Mark O’Haire’s European Footy Tips – La Liga Week 1

The 2015/2016 La Liga campaign kicks off with some cracking games for us ahead to squeeze some cash out of.

Malaga v Sevilla, Friday 21 August (19.30) – Sky Sports 3

The new La Liga season kicks-off on Friday night with a fascinating Andalusian derby as Malaga welcome Seville to the Costa del Sol. The visitors are understandable 5/4 favourites to come away with maximum points after their impressive fight-back against Barcelona in the UEFA Super Cup but I’m not quite ready to trust Unai Emery’s troops on the road.

Since Emery was handed the reigns as Rojiblancos boss, Sevilla have W17-D11-L19 of their La Liga away days and although their return of W10-D2-L3 when excluding the top-four last season looks decent enough, the Europa League winners may require more time to settle with another rebuilt side to bed in.

Three of last year’s key performers in Carlos Bacca, Stephane Mbia and Aleix Vidal are no longer about and although sporting director Monchi has worked wonders in the transfer market to bring in the likes of Adil Rami, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Steven N’Zonzi and Yevhen Konoplyanka amongst others, I prefer a goals angle from La Roselada.

Hosts Malaga finished ninth last season and Javi Gracia’s charges earned plenty of praise for their fluent approach to matches with a talented young squad available. But like most Spanish sides, money is tight with Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani refusing to loosen the purse strings and selling off prized assets.

Samu Castillejo, Juanmi and Samuel Garcia have all moved away from Malaga leaving the Anchovies without three of last term’s best performers. But Nordin Amrabat remains on the roster and a number of intriguing incomings suggest the home side are capable of finishing comfortably again this time around.

In 2014/15, Malaga W8-D6-L5 when entertaining league opposition and that included just two losses against sides that finished above them in the La Liga table. There’s enough evidence there to believe the hosts are good enough to avoid defeat and so the goals angle comes into play.

Boylesports make Both Teams To Score a 5/6 shot and it’s a bet that’s won in 11/19 (58%) of Malaga’s matches as hosts and a huge 34/47 (72%) of Sevilla’s road trips under Emery.

Putting the two trends together and finding the average means we should expect to see a 65% chance of BTTS banking – that equates to an 8/15 shot, so the 5/6 on offer is big value.

Atletico Madrid v Las Palmas, Saturday 22 August (21.30) – Sky Sports 3

I’m extremely sweet on Atletico Madrid enjoying a successful season and the Mattress Makers have been handed a kind opener with newly-promoted Las Palmas visiting the capital on Saturday night.

Diego Simeone’s hosts have made significant additions to their already strong squad over the summer with intent to add pace in attacking areas. Luciano Vietto and Jackson Martinez were the headline signings and both should bolster Atleti’s offensive output and make the home side a serious candidate for honours.

Blessed with a brilliant defensive base, a hard-working and aggressively talented midfield and now the added impetus to play on the break again, Atleti are looking as strong as when they clinched an unlikely 100/1 La Liga title two seasons ago. And their Vincente Calderon form has proven almost impenetrable during the past 24 months.

Taking the past two campaigns into account, Atletico have W29-D7-L2 of their home La Liga outings with 22 of those 38 matches resulting in victories by a two-goal margin or better.

In 23 fixtures the hosts have led at half-time and gone on to claim maximum points and at 7/10, it’s a better value selection than the 8/13 available on Atletico -1 in the handicap market.

Las Palmas are back in the big time after a 13-year absence. The islanders won promotion back via the play-offs and have at least kept hold of top goalscorer Sergio Araujo but on the whole, recruitment has been frustrating.

The visitors leaked 47 goals during their promotion campaign and anything but a spotless defensive showing is likely to leave them chasing shadows on Saturday night.

Athletic Bilbao v Barcelona, Sunday 23 August (17.30) – Sky Sports 3

The new season isn’t even two weeks old and we’re already being faced with a third edition of Athletic against Barcelona. The two teams locked horns in the Spanish Super Cup with the Basques crushing Barca’s dreams of the sextuple with a thrilling two-legged performance.

That success included a remarkable 4-0 win at the San Mames and if they didn’t already, Luis Enrique’s men will need to offer Athletic their ultimate respect. That hammering saw the Catalans name a weakened team and I just have to question the strength in depth of the Barcelona team now with Xavi and Pedro gone.

Of course, when Barca click they are a joy to behold and untouchable. But over the course of those two games, Ernesto Valverde’s Bilbao showed their teeth in a disciplined and tactically astute display. I’ve plenty of faith in Les Leones avoiding defeat but a Europa League qualifier in Slovakia played on Thursday night could easily work against the hosts.

Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain remain sidelined and warhorse Aritz Aduritz simply isn’t conditioned to play two games in a week so question marks surround the home side’s attack.

Still, Valverde’s charges W10-D5-L3 in their final 18 games last season keeping nine clean sheets and that defensive resolve should stand the Basques in good stead.

Athletic boast a decent head-to-head record when welcoming Barcelona to town too. The visitors have come out on top in just two of their last six visits to San Mames with Les Leones recording wins over the Catalans and Real Madrid over the past two seasons.

There are worse bets about than opposing the defending champions and taking Bilbao in the Double Chance market at 17/10.

Sporting Gijon v Real Madrid, Sunday 23 August (19.30) – Sky Sports 3

Sporting Gijon are back in the big time and their historic El Molinon home will be rocking on Sunday night for the visit of Real Madrid. It’s always a raucous atmosphere at their Asturias home and after an unlikely promotion, supporters can’t wait to get a glimpse of La Liga football once more.

Gijon finished runners-up in Segunda last season despite being banned from signing players due to unpaid bills. They did so playing a vibrant, attacking brand of football with a squad filled with talented local youngsters. But it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to repeat those heroics when Madrid’s superstars turn up.

Los Blancos are now under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez and although his appointment wasn’t universally approved, the former Liverpool coach is overseeing an interesting tactical transformation. Gareth Bale will be released into a free role and Cristiano Ronaldo kept happy in his left-sided position but Real will also prove more disciplined when not in possession.

Karim Benzema and Pepe will be missing for Madrid but there’s still more than enough talent in their ranks to avoid a potential opening day banana skin. Real are usually ruthless in putting away the lesser lights and although Sporting picked up 48 points from a possible 63 at El Molinon during their promotion campaign, anything other than a comfortable Madrid win would be a surprise.

Finding value in such a lopsided encounter is difficult but Real Madrid to score in both halves at 4/5 should give us a good run for our money.

Across the past three campaigns, the Spanish giants have netted in the first-half on 65% of their 57 away days and scored in the second-half in 68% of the same sample, suggesting the price should be a lot skinnier ahead of their 2015/16 curtain-raiser.