Atletico Madrid v Real Valladolid
- Saturday, 15.00
Some might be tempted to follow the creaks in the Atletico system over the last three games and try to identify a San Andreas Fault. I’d say that’s wrong.
Defeats to Real Madrid and Almeria were hugely embarrassing and a dramatic swing away from their robust, hard-to-beat form of the last two seasons. But the likely return of Thibaut Courtois in goal and Diego Costa returning from suspension are hugely influential. Equally, Raul Garcia (above) playing second striker, as he’s likely to do, rescues him from a much less comfortable area of operation – wide on the flank, which he’s not been enjoying. There are injuries, tension (with the Milan Champions League tie almost upon them) but oodles of character, tenacity and scoring potential to bank on. Atletico Madrid to win.
Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano
While it’s feasible that Paco Jemez’s tremendous, ‘bold’ proposition in terms of front foot play home and away, ball possession and buccaneer spirit might well get them a goal or two it’s not easy to see beyond Barcelona winning and scoring three or four. Messi is a split second or two faster over the last couple of games than he’s been since returning and that’s led to a splurge of goals.
Perhaps even more importantly Andres Iniesta is not only restored to midfield but looking fresh and able to ‘boss’ things. Pedro and Alexis, too, look sharp, sharp. Entertainment, yes. Some thrills, yes. But a two-goal win and a goal total to make this a game worth watching. Barca to win (by two goals if you fancy this bet).
Levante v Almeria
Two things seem to scream out about this fixture. One, it profiles as a lovable chance of a score draw and two – if Levante get their noses in front they’ll present Almeria with a tough uphill battle.
There’s little to choose between these sides in terms of goalscoring, quality and if anything the absolutely superb boost in morale for the Andalucians in defeating a docile Atletico last week will have mended drooping confidence and sore limbs. Joaquin Caparros’ (above) side is more vulnerable due to the absences of Nikos Karampelas, Loukas Vyntra, Andreas Ivanschitz e Issam El Adoua. Neither side will be unhappy with a draw. 1-1 is the bet.
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Villarreal v Celta de Vigo
Everything hinges on how Villarreal cope with the absence of injured keeper Sergio Asenjo. They play fast, attacking football and give up chances. But thanks to the top form of the ex Atletico and Valladolid goalie they’ve only conceded three more goals than second placed Madrid. Juan Carlos takes over and will need to excel.
Celta play a very similar attacking, risky football – but possess significantly less quality in all departments than the Yellow Submarine. Should Villarreal control the midfield through Bruno and if Gio has his day then a) this should be fun to watch and b) it profiles as a 3-1 home win … IF Juan Carlos (above) doesn’t have stage fright. Villareal to win (3-1 if you fancy a scorecast).
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