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Football

La Liga: Barcelona seek solace at home to Betis as Real entertains Valladolid

Granada vs Sevilla

Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, Granada

Friday, 23-08-2019 @9pm

These two sides will have widely contrasting expectations this term, but both will be in equally good spirits heading into this Friday’s clash in Andalusia following positive starts to the 2019/20 La Liga campaign last weekend.

Newly promoted Granada weren’t fancied to get anything on their top flight return at Villarreal and Diego Martinez’ charges indeed looked cooked at Estadio de la Ceramica after going 4-2 down with just 17 minutes remaining.

But there were more twists and turns to come in what was the standout game on match day one, thanks dually to Granada’s sheer tenacity and Villarreal’s calamitous defending from set pieces.

Veteran Roberto Soldado pounced with a powerful header on debut for Nazaries against his former club with 15 minutes remaining, before Antonio Puerta sealed a share of the spoils nine minutes from time, poking home the final touch after Soldado again found himself unmarked.

It was the least that Granada deserved from an enthralling contest and Martinez’ side will be worth watching this season if they approach the rest of their fixtures in the same way. They will certainly take plenty of confidence into their first home match of the campaign this Friday at Los Carmenes where they were breached just twice in 2018/19 en route to automatic promotion.

Sevilla will surely pose a much sterner test to Nazaries though than Villarreal did last week. Los Rojiblancos began life under new boss Julien Lopetegui with a sticky looking away fixture against last season’s 7th placed side Espanyol, but ran out cosy 0-2 winners at RCDE Stadium thanks to goals from Real Madrid loanee Sergio and industrious forward Nolito.

The result and performance did much to dispel uncertainty around how Sevilla’s transformed line-up would click together in the early weeks of the season – and a similar showing here from Lopetegui’s men will probably see Granada outclassed and picked off based on how they set about their business on match day one.

Levante vs Villarreal

Estadio Ciudad de Valencia, Valencia

Friday, 23-08-2019 @11pm

A dreadful run in of just three wins from 15 games saw Levante fade into 15th last season and Granotas began the new La Liga campaign on a bum note away to Alaves on the opening weekend.

Paco Lopez’ men dominated possession at Mendizorrotza but cut little ice in front of goal – a key reason as to why they lost ten of their 19 matches on the road in 2018/19. Alaves nicked the three points thanks to a goal from Joselu ten minutes into the second half and the result leaves Levante on the back foot heading into match day two.

But a return to Estadi Cuitat de Valencia offers hope for Levante this weekend, as despite their poor end to last term overall, they are unbeaten in their last six games at home. Furthermore, Granotas have netted at least twice in each of those outings, a stark contrast to their goal-scoring form on their travels where they have drawn a blank in half of their last 12 La Liga fixtures.

Nonetheless, Villarreal have enjoyed plenty of success on this ground in the past, winning on nine of their previous 14 visits including a comfortable 0-2 victory last term. Indeed, El Submarino Amarillo have consistently dominated their fellow Valencian’s in the head to head overall, winning 20 of their 30 previous clashes and losing just six.

The visitors only make limited appeal here in the match betting though after they failed to see off newly promoted Granada at home last week. Javier Calleja’s side looked nailed on for the three points in a thrilling contest at Estadio de la Ceramica after Samuel Chukwueze put them 4-2 up with 17 minutes to play, but some dire set piece defending let Nazaries back in as Roberto Soldado and Antonio Puertas headed home to clinch a 4-4 draw.

With Granada likely to struggle in the top flight this season, the result was a far cry from what Villarreal fans would have been demanding and Calleja’s charges will feel just as much pressure as the hosts this weekend.

Osasuna vs Eibar

Estadio El Sadar, Irunea

Saturday, 24-08-2019 @6pm

After a 2-1 defeat away to Mallorca on match day one, Eibar are on the road once more this week against newly promoted opposition, as they take on Segunda champions Osasuna at Estadio El Sadar. Los Armeros have been struggling for some time on their travels having registered just two away wins throughout last term, and we think Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side could be up against it again here with the hosts unbeaten at home in league action since April 2018.

It was a superb opening weekend all round for the newly promoted teams as Mallorca beat Eibar and Granada drew thrillingly at Villarreal, but Osasuna’s 0-1 success away to Leganes was arguably the pick of the results.

Los Rojillos were far from infallible away from home in 2018/19 as they lost seven times despite romping their way to the Segunda title, but Lega failed to break them down at Butarque as goalkeeper Ruben pulled off a string of excellent saves.

After soaking up plenty of pressure, Osasuna seized their chance in the 75th minute as new signing Chimy Avila hit an absolute thunderbolt past Pichu Cuellar from just outside the area and that proved sufficient to seal an important three points for Jagoba Arrasate’s side on their return to top flight action.

It should leave Osasuna brimming with confidence heading into their first home match of the campaign against Eibar this weekend and the Pamplona based outfit have some record to defend at Estadio El Sadar.

Osasuna haven’t lost at home in league action since April 2018 and they were near flawless in front of their own fans last term, winning 19 and drawing two of their 21 games. Whilst at a lower level, that’s quite a formidable tally and enough to concern an Eibar side who won two, drew eight and lost nine of their 19 away matches last season.

Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side didn’t play too badly at Estadi de Son Moix on match day one and looked like potentially going onto snatch all three points after Paulo Oliveira’s scrambled equaliser on 57 minutes, but the Portuguese turned villain 18 minutes later when he turned the ball past keeper Marko Dimitrovic into his own net.

Real Madrid vs Valladolid

Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

Saturday, 24-08-2019 @8pm

A hamstring injury prevented marquee summer signing Eden Hazard from making his La Liga debut for Real Madrid on match day one, but the Belgian’s absence mattered little at Balaidos as Los Merengues powered their way to a 1-3 success over Celta Vigo, despite having to play the majority of the second half with ten men following Luka Modric’s controversial dismissal.

Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez all got themselves on the scoresheet, with Kroos’ long distance pile-driver the clear pick, however it was Gareth Bale who arguably shone the most for Real after being handed a surprise start by boss Zinedine Zidane.

Bale’s long term inclusion obviously hinges on his form in the coming weeks and whether Zidane feels he can incorporate both the Welshman and Hazard into the starting eleven, but that’s certainly not a bad problem for the Frenchman to have. Additionally, the aforementioned Vazquez looked fantastic in the final 20 minutes after replacing Junior and the 28 year-old could well play a more pivotal role this term.

Aside from the suspended Modric, Real’s line-up should be unchanged for this weekend’s game and the hosts are expected to have far too much firepower for Valladolid as they did for Celta in last Saturday’s opener.

Real have won eight of the last nine meetings between the sides (one draw), hitting four goals on five occasions in that sequence including their 1-4 success at Jose Zorrilla when the teams last met in March.  Los Merengues also beat Pucela 2-0 on home soil last term with the minimum of fuss and it’s difficult to envisage a different outcome this time around despite Valladolid’s fine start to the campaign at Real Betis last week.

Their task at Benito Villamarin was made significantly easier when Betis keeper Joel Robles saw red just eight minutes in, but Valladolid still have to be credited for playing some really good counter attacking football and showing patience to overcome Los Verdiblancos.

They had to wait until after the hour mark to make the breakthrough via Sergi Guardiola and they stole all three points late in the day through Oscar Plano after Loren Moron restored parity for Betis. Boss Sergio did a fantastic job to keep Valladolid up last term, but on the evidence of match day one the club can aspire to better their 16th place finish this season.

Celta Vigo vs Valencia

Abanca Balaidos, Vigo

Saturday, 24-08-2019 @10pm

With home games against Real Madrid and Valencia preceding an away trip to Sevilla in the first three match days, Celta Vigo fans must have been cursing when this season’s La Liga fixtures were released. Their side played fairly well but were unsurprisingly outgunned by Los Merengues in last Saturday’s opener, so can we expect more of the same when Los Che rock up at Balaidos on match day two?

Recent history certainly suggests that Celestes will come up short again, as the last five meetings between the teams have produced three wins for Valencia and two draws. Los Che pinched a 1-2 victory at Balaidos when the sides last clashed in January and the bookmakers have rightly marked the visitors up as favourites for this one at a touch of odds-against.

Valencia will need to step things up from last week though if they are to match Madrid’s result and performance in Vigo. Los Che created plenty of chances in their opening fixture against Real Sociedad at Mestalla, but failed to put the contest to bed after Kevin Gameiro gave them the lead just before the hour mark.

And their lack of cutting edge proved decisive, as Sociedad earned a penalty deep into injury time after a shot from outside the area struck Francis Coquelin on the arm. Coquelin received a second yellow card to rule him out of this weekend’s fixture and Mikel Oyarzabal converted from the spot to take a point back to San Sebastian.

It was a messy start for a Valencia side fancied to do great things this term, although a lack of sharpness in front of goal can perhaps be forgiven on the opening day. Boss Marcelino is unlikely to dwell on the result too much and he’ll know that his charges are likely to get plenty of chances at Balaidos where Celta have conceded 18 times in their last 11 La Liga outings.

Celestes are prolific themselves though in front of their own fans after scoring 13 in their last six matches, and although clear second best against Madrid last week they could have easily netted more. Hot prospect Iker Losada was the only Celta player to do the business late in the day and the 18 year-old could well be given more time this week if the likes of Iago Aspas and Santi Mina fail to deliver.

Getafe vs Athletic Bilbao

Estadio Alfonso Perez, Getafe

Saturday, 24-08-2019 @10pm

A stunning scissor kick from veteran hitman Aditz Aduriz downed champions Barcelona at San Mames on the opening day of the campaign and Athletic Bilbao supporters will have high hopes for the season ahead. Los Leones face a different kind of test but one equally stern this weekend however as they make the trip to Coliseum Alfonso Perez to face a Getafe side that finished 5th last term.

Bilbao began the season unbeaten in 14 games at San Mames and spectators could see exactly why Los Leones had racked up that sequence from minute one against Barcelona last Friday. Gaizka Garitano’s side were all over the champions, suffocating play in the middle of the pitch and counter attacking at speed when given the opportunity.

After a lack of clear cut chances despite their best endeavour, it appeared as though a 0-0 stalemate was going to be the reward for all of their hard work until late substitute Aduriz smashed in what may turn out to be goal of the season, sending San Mames into a complete frenzy.

On the evidence of Bilbao’s performance and how strongly they ended the 2018/19 campaign under Garitano, Los Leones could well be a force in the race for Europe this term but they need to prove that they can also cut the mustard away from home. They won just four and lost nine of their 19 games on the road last season, failed to score in four of their last five.

Whilst Aduriz’ goal was worthy of winning any game and beating any side, Bilbao can’t be relying on moments of brilliance every week and more will be demanded from the likes of Inaki Williams and Iker Munain. This weekend’s encounter away to Getafe will really examine how creative and industrious Bilbao can be, with the hosts winning nine of their last 13 matches at Coliseum Alfonso Perez and conceding just 13 times in front of their own fans in 2018/19.

Getafe’s stingy defence underpinned their success last season as the Madrid based outfit consistency punched above their weight, challenging both Valencia and Sevilla for the final Champions League berth.

They eventually lost out to Los Che by a couple of points and finished 5th, but that was no disgrace and Getafe could well benefit for qualifying for the Europa League as it’s a competition they can realistically win. Another strong La Liga campaign should also be in store for Pepe Bordalas’ side who performed with credit on match day one to go down by just a single goal against Atleti at Wanda Metropolitano.

Last season’s league table and three draws from the previous four meetings reinforce that there’s very little to choose between these two teams and we’re forecasting a stalemate on Saturday night, which both managers would probably consider a good result.

Deportivo Alaves vs Espanyol

Estadio de Mendizorroza, Vitoria-Gasteiz

Sunday, 25-08-2019 @6pm

Details to follow shortly

Mallorca vs Real Sociedad

Iberoster Estedi, Palma de Mallorca

Sunday, 25-08-2019 @6pm

Mallorca are the bookies’ favourites for relegation this season however they made a great start to life back in La Liga with a 2-1 win against Eibar at Son Moix on match day one. Los Bermellones chances of survival in the top flight will probably hinge on their form in Palma where they lost just twice in Segunda last term and they have another opportunity to put points on the board this weekend when they entertain Imanol Aguacil’s Real Sociedad.

It would be surprising were Mallorca not to struggle overall this term; however Vicente Moreno’s men will be confident that they can post enough positive results at home against mid to lower table opposition.

An opening day clash against Eibar seemed like a fairly kind introduction back to top flight football for the Balearic Islanders considering Los Armeros had won just twice on the road in 2018/19 and so it proved as Los Bermellones battled to victory thanks to an early strike from Dani Rodriguez and an own goal from Paulo Oliveira 15 minutes from time, just moments after the Portuguese defender had levelled matters for Jose Luis Mendilibar’s side.

Mallorca had just 40% possession throughout the game which indicates how they’re likely to suffer against much stronger opposition, but Moreno will hope that his charges can now grow in stature after getting that all important first success under their belt. The visit of Real Sociedad to Son Moix arguably presents Los Bermellones with a stiffer test on match day two, but the hosts won’t be too fearful considering the Basques have won just one of their last ten away La Liga fixtures.

Sociedad will be equally delighted though with their result last weekend after snatching a late draw against Copa Del Rey holders Valencia at Mestalla.

Txuri-urdinak were undoubtedly second best over the 90 minutes and perhaps a shade fortunate to be just one goal behind after Los Che spurned a number of chances, but their tenacity was rewarded deep into stoppage time after Francis Coquelin handled inside the area. Mikel Oyarzabal converted decisively from the spot and Sociedad escaped with a precious point which will set them up nicely for this weekend’s game.

And it’s a contest which could easily go either way; the visitors clearly possess more quality but their aforementioned recent win ratio away from home is a concern whilst Mallorca should rise to the occasion once more at Son Moix.

Leganes vs Atletico Madrid

Estádio Municipal de Bartaque, Leganes

Sunday, 25-08-2019 @8pm

2018/19 runners-up Atletico Madrid began the new La Liga campaign in typically workmanlike fashion at home to Getafe last weekend, sneaking a slender 1-0 victory over their city rivals thanks to an excellent header from Alvaro Morata midway through the first half. Diego Simeone’s side take on Madrid based opposition again this week as they travel to Leganes, where they will be looking for their first La Liga win at Butarque after three previous draws.

Atleti’s 1-1 draw here last term was one of several results that ultimately stunted their title challenge, as Los Rojiblancos really should have been good enough to turn over a Lega side that were breached by four other clubs at home en route to finishing 13th in the table.

But Madrid’s struggles at this venue have become a bit of a trend, as they could only attain 0-0 stalemates at Butarque in the two previous campaigns. Atleti simply have to claim maximum points from fixtures like this if they are to mount a serious push for the championship and close the nine point gap which Barcelona held over them in 2018/19.

A hard fought success over Getafe was a decent enough start for Simeone’s side on match day one considering the high profile changes in personnel over the summer, and the likes of Joao Felix and Kieran Trippier certainly made promising starts to life at Wanda Metropolitano.

Simeone was visibly delighted at the full time when the points were secured, with the only real negative being the first half dismissal of new full-back Renan Lodi for two bookable offences.  The result will count for little though if Los Rojiblancos are unable to follow up here on Sunday, especially after Lega were turned over by newly promoted Osasuna on match day one.

Los Pepineros took the game to the Segunda champions but couldn’t find a way through goalkeeper Ruben, and they paid the price 15 minutes from time as Chimy Avila drilled a rasping drive past Pichu Cuellar. Oscar Rodriguez saw red for Mauricio Pellegrino’s men in stoppage time to add insult to injury and the result leaves Leganes on the back foot as they prepare to host their more illustrious city rivals.

Barcelona vs Real Betis

Estadio Camp Nou, Barcelona

Sunday, 25-08-2019 @10pm

Barcelona lost just four La Liga matches across both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 campaigns however the Catalan giants were felled by Athletic Bilbao on the opening day of the season at San Mames last Friday thanks to a moment of sheer brilliance from veteran striker Aditz Aduriz. In truth, Bilbao fully deserved their victory after harrying and suffocating the champions throughout the 90 minutes and Barca must now pick themselves up quickly to get off the mark when they host Real Betis at Camp Nou on match day two.

Nothing can be taken away from Bilbao’s performance or the emphatic scissor kick from Aduriz which was worthy of winning any game, however Barca were extremely out of sorts at San Mames and clearly missing captain Lionel Messi who is currently side lined with a calf strain.

Whilst Luis Suarez cracked the Bilbao upright mid-way through the first half, the chance came purely through a defensive lapse from the Basque side as Barca failed to get going all night in terms of creativity and the free flowing football we are used to. Summer marquee signing Antoine Griezmann was quiet at best and Suarez also had to exit proceedings after sustaining a calf injury similar to Messi’s. The Uruguayan will play no part this weekend and is likely to miss the next 2-3 weeks.

Consequently, Griezmann will have to step up to the plate as the lone frontman this weekend leaving Ivan Rakitic to fill the void in midfield. There’s no doubting that the absence of Suarez and Messi significantly depletes Ernesto Valverde’s charges, but the situation could well work in Griezmann’s favour if he’s able to hit the ground running on match day two.

And fortunately for Barcelona, they face a Betis side who they have dominated in recent years as they look to recover from their sluggish start. Barca have won 12 and drawn three of the last 16 meetings between the teams, including a consummate 1-4 success at Benito Villamarin in March. Nonetheless, their only defeat in that sequence came at Camp Nou last term as Los Verdiblancos edged an absolute thriller 3-4.

Betis also made a poor start to the season last week as they were turned over 1-2 at home by Real Valladolid. Their cause wasn’t aided by the dismissal of keeper Joel Robles after just eight minutes, but the Andalusian’s will still have been disappointed to come away empty-handed in Rubi’s first match in charge considering their opponents finished 16th in 2018/19.

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