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Graham Hunter: Real and Barca to come through tricky tests with this 17/2 double

by Graham Hunter | April 18, 2015

FC Barcelona v Valencia, Saturday 3pm

At the Camp Nou, just over a year ago Valencia stuck their leg out and Barcelona tripped flat on their face.

Effectively it was the defeat which cost Barça the title.

A win would have seen them pipping Atleti to win the league on goals scored.

Barça led 1-0, they pulled back to 2-2 but ended up losing at home to Valencia for the first time since Luis Enrique played against them in autumn 2003.

Camp Nou

In fact Los Che’s previous six visits had all been defeats and they’d conceded a whopping 21 goals.

Paco Alcácer scored the winner that day and it may be worth noting that he has 3 in his last 5 since returning from injury and 12 for club and country this season.

Both Celta Vigo and Málaga have managed 0-1 wins at Camp Nou in the last few months – mainly by playing a terrific, but exhausting, pressing game which capitalises on one of those rare days when not only do Luis Enrique’s team make a single crucial mistake in defence but, somehow, look nervy and imprecise in front of goal.

So, if you fancy Valencia, how to calibrate your chances?

Last week in Sevilla Barcelona committed two pretty horrible mistakes, Claudio Bravo and Gerard Piqué ending up with fingerprints on the crimes, to toss away a 2-0 lead.

But in Paris on Wednesday, despite regularly gifting the ball to PSG, Barcelona finished devastatingly well.
It does feel like there’s been a drop in concentration in using the ball – perhaps Valencia will have their scoring chances.

Lionel Messi

FYI: Leo Messi has played Valencia twenty times scoring fifteen goals [nine of them at the Camp Nou]. However he’s only actually hit the net in eight of those twenty matches – ie less than half the time.

His goals come in clutches, sometimes threes and fours. Thus, if he scores and you’re ‘in-play’ you may fancy backing him to do so again?

FYI[ii]: Diego Alves has always loved testing himself against Barcelona. Not only was he super in Barcelona’s 90th minute away win earlier this season [Sergio Busquets] he has often played absolutely unbelievably at the Camp Nou. Is he good enough to thwart Messi, Suárez and Neymar??

FYI[iii] Kick off times really shouldn’t be important in a grown-up world but, hey, astrologists still make a damn fine living from making things up in the newspapers so the world’s not perfect. Ergo, the last time Barcelona lost at home it was a Saturday and the kick off time was 4pm Spanish.

Just like this….. Again, if you are on this match ‘in-play’ don’t be fooled into believing that if it’s a draw with just a couple of minutes left, and with a return Champions League quarter final coming up on Tuesday, that Barcelona will ‘settle’.

They only have a two point lead over Madrid and nothing, nothing at all, other than a win here will serve if they are going to win the title.

Valencia choose from: Diego Alves, Yoel, Cancelo, Barragán, Mustafi, Otamendi, Vezo, Orbán, Gayà, Javi Fuego, Felipe Augusto, Parejo, André Gomes, Feghouli, Rodrigo, De Paul, Negredo and Alcácer.

Neymar is back on goal form, Parejo’s worth a small investment, Alcácer too. Major pressure on the league leaders. None of the three results would be a shock but … perhaps Barcelona to demonstrate how much they want this title?

Hunter’s Tip: Both teams to score and Barcelona to win at 7/5 

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Deportivo v Atlético, Saturday 5pm

It’s a central theme of Atlético’s title-defence season – key players missing because of suspension.

Not disastrous here, only Gabi is out, but he’ll be followed by fellow midfielder Mario Suárez on Wednesday against Real Madrid. All of which means that a pretty remarkable story should keep growing.

Tiago said his goodbyes to fans and team mates after the Champions League final having failed to renew his contract with Atleti – a deal with Chelsea was as good as signed. But the Portuguese never put pen to paper, financial terms and his fear about how much playing time he’d get brought things to a grinding halt.

His agent got back in touch with Atleti and Diego Simeone insisted to the men in grey suits that he be re-hired.

Nice call Cholo. The Portuguese should start against Depor, he’s played 25 games in la Liga this season and, with five, is third top scorer for the reigning champions in their league defence.

It’s also his best goal total for eight years.

It may guide you that in six of the last seven Depor v Atleti fixtures at the Riazor there’s only been a single goal victory margin, or no goals at all.

Atleti choose from:
Moyá, Oblak, Godín, Siqueira, Gámez, Ansaldi, Juanfran, Miranda, Giménez, Tiago, Koke, Raúl García, Arda, Saúl, Cani, Griezmann, Raúl Jiménez and Fernando Torres.

No Mandzukic, no Mario, no Gabi – training suggests a likely XI of Oblak; Juanfran, Giménez, Godín, Gámez; Tiago; Raúl García, Koke, Saúl, Arda; Griezmann

New coach Victor Sánchez brings back Luisinho and Juan Domínguez but Helder Postiga’s still out.

Victor chooses from:
Lux, Manuel Pablo, Álex Bergantiños, José Rodríguez, Lucas Pérez, Medunjanin, Juan Domínguez, Juanfran, Sidnei, Fabricio, Cuenca, Laure, Luisinho, Toché, Cavaleiro, Oriol Riera, Lopo and Fariña.

Hard and hostile for Atleti here – might they drop two points in a score draw? Not an outlandish idea I’d say.

Hunter’s Tip: Both teams to score and the match to finish as a draw at 7/2

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Real Madrid v Málaga, Saturday 7pm

The Málaga brand of football is pretty much like what they used to say about Guinness – sound as a pound on home territory, doesn’t travel well.

How Málaga need a widget.

In fact the this mob have proved the old Robert Louis Stevenson thing about it being ‘better to travel hopefully than to arrive’

Santiago Bernabeu

In 32 visits to Real Madrid’s ground their happy northward journey has ended, embarrassingly, without a single victory.

However, might the fact that Madrid have the ‘Derbi’ against Atletico in the Champions League on Wednesday give Javi Gracia’s sprightly, fun-to-watch team an edge?

Might it, also, make them a bit more chipper about their chances that Karim Benzema, eight goals in his last nine appearances against Málaga, is out injured?

How much do an away win at the Camp Nou and a home draw with champions Atlético [last week] strip away the ‘beaten before we take the field’ malaise which affects so many of La Liga’s minor teams at the Bernabéu?

Those are some of your decisions.

“The fact that Málaga won at the Camp Nou has focussed our attention on them, it means we’ll not take them lightly” Carlo Ancelotti promised on Friday

In midweek Madrid were thwarted by a superb Jan Oblak performance. Without the 22 year old Slovakian performing heroics Carlo Ancelotti’s men would have scored three, maybe four times.

Is Carlos Kameni, a little flappy last week, capable of the same? Having made a habit of beating Madrid while at Espanyol [three of his first four game against them were wins] he’s tasted nothing but defeat in this fixture since joining Málaga.

Thirty two conceded in fifteen games. If this helps your punt you can be wholly sure that Gracia’s team will play to win. They’ll press, they’ll try to pass the ball forward whenever possible and they’ll not abandon their front-foot, passing game Cristiano Ronaldo I hate to emphasise what John Cleese would call ‘the bleedin’ obvious’ but Cristiano Ronaldo is your ‘go-to’ man here. One of his best records is against Málaga – 13 in 14 meetings.

Might Modric be a dark-horse ‘anytime’ bet? He was pinging the ball at goal in midweek – shooting boots on. Should be fun, should be open … should be a home win by a two goal margin.

Madrid choose from: Casillas, Keylor Navas, Pacheco: Varane, Pepe, Ramos, Marcelo, Carvajal, Arbeloa, Nacho: Kroos, James, Bale, Lucas Silva, Modric, Isco, Illarramendi, Ronaldo, Chicharito and Jesé.

Hunter’s Tip: Real Madrid to win by exactly 2 goals at 3/1

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Granada v Sevilla, Sunday 4pm

Glass half-full or half-empty for Unai Emery? After Thursday’s dramatic and draining comeback win over Zenit [2-1] he’ll be pleased not to have to travel too far to play Granada on Sunday. But he could probably have done without the extra ‘edge’ of an Andalusian derby against a team desperate to claw its way out of the relegation threat they face.

There’s also the extra buzz for what is an aggressive home support that Andalucia’s ‘big boys’, Sevilla, have only played at Los Cármenes three times in the last forty years. It’ll be like there’s a bounty on their heads. Regional pride will see to that.

Yet Granada have been surrender-monkeys recently – white flag at the Bernabéu when losing 9-1 a couple of weeks ago, a sea of white flags last weekend losing 3-0 at Almería

Your big evaluation here is: ‘when will Sevilla’s huge European exertions cost them a ‘hangover’ in La Liga?’

Not here you’d hope. This is a mighty season for Unai’s squad and it would be such a damp squib if it teetered now.

Bacca’s goal against Zenit made it seven scoring headers from Sevilla’s players in their last ten matches. It’d be logical if their second half impact won Denis Suárez and Mbia starting places on Sunday. Each of them, plus Aleix Vidal, might be worth backing.

Finally, Sevilla’s league season only has seven matches left. I don’t know if I can hold on that long without a lame Dick Emery joke. So long as they keep winning I won’t have to reach for …. ‘Ooh they are awful, but I like them…’

Hunter’s Tip: Sevilla -1 goal at 12/5

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