Saturday's La Liga previews
Athletic Bilbao vs Real Madrid - 19:00 Sky Sports 3
As regular readers will know, Bilbao is always a tough place to visit, but Real Madrid (8/13) go into this game on the back of an excellent performance against Mallorca last time out.
Los Blancos were clever in their movement on and off the ball and should have scored far more than two goals against the stage frightened islanders. Higuain could and probably should have had more one goal, but the one he did get shows the confidence he has and he proved me wrong not to back him.
Sadly none of us will have the chance to back Mr Higuain for a few weeks as he has a foot injury. His misfortune should however open up an opportunity for Karim Benzema who is priced at 5/1 for the first goal or 5/4 to score at anytime. Benzema must take his opportunity, but form and confidence are the biggest factors I consider when backing goal scorers and I'm not sure he has enough of either to warrant taking a punt on him in this fixture. Should he start and score in Bilbao, I will change my tune next week!
While he's under less pressure than Benzema to perform in Real colours, Kaka has yet to play anywhere near his best and with the knowledge that the now injured Van Der Vaart played well in the Brazilian's absence, the former FIFA World Player of the year is expected to improve on previous contributions.
Until Kaka looks totally comfortable with Spanish football, I won't consider backing him. Even if he does not fully adapt, he will probably score a few goals, but not often enough to make him a regular recommendation on my previews. Should you fancy Ricardo to bag one in Bilbao the tempting price of 13/2 is on offer for him to score first. He is 15/8 to score at anytime.
Ronny has adapted better than Ricky and despite being a lot shorter priced, gets my vote if I had to choose a scorer. The large pitch should suit his pace, that's for sure. Ronaldo is 7/2 for the first goal or 10/11 to score at anytime.
Athletic (17/4) surprisingly won three in a row away from home prior to the Christmas break, but have been poor in their fixtures (both away) with Mallorca and Malaga since La Liga restarted.
However, this is just the kind of home fixture that should motivate the Basque team and the un-conditional love of the San Mames crowd makes the draw (5/2) worth consideration.
As ever, Llorente offers the home team's best hope for a goal. He is 15/2 to score first or 9/4 to score at anytime.
A hard result to predict, but given that Bilbao have (for once) won as many games away from home as they have at home, I'm going to follow form and take Real Madrid.
Barcelona vs Sevilla-21:00 Sky Sports 3
For half an hour or so Barcelona (1/3) played poorly against Tenerife and if they had faced a team who could take their chances, would have been looking at a two or three goal deficit by this point.
It's become steadily apparent that the Barca players are giving a little less effort with their movement on and off the ball compared to what we are used to. Apparently a lot of the squad players (mostly youngsters) are tired of being told they cannot go on loan as they are needed by the club, only to be put back on the bench if they play well when given the opportunity (see Pedro).
Bojan is a player in that bracket and one that for now at least, appears to be bucking the trend. The kid has a point to prove and along with Messi, forms the most in form pairing in Cataluña. However badly the team is playing, give the ball to Messi and something is likely to happen. Messi is 10/3 to score first or 4/5 to score at anytime, with Bojan 11/2 and 6/4 in the same markets.
With many absentees through injury and African Nations duty, Sevilla (7/1) have been very poor in La Liga recently. Worryingly, they keep losing to average, smallish teams at home, so you have to assume that their problems are also mental. Against much stronger opposition Sevilla won in the Nou Camp a week and a half ago in the Copa Del Rey, so it's plausible that they do so again tonight.
However, despite Barca's squad problems documented earlier, Sevilla's depleted squad should suffer the most from such a congested fixture list and lightening does not often strike twice! After their cup elimination at the hands of Sevilla, Barca will likely go for the jugular straight away and Barca/Barca @ 10/11 in the double result market should generate interest.
I'll be betting on this one In-Play.
Osasuna vs Espanyol - 17:00
Already out of the Copa Del Rey before the midweek fixtures, Espanyol's (5/2) steadily improving team will have had the benefit of a week's rest over their opponents at the Estadio Reyno de Navarra.
Osasuna's (evens) tired first team squeezed past second division Hercules 1-0 in the Kings cup and have not scored in their last four La Liga games. Espanyol do not however score many and have only won once on the road in La Liga, so a low scoring draw (11/5) seems the likely outcome. Espanyol +1 goal is also worth consideration (4/6).
Enjoy the action and don't forget that you can bet In-Play with William Hill Online.