Sunday’s La Liga previews: 2012/13 – round 1

17 Aug

Athletic Bilbao vs Real Betis

After a long, tiring season with little squad rotation, Bielsa’s boys were outclassed and soundly beaten in both the Copa del Rey and Europa League finals in 2011/12. Los Leones did at least ensure another Europa League slot for the 2012/13 tourney by virtue of the fact that Barca had already qualified for the Champions League, but they’ll do well to repeat last season’s heroics.

In strengthening their squad, Athletic have re-signed two former players in Artiz Aduriz and Ismael Lopez. Both were intended as cover – for Llorente and Muniain respectively – but the former will become first choice if Llorente leaves, while the latter is highly likely to start against Betis with Muniain listed as doubtful due to injury

Llorente, as I expect most of you will know, has refused to sign a new contract and though the club say he won’t leave before his current deal expires at the end of this season unless his release clause is met (over 30 million euro’s), there remains a good chance that he will.

Whether Llorente plays out the season or not, what we can be sure about is that he’s a model professional and proud Basque. Like every player, though, he wants to play in the Champions League and win trophies.

Betis managed to top the La Liga standings for a few weeks in 2011/12, but suffered a bad run of form before recovering to finish clear of relegation with a few games to play. Pepe Mel’s charges, at times, provided great entertainment and were seconds away from defeating Barcelona in their final game of the campaign.

Sadly, the loan of Roque Santa Cruz has not been made permanent, while Jefferson Montero has decided to ply his trade in Mexico. Though he may not start in today’s game, Joel Campbell has signed on loan for Betis from Arsenal. Further depth was added with acquisition of Salvador Agra – a stocky wide player who could well prove to be a steal for his small transfer fee.

With talk abound that Athletic will try and sign Basque born Betis midfielder Benat should defender/midfielder Javi Martinez leave (which looks highly likely at the time of writing) for Bayern Munich, the midfielder may look to impress when he visits San Mames to play against his potential suitors.

Benat, who has now been capped at international level, scored four free kicks last year and I wouldn’t bet against him netting another in Bilbao. What I’ve long since convinced myself to bet on, though, is Ruben Castro anytime.

Scoring 16 goals in 34 league games, 7 of them game winners, the skilful Ruben Castro met his own expectations of netting 15 Liga BBVA goals and a had a tremendous season for the Andalusian club. He, along with Benat, are key players and vital to the success of their team.

From a seasonal perspective, the success of both clubs depends on injuries to key players and personnel changes, with resulting morale and collective squad confidence problems that often follow always a possibility.

There are no good bets to be had on ante post unless you back Athletic to finish with less points than they did last season, but I fancy a punt on an upset today.

San Mames is a hard place to win at for sure, but uncertainty at the club with regards to Martinez and Llorente, coupled with the injury to Muniain and the fact that Betis twice defeated Athletic last season makes me think that this is worth a pop.

Recommendation: Betis (7/2)

Worth a small punt: Ruben Castro anytime (5/2)

Real Madrid vs Valencia

With the needless purchase of Luca Modric on the cards and a bench already packed full of talent, Real Madrid really don’t need to sign anybody else. However, should- as expected – Sahin leave and Kaka go with him if the pre-mentioned Tottenham Hotspur player does sign for Los Blancos, then maybe they do need a new midfielder after all!

In any event, Real overcame their mental hurdle of beating Pep’s Barca in 90 minutes to all but seal their Primera Liga title in 2011/12 and will be flowing with confidence to retain Spanish football’s top prize as a result.

I’m not betting on them as the price is too short at 9/10, but I do agree with the bookies and think that Real will edge out Barca in a close title race. Most likely it’ll come down to the Clasico’s. Real made great progress in those last season – as you’ll know.

Valencia, who lost Jordi Alba to Barca, have, as usual, made some good signings in Portuguese national team right back Joao Pereira, Mexican international wideman Guardado and Argentinean midfielder Gago.

Jonathan Viera – who was a vital player at Las Palmas in 2011/12 – has also signed a long term contract with the club, while the loan deal of Sergio Canales has been made permanent. Of course, if he does well Real Madrid will buy him back, but it’s good news for Valencia short term and the young Spaniard’s signings compliments the equivalent of an A- in NFL draft terms.

My only worry for Los Che is that defensive midfielder Topal, whom Banega said he felt comfortable playing in front of, has not been adequately replaced. Gago, who had a good season at Roma last year, is like Banega in playing style but not as skilful and a lesser player than his younger compatriot in my opinion.

Perhaps new boss Pellegrino will look to high percentages of possession to try and counter the lack of steel, dynamism and general endurance lost with Topal’s departure. We’ll have to wait and see, but I think they need a ‘minder’ to compliment one of the two Argentines. Certainly when you consider that Banega is often injured (he won’t play today) and really, really, shouldn’t allowed to drive a car (look it up)!

Valencia will finish third or fourth in 2012/13 and are attractively priced in the ante post betting offering such eventualities. In the without Real and Barca betting market, Valencia are priced at 5/2. Considering that they’ve finished third three seasons in a row and have made some good singings, particularly in wide areas, that look like a good bet.

What I would certainly recommend you do is to back Valencia to finish in the top four at 11/10. Atletico Madrid could pip them to third place as the league is their focus this season, but I can’t see any other opposition to these two finishing in third and fourth in any order.

At the Bernabeu, recent clashes between Real Madrid and Valencia have been low scoring affairs, with the 2011/12 game ending 0-0. Be it due to injury, suspension or simply because he fell out with his boss, Soldado often misses Real – Valencia games and will likely do so again today.

In conclusion, I think that Valencia are due a comfortable defeat away to Real and have gone against the stats by betting on over 3.5 match goals at 11/10.

Recommendation: Over 3.5 goals (11/10)

Seasonal recommendation: Valencia to finish in the top four (11/10)

Barcelona vs Real Sociedad

As discussed at the end of last season, new Barca boss Tito Vilanova will continue the clubs traditions and playing philosophies after the departure of Pep Guardiola, with the only notable addition to the playing squad being attacking left back Jordi Alba – signed from Valencia.

However, the return of David Villa should feel like a new signing given how badly he was missed in the goalscoring stakes last season. Considering the teams reliance on Messi and his mouth watering tally of 50 league goals last season, add a potential 25 for an injury free Villa in 2012/13 and you can see why I’m just not betting on the title race pre-season!

Keita has departed and Barca, with limited spending power, will look to replace him before the transfer window closes. Otherwise there’s little to write about other than that Barca will, obviously, expect to win every competition they enter.

Sociedad won’t expect to win anything, just content to survive another season in the top flight. But with Carlos Vela’s loan move being made permanent and the Basque’s also bringing in Chori Castro to compliment Griezmann and Prieto, ambitions should be raised.

Indeed, I think that Sociedad might be able to snare the final Europa league slot should they not suffer from too many injuries and, crucially, not lose interest once avoiding relegation is certain.

Despite an attractive line of attackers, there’s every chance that Sociedad will put ten men behind the ball and look to break and counter attack Barca when they don’t have 85% possession of the ball!

Nevertheless, I’ve opted to bet on goals in this game with over 3.5 the mark at 5/6. Hopefully Sociedad can get one of them, but so long as there are four or more in total I won’t complain – it’s a long season.

As is customary and part of the fun I have in betting (I expect the main bet, which is for a larger amount, to win and comfortably cover this type) comes from backing anytime scorers at inflated prices.

A lot of these bets fail, but it sure feels sweet when they win! Find mine dubbed as ‘worth a small punt’

Recommendation: Over 3.5 goals (5/6)

Worth a small punt: Vela anytime scorer (8/1)

Seasonal worth a punt: David Villa (14/1) in the without Messi and Ronaldo top scorer betting.

Levante vs Atletico Madrid

Overachieving by finishing sixth in 2011/2, Levante are unlikely to repeat that feat in 2012/13. They say the table doesn’t lie and Levante were, indeed, worthy of their final position, but the sale of Kone –their top scorer – to Wigan Athletic leaves a big gap and they haven’t signed an able replacement. That, for me, makes a big difference and I expect Levante to finish in the bottom half of the table.

Atletico, who finished just above Levante in fifth place, came close to qualifying for the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League but ultimately lost out to Malaga. This season, however, with Malaga’s well documented financial problems I’m very confident that Los Colchoneros will finish in the top four.

Vital in Atletico’s chase for Champions League football will, of course, be Falcao. Despite missing a plethora of easy chances, the Columbian striker still managed to score 24 Primera Liga goals in 2011/12 and further cemented his reputation as a top class marksman with two superb efforts in Atletico’s Europa League triumph over Athletic Bilbao.

Perhaps in part because he didn’t have the right agent, the loan move of Brazilian midfielder Diego wasn’t made permanent. But Atletico – with Arda Turan and returnee’s Raul Garcia and Diego Costa – still have enough creativity to supply Falcao and ensure that the club achieves its seasonal goals.

Defence minded Colchoneros boss Simeone has retained the services of Chelsea goalkeeper Phillip Courtois and further strengthened his backline with the addition of compatriot and former Getafe stopper Cata Diaz. Certainly, the latter – a rugged centre back who doesn’t hold back in his tackles – will suit his bosses playing philosophy and is almost certain to rack up a few yellow’s and the odd red card.

Now I have a feeling that Atleti, having won the Europa League twice in three years, will prioritize their league campaign over the defence of UEFA’s second tier tourney and finish third in the La Liga standings. If Atleti get knocked out of the UEFA early and Valencia enjoy a long campaign in Europe – be it in just the Champions League or Europa as well – the mattress makers of Madrid could capitalise.

However, from a betting perspective I recommend that you back the safer option of a top four finish for Atletico at 11/10. After all, Malaga are selling their best players and the majority of those left want to leave, while Sevilla are not good enough and Athletic Bilbao don’t have a big enough squad and may yet lose Llorente and Martinez.

As for today’s game, well, Levante defeated Atletico in this fixture last season and I correctly predicted it at a 12/5 price, but Levante had Kone then and Atletico had played an extra game in the Europa League days before.

The circumstances made Levante worth a bet last time, but this time it is they who will have to play a Europa League (qualifier) around their league matchup. That, the Kone sale and clear playing squad superiority of Atletico Madrid has led me to back and recommend Loc Colchoneros at a 7/5 price.

Of course, I must point out that Atletico are traditionally slow starters and famed for being great at home yet indifferent away, but Falcao and co churned out several 1-0 away wins last season – particularly in the latter part of it – and should be able to win a tight game at the Ciutat de Valencia today.

Recommendation: Atletico (7/5)

Seasonal recommendation: Atletico to finish in the top 4 at 11/10

If you like what you read, be sure to follow me on twitter for general football talk and in-play betting!

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3 Responses to “Sunday’s La Liga previews: 2012/13 – round 1”

  1. InTheMonies November 20, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    Nice forecasts man… I will follow your blog!!

    • JCLaLiga December 7, 2012 at 12:17 am #

      Thanks for your comment. Good luck with the bets.

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