There’s more top action from Spain during the week as the second legs of the last 16 in the Copa del Rey are played, and we’ve got our finger on the pulse of the action. A place in the quarter finals is at stake for the winners of these games, and while some appear to be a foregone conclusion, there are plenty of competitive fixtures to get our teeth into. We backed Gary Neville’s Valencia to get a rare victory under his leadership last week at home to Granada, and they duly romped to a 4-0 victory, but Atletico Madrid let us down with a tepid 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano.
Eibar were another strong fancy and all looked well when they raced into a 2-1 first half lead, but a desperate second half saw them concede two goals and have two men dismissed as they went down to a rare home loss to La Liga strugglers Las Palmas. They did the business again for this site when they beat Espanyol in the league at the weekend though, and can be given a chance to redeem themselves on Wednesday night. Barcelona were their usual goal-scoring selves against their city rivals in the cup clash last week, firing their way to a 4-1 victory with a brace from Messi, and the second leg could be another goalfest as Espanyol look to try and overturn that deficit back on home soil. We’ve got three great tips for Wednesday night, and the first is on Villarreal to to overturn their own reverse against Athletic Bilbao.
Villarreal v Athletic Bilbao
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Although 2-0 ahead in that first leg, Villarreal succumbed to a second half onslaught to go down 3-2 away at Bilbao, and to make matters worse they had Mario Gasper sent off in the final moments to complete a miserable night. However, that result brought an end to a six-game winning run in which they’d beaten Real Madrid and Valencia, and they were quick to regain the winning thread at home to Sporting Gijon on Sunday, running out 2-0 winners. Indeed, on home ground they’ve been practically invincible over the last month or two, winning eight of nine matches in front of their loyal supporters, as well as winning the last twice that Bilbao have visited. That excellent form has seen them rise to 4th in La Liga, behind the predictable top three of Barcelona, Real, and Atletico, and they are a team to have on your side at the moment.
Bilbao are having a fair season in the league, and they currently occupy 8th position with an eye on the European places. They’ve also been in generally good form with just two defeats in the last ten games – away at Atletico Madrid and Sevilla most recently. This game may not be played to suit them though, as the temptation will be to protect what they have and try to hit Villarreal in the break, but if they fall behind they could struggle to find any sort of momentum to work their way back into the game.
Las Palmas v Eibar
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Relative new-comers to La Liga, Eibar are making a great fist of becoming a top-flight regular and they are already in the heady heights of 6th place in the table. Relegation should certainly not be an issue this season, and the chance of a European spot and a good cup run is highly motivating. Las Palmas on the other hand, are 16th in the table and just three points above the drop zone. This cup game may be a welcome distraction, but the priority will be staying in the top division for another year.
Eibar really managed to shoot themselves in the foot in that 3-2 defeat last week, but they beat Las Palmas here 2-0 in the league back in October and after a confidence-boosting 4-0 victory at Real Betis in their latest away match, they will fancy their chances of doing so again. This is a game that could easily go either way, but with the home side likely to be on the defensive with that first-leg lead, it could pay to back the away side to emerge victorious over 90 minutes.
Espanyol v Barcelona
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There are usually fireworks when these two team meet, and so it proved at the Nou Camp last week when Barca roared into a commanding 4-1 lead. Messi was on the scoresheet twice and the result was never really in danger. Espanyol can take heart from the fact that Barcelona have drawn three of their last four away games – including a 0-0 draw in the league fixture here in early January – but the first leg score puts an entirely different complexion on this game. Espanyol have little choice but to go at Barca in the perhaps forlorn hope of producing a miraculous turnaround, but as we know only too well coming out and attacking against a team of that quality usually only ends up with trouble.
It remains to be seen if players will be rested, but the notion of Barcelona settling for a slim defeat and an aggregate win will not enter the minds of those behind the scenes at the Nou Camp. It is simply not in their style, and they will look to win this game just as they would any other, particularly with their city rivals as the opposition. It promises to be an open and end-to-end game, and that should result in plenty of goals.
Villarreal to beat Athletic Bilbao
Wednesday 13th January, 19:30 GMT
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Eibar to beat Las Palmas
Wednesday 13th January, 20:00 GMT
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Espanyol v Barcelona Over 3.5 Goals
Wednesday 13th January, 20:00 GMT
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- Copa del Rey