The biggest game of the weekend in La Liga sees table-topping Barcelona travel to second-place Valencia for a crucial six-pointer. Marcelino García Toral’s men have formed La Liga’s surprise package this season and remain unbeaten after 12 games.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a club that has battled relegation for the last few years and almost went down following Gary Neville’s ill-fated tenure. But this time around, Simone Zaza and Goncalo Guedes are on fire and they are sitting pretty in second, six points ahead of champions Real Madrid. But their biggest test of the season awaits them.
After Real ran away with La Liga last season and clinched a second consecutive Champions League title, they were made clear pre-season favourites to win the Spanish top flight in 2017-18. However, Los Blancos have been out of sorts, and Barcelona are totally rejuvenated under new manager Ernesto Valverde.
Not to brag, but we at Oddsmarket called it before the season began, arguing that a new manager always galvanizes Barca and Valverde should have that effect and that they looked the best bet to win La Liga. We can only hope you paid attention and backed it because Barcelona are the ones running away with the title this season!
They have shrugged off the loss of Neymar and emerged as a better team for it, having compensated by achieving a greater balance and tightening defensively. They have conceded just four goals in 12 games and are defending in better fashion than we have ever seen from a Barcelona side. They have kept clean sheets in two-thirds of their games thus far and banged in 33 goals to boot.
That amounts to almost three goals per game, and they really are annihilating teams week in, week out. After 12 matches, they too are still unbeaten and four points clear of Valencia, having won 11 and drawn one.
Everyone expects Real to be Barca’s closest competitors, but right now Valencia are making a real nuisance of themselves at the top of the table. They have won nine and drawn three of their 12 games, and they have only dropped two points at home all season. The Mestalla is a fortress at present, but if anyone can breach it, Barcelona can. In a normal league, Zaza might expect to be top of the goal scoring charts, having hit the back of the net nine times in 12 games, but this is not a normal league and Lionel Messi is far from a normal player.
The diminutive Argentinean must be furious at being usurped by Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the World Player of the Year stakes and looks hell-bent on wrestling the title back from his Portuguese rival. He has 12 goals in 12 games and is playing like a man possessed, a blur of pace, energy and invention, peppering opposition goals with shots and creating chances aplenty. He is ably supported by Luis Suarez, while new boy Paulino is chipping in with goals from midfield, record signing Ousmane Dembele is still to return and someone like Philippe Coutinho might join him them January.
Barcelona are now as low as 1/5 with various bookmakers, like Ladbrokes and Sky Bet, to win La Liga this season, but you can still get 4/7 at Stan James and Sportingbet. Real are 4/1, Atletico – level on points with Real and also still unbeaten, but drawing far too many games due to a lack of attacking spark – are 40/1, and Valencia have also gone all the way in to 40/1 with Bet Victor.
Some might see a draw as a good result for Barca in this game as it would preserve their lead at the top of the table, but it represents an excellent opportunity for Valverde’s men to show these upstarts who is boss in this league and the odds on Barcelona (10/11 with William Hill, 93/100 with Marathon Bet) look too good to ignore.