Deportivo La Coruña v Barcelona

Barcelona have shortened for the trip to the Riazor following Sunday evening’s shock defeat at home to Valencia. Not since 2003 have the Blaugrana have lost three league games on the spin and the logic, presumably, is that such a talented team cannot possibly stretch that sequence further. But why not? The Catalans have been dragged out of their comfort zone now.

Fatigue is clearly a major factor in their recent collapse. After an intense period of 23 matches in 83 days, more than half the team departed for Latin America on international duty and they simply haven’t been able to re-attune themselves to the usual wavelength on their return. It’s a perfectly understandable reaction to a testing set of circumstances.

Now, suddenly, the pressure is on. A ten-point advantage at the start of April has been cut to just one and Barca have an obligation to win the title, whereas their rivals see only opportunity. To make matters worse, they must also cope without defensive linchpin Gerard Pique for this game after he picked up a yellow card against Los Che.

Deportivo have been coasting along with no real purpose since the winter break but a victory in front of your own fans against either of the big two can make or break an indifferent season and these fixtures have a habit of coaxing a big performance out of nowhere, especially when the hosts know their illustrious visitors are vulnerable. Take the 14/1 about Depor.
Deportivo La Coruña to win - 1pt @ 14/1

Athletic Bilbao v Atletico Madrid

Opportunity knocks for Atletico Madrid after Sunday’s 3-0 win over Granada brought them level on points with Barcelona - although technically a point adrift by virtue of the head to head - and Diego Simeone’s men would be most people’s idea of the team likely to capitalise on the Catalans’ stumble, so consistent are their results and so reliable their performances.

But lost in the drama of an unexpected climax to the title race is Athletic Bilbao’s late charge towards the final Champions League berth. The Basque outfit are now six points behind fourth-placed Villarreal after winning at Malaga and, with the Yellow Submarine travelling to Real Madrid, they would expect to close the gap further if they were to win this game.

So there’s ample value in the standout 7/2 quote about Ernesto Valverde’s men. My 24-match shot ratings rank Athletic as comfortably the fourth best team in La Liga and though the gap to third-best Atletico is substantial (56 per cent ratio versus 66 per cent), the Basques should be shorter than 5/2 once you factor home advantage into the equation.
Athletic Bilbao to win - 1pt @ 7/2

Sporting Gijon v Sevilla

Sevilla have yet to win a league game away from the Sanchez Pizjuan this season, so it would require something extraordinary for them to break that sequence under current conditions, with a small squad stretched by a staggering 54 matches in all competitions and Unai Emery desperate to protect his biggest players ahead of more important challenges.

The Andalusians have an obligation to be competitive at El Molinón given the impact this result will have on three other teams involved in the relegation battle. However, with a local derby against Real Betis up next, followed by a trip to Ukraine to face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League, don’t expect the Basque coach to give it priority billing.

For Sporting, it’s an opportunity to climb out of the drop zone that they simply cannot afford to pass up. The Asturians took advantage of favourable timing to beat Atletico Madrid at their hostile venue a month ago, so it shouldn’t be a matter of whether they are capable. They simply have to raise their game and bank the points, 11/5 about the home win is more than acceptable.
Sporting Gijon to win - 1pt @ 11/5