Primera Division predictor

Week 20 - Fire your coach

February 10, 2012
By Eduardo Alvarez
(Archive)

One of the most shocking paradigm shifts in the so far upset-plagued 2011-2012 La Liga season suggests that firing your coach and hiring a new one might actually be a good thing. In previous years, the efficacy of such replacements was questionable at best. However, in light of the first 20 matches of this campaign, firing your coach looks like the best thing you could do to improve your team's performance.

Michel Getafe
GettyImagesMichel: Old stamping ground

Take a look at Racing. When Hector Cuper left, the Santanderinos had only nine points after 13 matches. In the following eight under the new triumvirate, they have won 13 points (only one defeat) and look like reasonable candidates for salvation. And we don't need to mention Diego Simeone's impact on Atletico, right?

Ok, ok, we do. Three wins, two draws, no defeats and zero goals conceded so far look like great reasons for the Rojiblancos to have fired Gregorio Manzano. Granada have won their first two matches under Abel Resino. Villarreal, after a dismal beginning of the season, have won 8 points of their last fifteen, having faced Atlético, Valencia, Sevilla and Barcelona. Even Joaquin Caparros managed to put an end to the constant disputes between management and coaching team, changing the face and spirit of the now combative Mallorca.

Sporting and Sevilla recently joined the club, and only time will tell if they maintain this unprecedented success rate in coaching changes. Some of you will ask: what about Zaragoza and Manolo Jimenez? Well, excuse me, but if you don't mind we're discussing Primera División teams.

Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Racing de Santander (18th) - Atletico de Madrid (7th): 1.

'What about the Simeone Effect?', you are probably wondering. I'm afraid it's over, dear reader. In this match, Racing will defeat Atletico, ending Thibaut Courtois' long run (451 minutes so far) without shipping a goal. The prominent role of centre-back Luis Amaranto Perea, back in the starting XI to replace either the injured Diego Godin or the suspended Miranda, won't surprise many Atletico supporters, especially when the Colombian has to face Racing's Khouma El Hadji Babacar in one of the most eagerly-awaited duels in the Primera.

2. Osasuna (9th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.

When media and fans alike dare to tag Barca as the best team in the world, Josep Guardiola softly tells us it's really not all that. But when some other media point to a sub-par string of both results and level of play from that same Barca, the balanced, considered, but often anti-climactic Pep informs us that Barcelona 'feel much better than most people think'. Well, for starters they've reached another Copa del Rey final despite the usual string of injuries and are confident of their Liga chances, according to Gerard Pique: "Trust me, we'll be closing in on Real Madrid at the end of the season".

The Catalans visit Pamplona, scene of some of their most memorable trips in recent history. With Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez back, defeating the bipolar Navarros - who have lost ugly against the top two and played well against the rest – should be easy.

3. Betis (16th) - Athletic de Bilbao (6th): 1.

Javier Chica injury
PA PhotosReal Betis full-back Javier Chica clashed with team-mate Ruben Castro in training this week

In only three weeks, president Manuel Guillen has gone from grading Betis' first half of the season with a 'B+' (notable, in Spanish) to saying that "our results and our displays are below expectations". The atmosphere in Sevilla, charged after Javier Chica and Ruben Castro had a run-in during training, should improve after Saturday. Visitors Athletic have spent five days (and counting) celebrating their victory over Mirandes and the Copa del Rey final berth it brought, including discussions about which stadium the showpiece against Barcelona should be played at. Fatal Distraction Syndrome at its best.

4. Espanyol (5th) - Zaragoza (20th): 1.

Former Espanyol forward Luis Garcia's anticipated comeback to Cornella, indeed an emotional moment, shouldn't be marred by his pitiful squad. With 12 points in 20 matches, Zaragoza currently are the worst-performing club in the top seven European leagues, a harsh end of career for Garcia, always a class act. Espanyol keep impressing most. Last week's 3-3 thriller in Bilbao proves their ability to perform on the big stage, while their potential can only grow with such a young squad. A '1' sounds like a no-brainer.

5. Málaga (8th) - Mallorca (13th): 1.

Pressure mounts in Malaga. After what looked like a season-altering win over Sevilla, last weekend's defeat to Granada brought back all the traditional ghosts. A list of names to replace Manuel Pellegrini already circulates in the Andalusian city, as the Chilean boss hasn't been able to extract enough so far from such a talented squad.

The visitors have developed a knack for grinding out points in tough matches, and this Malaga are a gifted, but soft bunch. However, four Mallorca starters won't play on Sunday, which should make their job more difficult. Pellegrini will celebrate his 50th birthday with a win and some extra time to work.

6. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Getafe (10th): 1.

This derby madrilène finds Rayo and Getafe in calm waters, and probably in their respective peaks of form this season. The key players in this game come from Africa - menacing winger Lass Bangoura is finally back from his international duty in the African Nations Cup with Guinea - and Oviedo - midfielder Michu is having a fantastic season, with 10 goals in 20 matches. A home win will see Rayo surpass Getafe in the standings.

7. Valencia (3rd) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X.

How is this possible, you might be thinking? Surely Copa del Rey semi-finalists Valencia, who occupy third spot in the table, should easily trounce visitors Sporting, in a terrible slump of form and showing serious symptoms of relegation disease. But the hosts need to take a break at some point after six loaded weeks since the year started, and the visitors should enjoy the four-leaf clover that is Inaki Tejada, their new boss and very likely bearer of great luck as discussed in the opening paragraphs of this week's article.

8. Villarreal (17th) - Granada (14th): 1.

Both teams arrive in probably their best shape of the season, after two solid consecutive displays. Villarreal started to look like their own selves against Barcelona and Sevilla, while Granada have won their last two. Apparently, the hosts still wish to sell Brazilian striker Nilmar, which would be a clear sign of a concerning need for cash. In any case, the home-field advantage, the better squad and the common sense should prevail in this case. '1' it is.

9. Real Madrid (1st) - Levante (4th): 1.

Sami Khedira and angel Di Maria Real Madrid
GettyImagesSami Khedira and Angel Di Maria are set to return for Real Madrid against Levante

Levante's highly-expected free-fall continues. Only three points from the last 18 available, five consecutive defeats away from home, and although they still occupy a Champions League spot, that shouldn't last much longer. Despite some painful memories of their encounter in Levante at the beginning of the season, leaders Real Madrid will have a field day, taking advantage of Levante's absentees and of some much-needed comebacks: Marcelo, Angel Di Maria and Sami Khedira will be available to play on Sunday.

10. Real Sociedad (15th) - Sevilla (11th): 2.

Given that this season's new coaches bring immediate results, and knowing that Real Sociedad could miss up to six different players on Monday, '2' sounds like a fair bet. This scribe also has a special place in his heart for Sevilla's new manager, Jose Miguel Gonzalez 'Michel', who provided endless entertainment on and off the pitch when he played for Real Madrid back in the 1980s and 90s.

But let me finish with a quote from former Sevilla boss Marcelino Garcia: "I've never been this unlucky in my whole career". Marcelino was talking about his tenure with Sevilla, but could very well have been referring to the recent performance of this column in the prediction department. Let's just hope ESPNsoccernet isn't seduced by this success of coaching changes and starts applying the same principle to its writers…

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get 10 correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

1. Racing de Santander (18th) - Atletico de Madrid (7th): 1.
2. Osasuna (9th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.
3. Betis (16th) - Athletic de Bilbao (6th): 1.
4. Espanyol (5th) - Zaragoza (20th): 1.
5. Málaga (8th) - Mallorca (13th): 1.
6. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Getafe (10th): 1.
7. Valencia (3rd) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X.
8. Villarreal (17th) - Granada (14th): 1.
9. Real Madrid (1st) - Levante (4th): 1.
10. Real Sociedad (15th) - Sevilla (11th): 2.

Last week: 2/10 (20%)
Season: 91/190 (48%)