Valencia v Real Madrid – Mestalla Stadium at 19:30 live on Sky Sports 3
Reports from Madrid suggest Rafael Benitez could be sacked if Real Madrid fail to beat Valencia on Sunday night. Happy New Year, Rafa!
The former Liverpool boss’ grip on his position as head coach continued to wane as his side laboured to a 3-1 home win over Real Sociedad on Wednesday, a match during which he was once more subjected to jeers from the Bernabéu stands.
So Los Blancos’ first fixture of 2016 really couldn’t be any bigger. But then, Valencia are also in a god-awful mess and two of Spain’s giants have been straddling on the verge of crisis mode all season. Expect the white hankies to be at the ready from both home and away fans at the Mestalla.
The Sociedad success was far from fluent for Real but the extra day’s rest will certainly have helped as they head to the coast. Madrid have been beaten in two of their last three on the road and although they’ve been prolific in front of their home supporters, away games have been a source of frustration.
A W4-D2-L2 tally just isn’t good enough on their travels and neither is their W3-D4-L6 return from top-six sides since 2013/14. A really poor first-half performance at Villarreal in their last away day was concerning and I’d expect Rafa to revert to a safety-first operation in Valencia.
Los Blancos tend to be given a stem examination by Los Che when they clash at the Mestalla and I’d expect nothing different this time around. Valencia beat the 10-time European champions in their opening 2015 outing and although this is a very different side to the one that was flying high under Nuno, it’s still true that the hosts have suffered just one loss in 27 (W18-D8-L1) in front of their demanding home fans.
A limp and defensive defeat against local rivals Villarreal concluded their calendar year efforts and has put Gary Neville on the back foot. He’s taken just two points from nine in his tenure at Valencia and his side drift 11 points away from the top-four positions.
Last season Los Che were vibrant, aggressive and exciting – they couldn’t be further from that team in 2015/16 – although this is the sort of game that might galvanise the group. However, that day’s less rest could well leave them looking a little flat and jaded when push comes to shove.
Shkodran Mustafi is expected to return and partner Aymen Abdennour at centre-back and the hosts have conceded just 15 goals this season – the third best tally in the league. Only five of those came at the Mestalla and with five of their last six banking in the Under 2.5 Goals column, as well as 5/8 (63%) home matches and half of Real’s road trips, a repeat could be on the cards.
I’ll oppose a goal-heavy game and taken the generous 2.11 on Under 3 Goals. This could be a cagey contest and I can’t see the visitors running away with things – Real have won by two or more goals just once in their previous 10 trips to top-six clubs – Valencia haven’t lost by that margin on home soil since March 2014 – so the even-money offer on Los Che +1 on the Asian Handicap line also has legs.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendations: Valencia +1 at 2.00 & Under 3 goals at 2.11
Price correct at the time of writing.
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