Mark O’Haire’s La Liga Tips – Sunday
It was a miserable festive period for plucky Rayo. Five consecutive losses have seen Paco Jemez’s men slide into the La Liga relegation zone as they’ve leaked at least twice in each.
Rayo Vallecano v Real Sociedad, Sunday 3 January 2016 11.00, Sky Sports 5
Los Franjirrojos were humiliated 10-2 by Real Madrid before Christmas and were then heartbroken by two late goals against city neighbours Atletico (2-0). The minnows fought bravely in the latter loss but there’s a feeling that this could well be the year the side from Vallecas reverts to the mean and drops out of the top-flight.
But before we write Rayo off, it’s worth taking a peek at their record against bottom-half teams. This season the hosts have taken one point from a possible 30 against the top-10 but have returned W4-D2-L2 when taking on the division’s lesser lights.
A similar pattern emerges when looking at Los Franjirrojos’ record under Paco. They’ve W32-D10-L22 of 66 contests against bottom-half dwellers – that’s a points-per-game average of 1.89 – very impressive. When welcoming the bottom-10 to Vallecas that record reads W16-D6-L11 – 1.64 points-per-game.
Indeed, 6 of the last 10 clubs from this sample have lost when visiting Paco’s men in the capital and with Real Sociedad losing out in 8 of their previous 14 away days and conceding first in 11 of their last 15 on the road, the case to keep the hosts onside enhances.
However, Rayo’s attacking approach can often leave them vulnerable and it’s telling that the home side have kept just a solitary clean sheet in 13 La Liga outings.
With that in mind, a play on goals looks a better solution.
La Real were expected to challenge for European places this term but after a poor start under David Moyes, the Basques are slowly recovering under Eusebio Sacristan. Sevilla and Eibar have been beaten whilst defeats to Barcelona, Villarreal and Real Madrid are understandable.
But like Rayo, Sociedad have struggled to keep their sheets clean. Just one of their last eight have seen the travellers shutout their opponents and although Sergio Canales and top marksman Imanol Agierretxe are sidelined, they boast enough final third quality in Bruma and Jonathas to cause the home defence problems.
Over 2.5 Goals is available at 10/11 here. It’s won in four of Rayo’s five games when welcoming the bottom-half this season as well as six of their nine league fixtures at Vallecas overall. La Real have followed suit in five of their nine away days.
Over 2.5 Goals @ 10/11
Deportivo La Coruna v Villarreal, Sunday 3 January 2016 17.15, Sky Sports 3
If there was a mid-season awards bash in Spain, my vote would go to Deportivo La Coruna and the miracle man in charge, Victor Sanchez.
The Brancoazuis were as dull as dishwater last season. In fact, Depor only survived relegation on the final day thanks to the appointment of the club legend in early April.
Since Victor took the reigns at the Riazor eight games before the 2014/15 campaign concluded, La Coruna have W7-D14-L4. To see the side in the top-six today is almost unthinkable when looking at the rabble that was left before the 39-year-old arrived.
The impressive young boss has installed belief and has been credited for his outstanding man-management as well as his superb analytical skills when preparing for opposition sides. Victor’s adapted formations, tactics and player roles perfectly and Depor are now a well-rounded club demanding of respect.
Up front Lucas Perez has been almost unstoppable, scoring 12 goals and equalling Bebeto’s record of scoring in seven consecutive matches. Luis Alberto and Fayçal Fajr have been just as instrumental, Pedro Mosquera a mountain in midfield and Fernando Navarro and Sidnei monumental at the back.
Depor are unbeaten in eight following their goalless draw at Getafe on Wednesday and look capable of shutting down Villarreal on Sunday.
They’ve lost just twice at the Riazor (W4-D5-L2) under Victor keeping five clean sheets whilst the Yellow Submarine have returned just seven away victories since the start of last season.
Marcelinho deserves a mention for remoulding Villarreal after a batch of big-name departures in the summer but Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu have formed an impressive partnership in attack. Denis Suarez has been a consistent success too but the majority of their best work has been done on home soil.
With Depor rewarding Under 2.5 Goals backers in eight of their last nine, Villarreal keeping three clean sheets on the spin and also falling below the line in five of their last six, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see Unders trading at quotes as short as 8/13.
So I’ll follow my original idea of backing Depor at 10/11 in the Draw No Bet market – they’ve lost just 4/25 (16%) under Victor. Villarreal have triumphed in 7/27 (26%) away and only Betis and Espanyol have fired in fewer shots-on-target this term – only Getafe and Sporting have landed fewer on-goal efforts away.
Deportivo Draw No Bet @ 10/11
Valencia v Real Madrid, Sunday 3 January 2016 19.30, Sky Sports 3
The first fixture of 2016 couldn’t really be any bigger for Valencia or Real Madrid. Two of Spain’s giants have been straddling on the verge of crisis mode all season and a negative result for either at the Mestalla would see the white hankies out in force.
There were deafening whistles of derision towards Rafa Benitez and his Los Blancos troops in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over Real Sociedad as the ever-expectant Bernabéu faithful made their feelings known. The victory was far from fluent but the extra day’s rest will certainly have helped as they head to the coast.
Madrid have been beaten in two of their last three on the road and although they’ve been prolific in front of their home supporters, away games have been a source of frustration. A W4-D2-L2 tally just isn’t good enough and neither is their W3-D4-L6 return from top-six sides since 2013/14.
A really poor first-half performance at Villarreal in their last away day was concerning and I’d expect Rafa to revert to a safety-first operation in Valencia.
Los Blancos tend to be given a stern examination by Los Che when they clash at the Mestalla and I’d expect nothing different this time around.
Valencia beat the 10-time European champions in their opening 2015 outing and although this is a very different side to the one that was flying high under Nuno, it’s still true that the hosts have suffered just one loss in 27 (W18-D8-L1) in front of their demanding home fans.
A limp and defensive defeat against local rivals Villarreal concluded their calendar year efforts and has put Gary Neville on the back foot. He’s taken just two points from three league matches in his tenure at Valencia with the club drifting to 11 points off the top-four.
Last season Los Che were vibrant, aggressive and exciting – they couldn’t be further from that team in 2015/16, although this is the sort of game that might galvanise the group. However, having a day’s less rest could well leave them looking a little flat and jaded when push comes to shove.
Shkodran Mustafi is expected to return and partner Aymen Abdennour at centre-back and the hosts have conceded just 15 goals this season – the third best tally in the league. Only five of those came at the Mestalla and with five of their last six banking in the Under 2.5 Goals column, as well as 5/8 (63%) home matches and half of Real’s road trips, a repeat could be on the cards.
I’ll oppose a goal-heavy game and taken the 31/20 on Under 2.5 Goals. This could be cagey.
Under 2.5 Goals @ 31/20