Valencia 1.62, Draw 4.00, Athletic Bilbao 5.50 – Sunday 18.00 GMT
Valencia v Athletic is traditionally one of La Liga’s most even fixtures, with two big city teams often battling it out for best of the rest status behind Madrid and Barcelona. Not this time though.
Valencia’s home form couldn’t really be better, having won all their games at Mestalla this season. Los Che have always been up at half-time too, and scored three times by the final whistle. Nuno’s side have been unstoppable in front of their own fans - with champions Atletico Madrid among the teams already steamrollered.
Even the loss of playmaker Dani Parejo did not stall Valencia last weekend, and the 3-1 win at Villarreal was another sign that they look the real deal this season. Algeria international Sofiane Feghouli slotted into a slightly tweaked midfield, and looks likely to keep his place.
A lack of European commitments this season also looks an advantage, as goalkeeper Diego Alves said on Thursday - “Without playing we can prepare better for our La Liga games, physically and tactically.”
By contrast playing in the Champions League has been a huge strain on Athletic’s season. Consecutive 1-0 wins over Almeria and Sevilla in recent weekends had lifted the team out of the drop zone, and raised spirits a bit at San Mames. Then came Wednesday’s depressing 0-2 home CL reverse against Porto, bringing an exit from that competition, and more doom and gloom for Los Leones.
Athletic are also now without Aritz Aduriz, who has scored four of their seven goals so far in La Liga, and misses the game against his former club with a muscle tear. Oscar De Marcos and Iker Muniain are fitness concerns too. However most importantly coach Ernesto Valverde must try again to pick up a deflated dressing room and move on.
“We have failed in the Champions League, of course we have,” Valverde said on Friday. “But domestically we have won consecutive games, and we have always said the most important thing is La Liga.”
Valverde, in charge at Valencia just 18 months ago, surely knows that even a confident Athletic would likely struggle at a buzzing Mestalla at the moment. Nuno’s side should march on once more.
Predicted score: Valencia 3-0 Athletic at 11.00
Best bet: Valencia to be ahead at HT and FT at 2.38
Real Sociedad 4.60, Draw 3.60, Atletico Madrid 1.80 – Sunday 20.00 GMT
One of the few consolations for Athletic fans so far this season has been that, just along the coast in San Sebastian, things have been going even worse.
Real Sociedad tumbled out of the Europa League in the play-off round to Krasnodar, and have won just once in La Liga all season - the bizarre 4-2 against a distracted Real Madrid back in August. Such a record finally lead to the dismissal of out of his depth coach Jagoba Arrasate after last week’s 1-0 home defeat to Malaga.
No replacement has yet been appointed, with David Moyes still an unlikely favourite for the position. Caretakers Asier Santana and Imanol Alguacil face a huge task with champions Atletico Madrid arriving bang in form. “If we play a high-tempo game with the fans behind us we can pull ourselves out of this,” said midfielder Markel Bergara, optimistically, on Friday.
Making things even worse for the txuri-urdin fans is their former hero Antoine Griezmann is returning to Anoeta having finally got his first La Liga goals since his 30 million euro summer move in Atletico’s 4-2 win over Cordoba last weekend.
Griezmann and his fellow new arrivals now look well adapted into Diego Simeone’s side, which has now won eight of their last nine games in all competitions, keeping seven clean sheets along the way. Los Colchoneros have also been victorious on their last four visits to San Sebastian.
“Anoeta is always a difficult ground for all opponents, they will come at us with all they have,” said Griezmann on Friday. The Frenchman was being generous - it’s very, very hard to see anything other than an away win here.
Predicted result: Real Sociedad 0-2 Atletico Madrid at 8.00
Best bet: Total goals home team under 0.5 [i.e. Atletico clean sheet] at 2.18