MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his verdict on the weekend’s best bets from La Liga.
Villarreal v Levante | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 2
Villarreal have cemented their place in the Champions League qualifying positions after extending their unbeaten domestic streak to 12 (W8-D4-L0) last weekend.
The Yellow Submarine stifled Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon to pick up a well-deserved point and leave their eight-point advantage over fifth-placed Sevilla intact.
Marcelinho’s men then came through a tough Europa League encounter with Napoli on Thursday night to secure their place in the last-16 – no mean feat.
The resilience shown throughout their campaign can keep the side on course for a top-four finish and they should have enough in the tank to see off Levante when they return to El Madrigal on Sunday morning.
The Yellows have now bagged 12 wins from their past 15 fixtures in front of their home supporters and since the start of last season, Villarreal have returned hugely impressive W22-D3-L7 figures on home soil, including 16 (50%) clean sheets.
The hosts have now notched six consecutive clean sheets at El Madrigal and have Eric Bailly back to full fitness to partner Mateo Musacchio in the heart of their insurmountable defence – only Atletico Madrid have shipped fewer goals.
Relegation-haunted Levante are this weekend’s visitors and despite hammering Getafe 3-0 in their last match, Rubi’s troops remain entrenched in La Liga’s bottom-three, mainly down to their atrocious away record.
The Frogs have lost nine of their 12 road trips this term as well as 21 of their 31 (68%) since the start of 2014/15. What’s more, the visitors have been beaten by at least two goals in 16 of their previous 31 (52%) games as gusts and have failed to pick up a point in their last eight at top-six teams.
The 7/10 on a home win looks fantastic value but we can boost the price to 6/4 (SkyBet) by backing Villarreal to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 in the Correct Score groups.
The Yellow Submarine have scored more than twice in just 6/32 (19%) of their home games since the start of last season and with Levante likely to pair Deyverson and Giuseppe Rossi in attack, it covers the potential for an away goal.
Deportivo La Coruna v Granada | Sunday 17.15 | Sky Sports 2
Draw specialists Deportivo (14 draws in25) are still searching for their first victory since Christmas (W0-D6-L3) but should get a fantastic chance to record maximum points when rock-bottom Granada pitch up at the Riazor on Sunday.
Following four successive losses, Jose Ramon Sandoval was axed as the visitors’ boss with former Albacete and Cadiz manager José González taking his place.
González’s first task will be to arrest their horrendous record on the road – El Grana have lost five on the spin as La Liga guests and haven't kept a clean sheet on their travels all season. Talking of the defence, they’ve shipped at least two goals in six of their most recent seven starts.
Granada’s task this weekend is made even harder by the absence of defensive midfielder Ruben Perez. Without him, El Grana have W1-D3-L9 since the start of last season, leaking 2.77 goals-per-game with 10/13 featuring Over 2.5 Goals and seven even breaking the three-goal barrier.
It’s not all bad news though. Adalberto Penaranda and Youssef El-Arabi are a potential handful for any defence and the lowly visitors have at least notched in seven of their last 10 outside of their Andalusian home – only runaway leaders Barcelona, obdurate Villarreal and in-form Real Sociedad have stopped them scoring.
Depor should have record-breaking Lucas Perez back to spearhead the attack but with centre-half Sidnei sidelined through injury, keeping their sheets clean for the first time in 12 might be too tall a task for Victor Sanchez’s side on Sunday.
Depor have been beaten just once when welcoming top-half teams and scored in all of their 11 matches at the Riazor – both teams have netted in seven of their last nine as hosts and four of their five when taking on bottom-half dwellers have featured four or more goals.
With that in mind, backing Both Teams To Score at 42/41 with 888 stands out. It’s proven a successful strategy in 32/50 (64%) of the two teams’ La Liga matches this term, as well as in 16/25 (64%) when viewing the duos respective home/away games.
Taking the 64% figure and turning it into implied odds would give us a 4/7 chance. So the 42/41 on offer is a big value bet and topped up by the trend that’s seen 16 of Granada’s last 20 away fixtures feature Over 2.5 Goals.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | Saturday 15.00
Buckle up, there’s a Madrid derby on the agenda. As my esteemed colleague Gavin Murphy (@GamePlanGavin) has already highlighted, this game isn’t for the feint-hearted.
Neither side is admitting to giving up on the La Liga title race but the fact of the matter is, Barcelona would need an almighty drop-off to give either Madrid side an opportunity in overturning their advantage. No matter what happens at the Bernabeu, these two teams are playing for second place.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for staunch Real Madrid supporters and the honeymoon period for head coach Zinedine Zidane is as good as over after Los Blancos failed to record maximum points at Malaga last weekend.
The French legend may be unbeaten in eight fixtures in the Real hot-seat but only on home soil have the hosts really come to the fore. Madrid have struck at least four goals in their perfect 4/4 Bernabeu record under Zidane with an aggregate score of 20-3.
Marcelo and Karim Benzema have both been passed fit to play, Raphael Varane returns from suspension and James Rodriguez should continue to deputise for Gareth Bale. Having failed to score just twice as hosts this term and boasting La Liga’s hottest attack, an expectant sell-out crowd will be demanding victory.
But I’ve had a look at Real’s record since December and what really stands out is their lack of clean sheets. The 10-time European champions have failed to silence 11 of their last 14 opponents – only Malmo, Deportivo and Espanyol fired blanks during that spell with only two shutouts recorded in nine at the Bernabeu.
So with the league’s most effective attack welcoming the division’s meanest defence, something’s got to give, right? Well, perhaps not.
Atletico may have a poor long-term record against La Liga’s big-two but their more recent return against their cross-city rivals is well worth bragging about.
Los Rojiblancos have won this fixture in each of the past two renewals and are now unbeaten in five La Liga derbies (W3-D2-L0) against their enemies. Go back further and Real Madrid have only claimed one win in 11 against Diego Simeone’s side so 5/6 quotes on a home success make no appeal.
The Mattress Makers have Jose Gimenez back to replace the injured Stefan Savic whilst Augusto Fernandez should be deployed in midfield as the visitors look to enhance their stunningly stingy defensive record in 2015/16.
Simeone’s side have shipped just five goals in 13 away games and shutout seven of their most recent nine La Liga opponents. Home or away, Atleti have leaked just 11 goals in 25 league fixtures – the best record across Europe’s major leagues – whilst keeping their sheets clean in 14 of 21 away ties across all competitions.
Where Los Rojiblancos have struggled has been in the offensive phases. Antoine Griezmann's dry patch has meant Atletico have netted just once in their past three games and the French hitman wasted an excellent opportunity in Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with PSV in the Champions League.
With Atletico profligate in front of goal, it’s hard to justify backing the away side to win here. But they’ll relish the encounter, will dig deep and should be more than capable of frustrating their more illustrious hosts who've returned just W1-D0-L4 when hosting Barca and Atletico since 2013/14.
With that in mind, I’ll gleefully snap up the 19/17 (BetVictor) on Atleti with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start.
And I’ll have also have a wee interest in the Draw and Under 2.5 Goals – covering both the 0-0 and 1-1 correct scores at 10/3 with Stan James. The last three meetings have failed to feature more than two goals and I’d be surprised if we were treated to a gung-ho contest.
Sporting Gijon v Espanyol | Saturday 17.15 | Sky Sports Interactive
I’m surprised to see the goals markets priced up attractively for Sporting Gijon’s crucial basement battle with Espanyol on Saturday evening.
Over 2.5 Goals has been chalked up odds-against quotes (11/10 William Hill) but there are plenty of trends in our favour as we look to get the goals onside in Asturias.
For example, 8/12 (67%) of Sporting’s games at El Molinon have featured at least three goals whilst 10/13 (77%) of Espanyol’s away days have followed suit. Yet, the bookmakers are pricing up a chance of a repeat at lower than 50%? Weird.
Sporting have Sergio Alvarez sidelined through suspension but Omar Mascarell is an able deputy with Carlos Carmona and Alen Halilovic also set to start for Abelardo's men who’ve W2-D3-L1 since mid-January – their only loss coming at home to Barcelona when the Gijon head made nine changes.
Espanyol finally managed to end a poor run of form last time out, with the Parakeets snatching a 1-0 win over Deportivo. It was the Barcelona-based club’s first shutout in five with seven of their previous eight seeing opposition sides strike at least twice against their feeble defensive efforts.
Constantin Galca remains in charge but I’m still unconvinced by the Romanian boss and with 10 losses in their last 11 road trips, including nine on the spin – their worst run since 1978 – defeat here will see Espanyol drop to just one place off the relegation zone.
Hernan Perez is back from injury and Gerard Moreno should lead the attack with Felipe Caicedo banned but I still feel goals are the best route of attack here.
Sporting have scored in their last seven and seen the Over 2.5 Goals barrier cleared in seven of their eight fixtures at home to bottom-half teams since promotion. And Espanyol’s long-term away stats are also weighted heavily towards a goal-heavy game – 22/32 (69%) matches since the start of last season have delivered winners in this market.
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid +0.50 Asian Handicap (19/17 BetVictor)
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid – Draw and Under 2.5 Goals (10/3 Stan James)
Sporting Gijon v Espanyol – Over 2.5 Goals (11/10 William Hill)
Villarreal v Levante – Villarreal to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 (6/4 SkyBet)
Deportivo La Coruna v Granada – Both Teams To Score (42/41 888)
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