Las Palmas v Atletico Madrid - Sunday 17:15, Sky Sports 4
Curiously, the Amarillos field a team almost entirely made-up of Spaniards and there’s clearly an appetite for measuring up well against the traditional clubs. Sevilla and Real Sociedad are among the four teams they’ve beaten, while trips to Athletic Bilbao and Valencia both produced respectable score draws, and visits to Real Madrid and Barcelona were nearly as enjoyable, ending in narrow defeats with a goal to celebrate.
So it’s easy to imagine a glory game against Atletico bringing something extra out of Quique Setien’s men, even though their destiny will be shaped more by the games that carry less appeal. And this might only be the first of many potential coups with so many big-name clubs still to cross time zones for this trip in the second half of the campaign.
The reverse fixture, on the opening weekend, was a narrow 1-0 win for Diego Simeone’s men, which could equally be used as an example of Las Palmas’ competitive streak or the Colchoneros high uncertainty avoidance tactics. Only once this season have Atleti scored three goals in a single game, way back in August, and incredible though their tactical discipline is, it only takes one slip for them to be dragged out of their comfort zone.
Opposing them isn’t an action to be taken lightly but every possible outcome has its price and going after the 2014 title winners against feisty strugglers at bigger than 6/1 is preferable to opposing them at half the price against a more talented, but predictable mid-table outfit.
Barcelona v Athletic Bilbao - Sunday 19:30, Sky Sports 4
Now they can underline their credentials further by coming away from the Camp Nou unscathed for the second time this season, repeating their heroics in the Super Cup back in August when they nicked a 1-1 draw, a late Aritz Aduriz strike dousing any hope that Barca could overcome a shock 4-0 first-leg deficit.
The league campaign opened just a week later with Luis Suarez scoring the only goal in another tight encounter at San Mames. Admittedly, Barca were missing Neymar that day but it proved that Athletic aren’t the usual cannon fodder for the Catalans and they arguably deserve a bit more respect than an 11/2 quote on the double chance.
With Barca, hiccups aren’t as rare as you might expect for a team that boasts a +29 goal difference after 18 matches. They’ve won by two clear goals on 17 occasions in all competitions this term, yet failed to win 11 out of 16 other matches. Put another way: Luis Enrique’s men are more than twice as likely to drop points than scrape home by the odd goal.
So therein lies the reasoning behind selecting the big-priced option on Athletic avoiding defeat rather than pursuing the Asian handicap route. With Neymar and Lionel Messi sidetracked by the razzmatazz of the Ballon d’Or ceremony this week, a subdued performance could now follow the recognition of their stunning achievements in 2015.