With Barcelona hammering rivals Real Madrid and Plymouth continuing their excellent form, we’re looking at the week’s biggest Market Movers.
What a remarkable turnaround it’s been for Barcelona under Xavi. Since taking over in November with the side in disarray, they’re averaging the most points per game in the division, have scored the most goals, and while the title is likely still beyond them this season, they’ve virtually assured they’ll be back in the Champions League next time around.
Despite the departure of Lionel Messi, Los Cules were as short as Evens to reclaim the La Liga crown. Any notion of that was dismissed a few weeks after the first El Clasico encounter of the season, with them throwing away a three-goal lead against Celta Vigo to leave them 10 points off the pace.
Not only were any hopes of a title challenge gone, even the top four looked precarious. They were 11/10 before the Xavi era began, but things are looking good at the Nou Camp once again.
He quickly implemented his tactical style and while some may have poked fun at his 10 commandments on social media at the time, nobody can question the methodology or the results.
Upon his arrival, he immediately aimed to make the squad fitter, sharper, better positionally and better with the ball.
Training became much more intense with fitness coach Ivan Torres playing a big part, as well as Xavi conducting one-to-one video sessions with the players.
The turnaround wasn’t quite instant, of course. His third game in charge was a home defeat to Real Betis, which was followed by a draw at Osasuna, but they’ve been unbeaten since then, winning nine of their last 13, and are 1/40 for the top four.
Xavi has also been quite shrewd in the transfer market. He moved to bring Dani Alves back to the club, providing experience and depth. Adama Traore also returned at the end of the January transfer window, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ferran Torres have both hit the ground running, as attentions slowly turn towards next season and launching a title challenge once again.
At the other end of the table, Mallorca are edging closer to a swift return to the Segunda Division.
On the back of four straight defeats, back-to-back wins took them six points away from the drop zone and out to 7/1 for relegation, but they’re now back in it after defeat to Espanyol on Sunday made it six in a row.
Four of the defeats have been by a single goal, and two of them have come via late penalties, first against Betis, then cruelly in the 97th minute against Celta Vigo after coming from behind three times.
A big game against Getafe looms with Mallorca at 5/4 for relegation back to Segunda.
Plymouth Argyle’s season just keeps getting better. After Ryan Lowe celebrated his 100th league game in charge of Plymouth with a 4-1 win at Accrington, fans were dreaming of promotion with the side top of the league and unbeaten in 16. Unfortunately that was as good as it got. Three straight defeats followed, with Lowe joining Preston and Steven Schumacher taking charge with the side 11/10 for the top six.
His first two games were a draw at MK Dons and a defeat at Sunderland. Back-to-back wins followed, but defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Lincoln and a draw with Fleetwood – in which they conceded nine goals, including two at the death against Fleetwood – left them outside of the play-offs and 6/5 to get back in.
Since then, though, they’ve been the league’s form team. No side has picked up more points than Schumacher’s Argyle since the end of January with nine wins from 11. A blip in February saw consecutive defeats to Cambridge and Rotherham and a drift to 7/4 for the play-offs, but they couldn’t have responded any better. Their last five games has produced five wins, five clean sheets, 10 goals, and left them 11/2 for promotion and 4/11 for the top six.
By Steve Freeth