While Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla are all facing opponents they should have little trouble with — if you believe the oddsmakers — we do have a marquee match-up between two of the biggest pleasant surprises in Spain, if not Europe. And I’m not referring to fifth-place Cádiz, although it’s still shocking to see a promoted club playing so well, even after Granada’s success a year ago.
I’m instead alluding to Real Sociedad (in first place on 23 points through 10) and Villarreal (in third on 19 points through 10 games), who meet on Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern at Real Sociedad’s Anoeta Stadium. It’s expected to be close, as Real Sociedad is +110 compared to Villarreal at +235.
While that’s the clear highlight of the weekend, we have a few other topics to address before that.
La Liga Is Well-Represented In Europe
It probably hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that all four Spanish clubs in the Champions League are well on their way to the knockout rounds of that competition. In addition to Barcelona and Sevilla leading Groups G and E, respectively — or in Sevilla’s case, tied for the lead with Chelsea — the Madrid clubs are in good shape as well.
Atleti is in second place in Group A behind Bayern Munich, but has an 80% chance to finish in second place, according to FiveThirtyEight. Los Blancos are one point behind first-place Monchengladbach in Group B, but are favored to win the group (-278). More importantly, as far as advancing goes, they are -2,000 to finish top-2.
In the Europa League, Villarreal is leading Group I with 10 points through four games, Granada is atop Group E with 10 points and Real Sociedad (7 points) is second behind Napoli (9) in Group F.
If all these teams finish strong and La Liga ends up with four teams in the UCL round of 16 and three in the UEL round of 32, that wouldn’t exactly overtake the EPL sending two clubs to the UCL final in ’19. It would still, however, be notable.
Which of the “top (UCL) four” drop points this weekend?
The slate features Valencia (+390) vs. Atleti (-137) on Saturday at 10:15 a.m.; Huesca (+310) vs. Sevilla (-103) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m.; Real Madrid (-315) vs. Alavés (+800) on Saturday at 3 p.m.; and Barcelona (-420) vs. Osasuna (+1,000) on Sunday at 8 a.m.
No, that does not exactly scream “upset alert.” But if this season has taught us anything, it’s that “the big four are heavily favored and will therefore cruise” is almost never a great prediction.
Atleti has been the most reliable squad of this bunch so far this year, but has scored just once in the last 180 minutes — they beat Barcelona 1-0 last weekend before a 0-0 Champions League draw on Wednesday. Los Rojiblancos are also coming off a tough draw with Lokomotiv Moscow, which also played Diego Simeone’s team to a draw on November 3. Valencia is extremely young — Yunus Musah, 17, is the biggest name for USMNT fans – and they have lost good player after good player, but beat Real Madrid 4-1 in a shocker on November 8. The draw (+270) is awful tempting here.
One last thing on Atleti: considering the injuries, ups and downs, etc. for both RM and Barcelona — not to mention their discouraging form overall — their futures odds (+175) to win this league are enticing. Don’t be surprised if they’re priced at something like -120, or are a bigger favorite than that, by the end of the month.
How about RM/Sevilla/Barceona?
I don’t expect Real Madrid to drop points at home vs. Alavés, especially after they beat a desperate Inter Milan team 2-0 earlier this week. I will point out, though, that they were heavily favored in both of their losses this season (vs. Cádiz on October 17 and vs. Valencia in November).
Sevilla, seeking its third straight W, shouldn’t lose to 19th-place Huesca, but who knows with a club that has lost three of its first eight in domestic play this season. As for Barcelona, a line this lopsided should mean they win big, but again, who knows?
Does Real Sociedad finally stumble?
Facing Villarreal, Real Sociedad has their toughest test since they met Real Madrid back on September 20. That one ended in a 0-0 draw. Both these teams have been remarkably consistent — Real Sociedad is 7-2-1, while Villarreal is 5-4-1 (and pushed Real Madrid last weekend) — and they also play some of the most entertaining soccer in the league. … Or at least they both did a year ago. This year, Real Sociedad has piled up an impressive 21 goals in 10 games, but Villarreal has scored just 14.
With Real Sociedad’s Mikel Oyarzabal (23) and Villarreal’s duo of Paco Alcácer and Gerard Moreno, to name a few, leading the way, this match-up is full of unheralded but entertaining attacking players. That makes the Over 3.5 (+220) a great idea. As for the winner, I like Real Sociedad thanks to their defense (4 goals allowed on the season, compared to 10 for Villarreal), but expect a tight one. With that in mind, the draw (+245) is worth a close look as well.