La Liga soccer returns this weekend and leaders Barcelona do so with a trip to relegation-threatened Mallorca on Saturday (4pm ET).
The Spanish top flight is the second of the major European leagues to get up and running, nearly a month after the return of the Bundesliga. There are 11 rounds of action to be squeezed into a six-week schedule that will see the season conclude in mid-July.
Barcelona regained the leadership in the final round of matches prior to the league stoppage, benefiting from Real Madrid’s loss away to Real Betis to establish a two-point lead at the top with a 1-0 win at home to Real Sociedad. With 11 points separating them from Sevilla in third, it seems pretty safe to say it is now a two-horse race for the title.
That victory was Barcelona’s sixth in eight matches since former Betis coach Quique Setien was brought in to replace the sacked Ernesto Valverde in earlier January. In that time, and despite defeats to Valencia and Real Madrid, they have taken more points than any other side. Not only that, but their underlying numbers have improved considerably.
Both the main American-friendly bookmakers and statistical modelling sites favor Barcelona to maintain their advantage and secure what would be their third consecutive title and their fifth in the last six seasons, but that is far from a certainty. Madrid appear to have a slightly easier run-in and have recovered a couple of key players from injury. Barcelona will have to tackle the hectic fixture list with a slightly thinner squad than that of their rivals.
Setien will be glad to be able to call on the services of Lionel Messi for Saturday’s match. There had been doubts over the Argentinian’s fitness, but the player, who again leads both scoring and assist charts in La Liga, will be ready to line up at the San Moix. He scored a hat-trick in Barcelona’s 5-2 win over Mallorca at the Camp Nou in December and has scored or assisted 12 of Barcelona’s goals since Setien took over.
Barcelona’s hosts are embroiled in what will probably be a six-team contest to avoid filling La Liga’s three relegation spots. Mallorca are third from bottom, five points clear of bottom side Espanyol, two ahead of Leganes in 19th, just one behind Celta Vigo in 17th and two shy of Eibar in 16th. Real Valladolid are another couple of points up the road.
Vicente Moreno’s side have shown signs of improvement since the turn of the year. They have gone from collecting 0.83 points per match through their first 18 fixtures to 1.11 per match in their subsequent nine. Both their top-line and underlying numbers show a marginal improvement in attack allied to a significant defensive improvement.
Cucho Hernandez, on loan from Watford, has contributed in adding a little more spark to their attack. The strengthening of their defensive resolve appears to be the result of tactical tweaks rather than personnel changes, although January arrival Alejandro Pozo has made a good impression at right-back. Mallorca have begun to defend a little more proactively and in doing so, have reduced both the quantity and quality of opposition shots.
They do, though, have an onerous trail ahead of them. Their closing schedule looks to be one of the toughest in the league. Not only must they face both Barcelona and Real Madrid, but also third-placed Sevilla and sixth-placed Atlético Madrid. Seven of their remaining 11 fixtures are against top-half teams. It is a challenge they must face with one of the smallest squads in the league.
Mallorca did defeat Real Madrid when they hosted them in October, but they are unlikely to repeat that against Barcelona on Saturday. Barca will surely suffer from a degree of rustiness after the long layoff, but even if Mallorca are able to steal an early march on them, Messi and his teammates have enough firepower to recover and claim victory in what has every chance of being a high-scoring match. So our Mallorca vs Barcelona predictions and betting tips for this preview looks like this:
- Bet on Barcelona to win in a match featuring over 3.5 goals @ best odds of +155 (just over 6/4) with the excellent Bovada Sportsbook.