Sevilla v Athletic, Saturday 3pm
Spain’s ‘miracle’ team versus Spain’s manager of the month for March. Sevilla [the former] tend to find Athletic [whose manager Ernesto Valverde is the latter] pretty indigestible.The Andalusians have only won twice in the last ten meetings with the Basques home or away. However to balance that – Athletic have just one win at the Nervión in the last 20 years.
What makes them pretty miraculous, I think, is that only FOUR players remain at Sevilla from the last squad which beat Athletic – and that was just two years ago. They buy and sell at an extraordinary rate such that, even taking Xavi, Iniesta and Vicente Del Bosque into account Sevilla’s sports director, Monchi, is one of the great figures of the last decade in Spanish football. And despite the revolving door policy, buy ’em short, sell ’em long, Sevilla are the Europa League champions [again!] and face Zenit in the quarter final in two weeks time.
What’s also strange about them is that those last two victories over Athletic in the last ten meetings have come with ten men – Fernando Navarro being sent off both times. So if you are following it ‘in-play’ and Navarro’s sent off, don’t cash in, double the bet!!!!
If you fancy the red card market then be advised that there have been six sendings off in the last ten meetings between these two. Perhaps it nudges you towards Sevilla that in 14 games in charge against Athletic, the team he played for, Unai Emery has seven wins and four draws while his seven games as a direct opponent to Valverde have brought four wins and a draw.
If you like to back the mode of scoring then here’s a clue – in Athletic’s last five consecutive single-goal wins [1-0 x three, 2-1 x two] they’ve scored three headers and a penalty.
In the last six Sevilla games Unai’s team have scored six headers and two penalties. You’ve been warned.
Single goal win for the home side, both sides to score – look for Adúriz, Vitolo, Bacca, San Jose – perhaps Krychowiak for a little bit of value.
Graham’s bet: Sevilla to win by exactly one goal @ 12/5. Vito to score first 7/1.
President Carlos González is an odd fish. Last season he built a ‘time-machine’ into which Córdoba fans could file and see images of their ‘future’ in Spain’s Primera Division. Somehow or another, in the most Alfred Hitchcock fashion ever, Albert Ferrer got them to that promised land in the final seconds of the last game of the play-offs.
Suspense? ‘Hitch’ had nothing on it. Just over a handful of games later Old Carlos sacked Ferrer, texting him rather than having the ‘Cojones’ do even speak to the guy who’d taken the club up for the first time in half a century.
Now, on his third coach this season, he’s attempting to turn the remainder of his team’s matches into a mini-league of three teams. Currently bottom of the pile González argued this week.
It’s not the same finishing last as third last because, who knows, there may be some teams relegated because of their financial or administrative affairs and that could save us – you never know.
Sadly, in this country, that’s not the most bizarre idea so it’s an attempt to ‘buck up’ spirits ahead of the visit of the Champions.
His idea, clearly, is for Córdoba to claw and tear every point from their remaining opponents, not with much hope of finishing outside the bottom three – but in case anyone else is demoted for non-football reasons. Harder for them in that they had three sent off last time out, Aleksandar Pantic, Íñigo López and Daniel Pinillos, while the excellent Fede Vico plus Iago Bouzón remain injured.
They do have Nabil Ghilas, Edimar and José Ángel Crespo, fit again while, Fausto Rossi, one of the naughty boys [with Bebé and Ghilas] caught out on the bevvy after losing to Valencia, is allowed back into the squad. Ghilas is the goal threat.
But Atleti will fight still-harder to ensure that they don’t finish in fourth place at the end of the season while they also need to get back in character ahead of the Champions League quarter final against Madrid in a fortnight. Diego Simeone (above) has renewed his contract which will inspire all around him except Mandzukic, you’d guess.
No Miranda, still suspended, so Godín and Giménez at the back. Griezmann, by all accounts flying in training and full of confidence after being with the French team. In fact with Moyá and Raúl García injured take it that Atleti will be: Oblak; Juanfran, Giménez, Godín, Gámez; Gabi, Tiago; Saúl, Griezmann, Koke; Mandzukic.
Trust in Atleti, trust in Griezmann, think about Saúl for value.
Graham’s bet: Atletico Madrid to win @ 2/5. Antione Griezmann to score first @ 7/2
Vicente Del Bosque was a promising young midfield substitute the last time Granada won at the Bernabéu. And this season’s seven out of a possible 42 away points indicates that Abel Resino, historically an Atlético Madrid man, is in search of some sort of divine intervention. Sadly for him the kick-off is midday [Spanish clock] on Sunday when the big man upstairs may be pretty occupied with his dayjob.
You have to like old Abel, who knows that it’ll need a daft combination of circumstances is his team is to prove able.
Granada’s boss reckons:
I’m hoping the ‘FIFA’ virus hits Madrid. I hope they’ve arrived back tired after the international matches, that they think this is going to be a piece of cake.This is a Madrid which can scare you if they are inspired, but also one which has been pretty irregular in 2015, one which their own fans might be a little frustrated at…
Pepe’s out injured for Madrid but, really, they must turn this into a ‘by how many….?’ match.
Barcelona play at Celta later that night and Los Blancos, having just lost the Clásico, can cut the gap at the top to a point ahead of that kick off in Vigo. They can put real pressure on. Granada don’t know what the connection between the ball and the net is – it’s that sad, that simple. Only four of the squad have two goals or more and Jhon Córdoba and Youssef Al-Arabi are tied as top scorers on four. If you insist on picking a Granada any-time scorer then Robert Ibáñez is a tidy wide player picked up on loan from Valencia.
But this will see Madrid’s attacking forces very nearly at full strength. James Rodríguez is back and should start given Isco is suspended. Gareth Bale should have scored in the Clásico, did so for Wales and has looked bristling with confidence again in training. He’s worth a punt. Madrid should win by three and it wouldn’t be a shock if the BBC, [Bale, Benzema, Cristiano] all got a taste here.
Graham’s bet: Real Madrid to win -2 on the handicap @ 8/13
This is a little gem of a contest. Valencia is a city which already has a derby match. It’s Los Che against Levante. Villarreal is an hour north up the coast … but sufficient bad blood has developed over the [recent] years to give this the edge of a derby. In the eight years since the Yellow Submarine won at the Mestalla [Manuel Pellegrini’s team facing 9 men when David Villa and Joaquín were sent off and taking advantage via Santi Cazorla, Giuseppe Rossi and Jon Dahl Tomasson] Valencia have been firmly in control of this fixture. Four wins and a draw, fifteen goals in favour of Los Che.
Right now Valencia are a force at home – best record in la Liga. The stadium won’t only be about 95 per cent full, it’ll be raucous, confident, aggressive – and it’ll drive Nuno’s players through any residual tiredness some have from their international duties.
Drawing conclusions from training there’s a decent chance, with Enzo Pérez injured, that he’ll repeat the XI which beat Elche away 4-0 two weeks ago. That would mean no place for Álvaro Negredo in a lineup: Alves, Barragán, Mustafi, Otamendi, Gayá: Parejo, Fuego, Gomes: Feghouli, Alcácer, Piatti.
Piatti, little buzzbomb that he is, is in the form of his life. Seven goals, equal with centre forward Alcácer, but also wonderful delivery. His dead-ball work is part of the reason Mustafi and Otamendi, central defenders, have seven goals between them. The German got two last time these sides met and either one of them plus Piatti or Alcácer are worth backing.
Villarreal have, at least, had time to re-group after their horrible denuding at the hands of Sevilla. Three games, three defeats, out of Europe, seven goals conceded. Marcelino has a great record of making his team’s super fit, he’s a good motivator and he’s had two clear weeks with the majority of his squad [seven international players left, all came back uninjured] yet he has problems to face here.
Possibly enough to determine the result. Bruno, what a loss, is far off a return while Cheryshev, who’s added pace, aggression and goals, is also injured. Moi Gómez is suspended and Víctor Ruiz is a victim of the ‘fear clause’ in that he’s on loan from Valencia who won’t let him play against them.
With the loss of Gabriel to Arsenal that means that five of the ten players with the most Liga minutes for Villarreal this season will be absent at the Mestalla. Vietto is always worth backing, Musacchio is looking a set piece threat again but this should be a home win. Both teams to score.
Graham’s bet: Valencia to win & both teams to score @ 11/4
This could be a bit of fun. You know better than I do that football loves, absolutely loves, a back-story. Celta is where Luis Enrique (above) restored his budding reputation after disappointment and under-achievement at Roma. But he left, following his heart [not to mention his bank-account] after just a year to take over at Barcelona.
Already anyone who knows football is saying: ‘Intriguing, tell me more….’ For a shock it would need something beyond a neat storyline of Toto Berizzo and his players agreeing: ‘Right, we’ll show him!’ Therefore you can throw into the mix the fact that Barcelona will be without Javier Mascherano, suspended, Jordi Alba injured, and until we see how he handles the night [if risked at all] there’s the real prospect of this being a match that Leo Messi should avoid.
Badly damaged by a Martin Demichelis tackle nearly three weeks ago, Messi’s right outstep took another knock during the Clásico and, as a result, his foot was so swollen he couldn’t put on football boots while away on duty with Argentina – let alone play for Tata Martino’s side.
Should he really be risked here with the Champions League quarter final approaching and an away league match at Sevilla next Saturday to deal with first?? Just a little frisson of ‘extra’ is the fact that, back in November, Celta were the first team to beat ‘Lucho’s’ Barcelona at the Camp Nou. A clever, organised, counter-attack performance. They’ll need the same. Although their best player, Nolito [ex- Barça] reckons: “we’ll go toe-to-toe with them” that’s not advisable. High tempo, pressing – yes. Taking them on at football – big problems.
But another voice of experience, Andreu Fontas, also from the Barcelona youth system, reckons they’ve got the drop on his former club.
After a series of games like City in the Champions League, Madrid in the Clásico and then lots of their players away on international duty it can take a lot out of the squad psychologically so I don’t think this is a bad time at all to be playing Barça.
If you routinely punt on Messi to score best to leave it until the lineup is out. It’s vital for Barcelona to win this if they want to be champions so even if it shapes as a bit of a test look to Suárez, who has not had international duty, and Piqué, who’s in love with scoring goals this season, as potential ‘any-time’ scorers.
Nolito has three goals and two assists in his last eight Liga matches and shares Celta’s scoring-burden with Charles and Larrivey. This could easily be both teams to score and there’s the whiff of an upset. Be guided by your overall view of the away team. If they are to win the title they mustn’t lose here, indeed by hook or by crook they probably have to win.
PS cynics may note that it’s the same ref as Barça 0-1 Celta. But he was good that day and has twice been generous to the away side since. Inexperienced but not a ‘Celta man’.