Barca, Atletico clash in potential title decider as La Liga rolls into week 31

Girona vs Espanyol

Estadio Municipal de Montilivi, Girona

Saturday, 06-04-2019 @2pm

After a dramatic round of fixtures in midweek, La Liga is back for match-day 31 this weekend and the action kicks off with a Catalan derby between Girona and Espanyol. Just one point separates the two sides heading into this match. Both clubs could do with another win or two to ensure they are playing top flight football again next season.

Girona head into this game following back-to-back defeats against Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid. They are only five points above the drop-zone now so they’ve got to be a little bit careful although a win here would really ease the pressure. Including this one, their next four games are all against bottom eight clubs so it’s a critical phase in their season coming up and they could desperately do with improving their poor home record.

Espanyol will also be looking over their shoulder somewhat having taken just 2 points from their last 4 games. They have had some tricky fixtures to be fair with all of their last four against top eight sides. The start of their decline from an excellent start this season can be loosely traced back to a 3-1 home loss to Girona in November and they’ll be hoping to avoid losing a Catalan derby for the second straight Saturday here.

It’s quite hard to fancy either team for the win. Girona have won just 2 of their last 19 home league games in a really dreadful run that stretches back to this time last year. Playing at Montilivi has offered them no real advantage at all and their hopes here are further hindered by injury concerns over key men Bono and Cristhian Stuani. They are hugely dependent on the latter who has scored over 50% of their league goals this term.

Espanyol don’t exactly look like a team that is ready to take full advantage though. They’ve only won one away league game this term and that was against bottom club Huesca way back in October. Since then, they’ve played 13 times on the road in all competitions, drawing 6 and losing 7. Their star striker Borja Iglesias is at least fit and did score in midweek as Espanyol drew 1-1 at home to Getafe.

Real Madrid vs Eibar

Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Saturday, 06-04-2019 @5:15pm

Real Madrid head into this Saturday’s game against Eibar hoping to avoid their second defeat in four days. They’ve now lost 9 times in La Liga this term, the same number as their opponents here with the Basque minnows having inflicted one of those losses by virtue of a comprehensive 3-0 win over Los Blancos earlier in the season at Ipurua.

A repeat here may be unlikely but Eibar will travel with an element of belief you sense. They’ve had another solid season and moved into the top half in midweek with a 2-1 comeback win over Rayo Vallecano. They have some tricky games coming up but they are in absolutely no danger of going down so there is little pressure on them in this game.

That could make them dangerous opponents for a Real Madrid side that look as though the end of the season can’t come soon enough. They sank to a 2-1 defeat at Valencia on Wednesday night having made very hard work of bottom club Huesca last weekend, only winning 3-2 at home thanks to a late Karim Benzema goal.

Right now, you have to say Eibar look capable of getting something from this game and at the very least avoiding a heavy defeat. They were dominant against Los Blancos earlier in the season with what was then Santi Solari’s side having no effective answer to their somewhat unique style of play. They’ve only lost 3 of their last 17 games in all competitions and only one of those losses was by more than a single goal so all the indicators are that they will make a game of this.

Real Madrid haven’t really improved since Zinedine Zidane’s return. He has made some strange selection calls such as picking his son in goal for the Huesca match and perhaps most bizarrely choosing Marcelo to start in all three games despite the Brazilian having a woeful season. They still have far too many players out of form and backing Eibar +2.0 Asian Handicap looks a solid bet here with the Bernabeu no longer a fortress by any means.

Rayo Vallecano vs Valencia

Estadio de Vallecas, Madrid

Saturday, 06-04-2019 @7:30pm

This Saturday’s showdown at Vallecas is a huge game in both the race for 4th place in La Liga and the battle to stay in it. Rayo Vallecano are running out of chances to pick up a victory that could at least give them hope. Even though it’s a tough one, they almost have to chase three points here against a Valencia side that appears to have all the momentum in the battle for that final Champions League spot.

They made it 17 games unbeaten in all competitions on Thursday by beating Real Madrid 2-1 at the Mestalla. The only real challenge for them now is maintaining a push on multiple fronts. They will be expected to beat Villarreal in the Europa League Quarter-Final that starts this coming week and they also have a Copa del Rey Final to look forward to. With at least four teams in the hunt, they are going to have to maintain their form if they are to get 4th place so Marcelino will have to be smart with how he uses his squad.

As for Rayo, they just need to put three points on the board and it doesn’t really matter how they do it. They’ve let chances to do that slip in both games since appointing Paco Jemez. They were 1-0 up heading into the final ten minutes last weekend against Betis and 1-0 up at Eibar with an hour gone in midweek. A grand total of one point from those two matches further suggests that they are most likely heading for the Segunda Division.

They do at least have a goal in them though. They’ve scored in 77% of their league games this term and 87% of their home matches. That’s pretty good going for a struggling side and both games since the attack-minded Jemez was appointed have produced goals at each end. Backing Both Teams to Score looks to be worth considering here, a winning bet in 80% of Rayo’s home fixtures this term.

There is reason to think Rayo can get a result too. Valencia have drawn 53% of their league fixtures this term and they’ve rarely made life comfortable for themselves this season. Up against a team that is fighting for their lives and performed quite well at home last weekend against a decent Betis side.

Barcelona vs Atletico Madrid

Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona

Saturday, 06-04-2019 @9:45pm

The title race in La Liga this season will either be all over or potentially back on depending on the outcome of this game. Barcelona currently hold a commanding 8 point lead over 2nd placed Atletico Madrid. However a surprise away win here would just make life a little bit interesting heading into the final few weeks of the season.

Barcelona would have much rather had pretty much any other opponent here, just four days before their Champions League trip to Old Trafford. That match will be the biggest of their season so far and they are conscious of how recent European campaigns have effectively fallen apart in the away leg at the Quarter-Final stage. Ernesto Valverde won’t risk anyone here that isn’t 100% fit but he should be able to bring Gerard Pique and Leo Messi back in after neither started the remarkable 4-4 draw at Villarreal in midweek.

Atletico Madrid had a much more routine outing as they saw off Girona 2-0 at home. They’ve actually responded really well to a dreadful week just before the international break with a 4-0 win at Alaves last weekend also. Therefore they do take momentum into this game and they have no European distraction so they can afford to leave everything on the pitch here.

That could be really significant and there does look to be some value in backing the visitors to get a result. Atleti have been written off in some quarters as a side that has lost some of those fighting qualities that made them so successful but they have shown character to bounce back and they are clearly not writing their chances off just yet in this title race. They’ve only lost 4 matches this season in La Liga so it hasn’t been a disastrous campaign and they look set to finish as the top team in the Spanish capital again.

Barcelona meanwhile showed their flaws again in midweek. They conceded 4 unanswered goals as Villarreal came from 2-0 down to lead 4-2. Only more magic from Leo Messi and Luis Suarez in the final couple of minutes rescued a point but they won’t get anything like that kind of charitable defending from this Atleti side.

They will unquestionably have one eye on Manchester and Ernesto Valverde may even consider resting Suarez here with an 8 point cushion already in place. The truth is a draw would be a decent enough result for Barcelona and even if they lose, they’d back themselves to still win the title.

Deportivo Alaves vs Leganes

Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria-Gasteiz

Sunday, 06-04-2019 @1pm

This Sunday’s game in Vitoria-Gasteiz sees European hopefuls Alaves play host to mid-table Leganes. The visitors would be just two points behind the Basques were they to win this game and both clubs have had incredible seasons in many respects having both been tipped to struggle to even stay in La Liga this term.

Alaves have been in and around the top six for virtually the entire campaign. Abelardo has played down their hopes of European qualification throughout but they remain firmly in the hunt despite a poor week where they’ve suffered defeats to nil against Atletico Madrid and Sevilla, conceding 6 goals in the process. If they are to be serious challengers, they really need to bounce back here with three points from this game.

Leganes meanwhile can now really start to plan for another season in the top flight. Mauricio Pellegrino has done a fabulous job since taking over last summer with pretty limited resources. They grabbed a 96th minute winner in midweek to beat Valladolid at home and they now have a huge 10 point cushion on the drop-zone and are in fact closer to the Champions League places than the relegation zone.

The value does look to lie with the home team here though. Leganes have been relatively poor travellers overall this season. They’ve lost 60% of their games on the road in La Liga and there could also be some temptation to ease up now they’ve basically achieved their goal for the season which was survival. Their chances here are also hampered by the absence of their first-choice strike pairing with Youssef En-Nesyri injured and midweek match-winner Guid0 Carrillo suspended.

Alaves are missing centre-back Guillermo Maripán so they’ll be relieved to see Lega short on options in attack. However otherwise the hosts are basically at full strength and their home record suggests they are capable of getting the job done here. They average of 1.71 points per game in front of their own fans and with 5 of their final 8 matches at home, Alaves can’t be written off just yet in the race for Europe.

Getafe vs Athletic Bilbao

Coliseum Alfonso Perez, Getafe

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @3pm

This Sunday’s match is another big one in the race for the European places in La Liga, which looks set to go right to the wire this term. Getafe have been in it all season and continue to occupy 4th place despite a slight dip in form. Athletic Bilbao meanwhile are on a real charge up the table and suddenly they look like they have an outside chance of clinching that final Champions League place.

Victory here would move them to within a point of Getafe and would secure the superior head-to-head record, which is effectively worth an extra point in the event of a tie. Athletic come into this on the back of three straight wins, the latest being a dramatic 3-2 victory over Levante in midweek. A late penalty from Iker Muniain sealed the win and it’s just 2 defeats in 16 league games for them now since appointing Gaizka Garitano who has done a sensational job.

Jose Bordalas has been working wonders for even longer with South Madrid minnows Getafe. If the season was to end now they’d be playing Champions League football next term. However they are 3 without a win heading into this match and they just can’t afford for that winless streak to extend for much longer with a host of sides breathing down their neck now.

This is a tough one to call in many respects. Athletic do look capable of getting a result despite their underdog status with the bookies. They are playing with a sense of belief and they’ve been very solid at the back under Garitano conceding just 0.69 goals per game in La Liga since the change in boss. However they are still drawing a lot of games. 43% of their league outings this term have ended level and only Valencia have drawn more than them.

Getafe have also drawn 4 of their last 9 games. They are also very tough to break down with an average of just 0.9 goals per game conceded, the third best record in the division. Confidence would have taken a knock following that surprise derby defeat to Leganes last weekend but they bounced back reasonably well with a 1-1 draw at Espanyol in midweek.

Real Valladolid vs Sevilla

Estadio Municipal Jose Zorrilla, Valladolid

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @5:15pm

There are just 7 games to go in La Liga for these sides after this Sunday’s match and it’s all to play for both clubs. Real Valladolid are in the thick of the relegation scrap and are now only one point above the drop-zone. Sevilla meanwhile are just one point off the Champions League places heading into the weekend action and they need a strong end to the season if they are to snatch 4th.

Sevilla’s chances received a major boost in midweek. They beat fellow European hopefuls Alaves 2-0 to move above the Basque side. They’ve taken 6 points and only conceded 1 goal in their 3 games so far under Joaquin Caparrós. He masterminded a late push to seal Europa League qualification last term and is hoping to go one better this time around although with in-form Valencia also in the fight, it won’t be easy.

Valladolid meanwhile were dealt a cruel late blow in a week of late drama in La Liga. They conceded a 96th minute goal to lose 1-0 at Leganes on Thursday night. They also conceded relatively late to be held at home by Real Sociedad last weekend so they will feel they’ve missed a couple of decent chances to at least give themselves a bit of a cushion on the relegation zone.

With the stakes high for both, it’s hard to see many goals in this game. Valladolid are the division’s lowest scorers. They average just 0.8 goals per game this term while every other team in the division now averages at least one per game. They’ve been relatively solid at the back though and that has contributed to 67% of their games producing under 2.5 goals.

With Sevilla now under a more defensively minded coach, that figure looks likely to increase here. All of their three games since sacking Pablo Machin have produced under 2.5 goals and indeed 60% of their away league fixtures this term have done likewise.

Celta Vigo vs Real Sociedad

Estadio Abanca-Balaidos, Vigo

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @7:30pm

Two sides from the north of Spain meet this Sunday as Celta Vigo play host to Real Sociedad at Balaidos. It’s a massive game for the hosts at they look to pull themselves towards safety and it has been a dramatic week already for the Galicians. La Real meanwhile are starting to think about a possible push for Europe so there is plenty at stake in this one.

Sociedad claimed a 2-1 victory over Real Betis on Thursday night. It was their first in 6 matches after a tricky run where they’ve struggled with some significant injury problems. They are still 4 points off 7th, which should be good enough for Europa League football, therefore they really need to put a winning run together if they are to seriously challenge over the final 8 games.

The main story here though is that of Celta Vigo and particularly Iago Aspas. Having missed virtually all of 2019 to injury and watched his team plummet down the table from the sidelines, Aspas returned last weekend to score twice in a remarkable 3-2 comeback win against fellow strugglers Villarreal. They then let a 2-0 lead slip to draw 3-3 at bottom club Huesca in midweek so it has been a dramatic week so far for Fran Escriba’s side.

There’s a strong chance we’ll see a few goals again in this match. Celta Vigo are strong going forward but often a complete mess defensively. With Aspas and Maxi Gomez firing the goals in, they’ve netted 1.4 per game this term, the joint 5th best record in La Liga. If Aspas hadn’t missed three months of the season that would be higher still so they have the tools to get themselves out of danger.

However at the back Celta make too many mistakes and they’ve let in 1.73 goals per game this term and have let in 5 goals in 2 matches against fellow strugglers over the past week. Sociedad are also just getting back to full strength in the final third with Willian Jose fit again. With Mikel Oyarzabal alongside him, they also have two prolific forward players and they should come targeting three points here as draws are unlikely to fire them to Europe.

Levante vs Huesca

Estádio Ciudad de Valencia, Valencia

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @7:30pm

This Sunday’s game in La Liga is a simply massive fixture for both these teams now following some dramatic action in midweek. Huesca are running out of chances to save themselves and come into this one 7 points from safety. Draws simply aren’t enough for them now and they will view this as a chance to chalk up a victory over a Levante side who have slipped into the relegation scrap.

There were plenty of twists and turns involving these sides on Wednesday night. Huesca were up against fellow strugglers Celta Vigo and came from 2-0 down to lead 3-2, only to then concede a late leveller. That came on the back of another cruel blow as they lost late on at Real Madrid last weekend and despite some encouraging displays, it just feels as though the mountain is too steep for Huesca to climb now.

They will though fancy their chances here. Levante were flying high in the top six earlier this season but they’ve fallen dramatically over the past couple of months and are now just 3 points outside the drop-zone. They’ve also been in the habit of conceding late goals this week. They let the lead slip twice to draw against Eibar last weekend and then lost 3-2 in Bilbao on Wednesday to a 93rd minute penalty having clawed themselves back from 2-0 down to level the game.

Given the weeks these sides have been having, it’s fair to say that we can expect a few goals here. Huesca have clearly reached a point in their season where they’ve decided to just throw all caution to the wind and go for the wins they need to keep themselves in this league. That has contributed to all of their last 5 matches producing goals at each end and three or more in total.

To be fair, they’ve been playing some decent football all season and they rank joint 11th for goals scored which tells you they haven’t been quite as bad as the league table suggests. The January signing of Enric Gallego has really given them a presence up top. The 32 year old was playing in the Segunda B this time last year but has enjoyed a remarkable rise and has 18 league goals in 27 starts this season, although most did come before January for Extremadura. Backing Gallego to Score Anytime could be worth considering here.

Levante also have a goal in them and actually rank in the top six for goals scored in La Liga this term. However they are now the joint worst side defensively with 1.8 goals per game conceded on average.

Huesca are sure to come at them here as a draw doesn’t help them in any way and an open, end-to-end game could be the outcome.

Real Betis vs Villarreal

Estádio Benito Villamarin, Seville

Sunday, 07-04-2019 @9:30pm

The final game this Sunday in La Liga comes from the Benito Villamarin where Real Betis play host to Villarreal. The pressure is really building on Betis boss Quique Setién with the Seville club in some danger of slipping out of European contention after a poor run of results. They will see this as a decent chance to get back on track against strugglers Villarreal but it looks a tougher game than it might have been one month back.

Villarreal have finally found a bit of fight and they’ve played some very good football at times over the past week. They scored four unanswered goals to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 advantage against Barcelona in midweek. However once again they failed to see out a game despite holding a two goal advantage. They’ve let 5 points slip from that position this week, having lost 3-2 in a crunch clash at Celta Vigo last weekend.

Betis have also taken only 1 point from their 2 games since the international break. Both were away but they’d have expected more from trips to Rayo Vallecano and Real Sociedad and in truth they needed more with European hopes in danger of slipping away. It’s just 2 wins in 13 matches in all competitions now for the Seville club and it’s looking increasingly doubtful that Setien will remain in charge next term with sections of the Betis fans having already turned on him.

The outcome here is tough to call with both sides struggling for consistency. Villarreal are in better form but they seem incapable of handling pressure and seeing games out. Backing there to be a few goals in this game may be the better approach.

Defensively Villarreal are still quite poor and 6 of their last 7 games games have produced goals at each end in all competitions. Their last 3 league games alone have produced 17 goals in total and they do seem to be playing with a bit more fluency in midfield and up top now while some of their forwards have finally found a bit of form in front of goal.

Betis meanwhile really have to target the win here and they’ve also been involved in some open games of late. 7 of their last 10 in all competitions have seen both teams score, as have 4 of their last 5.





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