each occasion. The duos past 14 top-flight battles have ended in W13-D0-L1 figures for Real whilst Getafe have managed just W0-D1-L10 across their last 11 Madrid derbies.
Zinedine Zidane’s all-star cast pitch up in buoyant mood following their Champions League triumph in midweek and know a maximum point return here will take them to within one point of table-topping arch-enemies Barcelona.
Real have won six La Liga games on the spin – their best run of league results all season – are Europe’s top scoring side (93) in the top-five leagues and boast a frightfully strong record when taking on bottom-half teams on their travels too.
Since 2012/13, Los Blancos have W27-D8-L2 at bottom-half dwellers with 16/37 (43%) of those fixtures ending in victories by at least a two-goal margin. Madrid have scored three or more goals in 15 (41%) of those encounters.
Naturally, backing an away win is too skinny to consider but throw a Cristiano Ronaldo goal into the mix and we can support the Wincast at 4/5 with Ladbrokes.
Ronaldo has scored 19 goals against Getafe in La Liga matches and plundered 30+ league goals for the sixth consecutive season.
The Portuguese superstar has netted 46 goals in 44 appearances for club and country this season – 21 of which have arrived in his past 17 outings as he’s failed to find the net in just 5/17 games since 17th January.
Las Palmas v Sporting Gijon | Saturday 17.15 | Sky Sports Interactive
Safety has been assured for Las Palmas on their return to La Liga following a 14-year absence thanks to a superb run of six wins in seven.
Excellent second-half showings against Valencia a fortnight ago and at Deportivo on Monday have hoisted the Canary Islanders 11 points clear of the danger zone and Quique Setien's charges are chasing more success on Saturday night when welcoming struggling Sporting Gijon.
Real Madrid are the only side to stop the Yellows in that seven-game streak as they’ve recorded four clean sheets, churning out 1-0 victories at Eibar, Villarreal and Real Sociedad in the process – not bad for a club in which every away game is a 4,000‑kilometre round trip.
The results had been coming. 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 34 points from 24 games and the Yellows are now one of Spain’s most attractive teams to follow. Rarely do they lump it forward and their 4-1-4-1 formation gives the team greater stability with and without the ball.
The hosts are in fine fettle and considering they’ve seen off four of their six bottom-six opponents on the island by two or more goals, they look an enticing betting proposition at 19/20 (Bet365) here.
Sporting have picked up W1-D2-L2 in their last five away days but failed to net on three occasions during that run of results. Indeed, the toothless visitors have fired blanks in five of their past six and make the long journey having lost 10 of their 16 games as guests.
Only Sevilla facing more shots then the side from Asturias this season and Abelardo’s men looked every inch prime relegation candidates when labouring to a dour 1-0 defeat at home to Celta Vigo last time out.
Gijon’s only victory in 11 came in fortunate circumstances against Atletico Madrid last month and I’m happy to oppose the clueless visitors here. Sporting have posted a league-worst shots-on-target ratio figure of 37.64% this season and that drops to an obscenely poor 25.42% when playing away.
Getafe v Real Madrid – Cristiano Ronaldo to score and Real Madrid to win (4/5 Ladbrokes)
Las Palmas v Sporting Gijon – Las Palmas to win (19/20 Bet365)
Barcelona v Valencia – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (5/4 Boylesports)
Barcelona v Valencia – Valencia +1.25 first-half Asian Handicap (4/5 Bet365)
Barcelona v Valencia – Draw-Barcelona (9/2 William Hill)
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