Almeria 18.00, draw 8.00, Barcelona 1.15 – Saturday 15:00 GMT
Barcelona travel to Almeria on Saturday afternoon under a bit of a cloud, having lost their last two games in La Liga, and been knocked from first spot in the table down to fourth.
Wednesday’s 2-0 Champions League Group win at Ajax offered some relief, but in reality Barca did not play too well, and were reliant on the latest match-winning individual performance from Lionel Messi. The overall performance did little to quell doubts among blaugrana fans and pundits [and even reportedly the players] over the direction in which Luis Enrique is taking the team.
The blaugrana coach himself has been defiant through recent press conferences, and said after the Ajax game that the recent blip was nothing to worry about.
“We were not injured, we just had the usual bruises after every game,” Luis Enrique said. “We know there will be tough moments during the season. We just focus on improving and correcting errors.”
Almeria began this season in decent form, they have now just one point from their last four games. Goals have been a problem, with just seven scored in 10 games this term. They have competed well however, losing just 1-0 at home to both Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao. The Andalucians are well-organised through defence and midfield, but lack real quality up front.
While Barca have been through regular ups and downs over recent seasons, a constant has been victory over Almeria, with the Catalan side having won all the last six meetings.
Barca actually won this fixture 8-0 back in November 2011, but even with Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez likely to start again up front, another goal-rush seems unlikely given their current form. Odds of 8.00 on a draw look kinda tempting, but a narrow away win still seems most probable.
Predicted result: Almeria 0-2 Barca at 7.50.
Best bet: Total match goals under 3.5 at 1.90.
Real Madrid 1.05, draw 16.00, Rayo Vallecano 27.00 – Saturday 19:00 GMT
Real Madrid stretched their run of consecutive wins in all competitions to 12 with Tuesday’s 1-0 Champions League seeing-off of Liverpool. The scoreline was slightly underwhelming for Madrid fans who had been spoiled with their side averaging over four goals a game through recent weeks, but Carlo Ancelotti’s side clearly eased off when facing the unexpectedly weak Reds line-up.
The previous night Rayo’s see-saw season had continued, with a 3-2 home defeat to Eibar, but most fans will still be happy enough with their current 11th placed position.
Paco Jemez’s side never go away and park the bus, but play their usual game and see where the chips fall. This usually means a heavy defeat - they lost 16-0 on aggregate at the Bernabeu, Camp Nou and Calderon last season. But Jemez reckons this “brave” approach is his side’s best [only] chance of getting a result.
Madrid did look quite tired against Liverpool, and their flair players in midfield are perhaps ailing just a bit after the exhilarating efforts of recent weeks. Fit-again Gareth Bale will replace either Isco or James Rodriguez in the XI, meaning more pace up front but less control of the play.
This might be an ideal game to give Sami Khedira a start in the centre, but he’s still out injured. So it would be no surprise if Madrid do give up some chances, or get a bit slack late on if they’ve built a comfortable lead.
“We must be careful in this game, we know how they play, and we must be ready for that,” Blancos coach Ancelotti said at Friday’s pre-game news conference. “When everyone is talking so well about us I get a bit worried. We must be fully focused.”
Rayo have scored on three of their last five visits to the Bernabeu, while losing each game, and could well do so again. Madrid will also score [of course], and will win the game, but there’s a decent chance the visitors might take away a small moral victory of their own.
Predicted result: Real Madrid 3-1 Rayo Vallecano at 11.00.
Best bet: Away team to win at least one half at 6.30 is tempting, but both teams to score second half at 2.90 gets the call.
We've Been Nominated For Best Gambling Blog At The 2014 Football Blogging Awards - Vote Here