Oblak hailed as world’s best

Goalkeeper Jan Oblak has been hailed as the best in the world by his head coach at Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone.

The 26-year-old Slovenia international has been an outstanding performer for Los Rojiblancos since his arrival from Benfica in the summer of 2014, helping Atleti reach the Champions League final in 2016.

Oblak has also excelled in aiding the men from Madrid to enjoy success in the Europa League, the UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup.

And Oblak was at his best at the weekend as he made several fine saves in the 2-0 home win over Celta Vigo, with Simeone clearly thankful of having such a fine keeper at his disposal.

He told the Spanish media: "Jan Oblak is the best goalkeeper in the world and we are very lucky to have him in the squad.

"I am very proud to have him in my team and for him to be in the dressing room at this club – he has improved a lot since he arrived at the club.

"When he first came, until February he had not played any games, but he's worked so hard to get a regular spot in the team.

"Right now, there is no doubt that for me he is the best goalkeeper in the world."

Atleti are back in action next Saturday afternoon, when they head to the Ipurua Municipal to take on mid-table Eibar.

The visitors are 6/4 to win the game, 6/1 to do so by a 1-0 scoreline and 7/4 to keep a clean sheet.

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La Liga: Messi Milestone As Barca Flex Their Muscles

Barcelona 3-0 Eibar

And they say Barcelona need a striker!

Yes, they do as their squad remains a little lightweight should injuries/suspensions kick in.

However, whether Alvaro Morata, Fernando Llorente or another target end up moving to the Nou Camp, they will be joining a squad already installed as the firm favourite to retain La Liga and any incoming arrival will likely spend quite some time on the bench when coach Ernesto Valverde has a full squad to pick from.

us followers will have noticed almost as much as the Eibar players that the heavyweights were back for this, this after a second-string side were beaten in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie three days earlier.

It showed as the game was won within the hour.

Highlights of the game

In contrast, Jose Luis Mendilibar and his team’s chances of springing a surprise at the Camp Nou was made even more difficult by their absentees.

As Barca were welcoming back Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Jordi Alba, Eibar were lacking some punch without both Charles Dias, their focal point in attack and influential centre back Ivan Ramis.

The omens weren’t good.

The Basque outfit had only lost two league games this season in which the centre-back had figured.

Worse still, Eibar’s total of five away goals going into this one was the lowest in the division. Moreover, since gaining promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history in 2014, their trips to the Camp Nou had resulted in heavy losses: they were defeated 3-0, 3-1, 4-2 and, most recently, 6-1.

Despite the cards being stacked against them and despite the difficulty of the task, Mendilibar was faithful to his daring style of play and they were spirited, perhaps encouraged by promising displays against Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid earlier in the campaign.

Had Anaitz Arbilla not headed wide after 16 minutes, perhaps a surprise would have been on the cards, but there is a reason they have not won since November.

Three minutes later Philippe Coutinho found Suarez and the returning Uruguayan did the rest.

Sergi Enrich and Sergi Roberto traded headers that were close and the contest also remained close as the sides went in at the break.

Messi had been kept extremely quiet by the visitors but eight minutes after the break came the moment which will grab all the headlines over the days ahead.

La Liga: Barcelona extend their lead to 5 points after the 3-0 win against Eibar at the Camp Nou

Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona during their La Liga match versus Eibar

Suarez provided the assist and the diminutive number 10 fired into the bottom right-hand corner to become the first player to score 400 goals in La Liga.

The landmark figure for a landmark player – what would the betting odds have been on that happening at the start of his career?

It also extended his record as La Liga’s all-time leading record scorer ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo (now at Juventus) – 311 goals in 292 games at Real Madrid – and Telmo Zarra, who scored 251 La Liga goals.

As statisticians got to work on one of the 2019 La Liga news stories, Suarez applied the finishing touch to victory with a shot from a difficult angle after good work from Roberto.

Game over and Eibar were unable to muster a consolation, despite presentable chances for Enrich and Gonzalo Escalante, while Pablo de Blasis and Kike Garcia called Marc-Andre ter Stegen into action.

However, this was the day of the headline maker.

Messi is Barcelona’s greatest star and, just as he did in the first game of the year a week ago, here he produced even more of the La Liga 2019 highlights.

Key Statistics

Messi has become the second player to reach 400+ goals in the history of Europe’s top five leagues after Ronaldo (409) reached the milestone.

The Argentina captain has now scored 13 goals in nine matches against the Basque side.

Messi (17) and Suarez (14) have scored 31 La Liga goals this term, no team has scored more. Sevilla and Celta Vigo have 31 each.

Messi has scored against 37 different teams in La Liga, the most by a player in the competition history.

What’s next?

This was the first of four successive home games for Barcelona.

Next up is the second leg of the Copa del Rey tie against Levante, followed by a home match against Leganes a week today (January 20).

It’s then off to Girona on January 27.

Eibar host Espanyol a week tomorrow (January 21) in La Liga and travel to Leganes in the league five days later.

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La Liga: Can Barca Expect a Goal Bonanza?

Barcelona vs Eibar

Barcelona have not been at their best this season.

In fact, in other seasons they may have struggled to be at the summit at the halfway stage with 12 wins, four draws and two defeats from their opening 18 games.

Yet, as far as the Catalans are concerned, they remain the undisputed number one in La Liga.

They are favourites to retain the title with arch-rivals Real Madrid well off the pace and struggling in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era and Atletico Madrid still lacking the consistency needed for a full title tilt.

Add in the fact that third-place Sevilla are separating the Madrid rivals but not expected to last the pace, it means Barcelona remain overwhelming favourites to win the top domestic prize.

Talking Points

That is not to knock Barca’s first half of the campaign, us fans.

Barca seem intent on continuing their domestic domination. They hold a five-point advantage at the top and have a goal difference more than double of anyone else.

The Copa del Rey midweek defeat was a setback but no more, and key players are set to return for this encounter and, possibly, the second leg of the cup tie.

Perhaps, coach Ernesto Valverde took advice from former skipper Carles Puyol who suggested Europe should be more of a priority than the Copa.

Winners of the competition for the past four years, Puyol suggested they consider sacrificing their progress knowing they have failed to impress in the Champions League in recent seasons and with a last 16 tie against Lyon on the horizon.

Many players considered to be in the first-choice starting XI are set to return for this game, although whether Munir El Haddadi is included in the squad remains to be seen as he seems set to move to Sevilla during this month’s transfer window where reportedly a three- or four-year contract awaits.

Barcelona sell Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla

Barcelona sell Munir El Haddadi to Sevilla

A year after joining the club for big money, Philippe Coutinho remains on the fringes and has recently lost his place in the team to Arturo Vidal and Arthur Melo. He last started a league game against Villarreal at the start of December.

Yet he remains a genuine top talent on his day and, who knows, perhaps his late goal in the Copa del Rey defeat to Levante will act as the pick-me-up for the second half of the season.

This is the first of three home games in eight days, two in the league and one in the cup, which means the fans will have ample opportunities to show the support necessary to help Barça remain league leaders and maintain their challenge for a fifth Copa del Rey in a row.

This should be a routine victory.

Although Eibar should never be written off as they regularly continue to punch above their weight, it must be remembered they have not won a game since beating Real Madrid at the end of November. In fact, they have picked up just four points from a possible 15 and have been drawn into the relegation battle.

They are also struggling without the influential Ivan Ramis who is unavailable with a muscle problem. The Basque outfit has only lost two league games this season in which the centre-back has figured.

Worse still, Eibar’s total of five away goals so far this term is the lowest in the division. Moreover, their trips to the Camp Nou have resulted in heavy losses since gaining promotion to the top flight for the first time in their history in 2014: they were defeated 3-0, 3-1, 4-2 and, most recently, 6-1.

If goals are your currency, this encounter will be one to watch in La Liga 2019 highlights.

History

Barcelona have won all eight of their meetings since Eibar were promoted four and a half years ago.

Last season’s 6-1 success, in which Lionel Messi scored four of the goals, was followed up by a hard-fought 2-0 away success, courtesy of goals from Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba.

Betting Tip

??
Barcelona vs Eibar Total Goal 2-3 @ 2.59
January 14, 01:30 (GMT+8)

That there are very one-sided La Liga 2019 betting odds will come as no surprise.

1X2 Barcelona come out @ 1.15 with Eibar a massively distant @ 17.00 and the draw @ 7.00.

Asian Handicap odds show Barcelona -2.75 @ 2.31 and Eibar + 2.50 @ 1.84.

Given the recent records of both sides, you won’t get great odds on a goal fest.

Even over 4.00 goals will only offer @ 2.16.

Eibar are on a dreadful run and conceding plenty; Barca are on a good run and scoring lots.

A SHORT EXPLANATION ON HOW OUR (??) BETS ARE WORTH:
?? = €20 (Highly confident) ?? = €10 (CONFIDENT) ?? = €5 (SOMEWHAT CONFIDENT)

Disclaimer: Odds are correct at time of publish.

 

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When the Betting Odds are Stacked Against you

Atletico Madrid 2-2 Eibar

It’s tough playing in a league comprising two teams which, over the past decade, have been considered the best in the world.

Just ask Atletico Madrid!

For some time now they have won football games, sometimes when the betting odds are stacked against them, yet rarely are their achievements recognised for as long as they should be.

Since taking charge at the end of 2011, Diego Simeone has led Los Colchoneros to the La Liga title, the Copa del Rey, two Europa League triumphs, the UEFA Super Cup and two Champions League finals.

That is a good return.

Up against the established heavyweights of Barcelona and Real Madrid, that is a fantastic return.

That they continue to punch above their weight, despite the difference in resources compared to their rivals, is always worth remembering.

And so it proved on an afternoon in which there was plenty to celebrate.

Even Kike Garcia’s 35th minute opener could not dampen the mood inside the Wanda Metropolitano.

When Atletico levelled seven minutes later and then went in front on the hour, it could only be one man.

In his final appearance for the club, Fernando Torres marked the occasion with a double as the club paid homage to the striker with a special shirt.

‘From child to legend’ read the message on specially illustrated shirts marking his career with the club in which he progressed from the academy through to the senior team.

It was a fitting send-off and further proof of the Atletico success story, four days after their latest Europa League triumph.

Even with the departing Torres, there is the nucleus of a really successful side which will be further strengthened this summer by Rodri, set to join from Villarreal.

In addition, Diego Costa’s January arrival has clearly made an impact in the second half of the season, shown again he as he set up Torres for his second.

Then there is the spine from goalkeeper Jan Oblak and Diego Godin through to captain Gabi and Antoine Griezmann.

Cheered to the hilt and urged to stay by fans during the Europa League homecoming, it would be a sign of unity should Griezmann spurn the reported advances of champions Barcelona and lead an Atletico assault on La Liga next season.

Let us also remember, irrespective of this result, Atletico had already seen off their city rivals Real Madrid to claim the runners-up spot, another fine achievement to split up the Barca-Real duopoly.

Again, however, it will be largely overlooked

To prove the point I made earlier, that is because Real are bidding for a third successive European crown next weekend.

It’s never easy to be appreciated at this level!

A word for Eibar as they completed another fine season and levelled with a Ruben Pena shot from outside the box, seven minutes after home defender Lucas Hernandez had been shown a second yellow card.

Honours even on the final day of another season in which Spanish clubs ultimately may end up dominating the major honours once again.

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Benzema earns Zidane backing

Zinedine Zidane remains convinced Karim Benzema remains the right man to lead Real Madrid's attack.

The Frenchman has been at the Bernabeu since 2009 and has enjoyed great success with the club, claiming to two La Liga titles and three Champions League winners' medals.

However, Benzema's lack of sharpness in front of goal has often led to criticism and he again came under fire in the press this week.

The 29-year-old spurned a number of chances during Tuesday's 1-1 Champions League draw against Real Madrid and former England and Tottenham forward Gary Lineker was openly critical of his performance.

A number of managers have found themselves in the same position as Zidane but have always argued that the forward's team play is more important than his goals, especially with so much firepower elsewhere in the side.

Sunday sees Real welcome Eibar to the Bernabeu in a game they are 1/11 to win, with the draw 10/1 and the Basques 22/1.

Benzema is again likely to start in attack and Zidane has backed him to continue playing a key role for his team.

"Not only is there criticism of Karim, but of everyone," Zidane said. "I am annoyed because saying that is a shame.

"He [Benzema] isn't going to get you 60 goals but he will get 30 and he will also assist for 40 more and that for me is the most important thing.

"I don't like it when people speak badly of my players, and I want to clarify again that for me Karim is the best [striker] by far."

Real are 6/4 to retain their La Liga title and 9/2 to successfully defend their Champions League crown.

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Live Betting Fun in the Spanish Twilight

There’s not much better in sports than football under the floodlights; the spectacular sights, the passion in the crowds and world-class performances. We’ll have it all this week in La Liga.

Only two points separate Real Madrid in fourth from Eibar in 13th and with a full programme of Primera Division football games in midweek, there could be quite a shake-up.

Let’s see who’s in good shape and who needs to find some form.

WEEK 5 WEDNESDAY:

Barcelona vs Eibar

Barcelona are top and should stay there after Eibar’s visit, despite their win against Leganes last Saturday. With Asian Handicap Betting, you can get odds of 2.03 on a home win with a -2.50 handicap, and Eibar are at 1.90 with a +2.50 goal advantage. The leaders will be without £97m signing Ousmane Dembele, out with a hamstring injury.

Valencia vs Malaga

With a visit from Malaga, still without a point this season, the Mestalla will be bouncing as Valencia—with six in the bag and still unbeaten—can make a move on the top group with an expected home win.

WEEK 5 THURSDAY:

Athletic Bilbao vs Atletico Madrid

Losing to Las Palmas was a blow to the Bilbao side after an impressive start to the campaign, and they’ll want to get back on track against fifth-placed Atletico. Antoine Griezmann was on target as the visitors beat Malaga, and his team is at 2.22 to win again, with a home win at 3.35 and 3.15 the draw.

Leganes vs Girona

After winning its first two games, Leganes have lost two, disappointingly to Eibar last Saturday, but I fancy them to get back to winning ways against new boys Girona. Four points from four isn’t a bad return for starters, but after losing to Sevilla a difficult run could be on the cards.

Deportivo La Coruna vs Alaves

I didn’t really expect Deportivo to struggle so much again this season, but it’s been an uninspiring start, with just a solitary point. But that’s one more than Alaves have and so the Depor fans will demand a win, with Florin Andone their best chance of goals.

Sevilla vs Las Palmas

Second-placed Sevilla can keep the pressure on Barca with a home win, but it won’t be easy as the visitors make the trip from Gran Canaria with their season nicely up and running after a second win at the weekend, at home to a strong Athletic Club side.

Real Madrid vs Real Betis

Gareth Bales silenced his critics with a stunning goal to help Los Blancos get a crucial win at Real Sociedad, ending the hosts’ 100 percent record in the process. Real Betis are in mid-table after beating Depor on Sunday but are unlikely to move up again on Thursday!

WEEK 5 FRIDAY:

Villarreal vs Espanyol

The Yellow Submarine have had an extra day off with Espanyol playing a Tuesday fixture and so after a slow start, they can build on their two wins, following an impressive 0-3 at Alaves. Espanyol may also still be recovering from their derby day hammering.

Celta Vigo vs Getafe

Getafe put up a good fight against Barca on Saturday, losing by the odd goal, and with Celta Vigo away at Espanyol on Tuesday, have two more days to prepare for this game, though the hosts will see it as a good chance to climb the table. They are at 1.88 to get a win.

Levante vs Real Sociedad

Sociedad began the season in superb form, winning the first three, but that all went by the wayside after Real Madrid took all three points from their hosts at the weekend. And this won’t be a cakewalk; unlike their visitors, Levante are still unbeaten with a win and three draws.

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Crazy market frustrates Benitez

Newcastle United head coach Rafa Benitez has admitted to being frustrated by what he describes as a 'crazy' summer transfer market.

Having earned promotion back to the Premier League last season, the Magpies were hoping to be able to add a number of new recruits to their ranks as quickly as possible.

However, despite showing an interest in a number of potential new signings, the only major deal to have been completed was that to bring defender Florian Lejeune to Tyneside from Spanish club Eibar.

And Benitez has told a club function that ideally he would have liked more new faces to have been on board when pre-season training started.

He commented: "It's not easy for a lot of teams because the market is a little bit crazy. We have to try to do our best.

"The top sides have a lot of money. The other teams are spending too, but we will see what we can do.

"We know where we are – that is not ideal because everybody wants to see a lot of players signing already, but we have to keep working and see what we can do.

"We can do nothing other than just keep working to find the players that we want, hopefully we can do it."

The Magpies return to the English top-flight as Championship champions, having edged out Brighton on the final day of a tense campaign.

They are available at 7/2 to suffer relegation back to the second tier next season, with the Seagulls 6/5 to go straight back down and Watford priced at 6/4 to suffer the drop.

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Atleti pledge fight to the end

Atletico Madrid head coach Diego Simeone has refused to throw in the towel, despite seeing his side beaten 3-0 at Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final first leg.

Los Rojiblancos have left themselves with a mountain to climb if they are to reach the final of the competition for the third time in four seasons, but Simeone is hoping that a vibrant atmosphere in the Vicente Calerdon next Wednesday can inspire an amazing turnaround.

He told UEFA.com: "Football is a marvellous game and anything can happen. I still think we have a chance of going through.

"I told the players that we need to get over it, forget about it. It is very, very hard, but this is football – these things can happen.

"We are going to try until the very, very end, until the final whistle is blown in the second leg. We are going to try and do something practically impossible next week.

"We are Atletico Madrid and maybe, just maybe, we can do it."

Atleti turn their attentions back to La Liga this weekend, with Simeone's side still battling to ensure a top-three finish and secure a place in the group stage of the Champions League next season.

On Saturday afternoon they play host to Eibar, who have enjoyed a superb season and who lie in eighth place in the table.

Atleti are 2/7 to claim three points against Eibar and are 9/2 to win the game 2-0, while a 3-1 win for the home side is available at 12/1.

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