Before Thursday’s final two games of Matchday 29, Sunday’s Real Sociedad (+310)-Real Madrid (-125) match-up looked like the game of the weekend.
But after Real Sociedad lost 2-0 to Alavés – giving Martin Odegaard and Co. just one of six possible points in two games back from the break – Real Madrid are understandably clear favorites in that one.
In fact, I challenge anyone who watched Los Blancos handle Valencia 3-0 on Thursday to make a case for another stunner between these two (Real Sociedad knocked RM out of this year’s Copa del Rey).
That’s mostly because of how good Zinedine Zidane’s team looked, especially in the second half vs. Valencia. And Real Sociedad doesn’t look nearly as imposing after their last 180 minutes.
While Real Madrid now appears a lot less susceptible to an upset, the good news is that Sevilla-Barcelona remains a great match-up, at least on paper. If nothing else, it will be by far the Catalans’ most difficult match-up since March.
Later, we’ll look at Wednesday’s offensive eruption by Atleti. Yes, Atleti! There aren’t a lot of rules at High Press Soccer, but one non-negotiable is that when Diego Simeone’s team scores five goals in one game, we address it. Between Atlético’s explosion on Wednesday and the late fireworks by their rivals on Thursday, it’s hard to imagine what happened in the Spanish capital during the break.
Speaking of Atleti, their next three are against Valladolid, Levante and Alavés, so they should head into that July 1 (matchday 33) Barcelona showdown on a roll.
Real Madrid Looks Terrifying
The first half of the win over Valencia was a bit of a slog, but it gave way to an absolutely stunning second-half onslaught. You’ll see what I mean by “terrifying” and “absolutely stunning” below, as the highlights illustrate a couple goals I couldn’t begin to adequately describe.
We talked on this week’s High Press Soccer Podcast about Eden Hazard possibly being an incredible answer to the question of who, other than Karim Benzema, is going to provide the final product for this team. We got an emphatic answer to that question on Thursday.
Hazard, Benzema Lethal
Hazard looked 100% healthy and got his second assist in two games back on a beautiful setup for Benzema to open the scoring. He also almost scored in the first half thanks to a great pass from the Frenchman.
For 61 minutes against Eibar and 82 against Valencia, Hazard has looked like one of the best players in the world. It’s not breaking news that he’s a great player, but given the season he’s had due to injuries, his current form is massive for his club. Hazard and Benzema look like they’ve played together a lot longer than they have. Their chemistry is great news for Madridistas and should be a major concern for Barcelona.
Asensio Returns in Style
Speaking of great news for RM, welcome back, Marco Asensio. Wow. Again, see the highlights above. The Spaniard was making his first appearance since a nasty knee injury 11 months ago. Seconds after coming on in the 74th, he blasted a left-footed volley into the net on his first touch in nearly a year. About 12 minutes later, he provided an outstanding assist to Benzema for yet another jaw-dropping finish. I’m admittedly a prisoner of the moment after watching this one live, but it’s hard to overstate how impressive RM looked late.
I don’t take back what I said when I called this weekend’s trip to Real Sociedad one of the best games down the stretch, but in shocking news, I like RM a lot at -125. And RM at +140 to win La Liga makes a ton of sense considering their depth now that Hazard and Asensio appear healthy.
I won’t pick on Real Sociedad too much here, but returning from the break by drawing Osasuna and losing to Alavés is, uh, slightly discouraging. Top-4 odds are currently unavailable, but expect the recent disappointments to be reflected when those are updated. A drop from +200 (their odds before play resumed last week) to around +350 or +400 wouldn’t shock me. FiveThirtyEight, for one, currently gives La Real just a 16% chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Barcelona in Trouble on the Road?
The line for Barcelona’s (+104) trip to Sevilla (+250) on Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern shows you how much respect oddsmakers have for third-place Sevilla. It’s probably the last time this year you’ll be able to win more than you put down on the Catalans.
I’ll have a lot more to say on this one after we see it since Mallorca and Leganés were unable to challenge Barcelona the way that Sevilla will. I would further tout Sevilla’s dependability if not for Monday’s draw vs. Levante.
Anyway, expect a close match, but without homefield advantage, I see Sevilla dropping this one. Come to see whether Barcelona gets the battle we (and more importantly, oddsmakers) expect and stay to see whether Lionel Messi can notch goal No. 700.
Atleti is -275 vs. Valladolid (+900) on Saturday, giving us very little to preview there. But we have plenty to say on Los Rojiblancos after they blew out Osasuna 5-0 on Wednesday. That kind of a score turns heads regardless of who scores the five goals, but it’s particularly notable for this squad for obvious reasons.
Every time I’ve tried to be optimistic about an offensive breakthrough, I’ve said something like, “If João Félix, Diego Costa and/or Álvaro Morata are healthy and effective…” Well, we finally got a glimpse of what that looks like on Wednesday and … are you not entertained?
It might not be enough for them to get back in Chops’ good graces [editor’s notes: it’s not], but it makes them a lot more intriguing, and a lot more likely to finish comfortably in the top four.
Can Félix, who had a brace, finish the season with a flurry to remind us why Atleti spent all that money on him last summer? Who knows, but Atleti-Barcelona in early July can’t get here fast enough.