Villarreal v Real Betis - Saturday 19:30, Sky Sports 5
The Verdiblancos are currently under the caretaker guidance of Juan Merido following the dismissal of Pepe Mel just 13 months after his return to the Benito Villamarín but the 45-year-old made a big impression when he last stepped into the role, guiding Betis to four straight win-to-nil victories before handing the reins over to Mel, starting a remarkable turnaround as Betis romped to the second division title with 63 points from 23 matches.
And with expectations low, the Andalusians might be worth chancing here. Villarreal might be fourth in the table having reached the midway point on 39 points - equalling a club record - but it’s a mystery on the back of some miserable shot data. Their season-to-date shot ratio is just 44.8 per cent and recent performances have been far from convincing.
Since the winter break, the Yellow Submarine have edged out Valencia, a Bruno Soriano free-kick settling a game that had 0-0 written all over it. Then they survived an almighty scare in the dying moments at Deportivo, only to race up the other end, win a penalty and snatch all three points. Even last weekend, against struggling Sporting Gijon, coach Marcelino was forced to accept: "We produced two brilliant plays and nothing else."
It’s essentially the story of Villarreal’s season but that success against the Asturians was sandwiched by defeat in both legs of a Copa del Rey last-16 tie against Athletic Bilbao, having squandered a 2-0 lead in the first game. If you buy into the idea that the hosts are due to feel the back hand of some harsh regression, then Betis aren’t without a squeak.
Real Sociedad v Deportivo - Saturday 21:05, Sky Interactive
Depor were sixth at the turn of the year, a position fully merited on the back of a 55.2 per cent shot ratio. Lone striker Lucas Perez has grabbed most of the headlines, scoring 12 of their 26 goals, including a seven-match streak shortly before Christmas, but any portrayal of Depor as a one-man team is harsh.
The impressive performance data owes much to their efficiency as a defensive unit. Only Barcelona and Atletico Madrid have conceded fewer shots on goal and Victor Sanchez’s men are high up the charts for tackles and interceptions, yet only Barcelona and Real Madrid have conceded fewer free-kicks, which speaks volumes for their organisation and positional play.
There’s been scant improvement in Real Sociedad’s underlying numbers since David Moyes was shown the door, even though the run rate has risen from 0.82 points per game to 1.38. The Basque outfit are bright and entertaining to watch, keep possession well and create plenty of chances, but their bark is generally worse than their bite.
Needless to say, La Real will probably dominate this game but their vulnerability on the counter could be the key to Depor getting their season back on track. Expect Eusebio Sacristan’s men to find the scoresheet at some point but the visitors are capable of landing the sucker punches that bring home the bacon on big prices about Deportivo to win and both teams to score.