Madrid face Mendizorrotza test

Alavés v Real Madrid
Saturday, 17:30
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
It doesn't take much to get the crisis bells ringing at the Bernabéu, and the last fortnight has provided plenty of motive for hand-wringing. Real Madrid followed up their 3-0 defeat to Sevilla with a goalless draw in the derby - netting a nice winner for this column - and then managed to lose to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.
Perhaps even more worrying than the results themselves (they're still level on points at the top of La Liga and should be fine in the Champions League) has been their inability to score: they've now gone three games without finding the net for the first time since January 2007, and the excitement that surrounded the new, Ronaldo-less frontline at the start of the campaign has faded swiftly.
Injuries have already begun to bite, with Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco all absent in midweek, and Dani Carvajal forced off before the interval. That is testing Julen Lopetegui, whose faith in youth has not quite been able to mask the slight lack of depth in the squad.
A reaction will be expected on Saturday, but Alavés look well-placed to make life tough for them again. The Basques have started where they left off at the end of last season, and a detailed look at their points return under Aberlardo shows just how much progress they have made. They have amassed 52 points since he took the reigns in December, at an average of 1.875 per match; extrapolate that over 38 games and they would have finished fifth last term.
At home, the picture is even rosier: they've lost just three times at Mendizorrotza under Abelardo, and only once by more than the odd goal. True, they have won only two of their 26 league games against Madrid, but they're unlikely to be overwhelmed on Saturday, and thus are eminently backable on the Asian Handicap.

Sevilla form hard to ignore

Sevilla v Celta Vigo
Sunday, 17:30
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
After a sketchy start to the campaign, Sevilla have really hit their stride over the last few weeks. Former Girona boss Pablo Machín has creative options coming out of his ears, and with Wissam Ben Yedder and André Silva both firing, Los Rojiblancos look like scoring every time they go forward.
That firepower will likely be the key against Celta Vigo this weekend. The Galicians always give up chances on the road - they kept just two clean sheets in their last 25 away games in La Liga - and have been in shaky form, with Girona, Real Valladolid, Valencia and Getafe all taking points from them in the last month. They were lucky in the final game, too, with Maxi Gómez's goal owing more to a goalkeeping mistake than any great play.
Sevilla's long midweek trip to Russia to play Krasnodar is a slight concern, but they have the squad to absorb the effects of some minor rotation, and their form should outweigh any tiredness. They clobbered Levante after their last Europa League game and should win a game that should produce at least a couple of goals.

Cagey start likely at the Mestalla

Valencia v Barcelona
Sunday, 19:45
Live on Eleven Sports 1 and Betfair Live Video
Both of these sides were in England for midweek Champions League dates, and both went home pretty happy: Valencia frustrated Manchester United at Old Trafford - they might feel they ought to have won - and Barcelona won a helter-skelter game against Tottenham. But which side can maintain the momentum when they return to domestic duties on Sunday?
Barça are still top of La Liga, although heaven knows how. The Blaugrana have scraped together just two points from three games, against pretty modest opposition, so little wonder Ernesto Valverde has been fielding questions about defensive solidity and the ability of his squad players to reach the level of the usual first-choice picks.
It has often been down to substitutes - and Lionel Messi - to bail Barça out, which partly explains why so much of their best work is done in the second half of matches. 13 of their 18 league goals so far have come after the break, and that habit of starting slowly could give us a nice betting angle for this game.
Valencia have been under par in attack so far, given the resources at Marcelino's disposal, but they have kept four clean sheets in their last six games - an indication of how much they've tightened up at the back. They will likely be cautious here, with two banks of four making life tough for Barça.
With that in mind, we like the chances of the game reaching half-time without a breakthrough. Four of Valencia's games this term have been goalless at the interval, as have two of Barcelona's, and while it's no sure thing, odds of 13/5 are ripe for taking on.
Back Alavés +1 against Real Madrid at [2.31]
Back Sevilla to beat Celta Vigo and over 2.5 goals at Evens (Sportsbook)
Back 0-0 half-time score in Valencia v Barcelona at 13/5 (Sportsbook)

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