Despite first-place Barcelona’s commanding lead, there’s plenty of intrigue in La Liga with 10 games to play.
The most compelling match of the weekend is Atlético Madrid’s match at Alavés on Saturday at 3:45 p.m. Eastern. It’s a crucial contest for the home underdogs, who are just two points behind fourth-place Getafe, which would qualify for next year’s Champions League if the season ended today.
Alavés getting little respect
|Alavés +420||Draw +230||Atlético Madrid -135|
Despite being in good shape in the standings – they could move into fourth place if they beat Atleti and Getafe loses to Leganes on Saturday – Alavés has just a 9% chance at UCL qualification, per FiveThirtyEight. A big reason the analytics site is so down on them is their uninspiring goal differential of 0. In addition to what it would mean for their spot in the table, a win over Diego Simeone’s club would turn a lot of heads.
It promises to be a low-scoring affair, as Alavés is fifth in Spain in goals allowed (31) and is facing a notoriously tough Atlético Madrid defense that has allowed by far the fewest goals in La Liga this year (19) – through 28 games!
Still, Alavés finds themselves as a huge underdog at home (+420!) to odds-on favorite Atleti.
Atleti not exactly top of the world right now
Los Rojiblancos enter this match-up at a crossroads. It would be a stretch to say Simeone’s side is reeling – they are, after all, still well-positioned to finish in second place in the league and have won four of five in domestic play. But Atleti’s coming off a brutal UCL loss to Juventus on March 12th and an inexplicable 2-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao four days later. The news that Lucas Hernández will leave the club this summer for an 80-million euro contract with Bayern Munich is the latest disappointment for a team that is surely ready for this month to be over.
The biggest question is whether this team has put the nightmare in Turin behind it. It would be somewhat understandable, but nevertheless a shame, if Atleti allowed its shocking elimination from the Champions League to completely derail the rest of the season.
FiveThirtyEight gives Atlético a 37% chance to win, while pegging Alavés’ chance at an upset at 34% (meaning that +420 is a great price if you like Alavés), and the site would not be surprised by a draw (29%) either. I think Atleti will get back on the right track in a narrow victory, but a 0-0 snoozer would be no surprise.
In other news…
Elsewhere in La Liga, Sevilla needs a victory at home against Valencia on Sunday at 10:15 a.m. Eastern to stay in the Champions League picture, as it is three points from UCL qualification. These teams will be tied for sixth place with 43 points if Valencia wins.
And although Barcelona-Espanyol at Camp Nou is not exactly a toss-up, it will be worth watching how Lionel Messi and Co. fare offensively with Ousmane Dembélé out and Luis Suárez possibly unavailable as well. Messi himself is not at 100% following a groin injury in Argentina’s loss to Venezuela in a friendly last Friday.