La Liga returns from the international break this weekend with a massive game between first-place Atlético Madrid and fourth-place Sevilla. The big matches this weekend include:
- Real Madrid (-295) vs. Eibar (+800) Saturday, 10:15 am. Eastern
- Sevilla (+188) vs. Atlético Madrid (+163) Sunday, 3 p.m.
- Barcelona (-835) vs. Valladolid (+1,900) Monday, 3 p.m.
Atleti remain four points clear at the top, but looked vulnerable in their last few games prior to the break, and Sevilla will test them in a way that the likes of Levante and Getafe couldn’t shouldn’t have. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine Real Madrid or Barcelona struggling against Eibar and Valladolid, respectively.
A major challenge – and opportunity – for Atleti
By pretty much any measure, Sevilla is better than Celta Vigo, Levante and Getafe. I mention those teams because they’ve all beaten or drawn Atleti over the last two months to nearly eliminate what was once a very comfortable lead atop the table for Luis Suárez and Co.
This weekend, Atleti travels to Sevilla, which won’t be winning La Liga or the Champions League, but does not beat itself. As Barcelona can attest, Sevilla can make life difficult for anyone, particularly when it comes to scoring. In fact, this is a match-up of the two best defenses in Spain – Atleti has allowed a league-best 18 goals in 28 games, but Sevilla has given up just 21.
In its last game before the international break, Atleti captured all three points against Alavés in a 1-0 win, but generated just four shots on target and xG of .65. Over this team’s last two games in La Liga against Getafe and Alavés, it has not allowed a goal, but has scored just once itself. The opportunities were there against Getafe – Atlético tallied seven shots on goal (xG of 1.82) – but that one ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw.
Against Jules Kounde and a Sevilla defense that’s nearly Atleti’s equal in terms of xGA – Atleti has the slightest of edges at 24.88-25.76 in that area – it’s hard to believe this is the weekend when Los Rojiblancos’ attack comes back to life. It obviously doesn’t help that Joao Felix may or may not be in the mix after suffering an ankle injury during one of Portugal’s matches over the break.
This is as good of a time as any to bet on a draw (+205), while Sevilla at (+188) is also worth a close look. The under 1.5 Total Goals (+160) looks enticing as well.
The stakes couldn’t be higher
While the gap between Los Rojiblancos (66 points) and Barcelona (62) is not yet razor-thin, the Catalans are still a great futures bet to win La Liga at +150 – and the payout gets smaller every week, as Atleti continues to stumble. Through 26 matches, Barcelona were +225 compared to Atleti at -200.
Diego Simeone’s team is still favored, at least by oddsmakers, at -125. But if Atleti drop points at Sevilla on Sunday – especially if they lose – the value in betting on Barcelona will drop yet again. And it’s notable that FiveThirtyEight not only likes Barcelona – the analytics site gave the Catalans a 48% chance to win the league after Matchday 27 – it thinks this race is theirs to lose. Per FiveThirtyEight, Ronald Koeman’s team has a 60% (!!) chance to win the league, compared to just 28% for Atleti.
Expect more fireworks from Barcelona
While the international break could mess with the momentum Barcelona had going into the break, it still feels accurate to call this team red-hot. The combined score in their last two games was 10-2 (!), including a 6-1 romp over a solid Real Sociedad team. I think this one will be closer than that given Valladolid’s recent knack for keeping games close, but expect the Barcelona attack to put on another show, making Over 3.5 Total Goals (-114) a good idea.