It's crunch time in Spain

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 April, 2006, 12:00am

It's a crunch week in Spain's Primera Liga, with two full programmes likely to play a key role in deciding the final outcome at both ends of the table.

Barcelona are home bankers, with Valencia not far behind, in this weekend's games against bottom-three sides Cadiz and Alaves respectively.

A good home shot at better odds is Atletico Madrid. Since Pepe Murcia took charge in early January, Atletico have kept pace with the top three, taking five wins from seven home games. Their two home defeats came against top-six sides Celta Vigo and Sevilla, and they were unlucky on both occasions.

Atletico should be too strong for fourth-bottom Mallorca, who have improved in recent weeks but have taken only three points from a possible 36 in away games against the top 14.

There are a couple of big battles this weekend between lower-ranked teams - Betis v Bilbao and Malaga v Racing. Betis don't rate that highly, but their six home defeats have come against teams that rank highly in the overall table or on away form - against lower-ranked sides they have won seven out of 11 at home. Betis might have the beating of Bilbao, who rank 15th on away form and have lost seven out of 12 away to teams above them in the table.

Malaga, who are almost down now, look vulnerable at home to Racing. The visitors have lost only two out of nine away to teams outside the top eight and rate a decent handicap chance. Manuel Preciado resigned as Racing coach after last week's 3-1 home loss to Getafe, but they look worth the risk.

The big clash at the top is Osasuna v Real Madrid, which could have a major bearing on Champions League places. Real look too short on form (three wins in their last 10) and Osasuna (five wins out of seven at home to top-half teams) are the handicap pick.

The other handicap bet to consider is Sevilla at Sociedad, who have won only three out of eight at home in 2006.

Best homes: Atletico Madrid.

Best aways: Sevilla.