Rayo Vallecano v Real Sociedad | Sunday 11.00 | Sky Sports 5
Regular readers of my La Liga content will know all about my undying love for Rayo Vallecano and their head coach Paco Jemez.
Jemez’s heart stopping brand of ‘all or nothing’ football has seen Los Franjirrojos win the hearts of plenty of neutrals. The club from the southern Madrid suburbs of Vallecas have mastered a sumptuous possession-based game and the atmosphere they generate in the stands is as good as any in Spain.
But it was a miserable festive period for plucky Rayo. Five consecutive losses have seen Paco men slide into the La Liga relegation zone as they’ve leaked at least twice in each.
Los Franjirrojos were humiliated 10-2 by Real Madrid before Christmas and were then heartbroken by two late goals against city neighbours Atletico (2-0). The minnows fought bravely in the latter loss but there’s a feeling that this could well be the year their consistent overachieving comes to a close.
I’m refusing to open my eyes to the truth. So before we do write Rayo off, it’s worth taking a peek at their record against bottom-half clubs. This season the hosts have taken just one point from a possible 30 against the top-10 but have returned W4-D2-L2 when taking on the division’s lesser lights.
A similar pattern emerges when looking at Los Franjirrojos’ record under Paco. They’ve W32-D10-L22 of 56 contests against bottom-half dwellers – that’s a points-per-game average of 1.89 – very impressive. When welcoming the bottom-10 to Vallecas that record reads W16-D6-L11 – 1.64 points-per-game – again, pretty impressive
Indeed, six of the last 10 clubs from this sample have lost when visiting Paco’s men in the capital and with Real Sociedad losing out in eight of their previous 14 away days and conceding first in 11 of their last 15 on the road, the case to keep the hosts onside enhances.
However, Rayo’s attacking approach can often leave them vulnerable and it’s telling that the home side have kept just a solitary clean sheet in 13 La Liga outings. So with that in mind, a play on goals looks a better solution.
La Real were expected to challenge for European places this term but after a poor start under David Moyes, the Basques are slowly recovering under Eusebio Sacristan. Sevilla and Eibar have been beaten whilst defeats to Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid are understandable.
But like Rayo, Sociedad have struggled to keep their sheets clean. Just one of their last eight have seen the travellers shutout their opponents and although Sergio Canales and top marksman Imanol Agierretxe are sidelined, they boast enough final third quality in Bruma and Jonathas to cause the home defence problems.
Over 2.5 Goals is available at evens with Paddy Power. It’s won in four of Rayo’s five when welcoming the bottom-half this season as well as six of their nine league fixtures at Vallecas overall. La Real have followed suit in five of their most recent seven away days and it looks a safer ploy than taking sides.
Granada v Sevilla | Sunday 15.00 | Sky Sports 3
There’s an Andalusian derby to enjoy on Sunday afternoon and I believe it’s worth following the trends here and taking a stab at Under 2.5 Goals with BetVictor offering 20/23 on a low-scoring duel.
After a brief hopes of a revival, Granada have reverted back to the norm in recent weeks and slumped to sloppy back-to-back defeats to Las Palmas and Celta Vigo. The hosts have netted a measly two goals in their last four La Liga contests and remain entrenched in relegation trouble.
Cristiano Biraghi is supended this weekend but the hosts will be boosted by the return of Isaac Success who should start on the left of an attacking trio including Ruben Rochina and Adalberto Penaranda. However, I’m still not hopeful of goals flowing at the Los Cármenes.
El Grana have seen fewer than three goals scored in all bar two of their past 14 when hosting top-half teams that aren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid and they’ve proven similarly stodgy in seven of 10 home fixtures since Jose Sandoval took charge.
Sevilla arrive on the back of four wins from five and Unai Emery’s troops have churned out clean sheets in each of those fixtures. But the regional giants remain winless on their travels this term, scoring just four goals on the road.
Los Rojiblancos have delivered six successive Under 2.5 Goals winners as well as seven in eight away from the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in league action this season. Throw in the fact that eight of their last 13 at bottom-six clubs featured fewer than three goals and the return of midfield marshal Grzegorz Krychowiak and the visitors should ensure this derby remains tight.
Deportivo La Coruna v Villarreal | Sunday 17.15 | Sky Sports 3
Arise miracle worker Senor Victor Sanchez and Deportivo La Coruna – you’ve both deserve plaudits, praise and medals for the fabulous work done over the past nine months or so.
The Brancoazuis were as dull as dishwater last season. In fact, Depor only survived relegation on the final day and thanks to the appointment of the club legend Victor in early April.
Since he took the reigns at the Riazor eight games before the 2014/15 campaign concluded, La Coruna have W7-D14-L4. From last-gasp survival to be comfortably competing in the top-six is almost unthinkable, especially when seeing the mess that the 39-year-old inherited.
The impressive young boss has installed belief, has been credited for his outstanding man-management as well as his superb analytical skills when preparing for opposition sides. Victor’s adapted formations, tactics and player roles perfectly and Depor are now a well-rounded club demanding of respect.
Up front Lucas Perez has been almost unstoppable, scoring 12 goals and equalling Bebeto’s record of scoring in seven consecutive matches. Luis Alberto and Fayçal Fajr have been just as instrumental, Pedro Mosquera a mountain in midfield and Fernando Navarro and Sidnei monumental at the back.
Depor are unbeaten in eight (W3-D5-L0) following their goalless draw at Getafe on Wednesday and look capable of shutting down Villarreal on Sunday. They’ve lost just twice at the Riazor (W4-D5-L2) under Victor keeping five clean sheets whilst the Yellow Submarine have returned just seven away victories since the start of last season (W7-D13-L7).
Marcelinho deserves a mention for remoulding Villarreal after a batch of big-name departures in the summer and Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu have formed an impressive partnership in attack. Denis Suarez has been a consistent success too but the majority of their best work has been done on home soil.
With Depor rewarding Under 2.5 Goals backers in eight of their last nine, Villarreal keeping three clean sheets on the spin and also falling below the line in five of their last six, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see Unders trading at prohibitively short quotes of 4/7.
So I’ll stick to my guns and give Depor the backing they deserve. The Brancoazuis boys can be backed at 22/23 with Marathon in the Draw No Bet – quite exceptional when you consider they’ve lost just 4/25 (16%) under Victor whilst Villarreal have triumphed in 7/27 (26%) away, eh?
What’s more, the Yellow Submarine have fired in fewer shots-on-target than every side this season bar Betis and Espanyol and landed fewer on-goal efforts on their travels than all La Liga rivals bar Getafe and Sporting.
Now that’s quite a convincing case to leave the guests well alone.
Valencia v Real Madrid | Sunday 19.30 | Sky Sports 3
The weekend action wraps up with a mouthwatering showdown from the Mestalla. Two familiar faces to Premier League followers lock horns with the stakes incredibly high as both Valencia and Real Madrid make their 2016 bow.
Looking at media reports in Spain, the suggestion is Rafael Benitez will be sacked if Real fail to beat their hosts on Sunday night. The former Liverpool boss’ grip on his position as head coach has been a constant source of fierce debate since their Clasico mauling and although Los Blancos brushed Real Sociedad aside 3-1 on Wednesday, Rafa was once more subjected to jeers from the Bernabéu stands.
Los Blancos were no better than average against La Real and were aided by two key injures to their Basque guests. They’ve failed to convince for some time now but at least they’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a day’s extra rest than Valencia ahead of their trip to the east coast.
Madrid have been beaten in two of their last three on the road and although they’ve been prolific in front of their home supporters, away games have been a source of frustration. Their last six have all been against top-half sides and they’ve only claimed victory in three.
That shoddy record can be highlighted further when we look at their return from top-six sides since 2013/14 – W3-D4-L6. A really poor first-half performance at Villarreal in their last away day was alarming and I’d expect Rafa to revert to a safety-first operation in Valencia if he’s any inclination to keep his job.
Los Blancos tend to be given a stem examination by Los Che – four of the past seven meetings have finished all square with Valencia notching twice in each of the previous four – and I’d expect nothing different here despite the hosts ugly run of results.
A limp and defensive defeat against local rivals Villarreal concluded Valencia’s calendar year efforts and has put Gary Neville on the back foot. He’s taken just two points from nine in his tenure since moving to Spain and seen his side drift 11 points away from the top-four positions.
Los Che are a shadow of last season’s vibrant, aggressive and exciting side but this is the sort of game that might galvanise the group. Valencia have suffered a solitary loss in 27 (W18-D8-L1) outings in front of their demanding home fans and can welcome back Shkodran Mustafi to the heart of defence alongside Aymen Abdennour.
For all their flaws, Valencia have only conceded 15 goals this season – the third best tally in the division – and only five of those have come at the Mestalla. So whilst they’ve been as ugly as Katie Hopkins’ soul in recent weeks, I’m willing to get them onside in what’s likely to be a cagey and probably low-scoring tussle.
I’d be very surprised to see Real Madrid saunter to success, as the odds suggest. Los Blancos have won by two or more goals just once in their previous 10 trips to top-six clubs and Valencia have lost by that margin at home once since January 2013 – a run of 53 matches.
Valencia +1 is even-money in the Asian Handicap market and sees our stake returned should Real win by a one-goal margin. We’ll lose if the visitors triumph by two or more but be in profit should Valencia win or draw.
Rayo Vallecano v Real Sociedad – Over 2.5 Goals (1/1 Paddy Power)
Granada v Sevilla – Under 2.5 Goals (20/23 BetVictor)
Deportivo La Coruna v Villarreal – Deportivo La Coruna draw no bet (22/23 Marathon)
Valencia v Real Madrid – Valencia +1 Asian Handicap (1/1 Bet365)
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