Barca look to bounce back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 February, 2006, 12:00am

Barcelona can bounce back from last week's shock home defeat by winning at title rivals Valencia tomorrow night.

The championship race was re-opened by Barca's 3-1 home loss to Atletico Madrid, which ended their hopes of a record 15th straight win in the Primera Liga.

Valencia, unbeaten in the league since early November, would close the gap to just six points if they beat the reigning champions.

Form and recent history point to Barcelona, however. Their only other league defeat this season was back in mid-September - also against Atletico - and it doesn't often pay to get carried away by talk of crisis after one defeat.

Barcelona have been the best team in Spain for more than two years, and they still are. They have a great record at Valencia. They have notched eight wins from their last 12 league visits to the Mestalla, including on their last three, and rate as a good handicap bet at least.

Real Madrid rate as the best away chance for their trip to Bilbao, though their record at San Mames is poor - their last league win was in September 1998. Real did win in the cup there earlier in the season, however, and Bilbao are not their usual force.

Sevilla and Deportivo have strong chances on the road at Cadiz and Betis respectively and are solid handicap picks. Atletico Madrid rate as the best home chance against Sociedad, who have the worst away record in the Primera Liga (just four points from 30).

French leaders Lyon look vulnerable again for their trip to Lens, who are draw specialists (13 out of 25) and will be hard to beat. Lyon have won only five out of 12 against top-half teams. Auxerre, Bordeaux and Monaco all rate highly for home wins, but a better-odds chance is underrated Le Mans at home to Nice. Le Mans are France's fourth-best home team, with 19 points out of 21 against bottom-half sides.

Best homes: Auxerre, Bordeaux, Monaco, Le Mans, Atletico Madrid.

Best aways: Barcelona, Sevilla, Deportivo.