Málaga v Real Madrid. Saturday 7pm
I’m sure that there are many who have a punt based on superstition, hunches – call it what you will. If you are one of that relentlessly intuitive band of gamblers then you’ll have a cheeky wee fiver on Real Madrid not scoring at Málaga on Saturday at 10/1.
Reason? Carlo Ancelotti’s team has won fifteen straight matches in La Liga, the Champions and Copa del Rey and in doing so they’ve equalled the all-time record throughout Real Madrid’s history.
It’s only happened twice before – under the great Miguel Muñoz in 1960/61 during the Di Stefano, Puskas, Gento era when Los Blancos won five straight European Cups, and under Jose Mourinho in 2011/12.
The Muñoz team had just been knocked out of ‘their’ European Cup by Barcelona and took it out on Liga opponents. Fifteen straight wins. Fifty seven goals in the process.
The Mourinho team ended their run via a 1-3 home defeat to Barça but prior to that won five Champions League matches and ten Liga matches on the trot. Hold on…. fifty seven goals in the process.
No, you’ll never believe it. Ancelotti’s fifteen wins on the bounce have yielded … go on, guess. Yes, fifty seven goals.
So if you believe in momentum and the power of a tremendously confident squad led by the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo then it’s money on Madrid to win at the Rosaleda and make all-time history.
But if you’re hung-up on signs and numerical patterns then Madrid have won their fifteen games, scored their 57 goals and .. that’s their lot.
A little more help you say? Málaga are sixth, close enough to the pack that if they’d won at Atlético at the weekend they’d have gone fourth equal. Madrid looked laboured for the first time in weeks while winning 1-0 at Basel midweek. Toni Kroos admits: “I’m tired” This should be their first firm test of playing without the injured Luka Modric against a team which knows how to stretch their midfield if they aren’t positionally shrewd. However perhaps the most persuasive factor is that Málaga can’t really afford to have one, never mind three, influential players missing. Amrabat and Juanmi [goals disappearing out the window] are both out injured while in midfield their natty little organiser, Camacho, is suspended.
Last week’s red for Samuel García has been rescinded … but is that really enough to balance out the losses? No, probably
not. Perm from Bale, Ronaldo and Isco, returning to his home ground, to see Madrid through.
PS, for anyone who hasn’t lumped on the league title yet each of the previous 15 game winning runs ended with Madrid winning the title. Hint, hint.
Atlético v Deportivo La Coruña. Sunday 11am
These midday kick-offs are a relative novelty in Spain – a football nation just waking up to the fact that there may, just may, be a reason why the Premier League, with less skill and flair, is economically dominant around the world. Now, key markets [Asia, the Gulf] will watch this game in their afternoon rather than [via Spain’s horrible 9pm Sunday kick-off] in the middle of the night.
There’s a knack to playing these early matches and that’s for Atlético that’s to eat Depo for breakfast.
The champions haven’t lost at home for 26 games [twenty wins, six draws] and it’s over a decade since Depo last took a point at the Calderón on a day when Diego Simeone was on the bench, but as a 75th minute sub rather than as boss.
Also on the same bench that day was Toché – now 31, now playing for Depo and currently their equal top scorer with two. Which tells you just about all that’s needed. Depo have four goals on the road [six games] and twelve all season. Meanwhile during Atlético’s last seven home games they’ve won the lot, scored 23 times and looked increasingly powerful. During that run Mandzukic has five, Griezmann four, Raúl García three, Koke two and Godín two. Cholo Simeone’s reign has been defined by his team winning games like this when Madrid and Barcelona are away from home and there’s just the sniff of an opportunity to close the gap at the top. Take your pick [Griezmann], but back the champs.
Valencia v Barcelona. Sunday 8pm
There’s no getting around the fact that, traditionally, this is Apache territory for Barça. Across their decorated history they’ve lost to Valencia at the Mestalla in: the 1961 Inter City Fairs Cup final first leg 6-2; the 1980 Cup Winners Cup quarter final first leg 4-3; the 1999 Spanish Supercup second leg 1-0; the 2000 Champions League Semi Final first leg 4-1, the 2008 Copa Del Rey semi final 3-2. Major defeats. But it was nearly as seismic last season at the Camp Nou when Valencia won 3-2 – three points which if Barcelona had taken, it now transpires, they’d have won the title.
The deduction is that despite Barcelona’s nine goals in their last two games and Valencia’s derby defeat to Levante last week there’s no way that an away win is a ‘gimme’.
Luis Enrique’s team appear to have found their best form of the season, or at least their most clinical finishing. Turgid in the first half against Sevilla last week they erupted via Leo Messi’s record-breaking second half and then trampled all over APOEL in Cyprus. But their manager has a disturbing unwillingness to play the same XI consistently, often changing the midfield and back four.
For Barça two key figures are Gerard Piqué and Messi. The latter has two hat tricks in two matches and appears both electric-quick and happy in his football. The former has put together three games, for Spain v Germany, and the last two club wins, where he’s played with confidence, form and passed the ball superbly.
Perhaps for Valencia it’s Diego Alves and Álvaro ‘the Beast’ Negredo. The keeper reserves his very best form for Barça – I’ve seen him make umpteen indescribably good saves in games where he stands between the Catalans and a humiliation for his side. Negredo scored his last goal in Spanish football against Barcelona [2-0 ahead, 3-2 defeat with Sevilla] and knocked the Blaugrana out of the cup with a goal and an assist for the Andalucians in 2010.
The most intriguing game of the weekend, both teams will score, Negredo will get off the mark, Messi will get another couple, Valencia have the capacity to win but Barcelona’s extraordinary goal power suggests they’ll do no worse than a score draw and quite possibly win 3-2.
Sevilla v Granada. Sunday 4pm
The theme here is: ‘define crisis?’. After their defeat in Holland to Feyenoord on Thursday Sevilla, by their demanding standards, feel like they are in free-fall. They’ve won just once in five matches, tumbling from top equal with Barcelona on Matchday 9, to fifth and seven points off leaders Madrid today. In the Europa League if they lose their last group game [at home] to HNK Rijeka the holders will be eliminated.
At which point Granada can assume their Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ personality and sneer: ‘That’s nothing! You’ve got it easy … we’d lick the sweat off a tramp’s socks to have it that good’.
Joaquín Caparrós’ team has scored just twice since September and, in fact, seven la Liga players have scored more than Granada’s entire squad this season. No, not just Messi and Ronaldo but guys like Celta’s Larrivey and Sunday afternoon’s threat – Carlos Bacca.
To add to the woes both Riki and Rochina are out injured, further damaging Caparrós’ ability to return to the club he did so much to ‘grow’, and register a needed win. Sevilla have to marshall energy quickly after their defeat in Rotterdam.
Granada’s main problem is their striker El-Arabi who hit twenty goals over the previous two seasons but just one this. Perhaps it’s his moment? For Sevilla Kevin Gameiro’s return isn’t yet yielding the goals he’s due so the responsibility falls squarely on Bacca.