Luis Enrique’s job on the line
Despite Barcelona seeing off Elche 5-0 in the Copa del Rey on Thursday night, the Catalans have not enjoyed a good start to 2015 on or off the pitch.
A defeat at David Moyes’ Real Sociedad last weekend was panic enough but Luis Enrique’s leadership of the club came further into question when he left star man Lionel Messi on the bench and the Argentine subsequently missed training the next day, leaving his future up in the air.
The sacking of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta, the departure of Carles Puyol as his assistant and the calling of presidential elections for June by current president Josep Maria Bartomeu made it a tough week for all at the Camp Nou.
That week will only get tougher on Sunday when reigning champions Atletico Madrid visit fresh off the back of a 2-0 cup derby victory over Real Madrid in midweek. Diego Simeone’s men clinched the title in dramatic fashion at the Camp Nou last season thanks to a 1-1 draw and another stalemate would be a good bet given the sides met six times last season and finished all-square in five of them.
At 11/2 for a 1-1 draw offers good money – three of last season’s six meetings between the sides finished that way and there has been little to separate the teams so far this season, with both going into the match level on points.
Defender Diego Godin scored the header that clinched the title for Atleti last season and with the Madrid club’s biggest threat coming from set-pieces, the Uruguayan international is a good bet at 22/1 to open the scoring. If you fancy former Chelsea and Liverpool man Fernando Torres getting off the mark in what could be his first league match back with his former club you can get odds of 7/2 for him to score anytime.
It would take some guts for Luis Enrique to keep Messi on the bench this weekend and the Argentine will no doubt be eager to make an impact. You can get odds of 5/6 for the reported Chelsea target to score at anytime.
Madrid out to avoid a hat-trick of defeats
A crisis is never too far away in the surroundings of the Santiago Bernabeu and back-to-back defeats have left the Spanish media using the ‘c’ word already, despite Carlo Ancelotti’s men still sitting pretty at the top of the table.
Feel sorry for Espanyol then, who visit the Bernabeu on Saturday and are set to go up against a wounded animal. Madrid will not want to slip up again and may take their frustrations from a league loss at Valencia and a cup defeat at neighbours Atletico out on the Catalans.
Cristiano Ronaldo and company will be keen for an emphatic response and the fact they have bagged 56 goals in 16 Liga matches, coupled with Espanyol keeping only one clean sheet in their last ten league matches, the Bernabeu could be set for a goal blitz. For a 5-0 Madrid win you can get odds of 17/2 and for Gareth Bale to answer some of his recent critics with the open goal offers 4/1.
Elsewhere in La Liga
Levante welcome Deportivo La Coruna in the opening match of the weekend on Friday night and both teams will look for three points to help them move away from the Primera Division trapdoor.
Levante may have opened the year with consecutive defeats but they return to home soil where they have not lost in five matches. That Depor have failed to score in their last four away matches in La Liga and failed to win in their last six on their travels stack the odds in the Valencia club’s favour, despite Depor’s home win over Athletic last weekend.
Goals, however, are not Levante’s forte with just 13 in the league this season so a one-goal winning margin for Lucas Alcaraz’s side offers 5/2.
Sixth-placed Villarreal travel to seventh-placed Malaga on Saturday as one of the teams to watch this season thanks to a 12-game unbeaten run that stretches back to the start of November.
The Yellow Submarines are knocking on the door of the Champions League places and are 6/4 to keep knocking with a victory at La Rosaleda.
Malaga also produced a good first half to the season and have enjoyed scoring against Villarreal in recent meetings, with at least two coming in their last five home matches against the club from El Madrigal. Villarreal have also scored at least two in five of their last season Liga matches, meaning goals are on the menu. For a four-goal match total you can get odds of 6/1.
Given Valencia’s top-four position and their deserved victory over Real Madrid last weekend, which ended Madrid’s 22-game winning run, odds of 17/10 should not be sniffed at for Los Chef to see off a Celta Vigo team struggling for form.
The Galicians have only won one of their last ten, and that came in the cup, while Valencia are flying high as they look to cement a return to the Champions League.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men usually come flying out of the traps and to have the visitors leading at half-time and full-time you can have odds of 33/10. Towering defender Nicolas Otamendi, who scored what turned out to be the winner against Madrid last weekend, is a decent long-shot at 12/1 to get on the scoresheet.
Quique Sanchez Flores will look to get off to a winning start when he takes charge of Getafe at the ever-impressive Eibar on Saturday night.
He took over from Cosmin Contra, who left to join the Chinese Super League, for his second stint as boss at the Madrid club this week and odds of 47/20 are offered for him to kick things off with three points.
Eibar continue to surprise everyone, however, and after returning from the winter break with a 2-1 win at Espanyol their odds of 5/4 for the victory mirror their top form.
Almeria have enjoyed a good upturn in form since the arrival of Juan Ignacio Martínez as manager last month but they will face a tough task of maintaining that when high-flying Sevilla visit on Sunday.
Unai Emery’s men are unbeaten in their last seven matches and are well served to make it eight at 5/6. Gerard Deulofeu shone in Thursday night’s cup win at Granada and the Barcelona loan man is 13/5 to find the back of the net this weekend.
Athletic Bilbao suffered disappointing back-to-back defeats around the winter break and the Basque club will be out to put that right against bottom club Elche at San Mames.
Bilbao will be buoyed by their 4-2 cup win at Celta in midweek, where Aritz Aduriz scored two of his side’s goals. The 33-year-old has eight for the season and he’s 7/2 to open the scoring against the basement dwellers, who have only won once in their last ten matches.
David Moyes and his Real Sociedad side will travel to Granada on the crest of a wave following last weekend’s victory over Barcelona at Anoeta.
La Real have only suffered defeat to Villarreal – in the league and cup – since Moyes took charge and have climbed away from the relegation zone. The Basque outfit will be confident of continuing that climb against a side that has won just once since September.
A victory for the former Manchester United boss in Andalusia brings odds of 8/5 but the 49/10 for a slender 1-0 win may be more tempting given the Scotsman’s desire to build from the back.
Both Rayo Vallecano and Cordoba started 2015 by picking up three points last weekend but only one will have a chance to maintain that winning start to the year when they meet at Vallecas on Monday night.
Paco Jemez’s men will be favourites and in Leo Baptistao and Alberto Bueno they have two forward men who have shared the goals out so far this season. Baptistao is 9/2 and Bueno 5/1 to open the scoring against a side that has been stuck in the bottom three all through the season.