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With the La Liga title race hotting up, Real Madrid must ensure their table-topping points tally keeps increasing. This weekend they travel to struggling Malaga, who have failed to build on last season's run to the Champions League quarter-finals under Manuel Pellegrini and find themselves in the lower reaches of mid-table.
Sunday tees up one of England's most hotly contested derbies, when Manchester United host Liverpool at Old Trafford. The pair's seasons have turned out quite differently to pre-season expectations, with the visitors finding themselves 11 points ahead of their noisy rivals in second place. David Moyes could certainly do with all three points if United are to secure European football next season - whichever competition that might be.
On Monday night, Roma hope to tighten their grip on second spot when Udinese visit the Stadio Olimpico. Rudi Garcia's men are way off the pace of runaway leaders Juventus - 14 points, to be precise - although they do have a game in hand over third-placed Napoli. With only the top two in Serie A guaranteed Champions League football, it's still all to play for where the Romans are concerned.
Malaga vs Real Madrid (Sat, 7pm)
Thanks to Barcelona’s poor form in 2014, Real Madrid, four points ahead, are in with a fine chance of winning La Liga this season. Saturday's hosts Malaga, meanwhile, are involved in a tight relegation battle involving the whole bottom half, but grabbed a huge win at Osasuna to relieve some of the pressure.
Since 2009/10, Malaga have lost 16 of 19 matches against the Big Two, with 14 defeats by more than one goal, including 6 of 9 home matches. After selling their best players last summer, the Andalusian side have lost all four of their home games this term against the current top six. Real Madrid have dropped points at the four teams directly below them this season, but have otherwise won 9 of 10 away matches. Their last six wins in La Liga have all been by at least two goals, and 8 of their last 12 have been by three or more. Real look hungry for goals right now and should be backed on the Asian Handicap -1.5 at 1.80.
Nine of Real’s last 15 away matches have seen at least four goals, but such is their excellent clean sheet record in 2014 that we prefer the handicap here. Furthermore, Malaga have failed to score in 6 of their 13 home games this season.
Karim Benzema has scored more goals against Malaga than any other La Liga side, having netted 7 times in his last 7 appearances against them. This includes scoring in all four starts - he’s struck once every 60 minutes over these seven matches. With the Frenchman having started in 17 consecutive league games, scoring in 11, he’s worth looking out for in the scorer markets.
Man United vs Liverpool (Sun, 1:30pm)
Liverpool have been playing like potential champions recently, so it would give Manchester United great pleasure to derail their title challenge. While Liverpool have scored in all 11 league meetings with United since 2008/09, they have still lost at Old Trafford in each of the last four years.
United have been fairly dire at home this season, but have played better in their last couple of matches (on the road) with an XI close to their best. Liverpool have conceded more away goals this season than any team in the top 14, winning just 1 of their 6 trips to teams currently in the top eight and losing three. In fact, they conceded at least twice in those five matches they failed to win, and United have lost just 5 of 279 home games in the Premier League when they’ve scored two or more goals. At Anfield it would be hard not to back Liverpool in their current form, but they still fail to convince on the road, and with the pressure of being title contenders it looks sensible to back United outright at 2.45 or take the Draw No Bet option at 1.75.
United’s last game against one of the top four was a tedious 0-0 at Arsenal, but with Liverpool’s instinct to attack we could see this game open up. 21 of Liverpool’s last 23 matches have seen at least three goals, as have 5 of their 6 trips this season to the current top eight. Nine of the last 11 meetings between these teams have seen both sides score, with 8 having at least three goals. While we don’t expect Liverpool to be able to keep a clean sheet, it is also hard not to see them scoring - United have seen three or more goals in 16 of the 20 home matches they’ve conceded in since the start of last season, with 9 seeing at least four. Over 2.5 Goals is a generous looking 1.75, while Over 3.5 Goals is very tempting at 2.80.
Roma vs Udinese (Mon, 8pm)
Roma have conceded just two goals at home all season. However, a lack of goals at the other end is starting to have an impact. Losing Kevin Strootman to a season-ending injury is another huge blow, and with Daniele De Rossi still suspended, the centre of midfield is beginning to look a bit bare.
Udinese have lost only 1 of their last 6 matches, and while it hasn’t been a good season they are now 10 points clear of danger. They won’t be afraid of playing Roma having won this fixture last season, and have finished in the top five for three consecutive seasons. They’ve travelled to five of the current top half this term, and while they’ve lost four times, none were by more than one goal. With Roma having scored just once in their last three games and likely to still be missing Francesco Totti in attack, it's worth noting that their average goals per game is 2.60 with their captain, and just 1.44 without him this season. Against a depleted Roma, Udinese are worth risking on the Double Chance market at 3.00.
With both teams scoring in just 1 of Roma’s last 10 matches, we could be in for a low-scoring game. Roma have netted at least three times on their own in 4 of their last 5 home matches, but with their significant absentees it would be a surprise if they can replicate that. Six of their last 11 home games against bottom-half teams have seen fewer than three goals, as have all of the last six home games they’ve failed to win. With Udinese set to make life difficult for the home side, this should be a tighter game than forecast and Under 2.5 Goals is worth backing at 2.05.
Charlie Adam (Stoke)
Adam has missed 26 of Stoke’s 65 games since the start of last season, and while they’ve won 31% of games with him, this drops to just 15% without. It's led to their points per game falling from 1.26 to just 0.85. Jon Walters is also suspended, and Stoke have failed to score in any of the four games he’s missed since the start of last season. West Ham are 1.70 on the Double Chance, while their last two away wins have both been 2-0 scorelines - a huge 17.25 to be repeated here.
Yacine Brahimi (Granada)
Brahimi is a key attacking midfielder for Granada, and since the start of last season they’ve scored just 14 goals in the 18 matches he’s missed. The last 7 of those games have seen just 7 goals, and 8 of the last 9 have been level at half-time. Under 1.5 Goals is a juicy 2.95.
Carlos Zambrano (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Zambrano has missed just eight games since the start of last season, but without him Frankfurt have won only once. Only one of those matches was at home, but did see them fail to beat last season’s bottom team, and in the last two matches he’s missed they’ve conceded nine goals. Freiburg have won the last two away games they’ve scored in and are 2.0 on the Asian Handicap +0.5.