Spanish football’s elite top flight, La Liga, is undoubtedly the dominant force in European football in recent times, providing five of the last six finalists in the Champions League, as well as five of the last eight 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 five 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…
It’s worth noting, as we head into match day 33, that once again Spain leads the way in Europe’s premier competition, with both Real and Atleti yet again comfortably through to the Champions League semis after their midweek exploits.
For both it’s a return to their excellent recent league form this weekend, with the Clasico towering above the weekend calendar as Real entertain Barca on Sunday night, while Atleti head the other way, going to Catalonia to face Espanyol in the Saturday evening slot.
At the other end of the table, Tony Adams’ stint in charge of soon-to-be-relegated Granada started in calamitous fashion at home to Celta Vigo (0-3) last Sunday, prompting headlines such as ‘The Adams Family’ from Marca, while Mundo Deportivo were less humorous, simply going with: “Disastrous debut”.
Are things about to get much better?
Doubtful, as the first match of the jornada sees the former Arsenal and England stalwart take his team west, making the short hop across Andalusia to face Sevilla at the Sanchez Pizjuan (Fri 7.45pm).
So far 2017 has been a disappointment for Sevilla, because although they reached their second best points tally prior to the last few games of the campaign, they also slipped out of the title race and were bombed out of the Champions League by Leicester City, prompting Jorge Sampaoli to say: “What went well for us before is damaging us now”.
That said, Sunday’s 0-0 draw away to Valencia, as well as the previous weekend’s 4-2 victory against Deportivo La Coruna were more like it, and they come up against ideal opposition to keep the ball rolling here.
Granada are preparing for life in the Segunda, and are unlikely to get much joy here – back Sevilla to win to nil, a 5/4 chance with Paddy Power.
Two places above them, Leganes in 17th look like they’ve done just enough to ensure survival, though a late rally from 18th-placed Sporting Gijon (who incidentally go to bottom team Osasuna) would have them sweating, especially as Leganes are unlikely to get any change out of Villarreal this weekend (Sat 3.15 pm).
The Yellow Submarines have been in and out in recent weeks, winning four and losing three of their last seven, but they’ll be delighted to be playing at home, having won nine league games in total at the Estadio de la Ceramica.
Europa League football is theirs in 2017/18 if they keep steering in the right direction, and the home side should oblige at 4/6 with any of Boyles, Hills or Skybet.
As I mentioned earlier, the Madrid teams still have much to look forward to, and Atleti are favourites to get three points on the road as they head to Barcelona to take on Espanyol (Sat 7.45pm).
It might pay to be cautious where they’re concerned though; Diego Simeone’s team have been in some gruelling battles of late, including the two legs against Leicester as well as a drawn Madrid derby, and the Argentine could make changes.
What’s more, they’ve finished all square in eight of their last 21 in all competitions, and it’s also worth recalling Atleti and Espanyol played out a 0-0 at the Vicente Calderon back in December.
With not much to be gained for either in terms of league position another stalemate looks to be the value – back the draw at 13/5 with any of bet365, Betfred, BetVictor, Betway or Paddy Power.
Finally, the game you simply must watch on Sunday night is the Clasico (7.45pm), in which Real can effectively end the title race by going six points clear (with a game in hand) of their bitter rivals with victory in the match which counts for so, so much.
The two sides drew 1-1 at the Nou Camp back in December, but since then Barca’s season has fizzled out whereas the Madridistas find themselves with something of a Midas touch, boosted by the return of Gareth Bale to training on Thursday, the emergence of Marco Asensio, plus a sixth Champions League hat-trick for ‘Viva’ Ronaldo in midweek.
You’d imagine they’ll be eager to get out there and make a statement on Sunday, but don’t underestimate a Barca side who are likely to be boiling with frustration after being shutout by Juventus on Wednesday.
They can find the net here, but the vote goes to Madrid.
Back the home team to win and both teams to score at 11/5 with any of 365, Fred, Victor or Hills.
This weeekend’s best bets in La Liga:
7.45pm Fri – SEVILLA v Granada – Sevilla to win to nil @ 5/4 (Paddy Power)
3.15pm Sat – VILLARREAL v Leganes – Home win @ 4/6 (Skybet)
7.45pm Sat – Espanyol v Atletico Madrid – DRAW @ 13/5 (bet365)
7.45pm Sun – REAL MADRID v Barcelona – Home win & Both teams to score @ 21/10 (bet365)