Spanish football’s elite top flight, La Liga, is undoubtedly the dominant force in European football in recent times, providing six of the last eight finalists in the Champions League, as well as six of the last nine winners.
It doesn’t stop there either, with teams from Spain also ruling the roost in Europe’s second tier tournament, the Europa League, taking four of the last six editions, highlighted by triumphs for goal happy Sevilla in 2014, ’15 and ’16.
Enthused by a domestic league bursting with quality and rivalry, the Sportsman’s Tom Lee, a regular visitor to Spain and its football grounds, takes a weekly look at the best bets on the fixture list…
Still digesting the fact we’ve got Barcelona versus Chelsea and Sevilla against Manchester United to look forward to when the Champions League stirs again in mid-February, as well as the small matter of Real Madrid meeting Paris St Germain, it’s into matchday 16 we head.
Mindful of the fact squad depths will be tested before the winter break, with this weekend’s games wedged in alongside a pre-Christmas midweek round of fixtures that begin next Tuesday, there are hopefully a couple of sides that can oblige for us on home turf.
Kicking-off on Saturday afternoon (3.15pm), the all-Basque clash at the San Mamés between Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad looks one to be interested in, given that La Real are on a miserable run that has seen them lose four straight in all competitions.
They were toothless when losing to struggling Malaga last weekend, outplayed and outfought by a side suddenly getting their act together and fighting like crazy for every loose ball.
More of the south coast outfit later, but Real Sociedad don’t look like a team to be trusted at present. Down to 10th in the league, no clean sheets in five and dumped out of the Copa Del Rey by Lleida.
By contrast, Athletic are four places below them in the league but starting to have a real go now, embarking on a four game unbeaten run in La Liga which included holding Real Madrid to a 0-0 draw, as well as winning away to Levante on Sunday.
You’d readily anticipate this one being scrappy, but the home side are buoyant whereas the visitors look one to avoid right now.
Athletic Bilbao are the pick and are 6/5 for the home win with bet365.
They are joined under the lights on Monday night (8.00pm) by Malaga, who can prise three points from visitors Real Betis at La Rosaleda.
Malaga are off the foot of the table and might very soon be out of the bottom three the way they’ve suddenly picked up, winning three and drawing one of their last six league games, with even the defeats defeats looking good in this context as they made Barcelona (2-0) and Real Madrid (3-2) work extremely hard for the victories in both cases.
By contrast, it seems a very, very long time since the warm month of September when Betis were winning in the Bernabeu and scoring four without return against Levante at the Benito Villamarin.
Here and now they are without a league win in six games, including losing three of their last four, including a pathetic effort when going down to nil at Las Palmas earlier this month, a team who are normally just unable to defend.
Then there was their two-legged embarrassment against local side Cadiz in the Copa del Rey.
Things don’t look too rosy for Betis right now, and if they turn up in a similarly vulnerable frame of mind then there’s no doubt the momentum is with Malaga, who are 23/20 with any of Betfred, Betway or Hills to grab the three points and continue their excellent recent work.
This weekend’s best bets in La Liga:
3.15pm Sat – Athletic Bilbao v Real Sociedad – HOME WIN @ 6/5 (bet365)
8.00pm Mon – Malaga v Real Betis – HOME WIN @ 23/20 (Betfred)