La Liga Week 21
Sunday 27th January 2013
Athletic Bilbao vs. Atletico Madrid
Formed in 1898, Los Leones have played in every La Liga season since its inception and have won the title on eight occasions including the two very first La Liga titles ever. But tradition counts for nothing nowadays and sentiment even less as Athletic Bilbao find themselves at the wrong end of the table and on the edge of the relegation struggle after such a good season last year, when they reached two finals and qualified for the Europa League again.
Atletico Madrid on the other hand are having their best season in La Liga for a while and sit seven points above city rivals Real in third and after Barcelona lost their first game of the season last weekend, are now eight points behind the champions elect. They are still 25/1 on the soccer odds boards to win the title though, as are Real Madrid, and it is unlikely 1/50 favourites Barca will slip up too many more times this season, if at all, but stranger things have happened in football, just ask Bradford City in England after their heroics this week has them in a Wembley League Cup final as a side from the fourth tier in the English League!
Bilbao are 2/1 with bet365 to win this game with Atleti the firm favourites at 11/8 and the draw can be had for 9/4. Their last home defeat to Rayo Vallecano means they have now lost as many games as during the whole of last season. But at least the Monday night 1-1 draw at fourth place Real Betis has halted a run of three successive defeats and was their best performance in weeks to give them something to build on.
Atletico have won 15 of their first 20 and won all 11 home games and only lost three matches all season. And while it's true that Radamel Falcao will leave sooner or later and his 18 goals (seven of them penalties) are almost half the 40 scored, the truth is that coach Diego Simeone has Atlético playing well with a simplified game that has increased markedly their efficiency and consistency, as those stats bear out. They are still in the Europa League and still in the Copa del Rey, having beaten Real Betis 3-1 over two legs, drawing 1-1 last night to secure a semi-final with Sevilla.
However, Falcao is out for up to three weeks with a muscular injury to give Bilbao some hope in this game though they themselves will probably have to do without their star man Fernando Llorente from the start again and for certain after this season as he has signed for Juventus but will remain in Spain until this campaign is over. He has not exactly set the world light as he did with 24 goals last term mind you, with just one this season, though that is most certainly due to the speculation surrounding where he was going to move to prompting manager Marcelo Bielsa to start him just once all season in La Liga, preferring to leave him on the bench. He has come on in 21 games in all competitions though but the unrest is there for all to see and has replaced the goals.
It is in stark contrast to this time last year, when Bielsa's new regime was showing the qualities that would eventually take the Basques to the Europa League and Copa del Rey finals. Their poor performances and defeat in both those finals, after such an impressive season, were maybe a warning sign of what was to come, and the club has been unable to cope with the transfer of Javi Martinez and the whole, sorry Fernando Llorente affair. They did not make it out of the group stages of the Europa League this time around.
So, with both top goalscorers sidelined, though for very different reasons, where does the value lie in this one, and where will the goals come from? Well, Aritz Aduriz has netted 12 for the home side so far this season and is 7/4 with William Hill to do so again, or 6/1 if you think he will get the first of the day. And Fernando Llorente is at 9/4 to come off the bench and get one but as his disgruntled manager Bielsa had him warm up for the whole of the second half and then didn't use him recently I will not be backing that one at all!
I think Atleti will control this one but don't see a glut of goals in this one and expect them to keep a fourth clean sheet in their last five games. They had won three games on the bounce 2-0 before the tie at Betis where they were in cruise control after the first leg and are a very attractive 10/1 to win by that margin again. Bilbao have lost the last two at Estadio San Mamés, conceding four and netting just one and I expect this to go the same way.
The under 2.5 is at 7/10 and the over 2.5 at 21/20 both with William Hill but represent little betting value to me but I think Draw/Atletico at 9/2 and my Football betting pick Atletico/Atletico at 11/4 with bet365 is a much stronger way to go. As for a correct score prediction I have already thrown my hat into the ring with 2-0 at 10/1 though if you like 3-0 for the visitors then doubling your money at 20/1 may have you interestedly rubbing your hands. Bilbao are 16/1 and 40/1 respectively to produce a shock and manage those results in their favour but as I have said, I don't see them netting at all against a defence that has allowed only 18 goals all season whilst netting 42.
Free Football Picks: Away win for me at 11/8 and a correct score of 2-0 at 10/1 with both William Hill and bet365.