MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has analysed the odds from Spain and shares his favourite La Liga fancies below.
Leganes v Barcelona | Saturday 12.00 | Sky Sports 5
Alaves took fewer than 100 fans to the Camp Nou last weekend but the newly-promoted side made Luis Enrique pay for making wholesale changes to his starting XI, stealing a 2-1 win and delighting underdog backers at 40/1.
Barcelona bounced back in style on Tuesday night, demolishing Celtic 7-0 with another dazzling display but the Catalans know they mustn’t relent in La Liga with Real Madrid already three points ahead of the Blaugrana in the early season standings.
Only three players were retained for Celtic’s annihilation and little rotation is expected for Saturday’s midday kick-off in the searing Spanish heat. However, Atletico Madrid are due to meet Barca next midweek and Luis Enrique will be keen to get the job done early at Leganes.
Barcelona have won eight of their last nine against promoted teams, six of which returned W-W double results. And under the current boss, the visitors have all six against the same standard of opposition, leading at the interval on five occasions.
With such a miniscule odds on offer across a range of standard markets when the likes of Barca meet lesser opposition, it can pay to be a little inventive. So I’m heading to the half-time markets and backing two correct scores.
We can support Barcelona to lead 1-0 at half-time at 47/20 (BetStars) with the 2-0 advantage offered at 9/2 (Coral). The two half-time correct scores cover 12/24 (50%) of the Catalans’ away days at bottom-half teams and, more impressively, 9/13 (69%) when travelling to bottom-six operators.
Backing both the 1-0 and 2-0 will see us a collect a minimum 11/8 pay-out, which is more than fair in an encounter that’s mighty hard to find genuine value.
It’s a major match for Leganes, this. The La Liga debutants are facing the Blaugrana for the first time in their 88-year history and fans were queuing overnight outside their Estadio Butarque base for tickets earlier this week.
Los Pepineros proved study opponents when holding Atletico to a goalless draw in their opener as hosts and last year they won promotion from Segunda with only two defeats in 21 when welcoming league visitors.
However, the side from the south of the Spanish capital barely tested Atletico and were second-best last weekend when going down 2-1 at Sporting Gijon.
Head coach Asier Garitano’s expected to field a five-man defence here but a hugely motivated Barcelona should be capable of finding a first-half breakthrough or two.
Atletico Madrid v Sporting Gijon | Saturday 15.15
Bizarrely, third-place travels to 17th on Saturday afternoon and no, I haven’t got those league placing’s the wrong way around.
Sporting Gijon have beaten Athletic Bilbao and Leganes whilst taking a point at Alaves in an excellent start to life in 2016/17 having only avoided relegation on the final day of last season.
Head coach Abelardo enjoyed their victory over Leganes last weekend – a game in which Sporting stormed into a 2-0 advantage before riding out for a 2-1 triumph – but this weekend’s trip to the capital promises to be a real test of character for the Asturians.
Moi Gomez should be fit to start and Burgui and Victor should also continue in behind Duje Cop with Nacho Cases continuing in midfield but the visitors don’t tend to fare too well on their travels, especially against the league’s elite.
Sporting have failed to succeed in eight games as guests, fired blanks in five of their last seven on the road and been beaten in seven of their 10 trips to top-half teams last term.
The visitors did suffer just a 1-0 loss at Atletico last season and have seen eight of their last nine on the road feature fewer than three goals but with Los Colchoneros beginning to find their feet following a slow start, I’m ignoring any Over/Under style selections.
Diego Simeone’s side recorded clean sheets against PSV Eindhoven, Celta Vigo and Leganes in their last three fixtures and their 4-0 destruction of Celta last weekend suggested Los Colchoneros have now found the balance between defence and attack.
New signing Kevin Gameiro has been a little too wasteful but should be given another chance alongside Antoine Griezmann whilst Saul has adapted swimmingly to his central midfield position alongside skipper Gabi.
Atleti have won 13 of their past 16 La Liga matches at the Vicente Calderon and when hosting bottom-half teams under Simeone the home side’s record reads a fearsome W38-D2-L0.
In 17 (43%) of those encounters, Los Colchoneros scored at least three goals and the most likely to get on the scoresheet in a home success is Euro 2016’s top scorer Griezmann.
The French hitman netted twice in Vigo last weekend and is 6/5 to score in an Atletico victory with SkyBet.
Las Palmas v Malaga | Saturday 19.45 | Sky Sports Red Button
After two rounds of La Liga, Las Palmas topped the standings. It was the first time in 27 years that the Canary Islanders found themselves at the top of Spain’s football pyramid with Quique Setien’s men having made a blistering start to 2016/17.
The Canaries picked up maximum points against Valencia and Granada, notching nine goals in the process. In both contests, the Yellows looked superb on the counter-attack with the minnows also strikingly clinical on the break.
Las Palmas’ nine goals arrived from just 11 shots-on-target– that included five goals from five shots-on-target against Granada. Last season it took the club until December to score as many goals but Setien’s side have created plenty of outstanding opportunities and certainly weren’t top of the tree due to luck.
Nabil El Zhar and Jonathan Viera have continued where they left off in 2015/16 but so too have the Yellows as a whole. In 33 fixtures under Setien’s watch the hosts have W13-D6-L14, which turns to W9-D2-L5 when viewing the most recent 16 matches.
Kevin-Prince Boateng’s made a very positive contribution since signing in the summer and Roque Mesa is impressing in midfield.
There is a steely, lethal purpose to Las Palmas’ play, with Vicente Gomez and Roque Mesa’s tidy resolve in midfield allowing for their side’s front four to play with relative freedom as soon as possession is turned over.
But Las Palmas’ stay at La Liga’s summit was short-lived. The Canaries took a deserved lead at Sevilla last weekend – Tana, the goalscorer and Roque Mesa were outstanding in a hugely impressive team performance but a very questionable penalty and a 94th minute goal gave Sevilla victory.
Setién insists survival is still the main aim but Las Palmas have proven they’re a match for most in Spain and I fancy them to give Malaga a stern examination on Saturday night. So much so, I’m backing the 11/8 on the Yellows to score Over 1.5 Goals with Bet365.
The hosts are averaging 1.75 goals-per-game on the island under the current boss and have only failed to score in four of their 16 games on home soil. Seven of those encounters have seen the Yellows strike at least twice.
Visitors Malaga are winless and have already shipped five goals under Juande Ramos. The Albicelestes are without left midfielder Jony and are unlikely to have crucial centre-back Weligton available.
Malaga were beaten fairly comprehensively against Villarreal last time out and were poor travellers last term, winning just four of their 19 away days. Their opening day game at Espanyol ended 2-2 and see no reason why Las Palmas can’t repeat the feat on Saturday evening.
Espanyol v Real Madrid | Sunday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Espanyol suffered two 6-0 defeats to Real Madrid last season and since 2009/10 the Parakeets have taken two points from a possible 36 against the current European champions. Those 12 head-to-heads have produced an aggregate score of 5-45 in Madrid’s favour.
There’s an accusation from Barcelona supporters that their city rivals down tools for games against the Blaugrana’s biggest rivals and whilst there’s no real foundation to such claims, it’s hard to bet against another one-sided contest on Sunday night.
Espanyol spent reasonably big by their standards following a summer takeover but head coach Quique Sanchez Flores has struggled to find the magic formula. The Parakeets still appear to be bedding in and that could spell carnage when Los Blancos rock up.
The hosts have failed to keep a clean sheet against Sevilla (lost 6-4), Malaga (drew 2-2) and Real Sociedad (drew 1-1) and having shipped nine goals against relatively average opposition, home supporters will be understandably concerned.
Javi Fuego is suspended for Espanyol here and although Gareth Bale’s a doubt, the lavish guests have the likes of Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio, Mateo Kovacic and Alvaro Morata all queuing up for inclusion.
Madrid did require a late comeback to salvage a 2-1 success against Sporting Lisbon on Wednesday night but last weekend saw Zinedine Zidane’s men rout Osasuna 5-2 to keep the capital club’s 100% record intact.
Zidane’s now overseen 15-consecutive triumphs – the joint-best run in the club’s history – and should Real enhance that record here, they’ll go level with the great Barcelona side of 2010/11.
Los Blancos have scored at least twice in 14 of their last 15 league encounters and six of their 11 away games under Zizou have seen the W-W double result bank. It makes the 23/20 (Coral) on offer for Real Madrid/Real Madrid an enticing prospect on Sunday night.
Leganes v Barcelona – Barcelona to lead 1-0 at half-time (47/20 BetStars)
Leganes v Barcelona – Barcelona to lead 2-0 at half-time (9/2 Coral)
Atletico Madrid v Sporting Gijon – Antoine Griezmann to score and Atletico Madrid to win (6/5 SkyBet)
Las Palmas v Malaga – Las Palmas to score Over 1.5 Goals (11/8 Bet365)
Espanyol v Real Madrid – Real Madrid/Real Madrid (23/20 Coral)