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It sounds crazy but Real Madrid haven’t won La Liga since 2012, so having led this season’s race from practically start to finish, they could be excused for feeling twitchy as the run-in kicks into gear.
On Saturday they face an acid test in the Madrid derby, while Barcelona travel to mid-table Malaga. It’s a pivotal weekend.
Here’s Adrian Clarke looking ahead to those games…
Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid | 8 April 15:15
Three colossal home matches against their main rivals will decide Real Madrid’s fate in this season’s title race, which on the face it seems handy for Zinedine Zidane’s men. The last time they experienced defeat at the cavernous Santiago Bernabeu was way back in February 2016.
The catch? Atletico Madrid were the victors that day, and in claiming three points they became the first team in Spanish history to win three times in a row away to Los Blancos. It’s fair to say Diego Simeone loves to silence his illustrious neighbours.
An unprecedented four victories in a row for Atletico this weekend, available at 7/2, would blow the La Liga race absolutely wide open.
You can tell how seriously Zidane is taking this fixture by virtue of the XI he selected in Wednesday night’s 4-2 success at Leganes. Most of his big guns were rested in the hope they’ll explode into life in the derby.
Alvaro Morata’s hat trick has left the Frenchman with a selection quandary too. Does he stick with him, or recall an on-song Karim Benzema, who has four goals in his last four starts?
I fancy Benzema will get the nod, but both strikers are rated as 31/20 chances to score.
In the reverse fixture, Real Madrid were phenomenal. They won 3-0 at the Vicente Calderon, producing a tactical master class inspired by a treble from some chap that’s noted for having bad statues.
If you think it will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s day again, you can pick up value by backing him for 1st goal in a Real Madrid triumph. That’s 9/2.
My suspicions are that the game will be tight. Rarely do these sides partake in a goal-fest, and with so much at stake for both clubs, the low scoring odds attract.
I’d say under 2.5 goals at 26/25 is well worth a look at, and for me there’s a decent chance that Atletico might not score.
They may have five league victories on the trot, but they’ve won just once against a Top 6 club all season, and experienced frustrating shut outs away to Sevilla, Villarreal and Real Sociedad. The 31/20 on Atletico failing to score stands out as worth a punt.
Set pieces will also be crucial. Simeone works on them religiously, and thanks mainly to the heroic Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid are leading the way in Spanish football with the most goals from dead balls this season, with 22.
Therefore Diego Godin (10/1 to score anytime) or the aforementioned Ramos (19/4) could be worth a tickle in a match that’s unlikely to offer up a glut of chances from open play.
I don’t believe this encounter will be especially pretty. In fact I’d be amazed if it wasn’t dreadfully tetchy.
But this is THE pivotal match of the run-in. Should the leaders prevail they will have one hand on the trophy. Lose, and Barcelona and Atletico are right back in it.
Malaga v Barcelona | 8 April 19:45
I’ve watched both these teams recently and there’s a gulf the size of Spain between them.
Forget the upset. Barcelona are ticking along nicely (aside from that shock blip at Deportivo La Coruna) while Malaga’s form is average, with a capital ‘A’. Actually it’s much worse than that.
OK they beat struggling Sporting Gijon last time out, but prior to that they had been on a rotten run of five defeats and one draw.
Over 2.5 goals by Barcelona (27/25) is tempting. The on-fire Luis Suarez to score in an away win will attract punters at Evens, and I’d even have a bit of fun by selecting Luis Enrique’s men with Malaga having a 2-0 start. That’s available at 41/20.
Whatever you do, avoid Malaga. They’re rubbish.