Villarreal v Celta Vigo – Estadio El Madrigal at 19:30 live on Sky Sports 1
Villarreal enjoyed their best La Liga finish since 2010/11 last term finishing fourth but the Yellow Submarine endured a dreadful off-season, provoking ‘crisis’ talk and even a selection of pundits to suggest relegation could be on the cards.
The Castellon club saw impressive head coach Marcelinho depart after a disagreement over transfer strategy just a week before the season started and with a mounting injury list, plus first team regulars Alphonse Areola, Eric Bailly and Dennis Suarez departing over the summer, it was easy to see why.
Fran Escriba took charge – he was sacked by Getafe just weeks before they suffered relegation – and although the defensively-minded boss suited Villarreal’s style, the suggestion was the Yellow Submarine had significantly downgraded.
Fast forward 10 weeks and few expected to see Villarreal sitting two points off the summit following an unbeaten seven-game streak (W3-D4-L0). Neither Sevilla nor Real Madrid have managed to pick up maximum points against the Yellow Submarine with Sunday night’s hosts displaying all the defensive resolve that became the hallmark of Marcelinho’s reign.
In 2015/16, Marcelinho built his XI on solid foundations, a clinical counter-attacking game and excellent home form. Villarreal kept 17 clean sheets overall with 23 matches featuring fewer than three goals. Meanwhile, both Madrid clubs were beaten at El Madrigal (W12-D4-L3).
Villarreal were never prolific in front of goal though and alongside their stingy backline, 14 fixtures failed to produce more than a solitary strike. That trend has continued into 2016/17 and five of their last seven matches have featured Under 2.5 Goals winners.
The famed rearguard continues to impress with just four goals shipped by Victor Ruiz and his defensive comrades. And with skipper Bruno expected to be fit to start, the hosts have more than enough quality and confidence to continue their impressive defensive efforts this weekend.
Elsewhere, Escriba looks unlikely to make many changes despite striker Cedric Bakambu returning to full fitness. Nicola Sansone will spearhead the attack with Roberto Soriano continuing to fill in on the right due to Jonathan Dos Santos’ injury woes.
Visitors Celta went into the international break after a thrilling 4-3 triumph over champions Barcelona at Balaidos. Eduardo Berizzo’s boys stormed into a 3-0 lead after only 32 minutes and managed to see the game out despite a spirited second-half response from the Catalans.
That victory was Celta’s fourth on the spin across all competitions having made a dreadful and unexpectedly bad start to the season. Against Barca, the Sky Blues repeated a familiar formula from last season – applying deliberate and relentless high pressure on their opponents.
The Galicians were full value for positive result and now find themselves just three points behind Villarreal. With Fabian Orellana back in the squad, Berizzo has options but Pablo Hernandez’s injury should see Iago Aspas play in a deeper role behind Giuseppe Rossi, as John Guidetti is also sidelined.
Celta have scored at least twice in each of their past four wins but their road record in La Liga requires work, especially against the big guns. The Sky Blues have suffered eight defeats in 10 trips to top-six teams and lost 9/22 (41%) away league encounters since the start of last season.
The stats suggest we should side with Villarreal here but only six clubs have returned poorer shot ratio returns than the Yellow Submarine this season and with a heavy draw bias, I’m happy to leave the Asian Handicap market alone and instead turn towards the goals line.
Under 2.25 Goals can be snapped up at 1.96. Considering Villarreal have delivered fewer than three goals in 13/22 (59%) El Madrigal outings and Under 1.5 Goals winners in 9/22 (41%) home league fixtures since the start of last season, it’s an appealing price.
Despite their reputation for goal-heavy games, Celta have seen 12/22 (55%) away La Liga days fail to break the 2.5 barrier whilst their trips to Real Madrid, Osasuna and Espanyol this term have produced an average expected goals rate total of just 1.60.
Asian Handicap Recommendation: Under 2.25 Goals at 1.96
Prices correct at time of writing.
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