LA LIGA returns this weekend and Mark O’Haire’s (@MarkOHaire) lined up three bets from the first round of fixtures.
Espanyol v Getafe | Saturday 17.30 | Sky Sports Red Button
I don’t expect many of you to give a damn about this game but I, for one, am really intrigued by the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat contest. Espanyol are a side that traditionally punches around the mid-table mark; often the Parakeets will venture close to the European qualification places or dwindle close to danger but eventually settle for comfort.
However, the mood amongst Blanquiazules supporters is a little sombre following the summer departures of goalkeeper Kiko Casilla, centre-half Hector Moreno and striker Sergio Garcia, three key cogs in the Espanyol machine. Head coach Sergio also waved goodbye to Middlesbrough-bound Christian Stuani whilst Lucas Vazquez’s loan deal from Real Madrid expired.
The Sergio Garcia/Stuani partnership contributed 26 goals last season and although Gerard Moreno’s an ample addition (one of five new faces to arrive in Barcelona), you can’t help but feel the hosts look a little worse off than this time 12 months ago. Enzo Roco should shore things up at the back but their thin on the ground in forward areas.
Felipe Caicedo turned down moves elsewhere to stay at the club and he’ll be asked to carry the attacking threat for Sergio’s side that returned impressive W8-D5-L1 figures when entertaining teams that weren’t top-five finishers. But it may take time to gel the group and that was in evidence as the Parakeets were taken apart 3-0 by second-tier Girona in their most recently friendly.
With that in mind, I’m keen to oppose Espanyol at odds-on quotes in their opener as Getafe make the journey from Madrid with a fair amount of optimism and confidence. The capital club tailed off their campaign with W0-D2-L6 but Pablo Franco’s been ditched in favour of Fran Escriba, the man who masterminded an average Elche side to within touching distance of the top-half.
It’s a shrewd appointment and the three-year deal handed out shows the commitment to the cause from the owners of the Deep Blues. Escriba’s promised a competitive side that’ll play attractive, attacking and exciting football. Their pre-season results have been promising too – Getafe arrive on the back of three consecutive wins.
The visitors have signed nine players over the summer with Ghanian attacking midfielder Bernard Mensah perhaps the pick of the bunch from Atletico Madrid. But Victor Rodrigues and Damian Suarez who both impressed at Elche have followed Escriba whilst Moi Gomez and Santiago Vergini are also upgrades on last year’s bunch.
Top goal-getter Alvaro Vazquez and talisman Pedro Leon have stayed put and although they finished just two points above the drop zone last term, I’m confident they can look up rather than down. True, the Deep Blues were woeful travellers and even worse defenders on the road but I’m happy to lend them support in the Double Chance market at 21/20 with Coral. We’ll be paid out should the visitors avoid defeat.
Atletico Madrid v Las Palmas | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 3
I’m really looking forward to seeing Atletico this season. I really feel the Mattress Makers can give the big two a run for their money and at 22/1 they’re ridiculously disrespected in the Outright Winner market. I’ve backed them and I totally expect Diego Simeone’s men to be serious contenders.
Why? Well Simeone has addressed last season’s weaknesses and more in a superb summer of transfer dealings. Mario Mandzukic wasn’t up to the role of leading the Atleti attack – his lack of pace and mobility meant the side were unable to play on the counter-attack to great effect.
So welcome Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto – two stunning captures that, alongside last term’s top goalscorer Antoine Griezmann – have the potential to cause any defence more than a few headaches. Simeone’s troopers are already defiantly strong in defensive areas, boast enough workers and magicians in midfield to create openings and now their forwardline looks close to completion.
The 2013/14 champions have been handed a reasonably comfortable opening day draw with newly-promoted Las Palmas visiting the capital on Saturday night. And the smart money should be on the hosts to take maximum points with a victory in the Half-Time/Full-Time market at 3/4 (BetVictor). Across the past two campaigns, Atleti have W29-D7-L2 when welcoming La Liga opposition to the Calderon and 23/38 (60.5%) saw the home side ahead before the interval.
The Mattress Makers have won their last 10 duels when hosting promoted sides with eight also banking in the HT-FT market and they should prove far too good for a Las Palmas side back in Spain’s top-flight for the first time in 13 years. The islanders lost two warm-up matches against Rayo Vallecano and Almeria, which will no doubt set alarming bells ringing.
Having finished fourth in the Segunda, the club did manage to keep hold of top goalscorer Sergio Araujo in the summer but on the whole, recruitment has been slow and frustrating. Goalkeeper Javi Varas and midfielder Emmanuel Culio are missing through suspension and Saturday night’s showdown may well be an ugly reintroduction to top-flight football.
Levante v Celta Vigo | Sunday 21.00 | Sky Sports Red Button
I fear for Levante. It’s been a rotten summer for the Frogs with a failed takeover attempt and the annual departures of their most prized assets. Top scorer David Barral has packed his bags for Qatar, Nigerian striker Kalu Uche has also left along with Mohamed Sissoko, Andreas Ivanschitz, Ivan Ramis, Papa Diop and Loukas Vyntra. Levante’s time in La Liga could well be up come May.
Head coach Lucas Alcaraz is desperate to make amends for last season’s shambles that saw the hosts leak more goals than every other side other than Rayo and Cordoba. Summer signings to bolster the backline look far from impressive and although Nabil Ghilas and big-money (for Levante) stiker Deyverson will offer hope going forward, I just don’t see the Frogs plugging those defensive woes.
Celta head south without two of last term’s stars. Both Santi Mina and Michael Krohn-Delhi left on free transfers whilst Charles also opted to make a move. But the Sky Blues have brought in home favourite Iago Aspas, highly-rated John Guidetti and Norwegian winger Daniel Wass. Nolito has stayed put and so all-in-all, Eduardo Berizzo’s charges should still be capable of clinching a top-10 finsih.
The mood at Celta is certainly positive after an excellent pre-season that’s seen the visitors run up four consecutive victories and I like their chances of getting off to a decent start. Bwin are offering 11/13 on the visitors scoring the first goal and their expansive, attacking style should hopefully give us a good run for our money.
Celta managed to net the opener in nine of their last 13 away to bottom-half teams, they recorded decent W8-D5-L3 figures against last season’s bottom-eight and come up against a Levante side that leaked the first goal in seven of their most recent 10 home fixtures. The hosts are notorious slow starters having never won a La Liga opener (W0-D5-L5) and also fired in the fewest attempts on target over the course of 2014/15.
Espanyol v Getafe – Getafe double chance (21/20 Coral)
Atletico Madrid v Las Palmas – Atletico Madrid HT-FT (3/4 BetVictor)
Levante v Celta Vigo – Celta Vigo to score the first goal (11/13 Bwin)
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