After a midweek matchday that went according to plan for each of Spain’s top four clubs, they all face tougher opponents this weekend.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are both just slight favorites on the road against Villarreal and Athletic Club, respectively. Sevilla (against Granada) and Real Madrid (hosting Real Betis) are clear favorites, but neither of those games screams “gimme,” either.
- Real Madrid (-215) vs. Real Betis (+550) Saturday, 3 p.m. Eastern
- Villarreal (+330) vs. Barcelona (-139) Sunday, 10:15 a.m.
- Sevilla (-245) vs. Granada (+650) Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
- Athletic Club (+335) vs. Atlético Madrid (-113) Sunday, 3 p.m.
And below is a look at the table:
- Atleti: 73 points through 32 games (+120 to win La Liga)
- Real Madrid: 70 through 32 (+350)
- Barcelona: 68 through 31* (+125)
- Sevilla: 67 through 32 (no title odds available)
As we can see above, this thing is still wide open, even if oddsmakers doubt Real Madrid.
Barcelona vs Villarreal Preview
As tempting as it is to just ramble about the remaining schedules for Atlético, Real Madrid and Barcelona*, we should focus on Barcelona-Villarreal this weekend.
Villarreal has lost two of three in La Liga, with the losses coming against Osasuna and Alavés. But we’re talking about a team that has reached the semifinals of this year’s Europa League thanks to an inconsistent but flashy attack led by Gerard Moreno.
The Spaniard, 29, has been criminally underrated for a long time, and this season has been no exception. With 20 goals and five assists on the year – and there are still six games left — he’s arguably the best all-around forward in the league after Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema.
I’d like Villarreal to upset Barcelona this weekend a lot more if I didn’t expect them to rest some key pieces ahead of leg 1 of the UEL semis next week. Even if squad rotation is a factor, though, this team has enough firepower to score some goals against a three-man Barcelona back line that has allowed too many opportunities in two of its last three games.
Can Gerard Moreno expose Barcelona’s back line?
Barcelona’s Oscar Mingueza has been a pleasant surprise this season, but during Thursday’s win over Getafe, he once again pushed forward and left too much space between himself and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. If he and his teammates on the back line are not sharp on Sunday, Moreno and Paco Alcacer will make Barcelona pay.
The prediction: goals
Barcelona were too convincing (mostly Messi) in the final third against Getafe on Thursday, and they need this one too badly, for me to predict a Villarreal victory. What does strike me as a distinct possibility is a high-scoring affair. After Barcelona and Getafe combined for seven goals, an outcome I didn’t quiiite expect, I feel comfortable predicting the Catalans and Villarreal to hit the Over 3 Total Goals (+105).
* Speaking of their UEL semifinal match-up with Arsenal, Villarreal are +130 to advance, compared to Arsenal at -162. Is it just me, or are those odds skewed by Arsenal’s status as the far more public of these two clubs??
Athletic Clubs vs Atletico Madrid Preview
An Atleti team that struggled to score in February, March and April has of course come alive in back-to-back games without either João Félix or Luis Suárez. Diego Simeone’s team has scored seven goals over the last 180 minutes, with Correa (3 goals), Llorente (2 goals) and Carrasco (2 goals) all coming up huge.
Against Athletic Club this week, expect another W for Atleti. Their opponents are winless since March 7 and have suffered three straight shutouts. Including the 4-0 Copa del Rey final loss to Barcelona last weekend, this team has five draws and two losses in its last seven, while scoring just three goals.
I’d recommend taking Atleti at -113. A shutout by Jan Oblak feels like a strong possibility, too, so Athletic Bilbao Under 0.5 Total Goals (+120) also strikes me as a good play.
Sevilla still has a shot! (sort of)
With four wins in a row — in fact, this team has six W’s and a draw in its last seven (19/21 possible points!!) — they’re not going away. Real Madrid is not the team they’re focused on catching (that would be first-place Atleti). It’s still notable, however, that Sevilla have a legit shot at a third-place finish if they can beat Los Blancos on May 9. In that scenario — Sevilla would have to beat Granada, Athletic Club and RM, with Real Madrid beating Real Betis and Osasuna before losing to Sevilla — both teams would have 76 points with three games remaining.
Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Absolutely.
Still, given all of Real Madrid’s injuries and the fact that they have huge Champions League semifinal matches against Chelsea the next two weeks, Sevilla will certainly have a shot when the teams meet on Matchday 35.
And no, I wouldn’t mind (and you shouldn’t either) seeing Florentino Perez’s team finish behind a lowly non-European Super League “minnow.”