Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla - Sunday 11:00, Sky Sports 3
The Andalusians have yet to win away in La Liga this season, although they have drawn seven of their 11 road trips. But backing a winner one way or the other is always advised in Vallecas because Rayo are so attack-minded and just don’t do stalemates. This is now their fifth season in the top flight, during which time they’ve drawn just eight out of 88 home games.
Emery has won all eight previous meetings against Paco Jemez, stretching back to his time in charge of Valencia, so it’s tempting to believe he has his number but then you consider how Sevilla have been playing midweek games continuously since the November international break (minus the 11-day Christmas lay-off) and you wonder whether they can possibly match Rayo’s intensity at such an unearthly hour on the back of a 63-hour turnaround.
Having now booked their place in the Copa del Rey final and put one foot in the last 16 of the Europa League with a routine 3-0 Thursday night win over Norwegian minnows Molde, the performance here might be the equivalent to a collective sigh of relief and Emery might be powerless to prevent it. With Fernando Llorente doubtful, Rayo might never get a better chance.
Atletico Madrid v Villarreal - Sunday 19:30, Sky Sports 3
I haven’t gone back through all my records to check but I’m pretty certain the 16-match total goals expectancy of 1.58 is as low as anything I’ve witnessed in Europe before. On that basis, a bet on under 1.5 goals should actually be odds-on, so let’s not quibble for a second over the 9/5 actually available. Snap it up while it’s there.
Villarreal were last seen playing with a modicum of freedom around a month ago at Cornella-El Prat. The gap then on fifth-placed Celta Vigo was six points and they were widely expected to stretch it to nine by brushing aside lowly Espanyol but they fell behind twice and needed a late Mateo Musacchio header to get them out of jail.
Since then, they’ve allowed just seven shots on target in four matches, keeping four successive clean sheets and nicking three goals of their own. Overall, their shut-out record reads 11 for the season, eight of which have arrived in the last 10. As the gap widens and the finishing tape gets closer, goalless draws become an increasingly acceptable commodity.
The 4/1 available on Atletico to win 1-0 might seem absurd but it’s not. A standard conversion of my total goals figure suggests 7/2 would be more appropriate but the real value is with no goalscorer at 7/1, which is around three points bigger than my tissue. In the context of this fixture, it’s an outcome that feels overdue.
The past six meetings between these two clubs have produced just seven goals but never a 0-0.