Spanish football expert and just a genuinely nice guy, Graham Hunter has been in some fantastic tipping form over the last few weeks of La Liga. He’s kindly agreed to run the rule over this Sunday’s key matches in the Spanish top flight and used his big brain to come up with some tasty bets.
GRAHAM’S QUICK-FIRE BETS
Getafe v Real Madrid, Sunday 11am
Ronaldo gets a good look at Stephanie Roche at this week’s Ballon d’Or ceremony
They lost, unhappily, to a ‘happy homecoming’ story in midweek – surely the European champions won’t let lightning strike for a second time in another Madrid ‘derbi‘?
Fernando Torres putting them to the sword in the Cup was a brutal embarrassment for the holders but the perfect ‘I’m back where I belong’ narrative for ‘El Niño’. Now there’s another version of it looming up in front of them. Quique Sánchez Flores.
At face value this should be a romp. Getafe, who strive hard to be a personality-free club, have just sold their coach, Cosmin Contra, to Guangzhau in China. Yes, that’s right, to stay afloat they sold their coach.
Defeat could put them in the bottom three, they’ve only scored five miserable times in eight home games this season and while Getafe won this fixture 2-1 in the early part of José Mourinho’s last, dog-eared, season two and a half years ago, Los Blancos have romped home in four of their last five visits scoring 12 in the process.
Even if Madrid wear their black away-strips, even if they wear pink, this should be a white wash. All the same in midweek, Quique, having just arrived, steered this club which he first coached a decade ago, into the Cup quarter finals plus … he’s just a bit special.
His dad, Isidro, won four league titles in the great Madrid era, Quique himself won his only Spanish league as Real Madrid’s right back and his godfather, well, he was the Don of all Dons. Don Alfredo di Stefano.
The only time QSF has taken charge of ‘Geta’ against Madrid at this stadium, which was March ten years ago, they won 2-1 against a team starring Iker, Roberto Carlos, Raúl, Zidane, Figo and Michael Owen.
“Am I far off coaching a club like Madrid – not really, I’m prepared to work right at the top” was his calm, considered, modest verdict the day before this match.
Juan Valera, scorer the last time Geta beat Madrid, agrees: “We ain’t intimidated by them – we’re going out to take points from Madrid”.
Fine. Good attitude. Shouldn’t happen though. Madrid [missing Pepe] may present as a bit vulnerable. Ronaldo’s playing through pain, Benzema’s not scored in the league since mid November while Bale is under scrutiny. But they are too good, there’s too much character not to react. Geta are a favourite victim for Ronaldo – thirteen in eight against them, Bale should thrive in this environment and it’s time for Jesé, either starting or from the bench, to add his goals.
A potentially uncomfortable Sunday lunchtime. One thing’s for sure – lose this and Madrid will be declared in full-blown crisis. Over to the European champions.
Atletico Madrid v Granada, Sunday 4pm
The second Madrid Derby in little over a week saw Torres bag the first goals of his second Atletico spell
Ah, the cost of the Cup. The last time Joaquín Caparrós lined up as the opposing coach to Atlético his side won, comprehensively. That 2-0 victory came only last May, in charge of Levante, and so late in the title run-in it looked like it might lose Diego Simeone’s team the league.
It didn’t, as it transpired, but rarely had Los Rojiblancos been given such a chasing, been worked so hard, found so little ‘give’ in their opponents during the championship-winning season. However Caparrós won’t be given the chance to repeat the feat again this weekend.
Despite nicking a valuable draw seven days ago against David Moyes’ Real Sociedad, despite only being two points away from exiting the relegation zone Granada [particularly their Italian owner, Giampaolo Pozzo [yes, he of Watford and Udinese fame] saw enough in the midweek Copa thrashing at Sevilla.
Second leg 4-0, first leg 1-2, aggregate 6-1 – no joking, adios Joaquín.
Out the door just as Granada do some nifty business in adding striker Lass Bangoura on loan from Rayo plus the promising winger Robert Ibáñez on loan from Valencia. Might Cholo Simeone rest Griezmann ahead of the Camp Nou on Wednesday given that Mandzukic who missed the Madrid derbi due to flu is also back and training freely?
You’d think the Croat starts, and scores, against a Granada side who are fourteen without a win and who’ve lost their last three at the Calderón 2-0, 5-0 and 1-0. Striker El Arabi moaned most about Caparrós so, with Lass alongside him, perhaps we’ll now see a reaction under youth coach Joseba Aguado – hell, they may even score. [Riki is out injured, for some time]
Atleti have a monumental Cup quarter final on Wednesday at Barcelona so it’s feasible that Simeone shuffles the pack and rests one or two but back the Spanish champions to win and win by two.
Arda should start and either Cani or Saúl might just get some game time, in the spirit of rotations, suggesting that the Turk and one or other of the Spaniards could be worth a speculative look at a much longer-odds scorer along with Mandzukic.
Deportivo La Coruna v Barcelona, Sunday 6pm
Luis Enrique has already experienced defeat at the hands of Victor Fernandez as a player. He doesn’t want to repeat the experience as a manager.
What a distant, hazy memory Barcelona’s last away-day in la Liga must seem to them. Somnolent, irascible and flawed at Real Sociedad gave way to a full-scale bout of guerrilla warfare, of the sporting kind, at the Camp Nou. It was only two weeks ago but it must seem like two months.
Since then there have been sackings [Director of Football Andoni Zubizarreta, Emili Sabadell, first team general manager]; the Ballon D’Or awards which Barça’s executives boycotted but saw Messi pick up silver; various ‘nothing to see here, move along folks’ media declarations by Messi, Mascherano, Luis Enrique and Andrés Iniesta – plus three thumping, vibrant wins.
A strong XI put five past Elche [Suárez, Messi, Neymar scored], they produced their best performance since Guardiola left to shred Atlético [Suárez, Messi, Neymar scored] and then they put four past Elche in the return leg of the Copa [Suárez, Messi, Neymar all rested].
Three games, twelve goals, through to the Cup quarter finals and clear space between themselves and Atleti in third. On the same theme what a distant, hazy memory it must be to Depor coach Victor Fernández when he thinks back to how his Zaragoza and Celta teams would perpetually put one [or even two or three] over on Madrid and Barcelona.
As a 34 year old coach in 1994 his side, featuring Nayim and Gustavo Poyet, put a total of seven goals past two Madrid sides in the space of five months as Zaragoza beat Los Blancos of both Jorge Valdano and Vicente Del Bosque. A nice 2-1 win for Celta over the Barça of Xavi, Puyol, Luis Enrique and Rivaldo in 2002 would be another example. This ain’t just ‘any old coach’. But, changed days. The perception in Galicia is that he’s been hanging on to his job for a few weeks now. Successfully though.
“There’s been a lot of noise about that, instability too” he admits. “But I’ve just stayed silent, kept my head focussed on the job in hand. “It’s never a good moment to face Barcelona – they are a constellation of stars. But we can beat them .. if they are distracted and we are truly great. However no team other than Madrid or Bayern can ‘go after’ Barcelona toe-to-toe. Our best means of defending is to attack and to press”.
So, Barcelona 12 goals in three games, just two years since this fixture finished 4-5 to Barça plus the fact Madrid scored eight at the Riazor earlier this season.
Goals galore, right? One cautious note is this. Fernández’s Deportivo conceded 19 in their first seven games – but just eight in the following eleven. More, they’ve kept a clean sheet on eight out of 18 matches. And these two sides have been involved in SIX scoreless draws this season between them.
Nil nil? Surely not. Barcelona have to win, will do so, Neymar will score… but can Depo make this a night of indigestion for the Blaugrana in terms of the margin? Your call.
Sevilla v Malaga, Sunday 8pm
Iago Aspas is actually playing quite well for Sevilla, which will surprise anyone who saw him do the above
What’s attractive about Málaga is that they’ve scored in each of their last 17 games, Cup and League. What’s unattractive about Javi Gracia’s team is that they carry a record of having lost to each of the top three, Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético as they travel to face fourth-placed Sevilla.
Add to that the fact that Málaga, with a fairly strong XI were 0-2 ahead away to Levante in the Cup in midweek and chucked in three goals in fifteen minutes to lose [albeit they go through to the quarter final 4-3], plus the knowledge that Sevilla, who are only five points ahead of Gracia’s surprise-package side, are La Primera’s only team unbeaten at home all season and it’s hard to back an away win.
Home or away, Sevilla’s meeting with this Andalusian rival has been a jolly old fixture over the last ten years. Only twice in fifteen meetings has it failed to yield two goals and the average in all that time is touching three.
The harsh fact, however, is that Málaga, who’ve repatriated 32 year old striker Malagueño Javi Guerra from Swansea, need to take something from this because the road ahead is brutal. Thanks to the quirks of the computer their Cup progress means that they play Sevilla [away], Athletic Bilbao [home, Cup], Athletic [away], Athletic [away, Cup], Valencia [home] in their next five matches. A test of fire.
Talking of which Málaga’s fiery striker, Amrabat, sat on the bench in midweek having scored in the home draw with Villarreal last weekend suggesting he’s simply rested for this test. Both he and Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca are feisty ‘turn-it-on-for-the-big-games’ characters and I’d not be shocked should both score. Probably both booked too.
Sevilla’s Alex Arribas explained the extra buzz around the club for this game saying: “We’ll be more motivated than them. “A win keeps us fourth, prepares us for the Cup quarter final and it’ll signify that we’ve put together the best first half of a season in the history of Sevilla CF.
It’d be foolish to completely discard a score draw here but there are motives beyond it being a home game to favour Sevilla. Unai Emery has made it a trademark to win crucial games like this which edge his teams towards the Champions League slots.
Emery also has a team with a variety of scorers – Gameiro and Aspas showed in midweek that they are buzzing while the last few weeks have been full of defenders [of whom Pareja is suspended this time] chipping in with goals to help the effort.
Home win, perhaps by just a goal, at least two in the game and Bacca, Amrabat and Gameiro worth backing.