FootballLa Liga

La Liga betting: A win at Bilbao for Real Madrid, a tricky trip to Villarreal for Barcelona, and the gap gets even bigger

July 3, 2020

11 games to go, two points ahead; five games to go, four behinds behind: Barcelona have blown it. Six points dropped in the last four games has handed the title to rivals Real Madrid on a plate. Up next for the permacrisis all-stars is a trip to Villarreal, one of the slickest teams in Europe just now, unbeaten since the restart and within striking distance of the Champions League. Is this an opportunity for Real Madrid to extent their lead for the second straight match day? You betcha.

Atletico Madrid vs Mallorca | Friday July 3, 21:00 GMT
 

Atletico go into this game with a chance to win three straight at home for the first time this season – a curious stat for a side normally so formidable on their own patch who find themselves comfortably in the top four. More curious still is the fact that Diego Simeone's 25% win percentage as a manager against Mallorca in La Liga is the worst of his career excluding Real Madrid (23.5%) and Barcelona (0%).

Mallorca have failed to keep a clean sheet in away of their 16 away games in the league this season, and they've gone on to lose 13 of them. However, it would be daft to dismiss them on that basis. Los Bermellones are fighting for their lives, occupying the last relegation place, and their last game was a 5-1 hammering of nearest rivals for the drop, Celta Vigo. Shockingly bad away record aside, Atleti cannot afford to take them lightly.

Simeone's side are unbeaten in 13 games in all competitions, and they're also coming off the back of a highly spirited 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp which helped maintain their tight grip on third place. With Sevilla and Villarreal not too far back in fourth and fifth respectively, Atleti cannot afford a slip-up. It'll be a closer clash than you expect, but back Madrid to get the win.

Match Odds: Atletico Madrid (3/10) Draw (4/1) Mallorca (11/1)
Tip: Under 2.5 total goals (10/11)
Correct score: Atletico Madrid 1-0 Mallorca (5/1)

 

Celta Vigo vs Real Betis | Saturday July 4, 16:00 GMT
 

Celta Vigo were managing their relegation battle quite serenely, going four games unbeaten including a 6-1 win over Alaves. Until Mallorca. A win over their relegation rivals would have put 11 points between Celta and the drop zone and moved them up to 13th. However, Tuesday's 5-1 defeat leaves them 17th with just a five-point buffer. 

Celta have won just one of their last nine La Liga clashes with Betis (W1 D4 L4), losing two of the last three at the Balaidos. The one win – a 3-2 victory in January 2018 – came courtesy of an Iago Aspas break – the former Liverpool man will again carry the burden of expectation for his side. Having scored in each of his last four games – bring up his La Liga century for Celta in the process – Aspas has a chance of scoring in five straight league matches for the first time. With Betis failing to keep a clean sheet in just one of their last 11 away games, he's got every chance.

Match Odds: Celta Vigo (6/5) Draw (12/5) Real Betis (23/10)
Tip: Iago Aspas to score and Celta Vigo to win (14/5)
Correct score: Celta Vigo 2-1 Real Betis (15/2)

 

Granada vs Valencia | Saturday July 4, 21:00 GMT
 

Granada's 2-0 win over Alaves moved them up to ninth in the table, allowing them to take advantage of a rotten run of form for their opponents on Saturday. Since returning, Valencia have won one game, and lost the other four without scoring a goal. Under-fire boss Alberto Celades was relieved of his duties last week following a 2-0 defeat at Villarreal, his stand-in replacement Salvador Gonzalez "Voro" suffering the same feat at home to Athletic Bilbao.

Worse still for Valencia, left-back Jose Gaya (hamstring) and striker Rodrigo Moreno (knee ligament) have both been ruled out for the rest of the season, and experienced centre-back Ezequiel Garay has left the club after his contracted expired. However, Los Che do at least boast a fine recent record against Granada, 14 La Liga games unbeaten against them in fact with 12 wins. Valencia have also managed five wins on their last six trips to the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes. I expect Valencia to keep that unbeaten run going, but perhaps by luck rather than judgement.

Match Odds: Granada (19/10) Draw (11/5) Valencia (31/20)
Tip: HT Granada, FT Draw (12/1)
Correct score: Granada 1-1 Valencia (5/1)

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid | Sunday July 5, 13:00 GMT
 

Three wins in the last four games have pulled Bilbao back into Europa League contention. It's unfortunate then that they face Real in the form of their season, full of confidence having not just wiped out Barcelona's two-point lead at the top, but opened up a four-point cushion of their own. The title is Zinedine Zidane's if Los Blancos can avoid catastrophe.

Avoiding catastrophe against Bilbao has been something of a speciality for Real in recent years. Madrid are unbeaten in nine La Liga clashes with Bilbao, including two wins and two draws on their last two trips to the San Mames. Karim Benzema, arguably the best player in Europe since the major league came out of lockdown has 11 goals and five assists against Bilbao – his best total against any Spanish opponent. Only against Celta (W6 D2) does Zidane have a better managerial record without losing a match (W4 D3 vs Bilbao).

In their six straight wins since lockdown, Real have conceded just two, and both were consolations – late on at 3-0 up against Eibar, and late on at 2-0 up against Real Sociedad. Sergio Ramos has scored more goals (4) than any European defender since returning. This is a side functioning almost perfectly at the moment. Bad luck, Bilbao.

Match Odds: Athletic Bilbao (9/2) Draw (3/1) Real Madrid (8/13)
Tip: Karim Benzema to score any time (5/4)
Correct score: Athletic Bilbao 0-2 Real Madrid (7/1)

 

Espanyol vs Leganes | Sunday July 5, 16:00 GMT
 

Bottom hosts second bottom in what La Liga fans have dubbed the 'You Deserve To Get Relegated If You Get Beat Clasico'. Having collected four points in their six games since La Liga restarted, Espanyol's recent form dwarves that of their opponents who, with just two points, are yet to win a game. It's impossible not to feel sorry for Leganes who had top scorer Martin Braithwaite cruelly snatched from as Barcelona exploited La Liga's bizarre out-of-window transfer legislation – Javier Aguirre's side have simply never recovered.

None of the seven La Liga meetings between these sides have ended in draws, with four wins for Leganes and three for Espanyol, so this should be an exciting clash. 10 points (Espanyol) and nine points (Leganes) from safety as they are, they have no excuse for not going hell for leather. But these are two poor sides who at the moment can neither keep clean sheets nor open up a big enough lead to create comfort. It will be scrappy, it will be feisty, and in all likelihood it will be a low-scoring draw.

Match Odds: Espanyol (33/20) Draw (21/10) Leganes (39/20)
Tip: Penalty kick awarded (5/2)
Correct score: Espanyol 1-1 Leganes (5/1)

 

 Villarreal vs Barcelona | Sunday July 5, 21:00 GMT
  

If Real Madrid's 100% record since the restart makes them La Liga's current best team then Villarreal's – for want of a more poetic phrase – 88.9% record (16 points from 18) puts them second. Five clean sheet wins, a useful 2-2 draw with Sevilla, some absolute stunning team goals, and to top it all a very realistic chance of finishing in the top four. "As we live a life of ease, everyone of us has all we need" sang Ringo Starr in 1966, as applicable to life aboard The Yellow Submarine now as it was then.

Barcelona on the other hand have dropped six points in their last three matches, twice have letting 2-1 leads slip in the second half. A title race which was once about just doing enough has become entirely based on hope with Real now four points clear. Quique Setien, a mid-season replacement for Ernesto Valverde, is himself likely to be sacked at the end of the season, if not before, such is the displeasure with his reign so far. A rumour circulated on social media that Lionel Messi will look to leave Barcelona at the end of the 2020/21 season is the sort of distraction everyone at the Nou Camp could do without.

If morale is low and confidence is shot, the last thing you want to do is face Villarreal who are likely to outpass and outrun Barcelona. When it clicks for Javier Calleja's side, there is no team in possession than Villarreal, and it's been clicking week in week out since the restart. Take the value, back Villarreal.

Match Odds: Villarreal (13/4) Draw (3/1) Barcelona (3/4)
Tip: Villarreal or Draw (27/25)
Correct score: Villarreal 2-1 Barcelona (23/2)