MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) tackles Thursday night’s La Liga card.
Espanyol v Real Betis | Thursday 19.30 | Sky Sports Interactive
I’m not sure any words, stats, reasoning or explanation are required here.
Why? Well, Espanyol have been hit by a bout of gastroenteritis, with eight players affected and unable to train on Tuesday.
Victor Alvarez, Victor Sanchez, Burgui, Marco Asensio, Hernan Perez, Gerard Moreno, Abraham and Alvaro Gonzalez were sent home for treatment either before or during their midweek session with six of those players part of Saturday’s squad that saw off Sporting Gijon 4-2.
It leaves the Parakeets with just 13 of their 24-man squad available for action on Thursday with three already on the sidelines through injury. With that in mind, it’s one of the easiest selections of the week – oppose Espanyol.
Real Betis head to Cornella-El Prat with Alfred N'Diaye back from suspension and on the back of three successive draws against Rayo Vallecano, Sporting and Deportivo.
Exclude the visitors’ trips to Barcelona and Real Madrid and they’ve managed W4-D4-L3 on their travels, so the 11/10 (BetVictor) available for a +0.50 Asian Handicap start on Betis looks just the ticket.
And considering the circumstances, there’s no harm in taking a piece of the 3/1 that’s still available from Betfred on an away win. Even before the sickness bug, Espanyol had shipped at least two goals in eight of their last 10 games.
*UPDATE* All six ill players have been named in Espanyol's squad but are highly unlikely to be anywhere close to 100%.
Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona | Thursday 20.00 | Sky Sports 5
If there’s one game in Spain to watch, this is the one.
Rayo Vallecano are one of the most romantic clubs in Spain. Hailing from Madrid 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.
It’s quite a remarkable stat but since Paco pitched up at Vallecas, only Barcelona (69%) have averaged more ball possession in La Liga than Rayo (58%). They’ll send everything through midfield general Roberto Trashorras and obsessively look to play out from the back; it’s bloody brilliant.
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.
Last season, Rayo were slaughtered 6-1 at the Camp Nou. This season they were beaten 10-2 at the Bernabeu, and their past 10 matches with Barca have resulted in 10 defeats by an aggregate score of 4-45. The minnows have leaked at least three goals in all bar one of those contests and been trailing at the break in all bar one defeat.
Since being handed the reigns at Vallecas, Jemez has overseen 14 league fixtures with La Liga’s big-two and on all bar two occasions the L-L double result has banked. The aggregate score of those 14 defeats has been 9-60 with 13/14 losses by at least a two-goal margin and eight by three goals or more.
Rayo arrive on a seven-match unbeaten streak (W2-D5-L0) and they’ve never managed an eight-match unbeaten run in the Spanish top-flight in their history. They won’t be breaking that record on Thursday night, sadly.
The hosts have a few knocks and injury doubts to contend with, most notably in-form marksman Miku. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to fancy their chances of grabbing a goal – in that seven-match spell, Los Franjirrojos have scored at least twice in each fixture.
Barcelona have enjoyed just a solitary shutout in seven league outings, kept their sheets clean in just three of their most recent 12 across all competitions and showed signs of being jaded in Sunday’s 2-1 win over Sevilla. So with only Barca, Real Madrid and Sevilla averaging more on-target attempts than Rayo, the home side will create chances and should be capable of snatching a goal.
Unfortunately, Luis Enrique’s record-breaking runaway express train are likely to notch more than just once. Rayo have leaked at least twice in 12 of their past 14 in La Liga and so Barcelona should comfortably extend their W28-D6-L0 run of results here, making the Barca win and Both Teams To Score attractive at 11/10 with Bet365.
Espanyol v Real Betis – Real Betis +0.50 Asian Handicap (11/10 BetVictor)
Espanyol v Real Betis – Real Betis to win (3/1 Betfred)
Rayo Vallecano v Barcelona – Barcelona to win and Both Teams To Score (11/10 Bet365)
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