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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Andy Brassell On European Football: Barcelona can make themselves feel better

Andy Brassell On European Football: Barcelona can make themselves feel better

La Liga is surely gone but Barcelona still have a few cards to play, writes Andy Brassell, as Atalanta climb higher and Porto get poised for glory.

Barcelona losing the title, but can finish off their rivals

The last few weeks have been hard on Barcelona, so getting such an eye-catching result as Sunday's win at Villarreal was a very timely boost. Quique Setien's side rolled over one of La Liga's in-form sides with some ease in the end and they did on the road, having struggled on their travels, not to mention that the front three of Lionel Messi, Luís Suarez and Antoine Griezmann really clicked in a way they have often struggled to do.
It's all too late for them to successfully defend their title, of course, with Sérgio Ramos propelling Real Madrid to the finish line, so those of a blaugrana persuasion will have to find consolation where they can. Relegating their city neighbours Espanyol by beating them at Camp Nou on Wednesday would be welcome, with a late season derbi always bringing back memories when Raúl Tamudo struck late in the same fixture in 2007 to virtually hand El Real the title - and how Espanyol delighted in that.

Barça's victory at Villarreal marked the first time they scored more than twice since the first game back from lockdown, a largely comfortable sweep past Mallorca (which was also away from home). Even in their current wretched run, Espanyol have only lost by more than a single goal once since mid-January, so backing a routine home win might be the way to go here.
Back Barcelona and Espanyol to produce under 2.5 goals at 2.86

Opportunity knocks for Atalanta with competition failing

Even with eight games to go, it is difficult to argue against the last weekend in Serie A being a decisive one. While Juventus sailed to an emphatic win over their plummeting neighbours Torino, Lazio subsequently fell to bits, looking spent in body and mind as they were crushed at home by Milan.
If Inter had any remaining hopes of climbing back into the race for the scudetto, they disappeared in an extraordinary second half on Sunday afternoon at San Siro. A goal up and a man up against Bologna, Antonio Conte's team simply imploded, missing a penalty and then conceding twice inside six minutes in the game's closing quarter to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The door is ajar, then, for Atalanta to swoop in and take advantage. The men from Bergamo have been near-faultless since the resumption, winning all five games and keeping up their dizzying rate of scoring (they have 83 in 30 games this season, which is 20 more than Juve). Though they face Claudio Ranieri's improving Sampdoria this week they look tough to stop. Gian Piero Gasperini and company are just a point behind Inter and five behind Lazio - with the relative lack of depth of Simone Inzaghi's squad becoming more and more clear.
Back Atalanta and Sampdoria to produce over 3.5 goals at 2.04

Porto close to the crown

When Porto slumped to a lacklustre defeat at Famalicão on the opening night of the season resumption in Portugal, you would be forgiven for having thought that the reigning champions Benfica would nervelessly reel them in. The following weeks have been almost relentlessly dramatic but writing the script would have taken one heck of an imagination.
Benfica have since fallen to bits, eliciting the departure of their coach Bruno Lage and even though they won their first game since his exit, at home to Boavista on Saturday, it's tough to see them winning the Liga from here. After their joyously celebrated 5-0 demolition of Belenenses on Sunday night, Porto are six points clear with the head-to-head advantage and need a maximum of two wins from their last four matches to win the title back.
If Porto win at lowly Tondela early Thursday evening it all goes back to Famalicão, where Benfica visit later the same night - and a defeat for the champs to follow victory for Porto would hand their northern rivals the title.

Back Famalicão to beat Benfica at 5.70