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Valverde steadying Valencia ship and gearing up for top-four battle

Malaga remain favourites for Champions League qualification but Los Che are finding their feet under new boss Ernesto Valverde and could yet come into the equation.

Valverde steadying Valencia ship and gearing up for top-four battle

After another stellar performance from Barcelona (and the heartwarming return of Tito Vilanova to the dugout) in a 4-0 derby win over Espanyol, the Catalans are a miniscule 1/100 to win the La Liga title.

Real Madrid’s hopes of a miracle title race comeback look increasingly forlorn, despite the fact that the Spanish season is yet to even reach the halfway stage.

A scrappy 4-3 win over Real Sociedad provided scant hope for Los Blancos’ 20/1 title ambitions and in truth, the match was more an indication of Jose Mourinho’s continued struggles at the Bernabeu.

It’s no secret that Mourinho has a frosty relationship with some of the Spanish contingent at the club and having made the incredible call of dropping arguably the most decorated and popular member of that group, Iker Casillas, the Portuguese must have watched on in horror as replacement Antonio Adan was sent off after just five minutes.

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Premier League
 
Newcastle 1-1 Liverpool £187.50 (21/4)
Newcastle 1-2 Liverpool £255.00 (15/2)
Newcastle 0-1 Liverpool £270.00 (8/1)
Newcastle win £112.50 (11/4)
Draw £105.00 (5/2)
Liverpool win £61.50 (21/20)

But while Mourinho’s antics and Real’s implosion continue to dominate the back pages, the battle for the top four places is a more interesting one as far as punters are concerned. Or rather the battle for the final top four spot, with Atletico Madrid holding a ten-point advantage over fourth place and rated as short as 1/20 to join the Clasico duo in next season’s Champions League.

Malaga still occupy fourth spot but suffered a false start to 2013 with a 1-0 loss at 13/20 relegation favourites Deportivo La Coruna. With Barcelona visiting the Costa del Sol this weekend and continued financial uncertainty at the club, this blip potentially opens the door for other contenders, although Malaga remain a decent top-four shout at 19/10.

Meanwhile, Valencia are looking like they might mount a serious charge after a slow start and could represent real value at 7/2 for the top four.

Ernesto Valverde’s new charges chalked up two league wins in a row for the first time this season as they followed up their 4-2 win over Getafe with a 2-1 triumph at Granada.

Having finished third for three seasons on the bounce, Valencia no doubt have the confidence and experience to overturn the four-point gap between themselves in eighth place and Malaga in fourth by the end of the season.

Good runs in the Champions League and Copa del Rey point to a notable turnaround since Mauricio Pellegrino was replaced by Valverde in December and Los Che boast six wins in seven matches in all competitions since Pellegrino was shown the door.

If Valencia can keep that run going in their forthcoming league fixtures, even an audacious 30/1 bid to pip Atletico Madrid to the honour of top club outside Real Madrid and Barcelona could be on the cards. However, both Real and Barca visit Valencia in the next month, so that optimism could be quickly thwarted.

Dropping two points in a 1-1 draw at Mallorca was a disappointment for Atletico on the basis of their rampant first half of the season, but they still possess a comfortable 14-point cushion over Valencia.

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Dan Billingham