La Liga Soccer Picks — Will Messi Be a Road Warrior in Barca’s Return?

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BetAnySports customers who follow international soccer know that while handling a high-priced group of players on the pitch may sometimes appear like a push-button job, it isn’t an easy task. And when you are doing it in the capital of Catalonia, you are always under the microscope.

Like a lot of the marquee squads, the coach is always on the hot seat. With so much money being spent on players, there is simply no room for underachievement at any juncture. Barcelona’s head coach was a surprise choice to come in and assume the reins in January.

Quique Setien came in to replace Ernbesto Valverde on January 13. The former Real Betis skipper, who spent 15 seasons as a player in La Liga, was named after patience ran out with Valverde, who was at the helm through a couple of Champions League disappointments, not to mention a come-from-ahead defeat suffered at the hands of Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

It was a swift transition for Setien, upon getting his dream job.

“Yesterday, I was walking past cows in my village,” he told reporters. “Today, I was at Barcelona’s training ground coaching the best players in the world.”

Barca is two points clear of Real Madrid in the Las Liga standings, and they are also two ahead on the goal differential. It is a tight race headed out of the COVID-19 delay. And frankly, Setien hasn’t had a whole lot of time to get to know his players – at least as a group.

But they are most certainly celebrated as individuals. So many of them – Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Antoine Griezmann, Jordi Alba, Frenkie de Jong, Arturo Vidal, Samuel Umtiti – have been accorded World XI status of one kind or another at some point in their careers.

And that doesn’t even include the best of them all.

Barcelona takes to the road on Saturday, as it has a date with Mallorca, with the kickoff slated for 4 PM ET. Here are the odds at BetAnySports:

Money Line
Barcelona -343
Mallorca +923
Draw +516

Spread (Goals)
Barcelona -1.5 (-128)
Mallorca +1.5 (+113)

Total Goals
Under 3.5 Goals -135
Over 3.5 Goals +115

To go over all the weird stuff that has happened at FC Barcelona would take up more space then we have. And the new coach has had to weather a lot of it.

Yet the biggest challenge for Setien has been being able to get the most he can out of Lionel Messi, the world’s premier player, who has not scored a goal on the road since Quique came on board (say that five times fast).

Ball movement has been something Setien has emphasized – in his first game his club completed just a little more than a thousand passes – an extraordinary total. And there is optimism that having Messi, Suarez and Griezmann together – which hasn’t happened all that often – will be a difference-maker. It was pretty impactful in a previous meeting, as Messi had a hat trick, with Suarez and Griezmann adding the other scores in a 5-2 win.

But defense has slipped a bit amid concerns about the team’s aging vets. And they haven’t allowed more goals per game since 2011.

Could Mallorca be primed for an upset?

Well, we’re not sure they will respond specifically to a renaming of their home grounds, which is now Visit Mallorca Estadi. And they are not far removed (only two years) from being a third-tier squad. But that makes it all the more remarkable that they would have beaten Real Madrid 1-0 this season.

This is a team fighting for its life, with just 25 points and just seven wins in 27 contests. Third from the bottom in the 20-team league, they are right there in the relegation zone.

And if you want to talk about “defense,” they don’t necessary have it (41 goals allowed). This may be the atmosphere to bring the best out of the “MSG” combo, so OVER would be our play here, at +115.

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