La Liga Betting: Messi Can Lead Barca To A Tight Win At Valencia


Atletico Madrid 1.18, Draw 7.00, Deportivo La Coruna 18.00 – Sunday 11:00 GMT

This should really be another straightforward three points for Atletico at home to a Deportivo La Coruna side still struggling to settle back in at this level after promotion.

While they've slipped up occasionally away from home this season, Atletico's home form has been excellent. Wednesday's Champions League 4-0 crushing of Olympiakos means Los Colchoneros have won their last seven at the Estadio Vicente Calderon, scoring 23 times and conceding just three [while keeping five clean sheets].

Mario Mandzukic starred midweek – starting despite a neck problem, and scoring his first hat-trick for the club. Mandzukic – 11 goals already since his summer move from Bayern Munich – could be partnered in attack by Antoine Griezmann, with Alessio Cerci still clearly out of favour with coach Diego Simeone. In-form Tiago Mendes came off with a minor muscle problem against Olympiakos, but has been included in the match-squad.

Club Atletico de Madrid v Olympiacos FC - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

On Saturday Simeone said there was more to come from his side: “The team keeps growing and improving, by working together,” he said. “We want to get a fast start against Deportivo.”

Depor travel to the capital stuck in the relegation zone, but veteran coach Victor Fernandez's move to three centre-backs has at least stiffened things at the back, with three clean sheets in their last four. They've only managed one goal themselves in those games however, so Fernandez should bring back in fit-again attacking midfielder Lucas Perez - star of the team's most recent win when they beat Valencia 3-0 at home in mid-October.

“We're on the right path, but we need to find something more to win,” said Fernandez said on Friday. “Atletico always control the game and give you few chances. We need to take those we get.”

Even Fernandez himself did not sound over confident, and Depor's new-found defensive resilience looks more to do with the weakness of their recent opponents [Espanyol, Cordoba, Real Sociedad], than any real improvement at the back. Mandzukic and company should get plenty more chances to fill their boots.

Prediction: Atletico 3-0 Deportivo La Coruna at 6.50

Best bet: Atletico goals over 2.5 at 2.06 is the pick.

 

Valencia 6.25, Draw 4.50, Barcelona 1.52 – Sunday 20:00 GMT

This could be one of the games of the season so far in La Liga, and looks a difficult one to call.

Lionel Messi's latest phenomenal record breaking exploits – two hat-tricks in four days to become both the leading goalscorer ever in both La Liga and the Champions League – have brought smiles again to the Camp Nou. But only a week ago questions were being seriously asked about Messi's future at Barca, and Luis Enrique's ideas for the team, and both these issues remain open.

Barca have not been great away on the road so far this season – being well beaten at Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain, and last time in La Liga needing substitute Luis Suarez to turn around a 0-1 half-time score at lowly Almeria. A lack of rhythm in midfield means they are still reliant on moments of magic from one of their South American superstars.

AFC Ajax v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

Predicting Luis Enrique's starting XI is again tricky. Neymar and former Valencia defender Jeremy Mathieu should both return, having sat out Wednesday's 4-0 Champions League win at APOEL. Gerard Pique, winner of squad go-karting competition on Friday, could step down too. Andres Iniesta has recovered from a calf problem, but might be on the bench.

“We've come through a difficult period, and are now better after two good games,” Mathieu claimed on Friday. “Hopefully we can continue this run in Valencia.”

There is something to the argument that this is a good time to visit Mestalla. Valencia won each of their first five at home, scoring three times in each game, and even rolling over champions Atletico Madrid. But last time out in front of their own fans, Nuno's side drew 0-0 against newly resilient Athletic Bilbao. They then lost 2-1 at city rivals Levante last weekend, suggesting their early-season momentum has stalled somewhat.

Valencia's problems recently have been in making chances, with front men Paco Alcacer, Rodrigo, and now finally fit Alvaro Negredo starved of service. The return to fitness of key midfielder Dani Parejo should help with that, and his delivery from set-pieces could also trouble Barca's defence.

Speaking on Friday, Los Che defender Nicolas Otamendi summed up the challenge facing his side: “We must play a perfect game,” the Argentine said. “We must be organised and know when to attack and when to defend. The most important thing is the balance.”

Otamendi was correct, and a tight game looks quite likely. If this was played a fortnight ago Valencia could even be favourites. But the swings and roundabouts since – especially Messi looking back in the mood – mean Barca should really do it.

Prediction: Valencia 1-2 Barcelona at 8.00