REMEMBER Terry Gibson? Well, we've signed him and while he won't be kicking a football he'll be looking into his crystal ball and bringing us his best Spanish tips every week.
The ex-Spurs, Coventry and Manchester United striker is probably best remembered for his time as part of the infamous Wimbledon Crazy Gang side of the late 80s and early 90s. Now an expert in all things La Liga he works as a pundit and co-commentator on Sky Sports’ Spanish football coverage and is a contributor to unibet.
Here are Terry's tips for three Saturday games kicking off with El Clasico.
Real Madrid v Barcelona (Sat 12pm)
A Christmas cracker indeed. Unbeaten Barca go into the game 11 points ahead of their eternal rivals having played a game more. Madrid return from winning the Club World Cup once again so they will also be in a buoyant mood. However the pressure weighing on both teams is hugely different.
Barca will see this as an opportunity to put their old foes out of genuine contention in terms of a title challenge, and Madrid firmly know that. Sergio Ramos has admitted that anything other than a win will see them out of the race. Real actually lie in fourth place behind Atletico and Valencia and that just emphasises even more the need for a home victory.
Team selection is going to be an issue in this one. For Barcelona it is pretty straightforward in the fact they don’t have too many choices to make. Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembele are still unavailable – although the latter has a chance of being on the bench – and Paco Alcacer picked up an injury against Deportivo la Coruńa last time out.
That means starting spots for Paulinho and Thomas Vermaelen in a 4-4-2 with Lionel Messi roaming off the improving Luis Suarez. A midfield quartet of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Paulinho and Andres Iniesta doesn’t give them much in terms of width and pace but with Messi dropping deep, the numbers could be significant against the midfield trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
Will Zinedine Zidane risk Gareth Bale who is back in the frame? If he does, who will he leave out? The impressive Isco looks to be the likely candidate and Real will revert to the diamond to a 4-3-3 with Bale alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema in attack.
Zidane is certainly going to need them to be at their best. If Jordi Alba is the wide attacking outlet that we assume he will be for Barcelona, that could be an area they can fully exploit with Barca missing the pacy Umtiti on the left side of their defence.
Neither manager will be picking a side with the opponents in mind, they will both purely be focusing on what suits them best. It’s one of the many things I admire in this game. Although the draw suits Barcelona they will certainly not be playing for one. However, they are a little bit more pragmatic in their overall approach this season under Ernesto Valverde.
Madrid certainly had the better of Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup back in August with an impressive 5-1 aggregate victory, but Barca have won three of the last four in La Liga at the Bernabeu including that dramatic 3-2 win towards the end of last season with Messi getting a very late winner.
Messi and Suarez have a combined goals tally of 23 this season compared to just the six so far from Ronaldo and Benzema. That matches the tally of Paulinho! Real have shown signs of a revival though having swept Sevilla 5-0 in their last La Liga encounter and Ronaldo finally is appearing to be back on track on the goal trail.
What will be the gap at the end this game? I’m going for it to still be 11 as I fancy draw. I’m predicting goals and I’m going to go for 2-2. With all the big hitters coming into form, it’s a tough one to call for first scorer but I’ll tip Real to make a very quick start with Ronaldo, of course, getting the opening goal.
Valencia v Villarreal (Sat 3.15pm)
My goodness this is a tough one to call. Valencia are going through a tricky period at the moment with two defeats in the last three games and my worries about them not having a squad with depth have come true. They have really suffered lately in terms of injuries and suspensions and it has taken its toll.
Their strongest team, if all available, will give any team in this league a game but when you have important players missing, it is evident that they don’t have the necessary replacements. In this game they are going to be without Carlos Soler and Jose Gaya who are both injured, they are a big loss for coach Marcelino.
Villarreal likewise have had their injury issues this season and that has certainly curtailed their progress. Cedric Bakambu was missing through suspension last week when they got a win at Celta Vigo, and he will start alongside Carlos Bacca up front in this derby.
With Villarreal being pretty much back at full strength I’m actually going for the away victory. It’s a huge step in the right direction that Valencia are currently 10 points clear of their city rivals but it was probably unrealistic to expect Los Che to genuinely challenge for the title bearing in mind Barcelona are probably going to accumulate approx 90 points this season.
A top four finish is realistic though but Villarreal will still be thinking along the same lines. They will believe that a win here will give them a chance and they will look to attack Marcelino’s team in an effort to close the gap. I’m going for a 2-1 away victory for Villarreal with Carlos Bacca getting the first goal of the game.
- Valencia 1, Villarreal 2 (10-1, Unibet)
- Bacca to score first (13-2, Unibet)
- Villarreal double chance (13-16, Unibet)
Deportivo v Celta Vigo (Sat 5.30pm)
Another derby and this time the focus is on the Galician affair. Both teams have spent time in the Segunda division recently so it’s great to have this game back in the top flight, hopefully on a more regular basis. In terms of the qualities of both teams, Celta are currently ahead of their rivals.
They have a defined style of play, even with a new coach and are certainly more capable of scoring goals than their hosts. They have scored 16 times away from home this season, this compares to Depor’s total tally of 18 home and away.
I’m actually going to predict a thriller in this one and go for a 3-2 away win. Iago Aspas returns after missing last week's defeat at home to Villarreal and that enhances any chance of Celta being victorious in this game.
I would love to see Florin Andone getting an opportunity to play alongside Lucas Perez up front for Depor but coach Cristobal Parralo so far has resisted the temptation, surely it’s only a matter of time before he has no choice but to do so after only one victory in the last six.
Andone scored 12 league goals last season, and was wanted by a couple of Premier League clubs in the summer who offered in excess of £10m but the club declined the offers. Perez was brought back from Arsenal on loan and neither the sacked Pepe Mel or Cristobal Parralo thought fit to play with two good strikers as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 set up.
I’m not convinced he will change for this game, and I’m going for Maxi Gomez to open the scoring in a 3-2 away win for Celta Vigo.
- Depor 2, Celta 3 (22-1, Unibet)
- Maxi Gomez to score first (11-2, Unibet)
- Celta to score 2+ (13-10, Unibet)
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