La Liga Betting: Messi And Youngsters To Help Barca Cruise To Opening Win

Saturday afternoon sees last year’s fourth placed finishers Athletic Bilbao away at Malaga, with the Basques potentially distracted by Wednesday’s looming all-important Champions League play-off second leg at home to Napoli.

Meanwhile Malaga start their season with a new coach and a host of new players, and club owner Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani talking about Champions League qualification while more realistic fans think about mid-table safety.

Then on Sunday, Luis Enrique begins his competitive reign as Barcelona boss with a home clash against Elche.


Malaga 2.85, draw 3.25, Athletic Bilbao 2.55 – Saturday 18.00 GMT

Team news

Athletic coach Alejandro Valverde has no new injury worries but is likely to name a much-changed side, with Oscar De Marcos, Carlos Gurpegui, Benat Etxebarria and Markel Susaeta all possibly rested. Ander Iraola, Mikel San Jose, Borja Viguera and Ibai Gomez are tipped to come in.

Malaga new men Guillermo Ochoa, Luis Alberto, Ricardo Horta and Miguel Torres could get their first games for the club.


In Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Napoli Athletic began nervously, then controlled the game for long periods, before an inevitable late push by the home side. The Basque side were delighted with the result and look well tuned up already.

Malaga’s form is more difficult to gauge - given so many new faces, including a new coach. Los Boquerones beat both Newcastle and West Ham in warm-ups during recent weeks, but lost their final friendly 2-0 to Fiorentina.

What the managers say

Javi Gracia - “I like to win, but not in just any way. That only works in short term.”

Ernesto Valverde - “We played very well against Napoli for 65/70 minutes. It was a very intense game.”

Key men/factors

Athletic minds elsewhere

Athletic’s players’ motivation and concentration may be an issue given making the Champions League group stages is surely their primary focus at the moment.

Malaga mindset changing

New Malaga coach Gracia’s only Primera experience is taking Osasuna down last season, and his players may take time to learn the more open footballing style he favours.

Score Prediction

A draw might be acceptable to both sides at this stage, so 1-1 looks most likely at 6.40.

Best Bet

Both teams to score at 1.80 looks value given both sides will have issues around organisation and personnel at the back.

Barcelona 1.10, draw 11.00, Elche 22.00 – Sunday 20.00 GMT

Team news

Neymar has a knee injury, Pedro Rodriguez has a tummy bug and Luis Suarez is of course suspended, so youngsters Rafinha [21] and Munir El-Haddadi [18] could start up front alongside Lionel Messi.


Barca often start the La Liga season with a whopping result at home - beating Villarreal 5-0 in 2011 and Levante 7-0 last year. They also warmed up with a 6-0 friendly win over Mexicans Club Leon on Monday  - with Messi and Munir [2] on the scoresheet.

Elche ended last term well, including a 0-0 home draw against Barca on the penultimate weekend, and have been unbeaten through pre-season. But even still this looks a huge test to start their season.

What the managers say

Luis Enrique - “We are in good shape as I expected and we will keep improving with matches and training.”

Fran Escriba - “We believe we are arriving well at the first game. The team has worked well and we are ready to compete.”

Key men/factors


Is Messi ready?

With Neymar and Suarez absent, Barca will again be relying on Messi up front. He looked sharp against Club Leon, but has played just 63 minutes in pre-season.

Will Elche rock?

Elche were well organised defensively last year, but key holding midfielders Carlos ‘The Rock’ Sanchez and Ruben Perez have both left this summer.

Score Prediction

3-0 Barcelona at 6.50, and only three because of the late injury to Neymar.

Best Bet

Home team to win both halves is not a huge price at 1.75, but still looks like value.


Read Dermot Corrigan's La Liga previews every week!