Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid | Wednesday 17.15 | Sky Sports 2
If you followed my Spanish football columns over the past 18 months, you’d know I’m knee-deep in a passionate relationship with Atletico Madrid. It’s often a very rewarding exercise – I dine out on their exploits, sink plenty of beers in their name and eulogise to you guys about their redeeming qualities.
But, as in all love-soaked partnerships, occasionally those you hold dear to you let you down inexplicably.
Atletico did this in the worst possible manner 10 days ago when their 15 match unbeaten streak (W12-D3-L0) and nine-match winning run in La Liga was ended in a 1-0 loss at Malaga. Diego Simeone’s charges knew a solitary point would have been enough to put them top of the tree for Christmas but they fluffed their lines.
Charles' deflected shot four minutes from time did the damage and it was a deserved defeat at La Rosaleda. Keeper Jan Oblak was the side's standout performer, especially after Los Colchoneros captain Gabi's silly sending off early in the second half.
Atletico’s costly slip-up in Andalusia was a bitter blow for a club that, in-house at least, still believes they’re serious title candidates. I do too – I backed them pre-season after all – but they can afford few more off days.
Simeone accepted post-match that his side just weren’t good enough. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the Mattress Makers will now redouble their efforts to get back on track this midweek.
The industrious Atleti take a short trip to the Madrid suburbs of Vallecas to face Rayo Vallecano in a game that finished 0-0 last term. A repeat of that night when profligate finishing cost them a nailed-on three points cannot be entertained and I expect the visitors’ watertight backline to make the difference against wide-open Rayo.
Atletico will be without Gabi and Filipe Luis but Saul and Guilherme Siqueira are able replacements, capable of enhancing a stunning run of results against the bottom-half under Simeone. Since 2012/13, the travellers have W54-D8-L6 against the league’s lesser lights with W22-D6-L6 returned on the road. Pow.
As I’m sure you’ve seen and heard, Rayo were tonked 10-2 at Real Madrid – the first occasion in 55 years that the 10-time European champions had hit double figures – but it could have been oh so different.
Paco Jemez’s minnows started really brightly at the Bernabéu and bounced back from conceding early to be 2-1 ahead after 12 minutes. Madrid’s superstars looked bemused and out of ideas. The whistles and jeers reigned down from the stands and Rafa Benitez’s boys were sinking.
Luckily for Real, Rayo right-back Tito was deserved sent off, Gareth Bale equalised and then the visitors saw midfielder Raul Baena also dismissed before half-time. Cristiano Ronaldo converted a penalty before Real cut loose.
Los Franjirrojos were at rock bottom after that whipping, a result that prompted fuming Paco to say: “We’ve been humiliated, trodden on. This does no one any good. They’ll have seen this around the world and the image of Spanish football is damaged. There are players the size of trucks who have prepared all their lives for moments like this that are crying in the dressing room.”
Rayo will be desperate to bounce back but with Raul Baena, Tono and Nacho all missing due to bans, four defeats on the spin and at least two goals leaked in each, it’s difficult to see how they’ll be able to overcome the immovable object that is Simeone’s side.
Rayo flourish against bottom-half dwellers but their attractive possession-based ideology and often gung-ho approach is rigid enough to leave them exposed against the big guns. Atletico aren’t quite Barcelona or Real Madrid in terms of attacking ferocity but they can make the trends against the hosts look even worse.
Paco’s charges have W4-D3-L38 against the top-10 since 2012/13 and W2-D3-L15 at Vallecas against the same opposition. Incredibly, Rayo have had 32/45 (71%) L-L double results – 13/21 (62%) at home – in that time and that’s the angle I’ll take here considering the visitors have led at the interval in six of their seven triumphs against the bottom-half this season.
Atletico can be snapped up at 6/4 with 888 Sport to be leading at half-time and full-time.
Sevilla v Espanyol | Wednesday 17.15 | Sky Sports Interactive
Inconsistency is a label that’s been dished out each and every week to Sevilla and although Los Rojiblancos are sat eight points adrift of the top-four in eighth, Unai Emery’s men are back on track after a woeful August.
Sevilla were rock bottom after five fixtures (W0-D2-L3) but the defending Europa League champions have bounced back with W6-D3-L2. Sure, they’re still winless on the road and out of the Champions League but the Andalusians have been their usual forceful opponents at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
Los Rojiblancos have bagged six successive victories on home soil in La Liga, notching at least twice in five of those. Include continental competition and the hosts have won eight of their last nine with Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia all leaving the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan empty-handed. Impressive, eh?
Stunning home form is nothing new for Sevilla, though. Emery arrived in the head coach role back in January 2012 and since the start of the 2012/13 campaign, the one-time La Liga champions have W30-D9-L7 in Andalusia, striking two or more goals in 30/46 (65%) of those outings. and three or more in 15/46 (33%).
Before the break, Sevilla were held to a goalless draw at city rivals Betis but their unbeaten in seven in all competitions, have kept four clean sheets in five La Liga encounters and look more than good enough to collect another victory on Wednesday night when Espanyol arrive.
But with the hosts too short to back, I’m throwing Over 2.5 Goals into the equation alongside a Sevilla victory. Grzegorz Krychowiak misses out through suspension, leaving Michael Krohn-Delhi and Steven N'Zonzi to anchor the midfield and at the back Nico Pareja and Marco Andreolli remain sidelined leaving Adil Rami and Timothee Kolodziejczak to start at centre-back once again.
Sevilla have beaten Espanyol in each of their last five at the Ramon Sanchez whilst nine of the last 10 meetings have featured at least three goals. Those 46 Sevilla home games we mentioned included 29/46 (63%) of Over 2.5 Goals winners and 18/46 (39%) also breaking the Over 3.5 Goals barrier.
The visiting Parakeets axed boss Sergio in favour of Constantin Galca a fortnight ago following a run of W2-D2-L6 in La Liga but they’ve stopped that rot with back-to-back wins against Las Palmas and Levante in league and cup under their new head coach.
However, the club from Barcelona make the trip without the suspended Pape Diop and Victor Sanchez struggling to be fully fit. They’ve lost four on the spin on the road and recorded L-L double results in seven of their most recent 11 away to top-half sides that aren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Espanyol have yet to keep their sheets clean on their travels and only three sides have leaked more goals in La Liga. The visitors have lost all five games at teams above them in the standings and shipped at least twice in five of their EIGHT away (W2-D0-L6).
Since the start of last season, the Parakeets have delivered 18/27 (67%) of Over 2.5 Goals winners when away from Barcelona with 10/27 (37%) also featuring at least four goals.
The duo have collectively been involved in 12/16 (75%) home/away games to feature at least three goals this term, making Over 2.5 Goals already good value. Sevilla have won with Over 2.5 Goals in exactly half of their eight La Liga home games whilst Espanyol have suffered defeats in games with three goals or more in 50% of their road trips too.
Celta Vigo v Athletic Bilbao | Wednesday 19.30 | Sky Sports Interactive
Arguably the biggest surprise of the season in Spain has been the emergence of Celta Vigo as a serious candidate for Champions League qualification. Eduardo Berizzo's men have thrilled La Liga fans with a fine brand of attacking and high-energy football that’s included a 4-1 hammering of treble winners Barcelona.
The Sky Blues have W9-D4-L3 with only Barca and Real Madrid scoring more than their tally of 28 goals. The Galicians are just four points off the summit and they’re there on merit too.
On Wednesday night they face another stern test of their credentials but Berizzo's look underrated in the markets. Pablo Hernandez and Borja Fernandez are all available again after bans whilst Jonny should slot into left-back with Sergi Gomez fit enough to start alongside Gustavo Cabral at centre-back again.
Nolito’s injured and his absence is a blow for the hosts but even so, they’re going enough to land another knockout blow for a European-chasing rival. Celta are unbeaten in five and have won three on spin, defeating Granada, Almeria and Espanyol, and at 0 on the Asian Handicap market at 9/10 with BetVictor, are an attractive bet.
Backing 0 on the Asian Handicap line is exactly the same as a play on the Draw No Bet market – we get our stake back should the game end all square. The only way in which we’ll end up out of pocket here is if Athletic come away with three points.
Since the start of last season, Celta have W12-D7-L8 at Balaídos – arguably a decent reason behind their odds – but their 2015/16 form is a world away from last year. The Vigo club are enjoying 54% of overall shots in their matches and that increases to a very healthy 63% when hosting La Liga action.
Berizzo's boys have landed 58% of all shots-on-target in their games this season with that figure increasing to 61% at Balaídos. Athletic’s figures are fairly similar (53% shot ratio, 56% shots-on-target ratio) but they take a decent dip when playing away (49% shot ratio, 48% shots-on-target ratio).
The Basque club have been beaten in eight of their last 10 at top-six sides and will again be without Ander Iturraspe here. Ibai Gomez and Markel Susaeta are carrying knocks too and although Ernesto Valverde’s troops have overcome Linense and Levante before the winter break, they’re vulnerable travellers.
Under Valverde, Les Leones have W16-D12-L18 of their away matches, failing to score in 19/46 (41%). They’ve already W2-D2-L4 on the road this term, leaking two or more goals on five occasions and they’ve W1-D1-L5 when facing top-half clubs.
Celta have only failed to strike in five home fixtures since the start of last season. I’d expect them to score again here, which should put us in a great position to at least earn out stake back.
Rayo Vallecano v Atletico Madrid – Atletico Madrid W-W double result (6/4 888 Sport)
Sevilla v Espanyol – Sevilla to win and Over 2.5 Goals (1/1 Boylesports)
Celta Vigo v Athletic Bilbao – Celta Vigo 0 Asian Handicap (9/10 BetVictor)
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