Levante 15.00, draw 7.50, Real Madrid 1.18 - Saturday 15.00 GMT
Through recent years Levante has been a difficult place for Real Madrid to go.
Jose Mourinho’s side drew 0-0 at the Ciutat de Levante in 2010/11 and lost 1-0 in 2011/12. The following year Cristiano Ronaldo was elbowed by home defender David Navarro, but still managed to score before coming off dizzy and watching from the bench as replacement Alvaro Morata hit an injury time winner. Twelve months ago Los Blancos were 2-1 down on 90 minutes, before Morata and Ronaldo again scored in injury-time for a 3-2 win.
This year’s Levante look a less fearsome prospect. Las Granotas have won just one of their first seven La Liga outings, scoring in just two of those games, and being hammered 5-0 at home by Barcelona. In that game especially the attempt by new coach Jose Luis Mendilibar to get his team defending high up the pitch looked misjudged.
“You must play all 90 minutes well,” Mendilibar said on Thursday. “Because it seems you’ve played a good first half and then in three minutes they get three chances. It is a difficult game, we must be focused throughout.”
While Levante have been struggling, Madrid have won their last four games, scoring 20 goals. Cristiano Ronaldo is already up to 13 in La Liga with just seven games gone. Ronaldo also scored a late winner for Portugal in Denmark in midweek, and is likely to be extra-motivated for this one.
The biggest question ahead of the game is Madrid’s team selection and focus, given they have a Champions League game at Liverpool on Wednesday, and then the first La Liga Clasico of the season at home to Barcelona next Saturday.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti is likely to hold back Sergio Ramos due to his calf issue and rest Karim Benzema and Raphael Varane who have been down with a bout of flu. Isco and Nacho Fernandez are likely to come in.
“There was not time to properly prepare the team in pre-season,” Ancelotti said this week. “But they are now flying, motivated, and we can continue this good streak.”
That positive form looks set to continue, as even a distracted Madrid should have way too much for Levante.
Prediction: Levante 0-2 Real Madrid at 8.00
Best bet: Given the chance that Ancelotti will rotate and / or take off some big guns once game is under control perhaps under 3.5 goals at 1.90.
Barcelona 1.10, draw 10.00, Eibar 25.00 – Saturday 19.00 GMT
Quite the ‘David v Goliath’ game this one, with Barca’s 550 million euro budget up against Eibar’s 18 million euro a year. The entire population of the Basque village of Eibar would only take up a quarter of the Camp Nou’s 98,000 seats.
But yet… the new boys have not looked at all overawed in their first ever season at the top level. Expertly organised and motivated by young coach Gaizka Garitano, they have let in just seven goals in their opening seven games [including three in the freak 3-3 with Levante mentioned above].
The Basque side only scored eight in total themselves, but that’s been enough to get nine points and a comfortable mid-table position. They’ve also enjoyed both their biggest occasions so far - beating local rivals Real Sociedad 1-0 on the opening day, and eking out a 0-0 at also close-by Athletic Bilbao in late September.
Garitano this week continued his upbeat message: “We need to focus on ourselves, on competing. This is the best shop window for us to show our potential. It is a fearsome challenge, the hardest we have had. But we will enjoy playing there.”
Even still though… this looks a huge ask. Barca have won all their home games this season, and are yet to concede at the Camp Nou. Rotation is likely, with Neymar – who scored four times against Japan on Tuesday – likely on the bench and Pedro Rodriguez starting on the wing.
Messi, celebrating 10 years as a Barca senior player this week, looks unlikely to be rested. The Argentine also has Telmo Zarra’s all-time La Liga goalscoring record in view, with two more bringing him to the former Athletic Bilbao striker’s mark of 251.
“We are not talking about records,” coach Luis Enrique told Friday's pre-game news conference. “We are just interested in getting the three points. That [the record] will soon fall. Eibar are playing well, that is what concerns me.”
But both the record, and the victory, would be a nice way to start into a big week for Barca.
Prediction: Barca 3-0 Eibar at 6.10
Best bet: Assuming Messi starts and Neymar does not, the Argentine to score the game’s first goal at 2.95 looks decent value.
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