Primera Division predictor

Week 24 - Europe beware

March 9, 2012
By Eduardo Alvarez

It is probably early to write an overoptimistic paragraph about the current state of Spanish football, but the last fortnight has given us Spaniards plenty of reasons to celebrate. Not only the national team keep impressing with their depth, variety of options and extremely fast passing, but Barcelona and Real Madrid (at least so far) keep their options open in the Champions League, and even the second- tier clubs, usually looked down on by the media from other football countries, have impressed in the first legs of their Europa League commitments, defeating clubs with long tradition and large means such as Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven and Besiktas.

Can those wannabes bring that top form to their La Liga matches this weekend? I guess not. Their likely tiredness should give us tips to gamble against some them - have you heard of Athletic? - which will make some feel a little guilty after those excellent displays. Those faint of heart should remember that the Quiniela is about getting results right, not about rewarding good behaviour from one team or another.

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

1. Real Sociedad (13th) - Zaragoza (20th): 1.

GettyImagesSociedad and Bilbao players clash

Among bitter complaints about the referee - even Phil Ball abandoned his usually phlegmatic support of Real Sociedad last Monday to demand justice - and looking a bit bewildered at their irregular performance so far, the Realistas have painfully realised that they are one level below their beloved Athletic: they can defeat almost any team and lose to any other on a given weekend, while the Bilbainos win more often than not. But can Sociedad really lose to Zaragoza?

With two consecutive - and surprising - home wins, the Manos have begun to fantasise of a final push to pull off one of the most improbable comebacks in football history. Time for Real Sociedad to put the final nail in Zaragoza's coffin.

2. Málaga (6th) - Levante (4th): 1.

Perfect time to change the guard. Levante have managed to retain their fourth place with two consecutive wins, but at this point of the season deep squads make the difference, especially those with players who can win you a match against the flow of play, as Malaga's stars showed last weekend in Getafe.

Manuel Pellegrini's team, still far from gelling, have performed well at La Rosaleda, with only two understandable losses to Real Madrid and Barcelona. Even without the injury- prone Julio Baptista, now out until the end of the season, something tells me that the hosts will finish the weekend in Champions League spots.

3. Sporting de Gijón (19th) - Sevilla (10th): 2.

If the real world becomes smaller every year, the footballing world is already a midget. At the beginning of the season, both Javier Clemente and Michel weren't coaching in La Liga. In the last month, both have joined the competition and will face each other on Saturday evening.

Their rivalry comes from afar: ever since late 1992 when Javier Clemente, at that point coach of the national team, decided that, for as long as he was Spain's boss, Michel would never play again with the side, despite being arguably the best Spanish winger. In 1994, Michel commented on the USA World Cup for Spain's public TV channel, and took advantage to pay Clemente back with an array of sarcastic comments regarding Spain's playing style, despite his rooting for the team in an almost endearing way.

Both met two years ago when Clemente was coaching Valladolid and Michel coached Getafe. They didn't even look at each other; proud members of another handshakegate. Now they meet again. On paper, Michel should exert some sweet revenge, as his squad have more depth and better talent. But never rule out an upset from Javier Clemente, Il Grande Stratega.

4. Betis (12th) - Real Madrid (1st): 2.

On Thursday, Betis' goalkeeper Casto had the guts (and good humour) to predict a last minute, 2- 1 victory, over Real Madrid in an online chat with fans on Marca's website, no less. Thank God it was his last answer, otherwise the Internet would have known a new definition for the concept 'mass trolling'.

It's hard to build the case for Betis, even if Real Madrid might be thinking of their upcoming Champions League match against CSKA Moscow, or if Nuri Sahin starts having voiced his complaints at not playing a single competitive minute in 2012. With a wide pitch in front of them, such as that of the Benito Villamarin stadium, and a fainthearted defence such as Betis', this version of Real Madrid is deadly.

5. Espanyol (11th) - Rayo Vallecano (8th): 1.

Nothing new in Cornella: the umpteenth thrashing at the Bernabeu left the Periquitos in the lower half of the table, with several teams between them and European football. But the defeat against Real Madrid entered into the realm of the very likely, while their two previous home defeats to Zaragoza and Levante were almost unforgivable.

Can they get their act together against the fourth best visitor in La Liga? Rayo grow in confidence outside of Vallecas, as their own pitch, narrow and bumpy, doesn't help their passing game. On Sunday they'll miss striker Diego Costa and will have to trust Raul Tamudo to score against his former team; I would not bet on that.

6. Atlético de Madrid (9th) - Granada (16th): 1.

This is the last time that this column mentions the so- called 'Simeone Effect'. It's officially over, dead, finito. Four points out of the last fifteen, mighty difficulties to score and a couple of decent matches in the Europa League can't be considered any kind of positive 'effect', as the term usually suggest. But the impressively good relationship of Diego Pablo with the Madrid media will get some extra help and reasons to keep up the hype on Sunday: visitors Granada will miss seven players (four suspended, three injury) to continue their terrible March ordeal.

7. Valencia (3rd) - Mallorca (14th): 1.

Valencia's impressive display against PSV on Thursday was only two silly mistakes away from justifying a simple holiday trip to Eindhoven with the reserves in two weeks. But concentration lapses aside, Los Che looked at their best this season, with elements that finally fit into the puzzle, such as winger Piatti. Mallorca excel at stealing points in the most unlikely circumstances, but Valencia seem out of their reach at this point. Joaquin Caparros' side will get into trouble zone on Sunday evening.

8. Racing de Santander (18th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.

Lionel Messi picks up the matchball after scoring a record-breaking five goals
GettyImagesLionel Messi picks up the matchball after scoring a record-breaking five goals

Three months ago, Racing's 'Management' (for lack of a better word, given that they appear quite reluctant to actually manage the club) appointed a triumvirate to coach the team. This trio drew as many matches as it was humanly possible, which didn't help them to leave the relegation zone one iota.

After the side lost to Rayo last weekend, Racing's 'Management' decided that one member of the triumvirate should not belong to the group any longer. The reasons to choose one over the other two remain obscure. The enduring two members will coach on Sunday, while the 'Management' look for a new coach. We still don't know whether the new coach will have to put up with the other two (seems unlikely) or will be able to make decisions on his own.

Changing your coach before you play Barcelona and the flesh- and- blood version of Playstation's Lionel Messi sounds irrational. Why start something new with a sure loss? That is probably why Racing's 'Management' hasn't appointed a new manager yet: they'll probably fire one more triumvir on Monday.

9. Osasuna (7th) - Athletic de Bilbao (5th): X.

Osasuna chose a terrible time of the season to lose most of their strikers and an even worse time to meet Athletic, at least on paper. In the last month, the Bilbainos can do no wrong, from their impressive goal scoring to their authoritative win at Old Trafford. But this column would bet some of its scarce resources against an Athletic win on Sunday. There is no human way for the young side to keep their concentration after such a win, even less when they are probably dying of anticipation ahead of the second leg. The home side will get at least a point.

10. Villarreal (17th) - Getafe (15th): 1.

The Monday evening match, usually an afterthought, brings us plenty of interest this week. Two sides suffering much more than they budget and squads should allow them to meet in a high stakes situation. Their current winless streaks (four matches for Villarreal, five for Getafe) have brought them dangerously close to the relegation zone.

In this case, the home field advantage should prevail. Villarreal have a more experienced side, which should make the difference in a high pressure environment.

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

Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Season: 109/230 (47%)