EUROPEAN football expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) unearths the value in Monday evening's La Liga action.
Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon | Monday 19:45 | Sky Sports 2
Real Sociedad’s recent four-match slump has seen the Basque side slide out of Champions League qualification contention to eighth in the La Liga standings, a position that would see La Real miss out on European football next season.
Eusebio Sacristan’s men suffered a humbling derby defeat at home to Athletic Bilbao before a 1-0 loss at Alaves. Sociedad were then held at Anoeta by struggling Leganes before being out-classed in a 1-0 reverse at Atletico Madrid last midweek (W0-D1-L3).
Monday night’s hosts failed to score in all four fixtures and are currently enduring their worst run of form during the current campaign. Just as alarming, La Real have picked up just two points from a possible 12 (W0-D2-L2) when welcoming La Liga opposition to their San Sebastian base.
The caveat to La Real’s drop-off
But there are reasons for the recent downturn. Eusebio’s squad was hit by a surge of injuries and suspensions over the past six weeks and with little in the way of squad depth, Sociedad naturally struggled to cope.
However, for this encounter the hosts should welcome back pivotal Asier Illarramendi to the base of their midfield three, as well as top goalscorer Willian Jose. Willian Jose is averaging a goal every 184 minutes in La Liga and should ensure La Real are back to a full compliment with their first-choice front-three too.
Sociedad stats strong at Anoeta
It’s true too that whilst results at Anoeta haven’t always appeased home supporters (W7-D4-L4), performances have often merited more. Exclude their season curtain-raiser against Real Madrid and Sociedad have yet to lose the shot count in any of their Anoeta outings in the league – they’ve returned a 62% shot ratio across those games.
Likewise, the expected goals column features favourably on La Real when playing in front of their home supporters. Sociedad boast a superior 60% expected goals ratio when discounting the Real Madrid match and their record when playing teams below them in the table also really impresses (W14-D2-L2).
I can understand any punters willing to swerve the home side on Monday evening due to recent results but I’d like to think there’s easy to understand evidence for such a drop-off in standards and I’m happy to support Sociedad bouncing back here.
Seeing as goals are often a common feature of both La Real and Sporting Gijon’s contests, I’ll be building Over 1.5 Goals into my punt on a home success for a solid play on the 4/5 offered by BetStars.
Sporting fighting for survival
Sporting arrive five points adrift of safety but Rubi’s troops have rallied recently (W1-D2-L1) to give themselves a fighting chance of survival. However, Wednesday’s home loss to Malaga was a devastating blow as Los Rojiblancos failed to turn their opportunities into goals.
The Asturians welcome back Fernando Amorebieta, Lillo, Xavi Torres and Mikel Vesga from suspension, the former two of which should come into the back four, with Mikel Vesga slotting in to anchor the midfield. And considering Gijon have avoided defeat in four of their past six away days, Rubi’s men command respect.
Visitors struggle in games as guests
A recent 0-0 draw at Sevilla certainly warrants attention but dig deeper and we can see Sporting conceded 12 shots from inside their own penalty area, enjoyed less than 30% possession and were pretty fortunate to escape with a point against a high-flying side that’s looked out of gas in the past few weeks.
Since Spanish teams returned from their winter break, Los Rojiblancos have lost the shot count 49-115 in their seven away games – only three of which came against top-half teams. The shots on-target return in the same sample reads 16-46 with the shots in the box stats returning 29-77.
Sporting have won once on the road in 22 La Liga encounters and W0-D3-L14 when travelling to top-half teams since the start of last season. Only four of that latter 17-game sample featured Under 1.5 Goals as the visitors have shipped at least two goals in 12 of those showdowns.
Considering Sociedad should be back to as close to their first XI as possible and with the opportunity to move back into a Europa League qualification position with a victory, I’m happy to back the hosts here.
Real Sociedad v Sporting Gijon – Real Sociedad to win and Over 1.5 Goals (4/5 BetStars)