Villarreal 5.25, draw 4.10, Real Madrid 1.62 – Saturday 15.00 GMT
The mood around Real Madrid is buoyant again after 18 goals in three games, with most thoughts of the previous defeats to Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad having been banished. Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti has however been sounding a more cautionary note, as he presumably knows that Villarreal at El Madrigal are likely to be a stiffer test than Basel, Deportivo La Coruna or Elche.
Ancelotti will recall Luka Modric and Karim Benzema for the game, despite the France centre-forward having scored just three times in his last 20 club games. Isco and Asier Illarramendi are likely to drop out, with galactico Gareth Bale keeping his place as he returns to the ground where he scored on his Blancos debut just under 12 months ago.
With Ronaldo in such blistering form [seven goals in his last two games] Madrid are quite likely to score heavily again. But their ‘balance’ between attack and defence will be tested by Villarreal’s nifty ballplayers, as Ancelotti accepted while recalling last year’s meeting at his pre-game news conference.
“Villarreal caused us problems last year, they’re a very good team, quick, with very good organisation of the play,” Ancelotti said. A similarly open game would mean whoever plays in goal for Madrid - Iker Casillas is tipped to return with Keylor Navas back on the bench - could well have plenty of work to do.
Villarreal have started the season solidly - with eight points from five games and their only defeat coming in a 1-0 home loss to Barcelona during which they hit the post three times. In-form Denis Cheryshev is out due to the loan agreement with Madrid, and Giovanni Dos Santos has an outside chance of featuring having returned to training after three weeks out with a muscle strain.
Best bet: The last six games between these teams have brought 25 goals. So how about over 3.5 goals in these 90 minutes at 2.50?
Predicted score: A repeat of last year’s 2-2 at 12.50.
Barcelona 1.12, draw 10.00, Granada 20.00 – Saturday 17.00 GMT
Barcelona host Granada on Saturday having been bumped off top spot of La Liga [by Valencia] after their midweek 0-0 draw at Malaga. There’s been plenty of focus since that game on Barca not managing even one shot on target at La Rosaleda, the first time that’s happened in a decade. With Lionel Messi stifled by a well drilled Malaga defence Barca offered little else in attack. Full-backs Jordi Alba and debutant Douglas put in lots of crosses, but to little avail.
Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique said at Friday’s press conference that people should not read too much into that stat, while admitting the team needed to improve:
“Ten shots on goal and none on target means we can do better, of course,” he said. “But we should not be over dramatic about it. Each opponent presents you difficulties, it is up to us to resolve them. We want to be unpredictable.”
Despite this Barca’s approach is unlikely to change too much - although youngster Munir could perhaps replace Pedro [just one goal this season] up front. Further rotation is also expected at the back where Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves should return.
Granada coach Joaquin Caparros is another clever defensive organiser, and whose side picked up a surprise 1-0 at Athletic Bilbao last weekend, with centre-backs Jean-Sylvain Babin and Jeison Murillo outstanding. They then slipped up losing 1-0 at home to Levante midweek, but overall eight points from their first five games under Caparros is a decent return. The Andalusians also beat Barca in their last meeting - a 1-0 defeat at Los Carmenes in April which went a long way to costing Messi and company the title.
Best bet: The most likely outcome looks a tight enough start, with Barca winning in the end. There’s been one or less goals in the first half of all three games at the Camp Nou so far this season. Odds of a repeat are 1.80.
Score prediction: Barcelona 2-0 Granada at 6.75.
Atletico Madrid 1.72, draw 3.70, Sevilla 5.00 – Saturday 19.00 GMT
For many the weekend’s most eagerly awaited La Liga clash is defending champions Atletico Madrid hosting third-placed and unbeaten Sevilla on Saturday evening.
Atletico went back to back basics midweek, eking out a 1-0 win at Almeria, scoring from a set-piece and keeping a first clean sheet in five games. Miranda’s header was his third goal of the new season, and means six of his side’s seven goals in La Liga so far have been from set-pieces.
That was a positive in showing Diego Simeone’s side can find a way to win, but also suggests a lack of goals from elsewhere as they look to replace Diego Costa up front. Such concerns mean that summer signing Mario Mandzukic could return to the team, while wearing a special mask to protect his recently broken nose.
Unai Emery’s side have less issues in attack, with Gerard Deulofeu grabbing his first goal for the club in Wednesday’s well deserved 1-0 win over Real Sociedad. Carlos Bacca, Denis Suarez and Aleix Vidal have also started the season impressively, and Emery’s big and strong team are also a threat themselves at set-pieces.
Best bet: Both coaches tend towards caution in their approaches, and this looks likely to be a tight, physical battle. Atletico showed against Real Madrid that in big games they can crank things up after the break, so half-time draw, full-time home win at 4.50 looks like value.
Score prediction: Atletico 2-1 Sevilla at 9.00.
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