La Liga: Strap-in for Spain’s biggest derby on Sunday


MADRID-based journalist Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) points us towards his favourite fancies from matchday 13 from La Liga.

The “form goes out the window” cliché will inevitably be bandied about this week ahead of Spain’s hottest derby. But one could argue that form has counted for very little across La Liga this season as pundits and punters alike continue to scratch their heads after 12 jornadas of what has been a brilliantly volatile campaign.

A generous helping of goals were expected at the Bernabéu as a porous Betis defence rolled into the Spanish capital, while Villarreal were also fancied to add to their recent tally against a struggling Athletic Bilbao.

Very little money would have been wagered on a scoreless draw in either, never mind both, but that is exactly what materialised as Osasuna v Alavés – widely fancied to be an ugly arm wrestle – proved to be the game of the weekend, yielding three penalties, six goals and a whole lot of fun.

As mentioned in last week’s piece, “when it comes to Levante, nobody really has a clue…Levante are at their best when games are a bit mad and frenetic,” and so it proved to be as they defied the odds to turn a first half one-goal deficit into a 3-1 victory thanks to three goals in seven mental minutes against a flat, uninspiring Barcelona.

Barca continue to struggle to find an identity while the likes of Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets still look a long way from their best, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage any Spanish team challenging seriously for the Champions League this season.

Only three teams come into Week 13 on the back of consecutive wins: Eibar, Levante and Getafe.

Real Betis v Sevilla | Sunday 10th November 2019, 20:00 | Premier Sports

In the week of the Madrid derby you could be having your café com leche y churros in any bar across the city oblivious to the fact that one of the perceived biggest derbies in Europe was on the horizon. There is no extra tension or anxiety in the air or the dread of losing in the days leading up to the weekend. There a few days of build-up in the media, the game comes and goes and daily life resumes.

Not in Seville. If you want to experience Spain’s biggest, most intense derby you simply need to go 500km south of Madrid to arguably Spain’s most stunning city. Even from Madrid, you can already feel the anticipation bubbling down there and for any football fan, the Seville derby really is a must.

Football is a very big part of life here but in Seville it is everything – Seville wouldn’t be Seville without its football.

They’re a different breed the Sevillanos; you can feel it in the streets, in the bars and restaurants, and on the radio. Sometimes almost impossible to understand as they swallow their words, the guasa – banter with that touch of needle – is a fundamental part of their character.

Betis, for example, could win 5-0 on Sunday and go on to lose their next 10 games but their fans would still giddily wave the manita (five finger gesture) to the face of their Sevilla-supporting mate or work colleague. In Seville, the derby really is everything.

There are so many angles and details to factor into this weekend’s derby that makes it extremely difficult to arrive at any confident verdict. It was only two weeks ago that Rubi’s tenure as Betis manager looked to be coming to a pre-mature end after a 1-0 defeat at Granada but a fortunate 2-1 win over Celta Vigo and a 0-0 draw at the Bernabéu later, Rubi looks to have bought himself some time.

In a bid to stifle Karim Benzema and company, Rubi set out his team with four centre backs, with Marc Barta playing in an unconventional midfield role and it remains to be seen if he will revert to a more attacking line-up on Sunday or opt for a happy-medium in order to ensure defensive solidity, something badly needed considering Betis have conceded in each of their six home games.

There is little doubt that Sevilla have dominated this derby in recent years; this fixture has seen only two wins in the last 10 meetings for los verdiblancos, while the men from the Sánchez Pizjuán have enjoyed the “bragging rights” on six occasions.

Half of these 10 derbies saw the three points stay with the hosts which suggests that home advantage counts for very little and, given their significant improvement on the road under Julen Lopetegui compared to previous full-time coaches, Sevilla will be confident of returning back across the city with at least a point.

Sevilla looked very solid at Valencia, a game they really should have won and, prior to that, had more than enough chances to trouble Barcelona at Camp Nou before an eight-minute spell saw the game fall out of reach but they still fail to convince in front of goal.

Structurally Sevilla are a very good team with a strong spine, supplemented by excellent full backs and Lucas Ocampos who is proving to be a sneaky signing of the season contender. Lopetegui’s men have scored at least once in five of their six away games and given Betis’ porous defence, they should be fancied to do so again.

Sevilla have Europa League commitments in Luxembourg on Thursday night and, despite the fact that they are virtually already guaranteed to top their group, this is still a journey that has to be made and a fixture which has to be played and is undoubtedly a factor for those contemplating siding with Sevilla in the win market.

Betis games at the Benito Villamarín have been fun (for neutrals) this season: all six fixtures have seen Both Teams to Score click and it’s hard to have any confidence in this Betis defence.

In recent years, this derby has produced some classics: we’ve had a 3-2, 2-2 and a 3-5, but we have also had cagey affairs, the fear of losing intensifying as the seconds tick away. Last September, a late Joaquín back-post header gave Betis their first home derby win since April 2006…yes 2006, which further illustrates Sevilla’s dominance over the last decade or so.

Doubts still hang over both sides; Rubi has yet to establish a true identity for this Betis side while Lopetegui has yet to stumble upon the magic formula of maintaining that solidity in defence and midfield while being more effective and clinical in attack.

The mood has lifted around Heliópolis over the last week and Betis will have had a full week to prepare but, all things considered, Sevilla look the more trustworthy unit and if there is to be a winner, the men in white get the nod.

However, I’m sitting on the fence in this one and am hesitantly going for a score draw. In terms of goalscorer bets, the previously mentioned Lucas Ocampos looks a good shout while on the other side Nabil Fekir or Loren Morón look the most likely to become Derby Day heroes.

This is a derby I have twice had the pleasure of attending; it’s a fixture to be savoured and enjoyed, for all it entails.

Here’s hoping it’s a cracker. I’ll be taking a draw and Both Teams To Score at 18/5 (BetVictor).

Atlético Madrid v Espanyol | Sunday 10th November 2019, 15:00 | Premier Sports

Espanyol have proven to be a right pain in the arse for Atlético Madrid in recent years.

With three wins in their last four meetings against Cholo Simeone’s men, Espanyol are one of only two teams (the other being Real Madrid ) to have won at the Wanda Metropolitano in La Liga since Atleti moved to their new home and, considering how average they have been on the domestic front in recent weeks, it is fair to assume another uneasy afternoon ahead for Atleti.

Thomas Lemar poses more questions than answers regarding his perceived €100m market value; Diego Costa continues to trundle around like a weary, neutered lion who continues to live off yesterday’s reputation and it’s clear that this side lacks a real killer instinct.

Everything Atlético do is too slow and laborious, too horizontal and too easy to defend against. Ángel Correa is the only player who provides hard, direct running towards the opposition defence and his partnership with Alvaro Morata has been fruitful in recent weeks but, as a team, Simeone’s men need to become more vertical and more ruthless from the first whistle.

Recent performances have been characterised by slow, sluggish starts – with one first half goal in their last five games – and this is something which will be of concern for the Argentine coach.

Los rojiblancos have won 18 of their last 25 home league games; 15 of those wins saw Under 3.5 Goals and this seems the most likely angle this time around as Atleti host a rejuvenated Espanyol under new manager Pablo Machín. They have shown signs of improvement but are still are very limited, small squad which also has to contend with Thursday night football in the Europa League.

The last seven times Atlético have hosted their Catalan bogey team in La Liga, they managed to score more than one goal on only one occasion and have twice drawn blanks in front of their own support (1,0,0,1,2,1,1) which illustrates just how uncomfortable Simeone’s men find it against this particular opponent who have not been particularly amazing in recent years.

After three consecutive games on the road, Atlético will be looking for some home comfort on Sunday afternoon but history suggests that it won’t be pretty or easy.

When it comes to Atleti, it rarely is, so take Atletico Madrid to win and Under 3.5 Goals at 20/23 (Coral).

Best Bets

Real Betis v Sevilla – Draw and Both Teams To Score (18/5 BetVictor)

Atletico Madrid v Espanyol – Atletico Madrid to win and Under 3.5 Goals (20/23 Coral)

Week 13 Predictions:

Real Sociedad v Leganés 1

Alavés v Valladolid X

Valencia v Granada 1

Eibar v Real Madrid 2

Barcelona v Celta Vigo 1

Mallorca v Villarreal 2

Athletic Club v Levante 1

Atlético Madrid v Espanyol 1

Getafe v Osasuna 1

Real Betis v Sevilla X

1 = home win, 2 = away win, x = draw

Brendan Boyle (@BrendyBoyle) is an Irish journalist living and working in Madrid. A season ticket holder at Atletico Madrid and Rayo Majadahonda, he covers all things football in the Spanish capital, from Estadio Butarque to the Wanda Metropolitano.

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