Week 31 - No Bread, no circuses
A few centuries back, the wise Roman philosopher Juvenal determined that any smart government should provide the populous with plenty of food and entertainment ('bread and circuses' or panem et circenses in Latin) in order to avoid social disorder and chaos.
Despite the growing scarcity of bread in my beloved Spain since the financial crisis started, the huge amount of entertainment provided by Spanish athletes has so far helped most of my countrymen to forget the worsening economic environment.
However, not only are we now running out of bread, but the circus is almost over. The remarkable Spanish final in the Europa League aside, the country's two top clubs - the pride of the land - fell victim to their obvious flaws against their European rivals, showcasing that the theoretical domination of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Europe wasn't any more than a patriotic, delusional dream.
What to expect now? Unless Euro 2012 or the Olympics bring us a source of pleasure and distraction, a new Greece is in the making. And not Plato's Greece, but that of George Papandreou - Prime Minister of Greece during their financial meltdown.
Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Getafe (11th) - Mallorca (12th): 1.
"We gave up, and that's not acceptable," irritated Getafe boss Luis Garcia said after his boys lost to Granada last weekend. One understands his frustration, as they have a fighting chance to join the Europa League spots.
Judging by their respective public statements this week - Getafe still relish a final top-six challenge, while Mallorca seem content with their recently confirmed top-flight status - our money goes where the hunger is.
2. Levante (5th) - Granada (16th): 1.
Just like Saul on the way to Damascus, I've seen the light: Levante will play in Europe next season. And given that I can't fight this shocking fact any longer, let me complain about it. Will this be good for anybody?
Not for La Liga's reputation in Europe, as the Levantinistas will in all likelihood sell most of their assets this summer. For instance, chances are that their first sale, Aruna Kone, proud scorer of 16 goals and worthy heir to Felipe Caicedo, will leave the squad as early as June.
Not for the Levantinistas themselves, as experience proves that these teams suffer in the domestic competition when they have to juggle between three tournaments.
And not for this scribe, as their late solid performances have cost me a fortune. Well, they will win again on Saturday.
3. Espanyol (10th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): 1.
Espanyol, another side flirting with the top six, host the best possible opponent if you are aiming for a win. Sporting have won just nine points from 17 away matches, the worst record in La Liga. Their only away victory happened back at the beginning of December, therefore we can pretty safely tip Espanyol for a win that will keep them in the Europa League shake-up.
4. Real Sociedad (14th) - Racing de Santander (20th): 1.
Racing, not very proud winners of six points (all draws) in their last 16 matches, haven't won since the beginning of January. Streaks like this one take you quickly to the Segunda. The city's attention now focuses on the upcoming election of a new board, which will be responsible for the relegated club after their ten years in the Primera officially comes to an end.
And not surprisingly, the Realistas want to speed up Racing's mathematical relegation, as the Santanderinos gave them the fatal stroke five years ago in the last match of the season. At that time, Real Sociedad needed a win to stay up and the visitors got a 'surprising' draw, as theoretically they were playing for '"nothing"' (not enough quotes to express how that "nothing" was actually quite something, due to third party incentives). Revenge served cold at its best.
5. Villarreal (17th) - Osasuna (8th): X.
Some may think that, after a dismal season, Villarreal deserve further punishment. However, Giuseppe Rossi's latest surgery and the subsequent ten-month recovery sounds a bit too harsh. The Osasunistas will bid farewell to one of their best ever presidents, Patxi Izco, while aiming for a Europa League spot. A point would make both sides happy.
6. Real Madrid (1st) - Sevilla (9th): 1.
One can blame misguided substitutions, or ill-advised selections for the penalty shootout, but what really cost Real Madrid a place in the Champions League final was a worthy rival and their total incompetence to manage high-profile matches when the score favours them.
With only a 15-metre difference forward or backward, the Madridistas play exactly the same way when they need to score as when they have achieved the result they need. Their carelessness with the ball once again allowed their rivals to get back into the match, as we had seen in the first leg, and in several matches against Barcelona.
They still can celebrate their La Liga title on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the Bernabeu, with plenty of kids in the stands and former winger Michel as a special guest. Expect several cameos, with stars such as Hamit Altintop, Nuri Sahin and Raul Albiol.
7. Zaragoza (18th) - Athletic de Bilbao (6th): 1.
"We can't make any more mistakes," uttered a downbeat Manolo Jimenez in the wake of Zaragoza's almost fatal defeat at Mallorca. The Blanquillos now need four wins in four matches, something almost chimerical even considering their late charge for survival (13 points in their last 8 matches).
Athletic's visit should help them to extend their agony one more week, though. The Bilbainos, probably suffering the classic Europa League hangover, will struggle to string two passes together, let alone put a decent fight for that last Champions League spot.
8. Málaga (4th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.
The most exciting match of an otherwise quite dull weekend brings us to the highly entertaining fight over third place. New kids on the block Malaga, noticeably improved in the second half of the season, host Valencia, at the end of Unai Emery's convoluted, but reasonably successful tenure with Los Che.
At this point, the more-rested hosts own a clear advantage over the exhausted and also disappointed visitors. Malaga have to prove to their Sheikh that they're worth all those late payments.
9. Betis (13th) - Atlético de Madrid (7th): X.
If you've kept track of Atletico's season so far, by now you already know that they detest playing consecutive matches away from the Vicente Calderon, especially when the Liga visit comes after a Europa League one. I wouldn't think this should change after their victory in Valencia.
But in spite of that unquestionable trend, we need to factor in that teams from Sevilla traditionally lose their matches during the Feria de Abril, the city's impossibly fun partying week. A (possibly genuinely) hungover Betis, or the trademark subdued Atletico outing? A 0-0 is in the cards.
10. Rayo Vallecano (15th) - Barcelona (2nd): X.
Despite their Herculean effort to pretend that they follow every single fair play rule, one can't help but feel that Barcelona have started to behave conceitedly now that they have to deal with previously unaccustomed losses. First, it sounds quite pretentious to believe that your approach to football, beautiful though it may be, is the only acceptable way to play.
Second, when you state that "at least we know how to lose", like Xavi Hernandez did last week, you shouldn't then declare that you didn't deserve elimination in the Champions League semi-finals, because that is exactly what sore losers say.
Of course, they did lack a bit of luck to beat Chelsea, just like they did against Inter two seasons ago. But while their lazy passing in the final 30 minutes of this match exemplified the worst drawbacks of their model, it was the absence of a plan B - already apparent back in 2010 - that came back to haunt them again, epitomised by their surprising striker Seidoku Keita coming off the bench.
Two successive defeats should not imply the end of an era, but they do signal towards the need of a more thorough self-criticism by the Catalans, especially Josep Guardiola. And while that exercise happens, Rayo will take advantage to retain an otherwise unlikely point in Vallecas.
PS. You can follow me on twitter (@EdAlvarezSpain).
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. Getafe (11th) - Mallorca (12th):
2. Levante (5th) - Granada (16th):
3. Espanyol (10th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th):
4. Real Sociedad (14th) - Racing de Santander (20th):
5. Villarreal (17th) - Osasuna (8th):
6. Real Madrid (1st) - Sevilla (9th):
7. Zaragoza (18th) - Athletic de Bilbao (6th):
8. Málaga (4th) - Valencia (3rd):
9. Betis (13th) - Atlético de Madrid (7th):
10. Rayo Vallecano (15th) - Barcelona (2nd):
Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Season: 136/300 (45%)