Graham Hunter: Real Madrid to win the derby, Barcelona to draw away and Ronaldo to make it 15 against Atletico

The Madrid Derby makes it’s first appearance of the season and Sevilla welcome Barcelona to the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium. This weeks Bumper Banker is Madrid to win Ronaldo to score, Barca and Sevilla to play out a score draw and Villarreal to win away to Levante. Every week I call someone out and this week it’s Jackson Martinez the €36 million man who can’t score anymore.

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Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid:

  • Ronaldo has only scored one hat-trick against Atletico.
  • He has scored the first goal three times.
  • Atletico have won six times since Simone took over, including four last season.

Sevilla v Barcelona:

  • Barcelona are missing Iniesta, Messi and Bravo. Sevilla are missing Llorente, Vitolo and Pareja. 
  • There has been 24 goals in the last four meeting with Neymar, Banega and Gameiro all getting two.
  • Barcelona have scored five goals twice in the last four games.

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Graham Hunter: Home wins for Sevilla, Real and Barca in my new vlog

Sevilla take on Rayo Vallecano, Real Sociedad welcome their Basque neighbours Athletic Club to the Anoeta Stadium, Carlos Vela gets called out for packing on the pounds and @veryangrystatto has his question answered. 

It’s all here in my brand new vlog for Paddy Power.


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Graham Hunter: Barca, Atleti and Real to pick up this 8/1 La Liga Treble for the weekend

Okay, okay – I hear you Paddy Power punters.

I hear that Atlético Madrid are your most-backed La Liga team to win the title.

So you pretty much didn’t care if the Istanbul inhabitants hoisted their ‘Welcome To Hell’ banners when Diego Simeone’s team reached the Galatasaray stadium on Wednesday.

That was Europe. Pah!

But you’d obviously prefer it if Eibar’s inhabitants, players and hotel owners were all ‘hippy peace and love’  and ‘San Fransisco flowers in your hair’ when Atleti go to the Ipurúa stadium on Saturday night [Sky Sports 19.30]

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The easier Atleti pocket three points the happier you’re gonna feel. Right?

Three points? Quite possibly.

Peace and love? Ain’t gonna happen baby.

Atleti may be kindly regarded by those with rebel sentiments but they are still a ‘Madrid‘ team travelling to the Basque country.

Up there you don’t just get another notch on the bed post for sticking it to any team from the Spanish capital – you get a diamond-encrusted king-sized, four poster with a nubile young chambermaid awaiting your orders. Ribena or Rioja I mean.

Eibar’s right sided midfielder Keko began at Atleti and knows what’s awaiting his former club.

“With coach Mendilibar every one of us knows there’s a single obligation if we want to be picked. “We have to snarl and bite and run like dogs of war. “The day any of us wants the ball to feet or thinks we can play luxury football they’ll be dropped and we’ll lose”

Right now, the world seems upside down.

Atleti, league winners in 2014, Champions League finalists that same month and trophy- winners every single season since 2009/10 are sixth to Eibar’s fifth.

diego simeone, atletico madrid manager

Unlike Cholo Simeone’s team the Basques are unbeaten and Eibar also have the better goal difference.

But since Eibar repaired their pitch, which was like the Somme,  good teams go there, feel unstressed in front of what is [since a couple of weeks ago] a 6,000 maximum crowd and knock the ball about.

Meaning Eibar have a task on their hands.

Antoine Griezmann remains a right good guy to back for both first goal and any-time. Jackson Martinez, too, merits some any-time action.

Buzzing with form given freedom to roam across the front line Griezmann got two in Istanbul in midweek – both off his left foot. [As have 9 of the Frenchman’s last 11 goals been. Hint hint]

Eibar are a cracking story, represent great values – but have their work cut out.

Barça, now here’s a shock, profile as a home banker [19.30 Sunday, Sky Sports]

Lionel Messi 2013

They host Levante, popularly known as the Frogs, who are knee-deep in trouble here.

Geddit? Knee-deep, knee-deep. Frog noises. Okay, never mind.

The Spanish and European champions were much more vulnerable to shocks at home than away last season.

Not only did they lose to Celta and Málaga at the Camp Nou they lost to nil, too [0-1 and 0-1]

Luis Enrique’s team still start without Claudio Bravo, Dani Alves, Gerard Piqué and Rafinha and come off the back of consecutive tiring, testing away matches in Madrid and Rome.

But that should be a question of the win margin, not whether Barcelona triumph.

Every so often the Catalans find this lot a bit indigestible and the margin ends in a single goal.

Far more often it’s a walloping.

Of the last five Levante visits to the Camp Nou Barcelona have scored five twice, seven once – but the others have been 1-0 and 2-1.

Here’s a stat to help you make your decision.

In their seven competitive matches so far Barça have hit the woodwork SEVEN times.

An indication of sloppiness/bad luck? Or that they are just about to punch someone’s lights out goal-wise?

The ‘villains’ have been Rafinha, Pedro, Piqué, Sergi Roberto, Mascherano, Luis Suárez and Messi.

Perm between the Argentinian, Neymar and Suárez for first goal – but I’ve a slight preference for Suárez this time out because he’s bursting with form and confidence while both Neymar and Messi gave evidence, in Rome, that jet lag from the international break still wasn’t out of their systems.

Madrid host Granada early on Saturday [15:00 kick off UK time] and they will win. By 3+.

Cristiano Ronaldo

James Rodríguez, Gareth Bale, Sergio Ramos and Danilo all out injured isn’t a happy stat if you fancy Madrid to rack up five or six goals.

But back Rafa’s boys to win, back them by three or more and back Ronaldo for everything short of the Labour leadership.

Eight goals in his last two games is nothing. Last season he smacked 20 in eleven Liga outings and just five months ago he pumped Granada for five in a 9-1 win in this fixture.

Griezmann, Jackson, Suárez, Messi, Ronaldo for first goalscorer or any time scorer; left footed goal from Griezmann; one goal win for Atleti; Barça and Madrid to win by over two and over three respectively. You’re welcome.

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Graham Hunter: Barca don’t have a great record against Atleti and Antoine Griezmann could haunt them

On paper this is a match that the reigning Spanish and European champions should lose or draw [On paper people!]

Let’s take track record. Thirty times in the last 25 years Barcelona have played Atletico away from home: 15 defeats, six draws only nine wins. Of those nine wins the vast majority have come since the Pep Guardiola-Leo Messi era began.

In other words, prior to this club’s re-birth with the brand of football which is now irrevocably associated with Barça and prior to the explosion of Messi as an all-time great, the Catalans almost always lost this fixture.

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Playing Atleti away is a thorny, bruising business. Many teams end up looking like a ballet dancer trying to get to the bar for a campari ahead of sixteen lock-forward All-Blacks desperate for a beer.

More, the torrent of wins in the last seven years have only come when Barça are fit, confident, full of high tempo passing and defensively sound.

Usually the very best Barça take away is a single goal win. Not always, but predominantly.

So why should Saturday afternoon in the Calderón [literally the Cauldron!] be different.



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Firstly, I don’t think that it’s impossible that Barcelona either draw or win. But here’s why Atleti should start favourites.

The champions take the pitch without Claudio Bravo, Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves.

The Champions can no longer call on the experience of Xavi and Pedro in this most thorny, boiling hot of matches. [NB one or other of the two played some minutes in each of Barcleona’s four wins over Atleti last season and Pedro gave Messi the assist for the 1-0 win in the last meeting which clinched the title for Luis Enrique’s side]

Do you consider absences like this small details?

Perhaps you do. Then bet against my guide.



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But let’s add something else.

Barcelona, with the exception of the European Supercup, haven’t been tucking their chances away with the normal deadly efficiency this season. In losing the Spanish Supercup people focused on Athletic thumping them at San Mames and drawing in the Camp Nou.

Yet Barcelona should, conservatively, have scored six times across those two games.

In winning 1-0 against Athletic and Málaga fewer chances were squandered, defensive rigour, stamina and speed of passing were restored but it’s still the case that the champions haven’t been hitting ramming speed.

Ter Stegen is a fine keeper but his pre-season has been bumpy, he conceded eight times in the two competitive games he played and this will be, remarkably enough, his La Liga debut.

He’s capable of excelling and repelling Atleti if it’s his day.

Good keeper, exceptional as a sweeper-keeper. But bang at the top of his game? Perhaps not quite.

The final element to take into account if you are going to back Barcelona for what would be a monumentally important and impressive away win concerns the strikers.

Lionel Messi 2013


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The ‘Trident‘ is what truly sets Barcelona far apart from the madding crowd around Europe.

I don’t need to explain or promote their brilliance here. But both Neymar and Messi will be suffering the physical and mental tiredness of jet-lag after what Spain calls the ‘Fifa-virus’ [as will Mascherano at the back] while Luis Suárez will be free of that.

But Suárez needs games.

He thrives on three games a week and often just loses a knife-edge of deadly clinical finishing when he’s deprived of competitive football – as he has been now for a fortnight.

Again, could he buck that trend and score/make?

Yes, certainly.

And, pound for pound, Messi’s 23 goals in 26 meetings with Atleti is probably his most impressive domestic performance.

But are they right at their sharpest?

Saturday’s Game:

Atleti? Likely to be Oblak: Juanfran, Jimenez, Godín, Felipe: Gabi, Koke, Oliver, Tiago: Griezmann, Torres/Jackson

Barça? Likely Stegen, Sergi Roberto, Vermaelen, Mascherano, Alba: Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta: Neymar, Suárez, Messi.

Griezmann didn’t score in four defeats to Barcelona last season but with La Real had both a decent scoring and winning record. He’s on fire right now.

Fernando Torres 800


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An obvious ‘anytime’ scorer bet at 9/5.

So is Messi but maybe there’s a dark horse in Rakitic. He loves the big games – not only the Champions League final v Juve but goals v Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Porto, Bayern as well as three v Atletico across his career.

Finally, Barcelona were excelled at defending the ball into the box last season but have been weak in pre-season and their regular games so far. And with Piqué missing, plus Stegen’s tendency to come for something and not be a stone-cold certainty to get there then Atleti’s Godín, Torres or Giménez might reward you with a header.

Score draw anyone?

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Graham Hunter: La Liga teams in the Champions League, Messi to outscore Ronaldo, Benitez’ to favour La Liga and a 14/1 correct score tip for this weekend

At the beginning of Primal Scream’s brilliant 1990 tune ‘Loaded’ when Frank Maxwell asks Peter Fonda: ‘Just what is it that you want to do?’ Fonda knows the answer.
“We wanna be free to do what we wanna do
“We’re gonna have a good time. “We’re gonna have a party”

And if you asked the Real Madrid fans that same question you’d get exactly the same answer.

Sick of being second best to Barcelona, sick of football they view as pragmatic they want their cake and to eat it.

With champagne, and golden spoons and second helpings.


But if you asked the President, Florentino Pérez or Madrid’s debutant coach, Rafa Benítez the same ‘just what is it that you want to do?’ question the answer might be different.

Much more pragmatic.

Thursday’s Champions League draw gives them a group perfectly balanced not only for an assault on Europe but for the right kind of early season test.

Paris St Germain have shown over the last three seasons with Barcelona and Chelsea [ten games, two wins, four draws, four defeats] that they are on the rise and that they can threaten anyone on their day.

Not a side Madrid have to fear but one which will mean Los Blancos will need to focus and find top gear [no Primal Scream reference there] in order to subdue.

Madrid start at home, and their first away trip is far easier and less tiring than PSG’s.

Their final group game is at home and against, nominally, the weakest team. Even the schedule is on their side.

However, and this might be heretical, is winning the Champions League actually Benitez’s priority?

‘Just what is it you want me to do, Florentino?’ might well be Rafa’s question to the Madrid President.


Los Blancos have won the Spanish title twice in the last eight years.

Their fans and some of their ‘cyclops-vision’ media not only crave it, they crave the opportunity to wave two fingers at their city neighbours, Atlético, who won the title more recently, and Barcelona, who’ve dominated La Liga for a decade.

More, Carlo Ancelotti was shown the door in the summer just 12 months after winning the Champions League so dramatically against Atleti.

A victory which, if you consider the alternative for Madrid, should really have earned him another five years of job safety at the Bernabéu. It didn’t.

Major League Concerns

So whatever the sheen of Madrid’s history says, whatever the threat of Barça closing the European Cup gap between them still further Rafa Benítez must prioritise doing something he’s not achieved since the last time he coached in Spain, eleven years ago – winning the title.

Will that undermine trying to win La undécima? Madrid’s eleventh Champions Cup?

The answer lies with Ronaldo. Whatever the club’s ambitions he wants more Champions Leagues, he wants to haul Messi back in the Ballon D’Or voting and, judging by his variety of sour looks in Monte Carlo on Thursday, he wants to win the UEFA Best Player In Europe back.


Vitally, too, Ronaldo wants to edge ahead of Messi with whom he’s tied at 77 goals apiece at the top of the all-time Champions League scoring list.

With nine games of Rafa in charge Madrid have failed to score on five occasions, usually with Ronaldo absent.

So, I think there’s some fun in the Ronaldo-Messi betting.

The End of His Ron

Ronaldo has significantly outscored his rival over the last four Champions League seasons – by nine.

The last time Messi beat Ronaldo to UCL top scorer was in 2011/12 – coincidentally the last time he had a shot at Bayer Leverkusen or Bate, Barça’s new group rivals.

Against Bernd Leno, Leverkusen keeper, Messi scored six in two matches. In Borisov he put two past BATE.

Clues for this season?

Ronaldo hasn’t faced [and thus not scored against!] any of Madrid’s group rivals.

Lionel Messi

So, a priori, it might be worth an investment that Messi outscores Ronaldo this Uefa season, finishes Champions League top scorer and, thus, establishes the all-time lead.

Valencia, qualifiers, have a group in which Zenit and Lyon are both within Los Che’s orbit – beatable but, equally, capable of exploiting Nuno Espirito Santo’s team if they perform dozily.

The key to qualification is taking at least seven points from the first three games – home to Zenit, away to Lyon and then home to the weakest club, Gent.

In fact having home then away back-to-back matches with the Belgians is manna from heaven in terms of qualifying for the knockouts.

If you run a fantasy football team or like to look for less than obvious scorers then think about Sofiane Feghouli who just loves Uefa football and consistently rises to the challenge.

Their Group to Luis

Barcelona, who I think are capable of being the first to retain this competition, were given a draw that the naive think was wonderful but which will concern Luis Enrique.

Luis Enrique

Ex coach of Roma he’ll understand how hostile it is there and that starting at the Olympic Stadium in Italy’s capital is no ‘gimme’.

That their third fixture is also away, in Belorussia, means that the reigning champions need to start with concentration and hunger.

You’re laughing at me? BATE Borisov you splutter?

Beat Athletic Bilbao last season, thumped Bayern Munich the season before. BATE better than Barça, no. A niggly little test, yes.

And Now For Sevilla And Atlético

Which leaves the two sides who play at the Sanchez Pizjuan on Sunday night [19.30, Sky] – Sevilla and Atlético.

Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan

Atleti catch Benfica [whose striker Jonas didn’t mind a goal or an assist against the Colchoneros during his time with Valencia] at a good time given their consistent sales policy and the loss of influential coach Jorge Jesus.

Galatasaray and Astana carry their levels of threat/difficulty but Diego Simeone’s side is so hard working, so well balanced and so bloody stubborn that they’ll win the group regardless.

Sevilla? Well aside from the €20m cash windfall of qualifying the Champions League has brought them the reality of fighting for elbow room at Europe’s elite table.

Manchester City, Juventus and Borussia Mönchengladbach [who Sevilla put out of Europe last season] may prove too much for qualification, especially after losing three key players in Vidal, M’Bia and Bacca and needing to integrate new guys like Immobile, Konoplyanka and Llorente.

But, could Sevilla surprise everyone again by qualifying? Might they even retain the Europa League for the second consecutive time if not?

This Weekend

As for Sunday, it’s now six Liga and Cup matches since Sevilla beat Atleti at home.

There’s ill feeling between the sides who jostle to be considered third best in Spain – nearly eight bookings per match, average, over the last four meetings if you are a card-counter.

A splurge of reds in the Copa a couple of seasons ago.

Sevilla are nobody’s mugs though having lost just once at home since March 2014 [2-3 to a Ronaldo hat trick in May]

Griezmann, Llorente and a Coke/Koke any time might pay.

Score draw. 2-2 at 14/1.

Atleti: Oblak; Juanfran, Godín, Gímenez, Felipe; Koke, Gabi, Tiago; Oliver; Griezmann, Torres/Jackson
Sevilla: Beto: Coke, Rami, Kolo, Tremoulinas: Banega, Krykowiak: Vitolo, Iborra, Reyes: Immobile/Llorente

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Graham Hunter: Barca v Madrid again, but Atletico will be knocking on the door

If La Liga’s your bag then it’s already clear you know your football and you know that, technically, tactically and trophy-wise it’s the best league in the world – by far. But if you like the increasing tendency for the survival of the fittest, rather than the survival of the richest, this promises to be the season for you.

  • Athletic Club have already ripped into Barcelona putting five past them in the Supercup.
  • Valencia humbled both Madrid and Atlético last season
  • Real Sociedad beat each of the ‘big three’ last term
  • Atleti defeated Madrid in the Copa final of 2013, won the title in 2014 and performed historically well against Los Blancos over the last twelve months. Four ‘derbi’ wins
  • Atleti can consider they cost Madrid title in that Barça won by just two points last May.
  • Positions three, four and five were separated by a single point each time.
  • Barça lost at home to both Málaga and Celta

Diego Simeone wiki edit


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There is ferocious competition – it’s just that such competition, allied to mega-budgets, has forced some absolute excellence out of Madrid and Barcelona over recent years. Four Champions League titles between the clubs since 2009 is testimony to that. Frankly, La Liga’s clubs cope better with doing battle against these two than the rest of Europe does.

But while it’s not realistic to ask Sevilla or Valencia to win the title I think Atleti may be back. Or at least they look as threatening, well-organized, balanced and goal-hungry as in winning the title in 2013/14. What Cholo Simeone needs is a wee bit of help from the big two.

Madrid are in the hands of a serial winner. No-one should doubt that IF he’s not undercut by his own employers, IF he’s not caught up in a PR war between Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, IF he doesn’t fall out chronically with the aggressive, quixotic, fair-weather friends of the Madrid media then Rafa Benítez’ talent, added to Los Blanco’s playing resources, could feasibly make them either Spanish or European champions.

Cristiano Ronaldo


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But you get my theme? Look at the list of man-traps waiting for him there – and that’s just a sample. It’s a botch-up not to have signed David De Gea by now – Madrid conceded 17 more goals than the champions last season. Can they lock the door this time? Stocking Benítez’s two man midfield in a 4-2-3-1 – will come from Kroos, Modric, Kovacic, Casemiro. Powerful. But the front four? There’s the potential for disharmony, confusion and problems. How to fit in Ronaldo, Bale, Isco, James, Benzema, Lucas Vazquez, Cheryshev, Jesé?

“We have to reach the decisive part of the season attacking and winning games” Benítez said the other day. Madrid fans want that now. In working out your bets you may want to factor in that Los Blancos won ONCE against the rest of the top four in the league. Goal aggregate 8-13 against.

Barcelona have the talent to win another treble –  but do they have the desire or depth of squad? Resources diminished by the FIFA ban [Vidal and Arda can’t play till January and won’t be sent out on loan] they’ve also lost Xavi, Pedro and Montoya. That’s 104 appearances and thirteen goals which can only be replaced by B-team guys and the now-fit Vermaelen. Piqué’s ban means he misses the first four matches. Luis Enrique squeezed every single drop of concentration, effort, intensity and talent from his squad – even hurdled a mini crisis when he went head-to-head with Leo Messi in early January. But can he repeat that?

Lionel Messi 2013


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Will Benitez have the same kind of in-squad help from anyone that ‘Lucho’ got from Xavi? [Correct answer: no] Thus, can Atleti sneak in and rob the family silver? If the market closes and they have kept Antoine Griezmann and he’s paired with Jackson Martínez and Luciano Vietto with El Niño Torres showing them what playing for the Colchoneros really means then … possibly.

What a league where it’s Messi-Suárez-Neymar v Bale, Benzema, Ronaldo v Griezmann-Jackson-Vietto! No three-club strikeforces in any country in the world will outscore that lot cumulatively. Atleti can’t be considered outright favourites. But dark horses? Yes.

  • Able to work in lower profile
  • Superb coach
  • Diego Godín settled and committed,
  • Two top keepers
  • Talent, youth and huge experience in midfield
  • A deep squad –
  • A winning mentality.

Last season, before they re-stocked, I worried this might be Atleti’s first trophy-less season since 2008/2009 [which other club around Europe can boast that astonishing record?] Not so sure now. Goalscoring? The eye is always drawn to the Messi v Ronaldo battle – barring injuries they should split the top two positions. But I think the gap will narrow.

Both Suárez and Neymar look capable of increasing their tallies [without misfortune the Uruguayan will have over two months extra via which to do that compared to last season] Messi is much more focussed on trophies than scoring records and, as such, might increase his ‘assist’ tally. Not a suggestion I’d make about CR7.

David Moyes


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Benítez wants Benzema to: ‘…break the 25 goal barrier’, while both Jackson Martínez and Griezmann have all the equipment to exceed 30 goals in all competitions. Who’d be a goalie?

I’m backing Athletic for the Copa [five Cup finals reached since 2009], Marco Asensio to be the stand-out ‘revelation’ of the season, Sporting and Betis to fight it out for fans of the season … but what of David Moyes and La Real?

Shorter on goals than Danny De Vito is on centimetres this is, finally, a squad and an XI which should be competitive. But things haven’t yet ‘clicked’. Bruma’s wing-pace, the goal potential of Carlos Vela and Jonathas, Pardo’s control of midfield organisation. Moyes made them work their socks off in pre-season. But La Real couldn’t score.

They’ll should be much more robust, much less likely to be powder-puff away from Anoeta. And if things do ‘click’ they’ll fight for a Europa League place. But as Samuel Eto’o once said: ‘Goals! They are like rats up a drainpipe if you chase after them – you’ve just got to wait and let them come in their own time. Right now, La Real could do with a rat-catcher.

Happy season punters.

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Graham Hunter: Don’t bet against Messi and this 12/1 shot in Saturday’s Champions League Final

Strip away all the back-stories: Buffon and Pirlo back in Berlin where they won the World Cup; Suárez facing a tense re-match with Evra and Chiellini; Xavi’s last game for Barcelona – and what you get is your core story – ‘Do you dare bet against Messi?’

Football, the ultimate team sport, is once again under his thumb.

Since January 4 this year Juve, as a squad, have scored 60 times in all three of their competitions.

Since January 4 Messi, alone, has scored 36 and given 14 goal assists – it’s completely remarkable.

Lionel Messi

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He ripped up the Copa del Rey final last weekend with two beautiful goals and a clever part in the third.

When the big games arrive – so does Lionel Andrés.

One of my early interviews with him was Autumn 2006 when he was admitting that it had been a flash of temper which made him refuse to go down to the pitch in Paris and celebrate with his team mates after Barça beat Arsenal in the Champions League final.

Not being named in the match squad by Frank Rijkaard had absolutely infuriated him.

He closed that subject with a:

God willing I’ll be back to lift that trophy a few times in the future.

Well, he’s had the opportunity twice and in both 2009 and 2011 he took that opportunity by scoring past Edwin Van Der Sar twice.

Not a bad record. (Ex Juventus keeper Van Der Sar was 38 when he first conceded to Messi in a Champions League final, Gigi Buffon is 37).

But add this context. Messi has played in 23 ‘final’ matches for Barcelona – 12 ‘one-off’ finals and 11 other ‘home-and-away’ finals. 23 matches … 20 Messi goals.

Of those 18 finals he’s only lost three.

Lionel Messi beats Xabo Alonso

And it might guide you to know that the only one-game finals Barcelona have lost with Messi in their side are the ones where he hasn’t scored – the 2006 Spanish Supercup and the Spanish Copa finals of 2011 and 2014.

Stop Messi and you have a chance – that’s the message.

During 2015 he’s shown his big-game mentality. Goals home and away against the reigning champions – Atlético. Goals in key matches against Valencia, Sevilla, Athletic and the Catalan derby with Espanyol plus a nifty assist for the first goal against Madrid in the Clásico.

Notwithstanding all that – IF you want to oppose him, oppose Barça then perhaps there’s a gentle hint.

He’s gone from having scored eight in six Champions League games during the 2014 group stage to having scored twice in six games in the 2015 knock-out matches.

Okay – he was just stunning despite not scoring in the home win over Manchester City

And the two he did get, plus an assist, were in the epic 3-0 semi-final win over Bayern.

But, figure it as you wish, there’s been a drop-off in him hitting the net in the Champions League this calendar year.

Champions League Final

So, how do you rate the test that lies in front of him?

He’s never played Juventus competitively, never played Italy either. Thus it is that despite he and Buffon having played well over 1500 competitive club and international matches between them they’ve never gone toe-to-toe.

Who wins – the good big one or the great little one? Lucky it’s not boxing.

Might Buffon (below) in any way intimidate Messi – it’s not so ludicrous?

Messi’s penalty misses tend to come against keepers he thinks loom large in the goal. Something he once told me about Abbiatti at Milan.


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Speaking of Milan, Messi’s faced the defensive strategies of Juve coach Maxi Allegri eight times in the Champions League when he’s been in charge of the Rossoneri. Eight times, eight goals.

Where else might there be some fun? I pointed out last week that Barcelona have just begun to drift a little from nearly an entire season of excellence defending set plays or the ball into the box from open play.

But conceding like that to Bayern, Deportivo La Coruña and now Athletic [Iñaki Williams] in the Copa final tends to indicate that this is where Juve will surely concentrate. Chiellini, Pogba, Vidal, Morata all look like goalscorer candidates.


Of the two golden veterans, Pirlo (above) and Xavi, only the Italian is sure to start. But is Iniesta fully fit after his calf problem? Might Xavi get some game time? Probably, yes.

Pirlo scoring a direct free kick ain’t the daftest idea, Pirlo perhaps winning the MVP [if there’s a market on that] isn’t outright crazy.

Xavi said last week:

I adore watching Pirlo play, we’ve been facing each other for club and country since we were kids.

They’ll probably be playing together in Qatar from next season.


So, Xavi? Well he has a remarkable record. Goal assists in each of the two Champions League finals in which he’s played. A goal assist in each of the two European Championship Finals in which he’s played.

A goal and a goal-assist in two of this three Copa Finals against Athletic Bilbao, a goal against Juventus the last time they faced each other, a goal assist in the World Cup semi final, a goal and an assist in the World Club Cup final.

If he’s on the pitch at any stage on Saturday night then you might want to back him as an anytime goalscorer.

This is quite possibly Barcelona’s tightest final since Sampdoria took them to extra-time in 1992.

I reckon both teams to score. Then either 2-1 Barcelona or 2-2 and penalties. But if Messi wants it, if Messi performs – don’t back against him. It’s that simple.

Graham’s best bets:

  • Both teams to score and Barcelona to win @13/5
  • Barcelona to win 2-1 @ 12/1. 


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Graham Hunter: The 13/2 shot that should still see Barcelona crowned Copa del Rey champions

The first thing to establish is that this is neither a ‘home’ game for FC Barcelona nor an ‘away’ match for Athletic Bilbao. Ok, sure, the Basques have had to travel and Barça haven’t. But by kick off something remarkable will have happened – The Camp Nou will be far, far more red and white than it is supposed to be.

Each club was given around 39,000 tickets for this blue-riband match in a 98,000 capacity stadium – but you can expect to see red and white ribands, scarves, txapela hats, strips, banners and flags everywhere.

The Barça fans will be present, don’t worry about that. But so absolutely enormous is the hunger from the Athletic support to see their first trophy since 1984 that you can expect black market briefs to have landed in Basque hands. To the extent that, I guarantee, some Barcelona fans will have sold the tickets they won in the club lottery to Athletic fans just in order to fund a trip to Berlin for the Champions League final next Saturday.

Lionel Messi

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If you are old enough to remember how the FA used to allocate the Tartan Amy about fifteen or twenty tickets for Wembley but by the time kick off came there were at least 60,000 of us there …. like that.

  • NB: If you are shading the odds based on location and the fact that Athletic have only won 18 times in 87 years of visits to the Camp Nou bear this in mind.

The concept of travelling fans in Spanish football is utterly different from the UK and Ireland. If any away team takes 1000 supporters to an away ground that’s regarded as pretty stellar. In La Liga there’s no guaranteed quota for ‘away fans’ to the extent that there is in the Premier or Champions League.

Thus if there are upwards of 50,000 Athletic fans in the Camp Nou, and I think there will be, then that utterly changes the atmosphere from any visit by Los Leones to play Barcelona in any of their home stadia.

There are a few famous occasions of mega favourites [mostly Madrid] losing the cup final in their home stadium. On their centenary in 2002 and in Jose Mourinho’s last ever Madrid game when they lost to Atleti in that dramatic 2013 Copa Final.

The second thing to establish is that if there has ever, in the history of this crazy sport of ours, been a support which is able to exhibit primeval levels of desire, and to transmit that sufficiently for their team to narrow the quality gap on an opponent – it’s the support of the Athletic fans.

That last trophy they won was in May 1984 against Diego Maradona‘s Barça [and it ended in Bruce Lee-Enter the Dragon style scenes between the two sets of players because of bad blood over the Butcher of Bilbao Andoni Goikoetxea-Maradona incident earlier that season] but they’ve lost their three subsequent cup ties against Barça, including the Copa Finals of 2009 and 2012, on an 8-2 aggregate.

However, believe me, it was a life-changing experience to listen to the Athletic fans at the Calderón Stadium three years ago. They’d just lost the Europa final 3-0 to Atlético and this was a gambler’s last-gasp chance at redemption.

Within what felt like the blink of an eye they were not only 3-0 down, again, but being toyed with. It was Bambi versus the Terminator. But, boy, those fans just never let up – a Phil Spectator Wall of Sound from start to finish. Part encouragement to their battered players, part pure defiance. Just monumental.

Luis Suarez


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At the end of the match when Barcelona were celebrating, Xavi and Puyol sought out an Ikurriña [Basque] flag [It’s red with a white cross superimposed on a green X] paired it with the Catalan ‘Senyera’ flag and placed them both, symbolically, in the centre circle together. A real gesture of respect.

These are the two sides which have most won La Copa and it is a regular pairing in the final too. But recent years have seen not only a resurgence of the ‘Clásico’ final but a complete alteration of Real Madrid‘s valuation of winning the domestic knockout tournament.

Thus, make no mistake, there’s a reason why this isn’t being held at the Santiago Bernabéu as Athletic wanted it to be – Florentino Pérez has got the huff.

Remember the days when not everyone could afford a football, and one dumpy kid whose parents splashed out on him every Christmas would sulk: ‘It’s my ball and if you wont’ pass to me I’m leaving, and it’s coming with me’? That’s our Florentino.

Carlo Ancelotti

Carlo Ancelotti sacked, Rafa Benitez as good as confirmed, money to be spent, David De Gea likely to join… the last thing old Don Florentino wanted was for Basques or, worse, Catalans to be celebrating in ‘his’ stadium as they lifted the Copa up to the skies

This is the first trophy Rafa will be expected to lift when the final is played next season, in April most likely. Just watch Los Blancos clamour to hold the final in the Bernabéu or the Camp Nou then if they’ve qualified!

But… to business. If this is to be Athletic’s Copa then by far the most likely route to glory is a set play. Or the second ball off one. Barcelona are markedly better at defending them this season but lately have lost goals to both Bayern and Deportivo in this way.

Athletic have a couple of powerful weapons in this department – both Aritz Aduriz [by far their leading all-comps scorer this season, all time stat = three goals v Barcelona] and their ex-Liverpool stopper, Miki San Jose [six goals this season, none in nine v Barcelona], are aerially adept.

Bet your bottom dollar that Luis Enrique, and his tactical/strategic guru Juan Carlos Unzué will put special emphasis on Barcelona not conceding corners or free kicks in their own half.


But here’s the rub. Plenty of Ernesto Valverde‘s players have figures like: Played Barcelona 15/18/20 times Won: 1. If you want reason to believe that some kind of ‘opposition’ to Barcelona might be worth your while when you punt then it’s got to be based around the coach, Valverde.

For Athletic, in his first spell over a decade ago, for Espanyol and for Valencia he’s turned up a series of draws home and away and he won his first Catalan derby as Espanyol coach 3-1 – albeit as the Frank Rijkaard era became moribund.

Barcelona have been in ‘off’ mode since beating Atlético at the Calderón two weeks ago – valuable rest and recuperation for tired minds and bodies. But will that give them turbo-charged sharpness and power to overhaul Athletic in a blitzkreig first half …. or will it leave them just a little sluggish and vulnerable to being closed down?

Is Luis Suárez‘ hamstring fully healed?

The obvious thing to point to is that Messi loves playing Athletic – 15 goals in 22 matches against them. He doesn’t hate finals either. He’s only lost four of 17 with Barcelona and in the 22 matches those finals have entailed he’s scored 18 times plus given four goal assists.

Graham’s Bets

So, in summary. Barcelona should win, it’s far from ludicrous to suggest that Athletic might make them struggle to do so – in fact backing FCB to have to come from 1-0 down and win 2-1 doesn’t look a hopeless cause to me.

Messi, Aduriz, Piqué, San Jose and possibly [finally!] Iniesta might be worth ‘any-time’ shouts.

  • Barcelona to come from behind and win – 13/2
  • Barcelona to win 2-1 – 17/2
  • Iniesta to score anytime – 12/5

If there was a market where you can back which fans will make more noise, throughout… back the Basques.


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Graham Hunter on La Liga: A tasty 9/1 ACCA with wins for Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla

Málaga – Sevilla, Saturday, 5.30pm

It’s all happening in Andalusia. Three brilliant games at La Rosaleda, Almería and Granada.

There may be 207 km and two and a half hours of travel between these two cities but, believe me … this is a derby match. What’s more, there’s heaps at stake.

A win can give Málaga Europa League football if they secure seventh place but three points for Sevilla would guarantee them a Champions League slot if Valencia draw or lose in Almería.

And were there not a sizzle to Sevilla playing in the Rosaleda then their ex midfield star, Duda, clearly intends to provide it. He’s now the Málaga player with the most Primera Division appearances but he also spent two years with Sevilla.


In fact the last time Sevilla had to beat Málaga to reach the Champions League his goal helped them do just that. About this match he says: “This will be intense and competitive because we want European football next season – they want Champions. “But to me it’s ‘just another game’ – important only for what we want out of it. “And my Sevilla were better than this one – we had much more quality!”

Unai Emery wants no distraction, no quitters, nobody saving themselves for the ‘glory’ of Warsaw when they play Dnipro in the Europea  League final this Wednesday. “We’ve two clear ways to achieve our goal of Champions League football – the league and winning the Europa League.

“So Saturday, in Málaga, is our first final – not ‘the game before THE final. “We need to oblige Valencia to win and to think about nothing other than that. “I’ve told my players that anyone who’s not totally focussed on beating Málaga should say so and won’t play because this is our most important game of the season”.

Emery has taken his entire squad to Marbella, on the Mediterranean, where they’ll train for this game and the Warsaw final.

Javi Grácia loses Sergi Darder to injury and Miguel Torres to injury, which restores Tissone and Juanpi to the squad which is: Kameni, Amrabat, Weligton, Camacho, Samuel, Javi Guerra, Horta, Juanmi, Tissone, Ochoa, Recio, Angeleri, Duda, Rosales, Boka, Sergio Sánchez, Juanpi, Samu Castillejo.

The lowdown goes like this. Málaga have had an awful end to the season. Since February they’ve lost nine of the last sixteen matches, often beaten by relegation fodder, often not scoring until late in the game, beaten by a ten man Elche. That said, they’ve won two and drawn one of their last three home matches with Sevilla.


It’s the eighth best home team v the fifth best away side – one which tends to win or lose on the road (just two draws  in 18 visits). Sevilla won the home leg of this, but it was their only win in six matches against Málaga.

The home side should be: Kameni, Rosales, Welligton, Angeleri, Boka: Recio, Camacho: Samuel Garcia, Amrabat, Samu Castillejo: Guerra.

Sevilla might well be: Rico, Diogo, Arribas, Kolo, Navarro: M’Bia Krychowiak: Denis Suárez, Iborra, Reyes: Gameiro

IN-PLAY: To get seventh Málaga must out-point Athletic today or finish tied on points in seventh in which case they win the head-to head. Seventh means European football if Barcelona win the Copa next week

  • Sevilla to break their bad run v Málaga, win by a goal [1-2] and seek ‘anytime’ help from Gameiro, Mbia, Iborra, Duda or Amrabat.

 Almería – Valencia, Saturday, 5.30pm

Since they drew at home to Celta last week Nuno and his players have been sending out SoS signals to their fans. ‘Be there for us!’ has been the message.

This is mega, mega tense. At the beginning of the season Valencia‘s majority shareholder, Peter Lim, told his management team that Champions League football wasn’t the most important thing it was the ONLY thing.

They are fourth, right now, with more points than Sevilla and the ‘head-to-head’ advantage over Unai Emery‘s team but … BUT – if Valencia do anything other than win and Sevilla beat Málaga then, suddenly, Valencia are stuck with Europa League football, Lim is furious, Nuno’s job is in the balance and Jorge Mendes may think twice about moving his best players to the Mestalla. Hence the SoS.

Hundreds and hundreds of fans have flocked to the Mestalla to buy tickets and there are bus-trip travel deals being sold with the tickets too.


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André Gomes, one of Valencia’s big success stories this season is not only out, but he’s had surgery which might keep him out beyond the beginning of next season.

Valencia tend to win at Almería but only drew here last season: 2-2. A result which would leave them very vulnerable to Sevilla leap-frogging them. So what do we draw from that given that only 11 of the 22 starting players are still at their clubs a year later?

Almería’s situation is complicated. A win here might give them safety by relegating two from Eibar, Granada or Depor. In your match calculations it’s important to note that nothing other than three points would keep Sergi Barjuan‘s team up. The Dream Team legend, left back for Cruyff, reckons: “it’s only sporadic errors which have been preventing us winning and if we keep playing as we’ve been then football will repay us. “This will be an open game, we’ll give everything and it’s vital, vital that we get the first goal because Valencia concede so few”.

Further complication comes from the fact that the Court for Sports Arbitration will announce during the week whether administrative issues in payment of international transfer fees will rob Almería of three points. If so then, no matter this result, they are down. It’s a €20m spin of the dice in terms of lost revenue.

Nuno Espirito Santo 840

Nuno is likely to win this one with Alves; Barragán, Otamendi, Mustafi, Gayá: Feghouli, Enzo Perez, Javi Fuego, Parejo, Rodrigo De Paul: Alcácer

The stand-out threat is Thievy. Bad, bad boy when he’s full of himself off the pitch, but potentially one hell of a player. Really. Skilled, aggressive, quick, football-smart about which position to take up and three goals in his last five. Good partnership with Zongo too. “I’m intelligent, I”m good in the air and I’ve really benefitted from the new coach playing me in the middle not stuck out on the wing” reckons the on-loan Espanyol striker.

Anytime? Look for Thievy, Zongo, Hemed and for Valencia Parejo, Gayá or Alcácer.

IN PLAY: Valencia are third if they win and Atleti lose, fifth if they don’t win here and Sevilla do win. If Almería don’t win they’re down. If they finish tied on 35 with two or three other teams they stay up on head-to-head – only if they are in a direct head-to-head points-tie with Eibar for third bottom do they go down after having won this game.

  • Valencia to win this one – 8/13

Granada – Atlético, Saturday, 5.30pm

It ain’t a calamity but, as they say in Spain, Atlético ‘lo tiene crudo’.

In other words the harsh reality is that the newly deposed champions, who played the final of last season’s Champions League and contested the quarter final this year [earning in the region of €90m by doing so] will have to pre-qualify for next year’s tournament if they lose here and Valencia win at Almería – how about that?

Cholo Simeone takes with him to the beautiful Andaluz city: Oblak, Miguel Ángel Moyá;Jesús Gámez, Juanfran,Miranda, Godín, José María Giménez, Siqueira; Raúl García, Tiago, Saúl, Gabi, Mario Suárez, Koke; Griezmann, Raúl Jiménez.

Which tells you that Fernando Torres, Arda, Mandzukic are all absent for one reason or another.

The reason they’ll face ferocious rivals, despite Granada’s horrible season [Sandoval is their fourth coach] is that a win gives the home side guaranteed survival and that would become their fourth win on the trot. Not bad killer form when the chips are down.

Fernando Torres 800

If it’s a guide, Granada haven’t won this fixture since 1973 when Pepe Reina‘s dad was in goal for Atleti and the last five Granada v Atleti Liga meetings have had three single goal wins for the visitors and two 0-0 draws.

El Arabi has scored four since Sandoval took over, Rochina and Robert Ibañez were super last week in the 0-3 win at Real Sociedad.

Expect Griezmann and Raúl Garcia to start up front, expect Granada to give Atleti a test and the crowd to be a baying mass – this is an atmospheric, aggressive stadium

Expect Cholo to go through his squad like a dose of salts if they aren’t motivated and don’t ‘show’ here – there would be casualties in the summer market in that case.

IN-PLAY – Atleti stay third with a win or a draw. Defeat means a real possibility of fourth. Granada stay up with a win but should they end up tied on 35 points with three others, or on a straight head-to-head with Depor they go down.

  • Score draw – Griezmann, El-Arabi, Robert, Saúl, Godín all worth a wee punt

Barcelona – Deportivo, Saturday 5.30pm

To quote the Beastie Boys ‘You’ve got to fight! ‘For the right! ‘To Paaaarty!!’ That’s what Barcelona, and Xavi in particular, have done so that’s what’s going to happen.

The Liga trophy will be presented post match, it’s Xavi’s last League game at the Camp Nou, he’ll start, it’s Barcelona’s last game before the Copa del Rey final – so after the final whistle there’s a party.

Obviously an atmosphere like that, and the fact that Luis Enrique will dramatically shuffle the pack and give ‘backup’ players their chance to show [Vermaelen will get game time whether from the kick off or off the bench] can detract from a team’s razor sharpness and winning attitude.

Luis Suarez

But it shouldn’t here. Luis Enrique will watch players’ attitudes hawkishly and there’s a race to be part of not only the starting XI for the two big finals to come but also to even get on the bench – that’s how competitive things are at the Camp Nou right now.

Squad: Bravo Masip Montoya Xavi Pedro Iniesta Messi Neymar Jr Rafinha Mascherano Bartra Douglas Jordi Alba S. Roberto Adriano Vermaelen Mathieu Munir

The last time Depor visited here when Barça had wrapped the league up they drew 0-0 in a dull game – but that result wouldn’t automatically keep them up this time.

If they win they survive. The way to understand the head-to-head rule in this case, particularly if you are following and betting ‘in-play’ is that should Depor end equal on points with Eibar they’ll win the head-to-head – but finish equal third bottom with either Almería or Granada and they’ll lose it, thus go down.


Six draws and a win in their last ten, Depor are fighting. Historically they’ve only won three times at the Camp Nou, the last being twelve years ago when Luis Enrique was playing and Espanyol manager Sergio Gonzalez scored! Depor something like: Fabricio, Laure, Sidnei, Lopo, Canella: Domínguez, Begantiños, Borges, Cavaleiro, Lucas, Salomão

Barcelona: Masip, Montoya, Bartra, Mathieu, Adriano: Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha: Pedro, Messi, Neymar/Munir

Could Depor win? Stranger things have happened given the Barça XI but no way with Luis Enrique’s players treat this like a kick-around and they’ll want to send Xavi on his way. Goals? Xavi, Messi, Pedro, Lucas, Sidnei for your ‘anytimes’.

  • Both teams to score, Barcelona win.


  • Sevilla, Valencia and Barcelona to win, with a draw between Atletico and Granada – 9/1



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Graham Hunter: La Liga is on the brink but I’m ready to strike with a 28/1 acca this weekend

I won’t go into the deeply complicated reasons for the strike which has been announced for immediately after this weekend. But what you’ll have to take into account when you are betting on La Liga for week 36, is that most teams and most players will go into these games with the mentality that this may very well be La Liga’s final, and thus decisive, weekend.

There’s always the possibility of arbitration and conciliation but right now you’d call that an ‘odds-against’ proposition.

Barcelona v Real Sociedad, Saturday 5pm

David Moyes

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Various football rules and Spanish laws mean that if there’s no compromise thrashed out then we could very easily be left with a 36-week Liga – the title, the UEFA positions and relegation could all become formalized by late on Sunday night.

Thus you should imagine that everyone involved has that extra incentive to give everything they’ve got – one last push.

Barcelona‘s players and fans should probably form a guard of honour and applaud David Moyes and his Txuri-Urdin footballers on to the Camp Nou pitch. It was that defeat at the Anoeta in January, a miserable low-point in terms of performance, man-management and player-coach relationships, which utterly galvanized Barça. They trudged off that wet Basque playing surface looking not just beaten but dispirited, disjointed and lacking in spirit.

From that day to this, they’ve won 16 of 18 Liga games (one defeat, one draw), six out of six cup games and five out of five Champions League games.
Twenty nine matches, twenty seven wins, and 94 goals since January.

And there’s the rub – The last time Barcelona lost or drew against La Real at the Camp Nou Johan Cruyff was in charge and it was mid-1995.
In the intervening twenty years, there have been some hammerings – 4-1 and 5-1 in the last two visits for example.


Moyes’ team is now fitter, plays with a clearer pattern and young talent has been promoted, to good effect. But they’ve not really conquered their affliction of going on the road and representing the character and thorny stubbornness which they can display at the Anoeta. That might cost them here.

A complicating factor is that Barcelona left a lot out on the pitch on Wednesday against Bayern - a lot of energy spent and a huge amount of adrenaline burned off. Luis Enrique‘s men increasingly look like champions, whether by default or merit, but they’ve not been invulnerable here. The 0-1 defeats to Celta and Málaga testify to that.

Squad Rotation

There’ll be some squad rotation – you’d expect some from Xavi, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha, Pedro and Bartra to get starts, and some from Suárez/Neymar, Busquets, Iniesta, and Rakitic to get a rest.

Might this be Xavi’s last game at the Camp Nou? Yes. He’ll leave this summer and the strike means it’s feasible that this is the Camp Nou’s last match for three months. It’s also feasible that if Barcelona drop points it’s ‘adios’ la Liga. If Madrid were to win later on and La Liga to be abandoned at J36 then that, as they say, would be that.

Moyes loses Zurutuza to injury and might well start with: Rulli Zaldua, Ansotegi/Mikel, Iñigo Martínez, De la Bella; Markel, Rubén Pardo, Granero; Xabi Prieto, Canales, VelaMikel González has had his suspension overturned and is available

  • Barcelona by three. Messi and Neymar to ensure it. Barcelona -2 is 4/9.

Real Madrid v Valencia, Saturday 7pm

Gareth Bale

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Pre-strike this game was intriguing enough. But now!

Valencia‘s road-form is just about their only minus of the season. They’ve already registered 23 points more than last term, scoring 13 more than 2013/14. Away from home, however, there has been a slight inconsistency – sometimes lacking in strategic discipline, which would underline their lack of a top class striker to bring goals and points when everything seems against you.

Bluntly, the addition of Álvaro Negredo hasn’t yet been a success. Having said all that, that weaker Valencia side last season not only drew at the Bernabéu, but they cost Madrid the title.

More? Valencia have managed three consecutive draws at the Bernabéu so who could totally disregard them on a weekend when Los Blancos have much, much more to think about in midweek – they need a ‘remontada’ (fightback) against Juve.

To the next complicating factor. IF Barcelona have drawn or lost to David Moyes’ Real Sociedad then this will be an absolute and utter baying mob of a stadium. In that hypothesis, victory would stand a decent chance of winning Los Blancos the title, either by a point or on the head-to-head rule.
Valencia, if the league ended this weekend [something which nobody can guarantee], would automatically finish fourth as they have a three point lead over Sevilla and the ‘head-to-head’ advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Their most reliable striker, Paco Alcácer, reckons: “We are quite clear that we’re going to Madrid to win and that we can do it. “We’re not going to throw away the great work of the season, and getting into the Champions League is our only objective”.

Diego Alves seems fit having suffered from thigh muscle problems a few days ago, Enzo Pérez is likely to return – likely with Javi Fuego, Dani Parejo and Sofiane Feghouli in midfield. Rodrigo Moreno is suspended so Piatti and Alcácer up front looks most likely.

Carlo Ancelotti needs to figure out who to rest, who needs more game time. Bale, anonymous in Turin, desperately needs a game like this to earn some match sharpness. Benzema might make this test in order to warm up for the visit of Juve, but the Italian needs to figure out whether this is just a shade too early for a striker who could be vital on Wednesday?

It is time for Chicharito to be restored, and score. Ronaldo looks in the groove. Parejo scored one and made one here last year and has had a stellar season in terms of goals – so he, Otamendi or Piatti might stand an investment.

  • Madrid to win by exactly one goal is 11/4

Levante v Atlético, Sunday 11am


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This fixture presents one of the most remarkable records in Spanish football. Levante, a traditionally a struggling, under-resourced, backs-to-the-wall kind of club have won five, drawn one and only lost three of their Primera Division home meetings with Atlético – Spain’s third force. Three of the last results between these sides at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium have been 2-0 to Los Granotes.

The last one was a year ago, and Atleti’s legion of fans broiled in the heat without a thing to shout about as Levante hustled and hassled the champions-elect out of their mojo. David Barral (worth a shout this weekend), scored in that game, and has twelve in 31 games this season – his best pro-rata return ever.

Levante’s threat is lessened thanks to the suspension of Victor and Simão. The former should have been out last week and available this one but the May Day holiday meant that the disciplinary committee didn’t sit in time and the five-booking suspension is held over for this visit of the champions. For Cholo Simeone‘s mob, Diego Godín is also banned. Other than that, he’s got a wide choice of players and they’ve all had a clear week to recuperate mentally and physically.

Raul Garcia

‘Marca’ headlined this ‘The worst stadium at the worst possible time’. Only at the Camp Nou has Cholo a worse record in his three years in charge, compared to a draw and two defeats at Levante.

From training it looks a little like Simeone will try to end his impoverished record here via: Oblak, Juanfran, Giménez, Miranda, Siqueira, Arda, Gabi, Tiago, Koke, Griezmann and MandzukicFernando Torres and Raúl García benched.

One thing that might be worth taking into account is that Atlético feel dreadfully cheated of a win after last week’s officiating in the 0-0 draw at home to Athletic. They had at least two legitimate goals chalked-off, perhaps a penalty too, and in the dressing room afterwards the squad’s fitness coach, Óscar Ortega, absolutely tore strips off the Atlético President, Enrique Cerezo, for not ‘pressurizing’ referees and the Spanish FA in public sufficiently – i.e. so that Atleti get more favourable treatment.

You might reckon that this frustration, bottled up for a week, might be taken out on Levante. Griezmann, Siqueira and/or Arda to put an end to Atleti’s horrible run without a win here since 2007.

  • Atletico to win is 1/2

Celta Vigo v Sevilla, Sunday 8pm


  • This lad is about to fly over for the latest La Liga odds on Desktop | Mobile 

A bit of a ‘ghost’ contest this one.

Between the two clubs there will be at least 11 important players missing via suspension or injury. The key nine are Nolito, Álex López, Hugo Mallo, Cabral and Larrivey suspended for Celta plus Reyes, Tremoulinas and Mbia for Sevilla. The first two are suspended, and Mbia suffered a head injury in the brilliant 3-0 win over Fiorentina in the Europa League semi final on Thursday.

The Galicians have three wins and a draw in the last five of these fixtures at the Balaídes. There’s a hint of doubt though, in the fact that Celta are in the bottom half of the table for home form. That’s depite the fact that they recently gave both Barcelona and Real Madrid barnstorming games (1-1 and 2-4) and they beat Atlético [2-0] not that long ago.

Add to that that Sevilla are top five in terms of away form and you might be tempted to back Unai Emery‘s side who look like they may defend their Europa League title and land a Champions League place that way.

Who Emery rests before the trip to Florence this week is a key – and hard to discern. Time for Gameiro, Iborra and Denis Suárez to get starts. Aleix Vidal, is in the form of his life – just beyond good in the last few games.

Maybe look at Vidal, Vitolo, Gameiro and Iborra for threat. Charles, Santi Mina and Orellana need to step up for the light blues.

Carlos Velasco Carbello is the referee, and for those who count cards and like to punt on that market, he booked nine and sent one off the last time these two sides met in Sevilla last January.

  • Draw at 13/5

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