Valencia 5.75, Draw 4.50, Real Madrid 1.53 – Sunday 16:00 GMT
La Liga leaders Real Madrid travel to Valencia on Sunday afternoon for what looks like a tricky start to their 2015.
Madrid finished last year in amazing form - with their Club World Cup final success over San Lorenzo an astounding 22nd consecutive win in all competitions. There were however some signs of fatigue among the squad - especially in the latest muscle injuries picked up in Morocco by Sergio Ramos and Marcelo.
Both players are unlikely to be back in time for Sunday’s game, especially with Wednesday’s Copa del Rey last 16 first leg at Atletico Madrid looming. Raphael Varane and Fabio Coentrao should therefore come into the XI, which will for sure have the superstar ‘BBC’ trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo up front.
Madrid’s rest was interrupted by a trip to Dubai where they were beaten 4-2 by AC Milan last Tuesday, but coach Carlo Ancelotti reckons that result was unimportant.
“It was a defeat without pain,” Ancelotti told Tuttosport on Saturday. “After a week’s holidays we needed to get our rhythm back. Anyway, this did not ruin all we did in 2014, a fantastic year.”
Valencia have themselves added a new big name over Christmas, with owner Peter Lim financing a 25 million euro move for midfielder Enzo Perez from Benfica. The Argentina international will likely slot straight into the ‘holding’ central role as regular starter Javi Fuego is suspended. At his presentation on Friday the new man was full of optimism.
“Of course Madrid can be beaten,” Perez said. “We know they have great players, a great team, but on the pitch we are 11 against 11. We will prepare for the game so that the points stay in Valencia.”
Los Che coach Nuno went with three at the back to start both Spain centre-forwards Alvaro Negredo and Paco Alcacer in winning 1-0 at Eibar before the break, but seems likely to play a more conventional, and cagey, line-up here.
Nuno’s side were excellent when beating Atletico Madrid at Mestalla in October, and very unlucky when losing in injury time to Barcelona the following month. Another good performance which excites their fans looks likely, but Madrid’s firepower should really prove too much in the end.
Predicted scoreline: Valencia 1-2 Real Madrid at 8.50
Best bet: Draw in market starting Valencia 1-0 up [i.e. Madrid to win by one goal] at 3.85
Real Sociedad 9.50, Draw 5.50, Barcelona 1.31 – Sunday 20:00 GMT
David Moyes’ start at Real Sociedad has been pretty low-key. Results have been okay - with just one defeat in his first seven games in all competitions, and progress in the Copa Del Rey. However there’s not been too much excitement - with just one win and two players scoring in his first five La Liga games.
2015 starts with a bang however, with Barcelona the visitors at Anoeta. And La Real have an excellent record in this fixture in recent seasons, being actually undefeated in their last five games against the Catalans in all competitions. Despite struggling all season for points, the Basque side have also lifted their game to beat both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at home in recent months.
Less happily for Moyes, his side's top [and almost only] scorer Carlos Vela is still not fully over a muscle problem, although previous Barca-beating centre-forward Imanol Agirretxe could return after a long injury absence.
“The players have shown then that they can beat Barcelona before, and they have to show that again,” Moyes said on Friday. “It’d be great to start the new year by beating Barcelona.”
Barca went on their winter break with coach Luis Enrique maintaining that fans and pundits should be focusing on the team’s [mostly] positive results and not on its [often] scratchy performances. But the feeling remains that things have not quite clicked yet for the former blaugrana player.
South American superstar attackers Lionel Messi and Neymar only returned from their holidays on Friday, so winger Pedro Rodriguez should get a chance to continue his tendency to score in the calendar year’s first game. Dani Alves is back from injury to start at right-back, while ex-La Real keeper Claudio Bravo returns to his former club for the first time in a Barca shirt.
“It will be very difficult,” Bravo said on Friday. “We cannot give them anything. We are used to performing in games without being together too many days. In previous years Barca relaxed in the second half at Anoeta.”
A lot depends on whether Messi and Neymar are ready to start and play, but this looks a chance for Moysie’s boys to again catch Barca on the hop.
Predicted result: Real Sociedad 1-1 Barcelona at 9.50
Best bet: Home or draw at 3.35 looks big odds