Primera predictions: week 36
Time is short for the Oracle to secure a place in the sun this season so there are few outlandish punts in a weekend of Liga action centred on the European spots.
Sevilla - Real Sociedad (Friday 21:00) Prediction: home win
Jorge Sampaoli’s side need five points to ensure fourth place and Champions League playoff round qualification while visiting Real Sociedad lie in seventh, one point behind Athletic and two adrift of the Yellow Submarine in fifth. This could be a frantic one with both sides in need of three points and if it descends into a gloves off, tactics-be-darned slug fest Sevilla have the edge in terms of firepower and home advantage.
Sporting – Las Palmas (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
Sporting can hand themselves a lifeline before Leganés host Betis on Monday against a Las Palmas who have been a shadow of their former selves since Quique Setién announced he was doing one at the end of the season. Given that Las Palmas’ players already live on a semi-tropical island it seems a bit rich that they're already eyeing the holidays but Setién's side were a shambles in the 5-0 defeat by Atlético and while Sporting have it all to play for, Las Palmas stopped bothering weeks ago.
Atlético – Eibar (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Before Atlético played Las Palmas we rather thought that Diego Simeone would rest his key men for the small matter of Real Madrid. That being disproved emphatically, on this occasion we suspect that El Cholo will put out his big guns for some target practice with his side needing four in 90 minutes to beat the reigning European champions.
Barcelona – Villarreal (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: home win
Villarreal have won their last three on the bounce to put themselves firmly in the driving seat for direct Europa League qualification and the Submarine could yet chase down Sampaoli’s Sevilla, who travel to the Bernabéu next weekend. Barça have other objectives in hand and can ramp up the pressure on Real Madrid by going three points clear before their rivals take to the pitch in Granada. The visitors are without starting keeper Sergio Asenjo and defenders Víctor Ruiz and Álvaro González while the hosts have a clean bill of health other than long-term absentees and Jeremy Mathieu. It will be close – Villarreal secured a 1-1 draw at home – but Barça have won their last 10 at Camp Nou and scored 40 times in the process.
Granada – Real Madrid (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: away win
Real Madrid inflicted Granada’s heaviest Liga defeat in a 9-1 drubbing at the Bernabéu two seasons ago and even if Zinedine Zidane opts to play his second-string in Los Cármenes the home side will be up against it. Already relegated, Tony Adams’ side may decide to come out swinging in front of their own fans but that could be a dangerous ploy against a side with a counter punch as vicious as Real’s. In any case, anything other than an away win is more than mildly unlikely: Granada are 26/1 to win and 101/1 to repeat their 1-0 victory of 2013 – when they needed Cristiano Ronaldo to score the winner for them.
Alavés – Athletic (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: away win
Athletic have hit a rich vein of late-season form that has propelled the Lions into sixth and are the favourites to extend their winning streak to five consecutive games in Mendizorrotza against an Alavés side that have exceeded all expectations this season, securing the 40-point mark 10 weeks ago and reaching the Copa del Rey final. Still pulling out extraordinary results, including a 4-1 thrashing of Betis away last week, Alavés cannot be taken lightly but Athletic’s experience and the fact the visitors are the only Liga club currently without anybody injured or suspended tips the scales towards Ernesto Valverde’s side.
Valencia – Osasuna (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Purveyors of white hankies in Valencia have been doing a roaring trade in recent years and stocks will be exhausted if Los Che can’t beat an already relegated Osasuna side who have conceded 84 times this season, have two fit central defenders (with 11 appearances between them season), and are missing defensive midfield lynchpin Oier.
Deportivo – Espanyol (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: draw
Depor are basically safe; Sporting would have to win their last three games and Pepe Mel’s side lose theirs for Rubí's side to stay up at the Galicians’ expense by a single point. Essentially, Depor need one more draw to ensure their Primera status as they enjoy head-to-head advantage over the Cantabrians. They will get it against Espanyol, who have drawn 11 games this season already, behind only Alavés (12) and level with their hosts on Sunday.
Málaga – Celta (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: home win
The Anchovies have found their groove under Míchel and have dispatched Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla in successive home games, becoming only the second side to put four past Jorge Sampaoli’s team this season in their last fixture. With Celta preoccupied by their Europa League semi-final against Manchester United, Míchel’s men are bankers to make it four in a row in La Rosaleda.
Leganés – Betis (Monday 20:45) Prediction: home win
One victory will take Leganés to 33 points and probable safety despite Sporting having done a league double over the Cucumber Growers. Rubí’s side may go on a run and win their last three against Las Palmas, Eibar and Betis and the Madrid-based side will be eager to put daylight between them and 18th as quickly as possible. Betis were wretched in defeat to Alavés last weekend and with Leganés facing the cup finalists and Athletic in their last two, Monday night is the time to do it.