Barcelona aim to hit the ground running after crucial Clasico win
La Liga makes a welcome return to action this weekend following the international break and there are just ten crucial games to go as the campaign reaches its ‘business end’.
Leaders Barcelona will look to hit the ground running after they signed off with a huge Clasico victory against Real Madrid that sent Luis Enrique’s side four points clear at the summit.
The Catalans return to action in Galicia on Sunday night against a Celta Vigo side that inflicted a shock 1-0 defeat on Barça at the Camp Nou earlier in the season. That loss was their first on home soil of the season and one of just two all term.
That success was Celta’s best this season and they are 39/2 to achieve the same result again this weekend and claim a surprise double against the side of their former boss. The hosts are 28/5 to secure three points with any scoreline.
Joaquin Larrivey scored the winning goal back in November and he is 10/1 to open the scoring at Balaidos with his tenth of the season.
More likely is a Barça win at 2/5, especially with the news that 32-goal man Lionel Messi should be fit to start despite failing to feature for Argentina owing to a foot problem. Messi is 3/1 to score first while former Liverpool man Luis Suarez, who has seven goals in his last seven games, is 7/2 to kick-on from his Clasico winner and score first in Galicia.
Barcelona may take their time to get up to full gear owing to the international break and that, coupled with an improved Celta of late, could make odds of the hosts winning the first half, at 41/20, tempting before Barca hit back to leave with all three points.
Real Madrid can afford no more slip-ups in title race
Real Madrid have the chance to close the gap at the top to just a point, for a few hours at least, when they welcome struggling Granada to the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday lunchtime.
The Andalusians have collected four points from their last possible nine but are still one of the favourites for relegation thanks to a run of 22 matches without a win from their last 24 outings.
At 1/12, Carlo Ancelotti’s men are clear favourites to bounce back from their Clasico loss with three points but more tempting would be the 1/4 on offer for the hosts to be winning at half-time and full-time, as they have been in seven of their last eight La Liga home matches. Madrid will be without the suspended Isco and the injured Pepe but that should make little difference to Sunday’s outcome.
That Granada have also conceded at least two goals in each of their last eight away league games bodes well for a high-scoring home win. For Madrid to win by more than two goals you can get odds of 4/7 and for a commanding 5-0 win 31/4 is being offered.
Former Tottenham Hotspur man Gareth Bale will have something to prove after being heavily criticised for his performance at the Camp Nou last time out. He shone for Wales on international duty, scoring twice and assisting the other in the 3-0 win at Israel. The Welshman is 4/1 to score first.
The rest of La Liga
Eibar and Rayo Vallecano kick things off at Ipurua on Friday night and the visitors should be in good enough form to end their four-game losing streak on their travels.
Despite that run, Paco Jemez’s side have won three of their last four league matches to move up to mid-table and face an Eibar side that have taken just two points from their last possible 30.
A 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Granada stopped the Eibar rot but Rayo still look good at 17/10 to leave the Basque country with all three points.
Atletico Madrid loan man Leo Baptistao will miss out for the Madrid club through injury but Alberto Bueno is the man in form in front of goal with seven goals in his last four outings. The former Real Madrid and Derby County man is 9/4 to score anytime. Chelsea loan man Gael Kakuta scored the Rayo winner against Malaga last time out and he is 9/1 to open the scoring with his sixth goal of the season.
Sevilla against Athletic Bilbao looks a well matched contest on paper and a draw, at 53/20, looks a good bet for a match between two in-form sides.
Unai Emery’s side have not lost at home in 22 league matches but Athletic make the trip to the Sanchez Pizjuan stadium on a run of five straight wins that have lifted them up to eighth in the table and with a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona in sight.
Top-scorer Aritz Aduriz is set to return from injury for the Basques while Mikel San Jose has served his suspension. Aduriz is 7/1 to score first and a 1-1 draw is an attractive 51/10. Carlos Bacca leads the way for Sevilla with 16 goals this season and the Colombian is 21/20 to score anytime.
Cordoba took one last chance in staying in the top-flight when they sacked Miroslav Djukic and replaced him with José Antonio Romero for the remainder of the season but things still look grim for the Andalusian club.
Atletico Madrid visit on Saturday and they will be fully expected to leave with maximum points given Cordoba’s nine-game losing streak that leaves them rock bottom of La Liga.
Diego Simeone’s side are 2/5 for the win and should be comfortable winners despite centre-back Miranda absent through suspension.
Atleti have struggled for goals on their travels but Cordoba have struggled to find a tight defeat and a two-goal winning margin for the reigning champions looks a good bet at 29/10.
Antoine Griezmann is the man in form and the freescoring Frenchman is 10/3 to score first. Mario Mandzukic could also return to favour under Simeone and is the same odds to break the deadlock.
Almeria and Levante lock horns in a crucial relegation battle at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos on Saturday night.
Both sides are desperate for three points to help their survival bid but a draw looks the best bet at 11/5.
Levante have shone at home but have struggled on their travels, losing their last six matches. Almeria have drawn their last three home matches and it could be another stalemate this weekend.
A goalless draw that does neither side any favours looks attractive at 25/4.
David Moyes’s Real Sociedad are enjoying some good form thanks to three straight wins and suffering just one defeat in their last seven matches to move up to ninth in La Liga.
The San Sebastian club also managed to register their first away win of the season at Getafe on their travels last time and are in good form for a repeat at 31/10. A slender 1-0 victory for La Real, at 8/1, looks tempting.
Carlos Vela is set to return to action following injury and he is still Sociedad’s leading marksman with seven goals. Ignacio Camacho is sidelined through injury for Europa League-chasing Malaga and Marcos Angeleri is suspended.
There’s a mini derby at the Mestalla on Sunday afternoon as on-song Valencia host Villarreal.
Both sides have enjoyed great seasons so far with Los Che just four points behind Real Madrid in third and Villarreal pushing for a European place under Marcelino.
Valencia should have the edge this weekend, not only because they have won their last seven home matches and Villarreal’s form has wobbled of late, but because the Yellow Submarines arrive with a lengthy injury and suspension list.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are 21/20 to keep the pressure on the top-two and edge closer to securing a Champions League spot.
Pablo Piatti, at 13/2, looks good bets to open the scoring but don’t expect Villarreal to make things easy. For both teams to score you can get odds of 4/6.
Getafe will hope the appointment of Pablo Franco acts as a spur to see off Deportivo La Coruna this weekend and any lingering relegation doubts.
Franco replaced Quique Sanchez Flores and the visit of a Depor side that have failed to score in eight of their last nine matches on the road, and arrive with no win in six, should be a welcome one. The Madrid club are 23/20 for three points.
Getafe have been somewhat goal shy this term, however, and a slender winning scoreline is anticipated. Odds of 47/10 are being offered for a 1-0 home win.
Two teams struggling for good form of late wrap the weekend up on Monday night when relegation-threatened Elche visit Espanyol.
The Catalans have failed to find the back of the net in four matches but the return of nine-goal man Sergio Garcia will offer a boost,
Garcia is 7/2 to open the scoring and Espanyol are 5/8 to end their four-game winless streak.