Primera Division predictor

Yin and Yang

March 8, 2013
By Eduardo Alvarez

Despite tons of evidence piling up over the last couple of decades, I never totally bought into Phil Ball's Yin/Yang theory, his trademark way of explaining the peculiar dynamics between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's two biggest football clubs. According to my eloquent colleague, both can never perform at a high level at the same time, and thus periods of dominance of either are at some point followed by a blatant inversion of the power balance.

I honestly thought that Barcelona's proven model had put an end to Phil's concept. With the current squad and their promising youth teams, their ball-possession approach would grant them at least one title per season for the foreseeable future. It was an almost eternal Yin. Real Madrid, more erratic, could win one title one specific season, as they did last year, but phenomenally collapse the following, just what most of us thought was bound to occur only a fortnight ago.

Ronaldo
APCristiano Ronaldo scores the winner for Real Madrid against Manchester United

But then Yang happened. In a perfect week, Real Madrid resuscitated from their ashes, while Barcelona did themselves no favours with two abysmal performances that not only endangered their Champions League future and saw them outclassed in the Copa del Rey, but showed that their overwhelming dominance might not be as durable as we believed.

I now believe in Yin and Yang. In fact, from now on you can call me Tao Alvarez. And hats off to Mr Ball, who now owes his public a third football book, in which he should analyse the ebbs and flows of this fascinating phenomenon.

Let's start. Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Betis (7th) - Osasuna (15th): X.

"We've changed our speech," said Betis' boss Pepe Mel on Wednesday. "To deny that we now aim to classify for European competitions would be foolish". And thus Betis came out of the closet. After 25 matches stating that avoiding relegation was all that mattered, the Beticos finally recognised that their team can defeat any other squad in the top six.

But can they? Maybe not fifteenth-placed Osasuna, who although lack a bit of luck going forward, defend like some of the most accomplished squads. They're the fourth best defence in La Liga, and have only lost twice when boss Jose Luis Mendilibar used the three-defensive-midfielder formation that should start on Friday. A draw makes sense.

2. Rayo Vallecano (9th) - Espanyol (13th): 1.

Promising match that reunites Espanyol legend Raul Tamudo with his former team. Almost a legend in Vallecas as well, it's unlikely that the diminutive striker plays many minutes, but this game between two sides that were expected to do worse at this point of the season sounds quite entertaining in any case.

Rayo and Espanyol can afford to go all in after the victory, and so will they. The home side don't know how to play with prudence, while the visitors, close to renewing Javier Aguirre's contract, have recovered their offensive flair under the Mexican. The hosts, desperate to win after three subpar matches, get the nod.

3. Valladolid (12th) - Málaga (4th): 1.

"Who will be the next player to leave?", a slightly irreverent journalist asked defender Martin de Michelis on Thursday. "Isco", answered the Argentinean very straightforwardly. It's not a good sign when the members of your squad know that you'll sell your best players as soon as a decent offer arrives. Malaga, in a pretty solid season, still seem one sale away from oblivion, especially when that sale could happen at any given moment.

The visitors have not scored in their last three matches, and have the second leg of their last-16 round match up versus Porto coming up next week. Expect a bunch of youngsters travelling to Valladolid, and a business-like home side taking care of matters on Saturday.

4. Barcelona (1st) - Deportivo de La Coruña (20th): 1.

Barcelona woe v Real Madrid
APBarcelona's fortunes have faded in recent weeks, but they remain on top in La Liga

I'll go out on a limb and say that the leader hosting the bottom-of-the-table grants an automatic '1' to the, at least until January, most consistent team of the tournament. Last week I thought that Depor would at least try to start a solid string of results to get their fans going, but statements such as "the way things are, it'd be quite a feat to avoid relegation", said by goalkeeper Aranzubia, show that they believe in salvation with Doubting Thomas' faith.

Barcelona need to recover their self confidence and their game - both elements closely related - for their Champions League do or die match on Tuesday, and even if they field a team of substitutes, this 90 minutes against Depor should help.

5. Mallorca (19th) - Sevilla (10th): 1.

Now it's clear: Mallorca will stay up. If you don't buy this, just remember that every season there's one team that at some point looked relegated and surprisingly dribbled their own fate. The Mallorquiniestas' unexpected win in Granada last weekend is just the beginning of a series of shocking results that will see the hosts leaving the relegation zone in the final couple of matches of the season. Sevilla's improving trend after Unai Emery took over won't be of any use to the Sevillistas: this is a clear home win.

6. Athletic de Bilbao (14th) - Valencia (5th): 1.

Exactly a year ago, Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic played their most impressive match, an authoritative 3-2 win at Old Trafford. That looked like the beginning of an extremely promising spell for the Bilbainos, but feels like just a beautiful dream now.

The Ches gave themselves a chance to stay alive in the Champions League, but their poor first leg against Paris Saint-Germain proved too heavy to overcome in an otherwise combative and competent return match. They deserve to take a day off, which is very likely what they'll do on Sunday. Maybe at San Mames boss Ernesto Valverde, well respected in Bilbao, will remember of a certain Andres Guardado, whose silky left foot could have been of help in Paris.

The hosts still need a couple of wins to sleep well at night, so they should take advantage of a tired Valencia. Expect Aritz Aduritz to score against his former team, a curious habit of the Basque forward.

7. Levante (11th) - Getafe (8th): X.

I know, I am breaking my own rules by not giving Levante the 'big club treatment', which means a '1' in their home matches and at least a 'X' in their travels. However, the Levantinistas' short and aging squad should start to show their limitations at some point, and the hangover of an extremely tough Europa League match against Rubin Kazan sounds like a reasonable moment to start.

Getafe, who just offered their Coliseum as an unlikely candidate to host the Copa del Rey final, are masters taking advantage of slightly distracted teams. They only need to ride Adrian Colunga's excellent form - he even scores with his knees now - to sneak into Europa League spots at the end of the weekend.

8. Celta (18th) - Real Madrid (3rd): 2.

Luka Modric celebrates his goal against Manchester United for Real Madrid
GettyImagesLuka Modric celebrates his goal against Manchester United for Real Madrid

From hell to heaven in one week, the Madridistas now seem unable to do anything wrong. In a moment of desperation, boss Jose Mourinho even found the plan B he'd been looking for ever since I can remember, an approach to attack well-structured teams which sit tight in defence. His formation with Luka Modric, Kaka and Mesut Ozil played some of the best possession football this club has seen in a while last Tuesday in Manchester, and added an offensive alternative that they will need again in the near future.

It's likely that Mourinho will give time to some bench players, but after watching their display against Barcelona last weekend, Celta hardly stand a chance. Boss Abel Resino, aware of the limitations of his team, will very likely go for an ultra-defensive squad, nothing that Modric, Morata and Kaka can't deal with.

9. Atlético de Madrid (2nd) - Real Sociedad (6th): X.

Two great pieces of news for the Atleticos this week: boss Diego Simeone renewed his contract until 2017, and forward Diego Costa received his first call to join the Brazilian national team for a couple of friendlies. Plenty of motives to celebrate, but like Fabio Capello used to say, "celebrations are distractions", and that's not what you want when you host one of the most exciting teams in the Primera.

The Realistas, playing some of the most aesthetically pleasing attacking football in La Liga, only need more dedication at the back to challenge for a Champions League spot. They have enough to at least get a point at the Calderón.

10. Zaragoza (17th) - Granada (16th): 1.

'I want players with cojones, and if they don't have them, they may leave', bluntly declared Manolo Jimenez, Zaragoza's manager, after their team lost to Getafe last weekend. The Zaragocistas haven't won a single match since the Christmas break, and now look at relegation as a distinct possibility. This game against Granada, a proverbial six-pointer, will probably become the most tense Monday night encounter in a very long time.

Since Lucas Alcaraz took over Granada's reins, the Granadinos have been far more consistent than Zaragoza. However, these matches have little to do with consistency and all to do with...well...cojones. Jimenez is a master in getting his players to deliver in high stakes situations, so Zaragoza get the nod.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. Some day someone will guess all ten correctly, or maybe not.

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

Last week: 1/10 (10%)
Season: 110/260 (42%)