Thursday's La Liga previews
After the humiliation of being beaten in their own ground by hated rivals Barcelona last weekend, Los Blancos face Juan Manuel Lillo's Almeria (17/2) in a fixture they have not won since 1980. Before your jaw hits the ground, bear in mind that Almeria have only played a few a seasons in the top flight since they were founded.
Even still, they have beaten Real before (in 2008) and have proved to be very hard to beat at home this season. Just ask Barcelona who were made to fight for the point they took in a 2-2 draw a few months ago.
Despite being considered near safe from relegation, Lillo spoke of his intentions to gain all three points tonight, adding that he would consider forty points a safety mark. Should they beat Real, I'll be earmarking them for defeat in their remaining La Liga games.
Never has current been more appropriate when mentioning a Real Madrid coach, with Manuel Pellegrini's future questioned by the Spanish press after the Clasico defeat. This is nothing new; the Chilean has been expected to serve only one season or less at the helm since the day he was appointed!
You see, he doesn't fit in with the clubs "Hollywood" image and, given that he was not first choice for the role last summer, is therefore a sitting duck, whether he wins anything or not. Recent proof of winning titles and still being fired is available via Fabio Capello and Vicente Del Bosque. One is now the coach of England, the other the Spanish national team manager!
Pellegrini is a coach with his hands tied, of that there is no doubt. He will have suitors in the summer, possibly even former club Villarreal. For now he must sit tight and hope that Ronaldo or Higuain (both are priced at 5/2 to score first or 4/7 anytime) can keep Real clinging to Barca's coat tails in the hope of a miracle.
Anyone backing Real Madrid (2/7) tonight might also consider draw/Madrid (7/2). Maybe we will see a reaction from Real tonight, but they are a side that beats 9/10 opponents through individual skill rather than teamwork, and frustration could boil over if they are frustrated early on.
I'm hoping that will be the case and like the look of Almeria +2 goals (5/6). I will also be going for Almeria or draw in the double chance market; priced at 9/4.
Along with the latest player to see red, Manuel Fernandes, Valencia coach Unai Emery could be without defenders Navarro, Miguel, Maduro, Dealbert and Mathieu when sixth placed Athletic Bilbao visit the Mestalla this evening.
Injury stricken, suspension ridden Los Che have been playing players out of position for weeks and consequently their results have suffered. With Villa (3/1 to score first, 8/11 anytime) and Silva rested in the 3-2 away defeat at Mallorca, Senor Emery will look to his star duo to put seven points between third placed Valencia and their weekend conquerors Mallorca.
Valencia (8/13) looked very good for third place a few weeks ago, but face opening up the chase for the final automatic Champions League birth should they lose today. Had Sevilla not unexpectedly lost to Valladolid on Tuesday night and instead won, the best of the rest title would have been within the Rojiblancos grasp.
Athletic (9/2) impressively hammered Almeria 4-1 in San Mames last Sunday, and also have their eyes on a European spot. The Europa league is their likely destination, and that is an overachievement given the Basque clubs limited resources. If they win tonight, they will go level with Sevilla on points with a tally of 51; one behind Mallorca.
Fernando Llorente (7/1 to score first, 2/1 anytime) is a player I back at home, but usually avoid away where he is less effective in scoring. Tonight is one of those rare nights in which I will make an exception to my rule. The target man is looking to secure a call up to the Spanish national team with the World Cup looming, and Valencia will likely field another makeshift defence.
I must also point out that Senor Villa has a very good record against Athletic, with the number seven netting ten La Liga goals against the Basques in his career so far. Could be enough to enough to tempt punters into having a flutter on him making it twelve, with the bet of him scoring two goals or more available at 5/1.
This should be a very interesting game and one in which 1,2 or X (the draw is 11/4) is possible. Valencia are in bad form, but very good at home, Athletic are in good form, but average-poor on their travels.
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