Barcelona 1.06, draw 15.00, Cordoba 25.00 – Saturday 15:00 GMT
Barcelona coach Luis Enrique continues to experiment with line-ups and systems, to general bemusement among blaugrana fans and pundits [and perhaps players too]. Last Saturday’s goalless draw at Getafe brought a new round of criticism for the former Camp Nou favourite. But, realistically, no amount of tactical tinkering from their boss should stop this Barca squad from beating Cordoba at home.
Last weekend’s result might have limited relevance on predicting what happens here anyway. Away from home Barca have had trouble breaking down obstinate defences all season. However in front of their own fans, talisman Lionel Messi has generally found a way through in the end.
Barca have netted 24 times in seven La Liga games at the Camp Nou [11 of these scored by Messi], while on the road they have scored only 12 goals in eight games [just two for Leo].
Tuesday’s Copa del Rey last 32 second leg at home to third tier Huesca saw a largely second string side win 8-1, with Pedro Rodriguez netting a hat-trick. Messi and Luis Suarez [still without a goal in six La Liga outings] should return to the starting XI here. Neymar has been declared fit after an ankle injury, but right-back Dani Alves remains a doubt with a thigh muscle problem.
“If there is anything we are used to, it is playing in these type of situations, with a rival closing up in defence,” Luis Enrique said at Friday’s pre game press conference. “There are many solutions. We will aim to attack with order and good judgement. Cordoba could cause us danger on the counter, with [Nabil] Ghilas or wide players like Fidel or Borja.”
Centre-forward Ghilas did score on the break as Cordoba finally won their first game of the season at the 14th attempt when shocking Athletic Bilbao at San Mames a fortnight ago.
That showed the progress being made since new coach Miroslav Djukic took charge in October, however the optimism took a hit in a goalless draw at home to Levante last weekend. Djukic’s side are organised and hard-working, but are pretty limited when in possession.
“We must go there with confidence,” the Andalucians’ midfielder Fausto Rossi said this week. “We will try and get something from the game. We did it in Bilbao, so why not again?”
Messi’s two hat-tricks in his last two home La Liga games is the best answer to that question. Barca will want to send their fans off to the winter break on a positive note. And the blaugrana number 10 should make sure that happens.
Predicted result: Barcelona 4-0 Cordoba at 6.25
Best bet: Messi to score twice or more looks big at 2.70
Levante 3.00, draw 3.10, v Real Sociedad 2.55 – Saturday 17:00 GMT
Real Sociedad’s trip to Levante early on Saturday evening brings together two teams with recently appointed coaches still settling into the job.
Former Manchester United and Everton manager David Moyes says he has seen signs of improvement during his first six games in charge of La Real. Moyes is being positive, as he has to be. But just two wins so far -- including Wednesday’s 2-0 Copa del Rey win over third-tier Oviedo -- suggest there is plenty of progress to be made.
The Basque side continue to look tight at the back [apart from during the second half at Villarreal two weeks ago], but still have a problem scoring goals. Carlos Vela was the only scorer in Moyes’ first five games, and he missed the Oviedo game with a muscle problem.
Iceland international Alfred Finnbogason filled the gap with his two close-range strikes, but these were his first goals since arriving last summer. Creating chances could also be a problem with midfielders Esteban Granero, David Zurutuza and Sergio Canales all injury doubts too.
“We are making progress, there are players who are improving,” Moyes said at Friday’s pre-game news conference. “We must match Levante’s physical presence and attitude. Then we can cause them problems with our football.”
The story at Levante has been quite similar since Lucas Alcaraz was appointed as coach in late October. Alcaraz began with a rousing local derby win over richer neighbours Valencia, but his side have not won since. Even making the Copa del Rey last 16 has not brought much cheer, with progress coming on away goals after Wednesday’s goalless draw at home to Segunda bottom side Albacete.
Two teams low on confidence, short of goals, with coaches still getting settled in, and focusing on not losing games. Both games between these sides last season ended 0-0. That looks quite likely again.
Predicted result: Levante 0-0 Real Sociedad at 7.50
Best bet: Under 1.5 goals at 2.85 looks very tempting.