MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has analysed the odds from the weekend La Liga coupon and shares his favourite fancies below.
Sevilla v Real Betis | Sunday 15.00 | Sky Sports 2
This cross-city clash is one of the fiercest derbies on the Iberian peninsula and whilst Sevilla’s poor return of one point from a possible 15 (W0-D1-L4) is far from ideal preparation, there’s nothing like a hot-headed meeting with Betis to focus body and mind.
The past 10 contests have seen nine red cards but it’s a fixture Sevilla tend to fare well in, especially at their Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium. The pair have already met three times this term with Los Nervionenses recording two victories ‘to nil’ and one goalless draw.
In fact, Betis have fired blanks in five of their past six head-to-heads with their bitter enemy, bar a 2-0 Europa League triumph here in March 2014. That’s Los Verdiblancos only triumph in eight against Sevilla (W1-D1-L6).
That surprise loss was sandwiched between three Betis hammerings with Sevilla winning 5-1, 4-0 and 4-0 in their last three home encounters with the green side of the city.
Remember, with this selection we’ll get our stake back if Sevilla win by just one goal but make money should Los Nervionenses come out on top by at least two goals on Sunday afternoon.
Emery’s men may wish to focus on Thursday’s Europa League action but their vociferous and passionate home support will insist they give this fixture the respect it deserves. And with Sevilla still boasting one of Spain’s strongest home records, I’m happy to have them onside.
Since the start of last season, Los Nervionenses have won 26/36 (72%) of their Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan matches in La Liga with 15/36 (42%) arriving by a margin of at least two goals.
Betis travel into Seville with only win triumph in 10 (W1-D3-L6) as guests in league action whilst Juan Merino’s men have notched just 31 goals all season – only Levante and Getafe have proven more impotent in front of goal.
Three of those six recent league losses for Los Verdiblancos were by two or more goals and I’d be surprised if the visitors managed to improve that record here.
Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid | Saturday 15.00
Rayo Vallecano are one of the most romantic clubs in Spain. Hailing from the capital and playing in the shadows of the Bernabéu and the Vicente Calderon, the club represent the working-class surroundings of Vallecas.
A strong left-wing identity, Rayo are a penniless team punching above their weight in La Liga.
Head coach Paco Jemez is the brains behind the operation and the charismatic boss has kept Los Franjirrojos in the top tier thanks to his astute leadership and joyful style of football.
Rayo fear no one and look to implement their attractive possession-based ideology in each fixture, often to great success.
However, Jemez’s rigid approach has its pitfalls. Los Franjirrojos, unwilling to remodel themselves to suit La Liga’s big-hitters, attempt to go toe-to-toe with Barcelona and Real Madrid and always end up on the wrong end of a battering.
It’s a brave but often head-banging philosophy as Rayo’s clutch of free transfers and loans get blown away by the planet’s best.
In 15 previous encounters with Spain’s big-two, Rayo have lost all 15 by an aggregate score of 10-66 with 14/15 losses by at least a two-goal margin and 9/15 defeats arriving by three or more goals.
The minnows have leaked at least three goals on 11 occasions and this season were demolished 10-2 at the Bernabéu – although they did play the final half hour with nine men.
In 14 of their 15 La Liga losses against Barcelona and Real Madrid, Los Franjirrojos have been trailing at half-time and in seven outings at their Vallecas base, they’ve shipped an average of 3.29 goals-per-game. It’s bleak.
Real Madrid arrive at this weekend’s match in top form having churned out eight successive league victories, including a 3-0 romp over fourth-placed Villarreal in midweek. But neither Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale nor Casemiro are likely to feature as Los Blancos look to put the pressure on league leaders Barcelona.
I’d still expect Madrid to get the derby job done with the -1.5 Asian Handicap (30/29 BetVictor) and the away win alongside Over 2.5 Goals (4/6 Betfred) both standout selections that I’ll be getting involved with.
Rayo can play their part in this encounter as, although the hosts boast the league’s worst defence, the Vallecas club have out-scored 13 sides in La Liga this season and showed in recent home victories against Villarreal and Getafe they’ve more than enough fight left for the relegation battle.
Sadly, the high-risk approach employed by Jemez will prove their undoing and with Antonio Amaya the only fully fit centre-half available, Rayo might struggle in the defensive areas.
Diego Llorente’s unable to play due to his loan terms and in the five matches he’s missed, the hosts have lost four, conceding 20 goals. In the 28 matches that Llorente’s played, Rayo have only conceded more than twice in five.
Barcelona v Sporting Gijon | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 1
Barcelona could well be sitting third in La Liga by the time they kick-off with Sporting Gijon on Saturday night as both Atletico Madrid and Real go before.
But following their 8-0 obliteration of Deportivo on Wednesday, I’d still want to side with a heavy home success when the Catalans return to the Camp Nou.
Three successive defeats had put the breaks on Barca’s title hopes but finally the Blaugrana’s attacking interplay clicked into gear at the Riazor with the defending champions completely dismantling Deportivo to their worst run of La Liga results since 2003.
In Gerard Pique’s absence, Barcelona still gifted Depor numerous opportunities but their clinical, sharp and incisive forward play proved what they’re capable of and with Luis Suarez now on 30 La Liga goals – only one behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Pichichi – I don’t expect any let up.
Following such a commanding performance, Luis Enrique’s star-studded squad will be expected to slice and dice struggling Sporting here.
The Asturians picked up an invaluable 2-1 victory over Sevilla but remain right in relegation mire, and having lost eight of their previous nine trips to top-half teams this term, shipping 18 goals, Abelardo’s men face a mighty tough assignment.
Since Luis Enrique pitched up at Barcelona, the Catalans have W16-D2-L0 when welcoming bottom-half teams to the Camp Nou. Those 18 fixtures have produced an average goal supremacy of 3.55 goals-per-game with the Blaugrana scoring an average of 4.05 goals in each fixture.
You’ll have to work hard to find a strong enough angle to enter the markets with a pro-Barcelona angle and with Sporting stuffed 5-1 at the Bernebeu already this season, I’m happy to steer away from finding faith in the visitors in the handicap or goals-based markets too.
So instead, I’ll follow the stats and snap up the 10/11 from SkyBet on the second-half proving the Highest Scoring Half on Saturday night.
This selection has proven profitable in 22/36 (61%) of Barcelona’s home La Liga fixtures under Luis Enrique as well as nine of Sporting’s 17 (53%) away trips since promotion. With both trends healthily over the 50% success rate, I’ll take the 10/11 – odds that suggest just a 52% chance of landing.
Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid – Real Madrid -1.5 Asian Handicap (30/29 BetVictor)
Rayo Vallecano v Real Madrid – Real Madrid to win and Over 2.5 Goals (4/6 Betfred)
Barcelona v Sporting Gijon – Second-half to be Highest Scoring Half (10/11 SkyBet)
Sevilla v Real Betis – Sevilla -1 Asian Handicap (7/8 BetVictor)
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