Granada v Barcelona Saturday, 3pm
Those who follow Barcelona casually will automatically think: ‘Magisterial against City, now away to La Liga’s second bottom club – automatic ‘win’.
And while I do back Luis Enrique’s team to take the points it’s precisely that assumption which has, and can again, caused Barça problems.
To begin with, Abel Resino’s team will get after Barcelona with the aggression and disrespect which City notably lacked in the first half at the Etihad.
I’ve beaten them before and see no reason not to do it again, he said pre-match.
More, if Granada have any redeeming feature it’s that they make winning at the Nuevo Los Cármenes a job for rolled-up sleeves and Doctor Martin boots.
Having not played away to Granada (because of their life in the lower divisions) since Sweet, Telly Savalas, Showaddywaddy and Bowie were topping the charts, (the 1970s) Barcelona have played at Los Cármenes three times since 2011 – two single goal wins and a 1-0 defeat last season. Not a stroll in the park, see?
Check, also, Granada’s home record since November. Three 1-1 draws, two 0-0 draws and a 1-0 win. Blood out of a stone territory.
It’s 11 v 11 and we know that if we get it right we’ve a chance of beating Barcelona reckons their striker Jhon Córdoba.
You’d imagine that Barcelona face a rival lacking in talent but sharp of tooth and claw. They’ll need at least 21 points out of the 42 remaining, bare minimum, if they want a fair chance of avoiding the drop.
Only twice since 2008 have fewer than 40 points kept a team up. Eight of their remaining fixtures are at home, starting this weekend. Emanuel Insúa, Adrián Colunga, Juan Carlos Pérez and Youssef El Arabi are all suspended while it’s likely that Jeison Murillo and Pito won’t be fit to start.
Barça? This is a test for Luis Enrique. Cup semi final on Wednesday, both the Clásico and the second leg against City just around the corner – the post Champions League effect will probably make him want to rotate the team. Possibly heavily.
But he’s got to minimise that and he’s got to get his choices right. Gerard Piqué is already out, suspended.
This team is more competitive, better balanced when both Mascherano and Rakitic start. Imperative that he realises this and keeps them in the XI. I think it’s reasonable to expect Pedro to get game time, perhaps a goal, and for Luis Suárez (above) to maintain his increasing strike rate.
Outside ‘anytime’ bets include Rakitic and Xavi. Anything other than a win would come close to putting the league out of Barcelona’s reach – would potentially leave Madrid coming to the Camp Nou in three weeks to kill of their opponents.
Enough of a stimulus to win? I think so. 0-2 to the visitors.
Graham’s bet: Barcelona to win 2-0 @ 5/1 or Barcelona to win by exactly two goals @11/4
Luis Suarez to score anytime 5/6
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Valencia v Real Sociedad, Sunday, 11am
Rumours that both teams will be bag-piped onto the pitch wearing tartan trims on their shorts, that Billy Connolly is gonna be in the Presidential Box and that Primal Scream will perform at half time are untrue… I think.
But has there ever been a more Scottish game in La Liga?
Valencia’s assistant is Ian Cathro [Dundee], only 28 but a friend of Nuno Espirito Santo (above) since they met on an SFA training course at Largs [West of Scotland]. Real Sociedad are led by the duo of David Moyes [Glasgow] and Billy McKinley [Glasgow]
Last week, as tipped here, La Real did Ian Cathro’s team one hell of a favour by beating Champions League-slot challengers Sevilla up at the Anoeta.
In doing so they scored four goals for the first time since pumping Madrid 4-2 at the Anoeta in August. But the truth is that La Real are a strange old beast when it comes to goals.
Last season they scored four or more goals on five separate occasions – not bad. But Carlos Vela [now injured] and Antoine Griezmann [now at Atleti] were principal actors in those dramas.
More, only twice in 15 matches under Moyes had La Real scored more than once – but as soon as Vela gets injured they scored seven in three, six of which have come in the last two. [2-2 at Almería, 4-3 at home to Sevilla]
Valencia are ferocious at home – only Atlético have won more points ‘en casa’ but they’ve played a game more. Los Che’s record at the Mestalla this season is: Played 12, Won 10, Drawn 1, Lost 1, For 27. Against 8. Points 31.
So, here’s the rub. For all their recent revival and move up to mid table, notwithstanding the fact that they’ve beaten the European Champions, the Europa League holders and Barcelona this season La Real are La Liga’s worst away team this season. Six points out of a possible 33.
For months and months now, long before Moyes, they’ve carried ‘baggage’ on the road. Short and simple, they’ve had a complex of low confidence. Not since April 2014 have they won away in the League.
Thus, if you want to go with the banker-bet it’s that Valencia will impose themselves. Negredo should start, Piatti’s on the best form of his life, Nuno has big choices in midfield, only two from Andre Gomes, Dani Parejo, Enzo Perez and Javi Fuego will start [Fuego and Parejo I’ll bet]. Piatti’s return to form increases the chance of a set-piece goal too – think Otamendi and Mustafi.
So, there’s your daily bread. Back it if you fancy Valencia to win at 4/7.
But, given the occasion, I’m going for a tartan tin of shortbread instead. They are odds-against but I think La Real, who’ve won at the Mestalla on their last three visits, can make a draw.
Imanol Agirretxe is on a run of goals, Sergio Canales would love to score against the club that doubted and dumped him. Moyes’ team has had ‘comeback’ results in their last two, the stamina is up and while it’s the underdog bet I’d say another couple goals and a dramatic score draw.
Graham’s bet: A 2-2 draw @ 14/1
Sevilla v Atlético, Sunday, 6pm
If you got off Bismarckstraße then followed Kaldenkirchenerstraße for about 3km before hitting the A52 and then the gloriously fast A57 it’d take you bang on an hour to do the 82km from Mönchengladbach to Leverkusen [albeit there are roadworks just before Dormagen this week]
That’s the distance between the venues where Sevilla [holders] beat Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Europa League and Atlético [beaten finalists] lost to Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League. Borussia are third in the Bundesliga,
Leverkusen 6th. Atlético left Saúl behind in a Leverkusen hospital because of the damage he sustained to his kidneys in a challenge which saw him taken off in the 42nd minute. Guilherme Siqueira was also injured, Tiago sent off and Diego Godín’s suspended for the second leg.
All in all you’d say that taking their respective European weeks into account and the fact that this match is at the Nervion – it’s decidedly advantage Sevilla.
But of course there’s the ‘hangover’ effect. Atleti played Tuesday, Sevilla Thursday.
Last season Sevilla played 19 times to win the Europa League. Nine of them were away. Not once did they win away in Europe and then win in the League a couple of days later. The first example of which was winning 6-1 in Podgorica against Mladost and then losing 1-3 at home … to Atlético.
This season it’s remarkable – three Europa League away ties before this week and three thumping wins, beating Villarreal 2-1, Depor 4-1 and Granada 5-1.
So, let’s go with the form book. In defeat at Leverkusen not only did Diego Simeone’s team get significantly out-run, 110.3km from the German team, just under 106km from the Spanish champions. That’s a whopping 7km less than Atleti run on average this Champions League. A sign of mental, as well as physical, fatigue.
Notable, too, that it’s two horrible away performances for the Champions and two defeats without scoring [Celta, Leverkusen]
Sevilla haven’t lost at home for 28 matches in all comps, since March last year.
So, once again, the cautious will say:
Atleti are a team with Simeone-esque amounts of character. They’ll bounce back. Ok, if so then I’ll not argue with you going for them to win or draw. But I think there’s info to suggest that Sevilla are in line to beat Los Colchoneros for the first time since 2010.
It looks like Koke could return, but after only three weeks recuperation from a Grade 2 hamstring tear – it’s a risk.
If you like the detail, or if there’s a card market, there have been nine red cards in the last seven meetings between the two.
Vitolo is on fire, six goals in 313 European minutes, Bacca’s not scored against Atleti in three meetings thus far. He can change that.
Graham’s bet: Sevilla to win 2-0 @ 13/1 Vitolo to score anytime 10/3
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Real Madrid v Villarreal. Sunday, 8pm
Because Villarreal regularly take big European scalps, because they play dynamic, attractive football, and because one Wednesday they’ll be no more than a 2-0 win over Barcelona from reaching their first ever Copa final there will be some who look at this match and ponder whether a shock is feasible?
Here’s the case against: They’ve never won at the Bernabéu, they’ve not taken a point there since Fabio Capello was deploying players like Raúl Bravo, Emerson and Antonio Cassano against them.
They had a big, energy sapping, win away in Austria on Thursday and…. drum roll… Denis Cheryshev, candidate for their player of the season, is contractually unable to play because he’s on loan from Madrid. [Unless Villarreal stump up a €250k fee].
Yes, at the turn of the year they stopped Atleti going a year unbeaten at home with a 1-0 win in the Spanish capital. But a few weeks later they were capable of returning to Madrid and losing to Rayo.
This is a talented, quick, technically able team [missing full back Juame Costa due to suspension this week] but still one which is a work in progress.
Don’t expect many changes for Madrid. Modric is nearly ready but shouldn’t start. Bale (above) has worked, hard, all week, often on his own, to try to be fit after suffering a dreadful tackle in the win against Elche last week.
Jesé was due a start but has he blotted his copybook by being caught leaving his birthday party in the early hours.
Madrid will have put the fine-tuning of a week without a game to good use but they are squad in need of that three-game per week pattern in order to hit their ramming speed.
I’d expect Villarreal to have their chances, perhaps for Vietto or Musacchio to score but for a combination of Ronaldo, Benzema and perhaps Kroos to overwhelm them. 3-1or 3-2. Thereabouts.
Graham’s bet: Real Madrid to win. Correct score 3/1 @ 9/1 or 3/2 @ at 20/1