Mark O’Haire’s La Liga Tips – Saturday
Barcelona will be sad to leave 2015 behind.
Espanyol v Barcelona, Saturday 2 January 2016 (15.00)
But after a year in which the potent combination of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar inspired them to five trophies and to a new Spanish record of scoring 180 goals in a calendar year, the Catalans will hope to kick-off 2016 in style.
The Bluagrana begin the new calendar year with a visit to city neighbours Espanyol knowing victory can potentially leave them three points clear at the peak by the weekend’s conclusion and maintain their status as favourites to retain the Spanish title.
It’s arguably one of the most one-sided derbies in world football and it’s hard to envisage the Barcelona dominance ending on Saturday. Last season’s two meetings ended in favour of the treble winners 7-1 on aggregate and they’ve not lost away to their rivals since January 2007.
Luis Enrique’s star-studded cast have scored at least twice in all bar one of their last nine in La Liga and recovered from two disappointing draws before Christmas to out-class Real Betis 4-0 at the Camp Nou in midweek. They’re coming along nicely and it would take a brave punter to oppose the planet’s best.
Espanyol were beaten 2-0 at Sevilla in their last 2015 encounter and will be without injured duo Victor Sanchez and Jose Canas here. However, the Parakeets have avoided defeat at the Power8 Stadium since early October and taken eight points from a possible twelve since then.
Despite the one-sided nature of this fixture, when Espanyol host their old foes they’re rarely embarrassed. Since the 1994/95 campaign, Barca have only won by more than a two-goal margin at the Power8 once. In fact, only six of the last 21 head-to-heads hosted by Espanyol have featured more than three goals.
The Parakeets have been beaten just twice in nine on home soil this season, have recorded six successive Under 2.5 Goals winners and can continue their theme of closely-fought contests against their flashy friends from down the road.
With that in mind, the 13/10 on offer for a Barcelona to win and Under 3.5 Goals stands out.
Under Luis Enrique, the Bluagrana have failed to break the three-goal barrier in 16/26 (62%) of their La Liga matches whilst Espanyol have seen four or more goals in just three Power8 Stadium outings in 27 across the same sample.
Barcelona to win and Under 3.5 Goals (13/10)
Atletico Madrid v Levante, Saturday 2 January 2016 (19.30), Sky Sports 5
They left it late, but two goals in the final two minutes from Angel Correa and Antoine Griezmann ensured Atletico Madrid were able to end 2015 with a precious victory at Rayo Vallecano, a result made all the more important following the shock loss at Malaga before Christmas.
Profligate finishing looked to be costing Diego Simeone’s side dear at their city rivals but it was job done at Vallecas. Now the Mattress Makers can look forward to what should be a routine three points against lowly Levante at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.
Second-placed Atletico are 19 spots and 27 points better off than Levante and the Rojiblancos will be expected to come away with a comfortable win to keep the pressure up on La Liga leaders Barcelona.
Atletico, who are second to Barca only on goal difference, have won nine of 10 home La Liga fixtures against Levante, dropping points only once in a 0-0 draw in 2005, while Levante have not won in their past 10 La Liga games.
The Frogs are in dreadful condition – just two league triumphs in 21 – and boss Rubi will be forced to shuffle his pack. Tono and Zouhair Feddal return from bans but trio Simao Mate, Pedro Lopez and Deyverson are all now suspended for the trip to the capital due to an accumulation of bookings.
In contrast, Atletico can recall captain Gabi and Filipe Luis as they bid to keep pace with table-topping Barcelona.
Victory should be recorded with ease – the hosts hold a stunning W32-D2-L0 record when hosting bottom-half teams since 2012/13 and in 26/34 (76%) Simeone’s side have enjoyed W-W double results. They’ve kept 25/34 (74%) clean sheets during the same sample.
Levante have W3-D6-L24 of their away days at top-10 teams during the same span, failing to even score in 20/33 (61%). So the stakes are certainly against the Frogs but the layers are well aware and the home win ‘to nil’ is prohibitively priced at 1/2.
So instead, follow the same theme as earlier and back Atletico to win and Under 3.5 Goals at a more than fair 4/6.
Seven of the Mattress Makers’ last eight in domestic action have featured fewer than three goals and in only eight of the aforementioned 34 matches have they notched more than three goals in a game and only once since November 2013.
Atletico Madrid to win and Under 3.5 Goals (4/6)
Malaga v Celta Vigo, Saturday 2 January 2016 (21.05), Sky Sports 5
Big credit to Malaga and manager Javi Gracia for the patience and perseverance that’s seen the Anchovies stride clear of relegation danger in the past two months.
The Costa del Sol side were marooned in the bottom-three for the majority of the first-half of the season, struggling to score goals and with only two La Liga victories to their name. But three wins on the spin and W3-D2-L0 since defeat at Espanyol in November has galvanised the group.
At La Roselada, Malaga have kept their sheets clean in four of their eight fixtures (W3-D3-L2) and five of those matches have produced fewer than two goals. Looking further back, when welcoming top-half clubs that aren’t Barcelona or Real Madrid, nine of 11 games have seen Under 2.5 Goals.
The return from injury of Ignacio Camacho to the middle of midfield has provided the side with more steel and leadership alongside Recio and Nordin Amrabat’s final third quality has also aided their newfound confidence.
Celta suffered a rare defeat last time out, going down 1-0 at home to Athletic Bilbao. Previously, Eduardo Berizzo’s men had racked up three consecutive wins in all competitions and with only one loss in 13 road trips they’ll be tricky opponents.
However, Nolito’s absence against Athletic blunted their attacking edge and it’s telling that, of the eight matches he’s failed to start since the start of last season, Celta have won just once. Seven of those eight fell below the 2.5 line and four have ended in 1-0 losses.
Under Berizzo, the Galicians have delivered 18/27 (67%) of Under 2.5 Goals winners, including all eight of the Sky Blues’ trips to middle-third teams. So with five of the last six head-to-heads also featuring similarly low-scoring encounters, having a strong play on Under 2.5 Goals at 8/13 appeals.
Under 2.5 Goals (8/13)
*Prices correct at time of publication.