Primera Division predictor

The cup final Quiniela

May 17, 2013
By Rob Train

There are only eight Primera Division games this weekend, Malaga, Celta, Real and Atletico having met their round 36 obligations a week ago in a rare example of something in Spain being done before 'manana'.

The focus naturally falls on the relegation battle, with a veritable six-pointer between two teams who have scored not many more than that all season, and Mallorca crab-walking into last chance saloon like John Wayne after a lunch of raw laxatives.

Abel Resino
GettyImagesAbel Resino took over at Celta Vigo in February

Celta will be keeping a keener eye on proceedings than most. Coach Abel Resino, who incidentally was between the sticks for Atletico last time it won the cup in 1996, stirred up the match-fixing hornets' nest this week when claiming he knew of a rigged game this weekend. "I've just been told that a game this weekend has already been bought," the Spaniard said, adding mysteriously: "I think everyone launches a weather balloon to try to take advantage of the situation. If the LFP is paying attention, great. But from there it has to be proven that there are irregularities and disciplinary measures need to be taken. Does anyone really think that Spain will pull the covers off as Italy and other countries have? I think it's unlikely and extremely complicated."

And so to business. This week, to give someone a chance of the perfect ten and to avoid some tricky mathematics on season scores, I'll chuck in the cup final and a random second division match to make up the numbers. Which brings me neatly to...

Getafe (9) - Valencia (5): X

On the way to work on Thursday I saw what I thought was someone building an Ark. It only occurred to me later that it was probably just wood being stolen as the country descends into the Dickensian dystopia that seems to be the final goal of the government's economic policy.

For the rain in Spain is now in about its 38th day. The locals are cowering like indomitable chief Vitalstatistix and the rest of the Gauls, whose only fear is that the sky will fall on their heads. That might be the best Getafe can hope for as it welcomes a rampant Valencia to the Coliseum in this week's opener.

What is easy to predict is the lowest Primera gate of the season, under the climatic circumstances. What is less certain is whether Los Che will capitalise on last week's tonking of Rayo to pick up another three points courtesy of another southern Madrid outfit. Getafe has scored seven in their last ten games. Valencia scored more than half that last week. But the last four meetings between the sides have reaped 20 bulgings of the old onion bag, and Getafe was the victim when Valencia won 2-0 at the Mestalla in 2009-10 to reach the Champions League.

The stars are aligned somehow. If only we could see them through the thick gloom currently covering the capital...

Granada (15) - Osasuna (16): X

In a continuance of La Liga's recent nod to empty stands and general poverty, Granada is offering tickets at between €10 and €40 to get into Los Carmenes this weekend. Even at those prices, it could well be money better spent elsewhere as both sides desperately need a win to distance themselves from the relegation quicksand, and so neither will likely take too many chances.

The scoring record of both sides is similar to Luis Suarez's in the last annual Merseyside balloon-blowing invitational and this one is likely to be devoid of any explosive goalmouth action. Carlos Aranda noted ahead of the game that both teams are playing for their skins and the visitor has a "very difficult run-in after this match." Actually, Aranda used slightly crisper words to the same effect, but quite unprintable here. I can't help agreeing with the psychotic-looking forward in agreeing that Osasuna is in "very deep trouble" with Sevilla and Real Madrid still to play. Its weather for ducks, and Osasuna is close to rhyming slang of a very similar ring - one that is wrapped neatly around the foot dragging it toward the murky pond of Segunda.

Sevilla (8) - Real Sociedad (4): 2

At the other end of the league, Real Sociedad is clinging grimly to fourth after looking like a shoo-in for a Champions League place for weeks. But those weeks and its current situation - level on points with Valencia - are marked by a very handy with-and-without barometer for purposes of picking this one. Up until Asier Illarramendi's injury, La Real was cruising without a care in the world, like a convoy of Real Madrid players returning from an away game. In the absence of its driving force since a pulsating 4-2 win over its direct rival for Europe's top table (unlike Benzema, Ramos and Co behind the wheel), it has picked up a solitary point.

Illarramendi is expected to be back for this one and thus I expect La Real to get back on track for the spot in the Champions League that everyone outside of Valencia desperately wants to see them achieve (not least because other Liga teams can then pick over the bones of a squad that will be torn apart without the cash that qualification represents). But that aside, and purely on merit, by lighting up the also-ran lane of La Liga this season the San Sebastian side deserves the grandest stage, even if the very in-demand mini-Xabi has moved on the interim.

Levante (13) - Rayo (10): X

Oh dear. Things have really taken a turn for the disastrous at Levante in recent weeks. In the wake of the whole finger-pointing debacle following Depor's 4-0 drubbing of The Frogs a few weeks ago, the LFP have sluggishly opened an investigation into that match and the much-praised togetherness which helped Levante into Europe last season has quickly disappeared. Everybody at the club is claiming to have kissed and made up, but many of those reportedly involved - including veteran defender Sergio Ballesteros, playmaker Jose Javier Barkero, and even coach Juan Ignacio Martinez - could be playing elsewhere next term. Meanwhile, Valencia has exercised its buy-back option on Michel, one of the bright points of an otherwise forgettable season, and he announced on Thursday he is high-tailing it back to Mestalla as soon as this one is done and dusted.

Meanwhile, Rayo was denied a UEFA Competition License this week along with several other Liga clubs, casting doubt on whether it will be able to contest the Europa League next season even if it conjures a final flourish to qualify. Amusingly, UEFA did award its blessing to bottom-placed Mallorca, which it banned from continental competition in 2010-11 after the Balearic side had finished fifth the previous season. But anyway, Rayo's form has trailed off in recent weeks, with negotiations over a new deal for coach Paco Jemez deadlocked and many players also knowing that even if they do qualify for Europe they will not be around to enjoy it.

With neither side overly bothered about the result, this could be a thriller as each throws caution to wind and relentlessly attacks. Or it could be a dull 0-0. It'll be a dull 0-0.

Zaragoza (17) - Athletic (14): 1

Back on the sort of pitch that concerns us, Athletic secured its Primera survival last weekend courtesy of an acrobatic goal from Fernando Llorente, who I erroneously believed to be injured as he'd been swanning around the Madrid Masters all week in increasingly tight T-shirts. The towering Athletic and Spain striker will be singing for his supper with the Old Lady next season and Bilbao's immediate future is as crystal clear as a Spanish tax return form, for which reason the self-employed here hire professionals to do it for them. My man costs €70 a month and generally gets me back more or less 12 months' worth of his fee about this time of the year, so it's essentially free.

If that little cash bonus for being one of the seven or so people in Spain that bothers informing the tax office they're alive arrives - don't think I fess up willingly, I'd happily dodge it if I feasibly could - before the weekend, I'll equally happily stick a decent slice of it on Zaragoza picking up the points here.

The Aragonese side has won two of its last three and has beaten Athletic 2-0 in both previous meetings between the two. The release of knowing you're secure for another year, while having a bit of Llorente cash to look forward to, is much like the tax return. It may be fleeting, but it's enough to distract you from the fact that you never actually get ahead in the long run. Zaragoza is perfectly primed to return Athletic's taxing season with interest here.

Deportivo (18) - Espanyol (11): 1

Deportivo's mojo has moved house since the 4-0 Levante win, which crowned a run of four straight wins between mid-March and mid-April. Since then, the Galician side has picked up just three points from four games and as a result slipped right back into relegation trouble. A win here could see Juan Valeron and Co leapfrog Zaragoza and get right up in the mix behind Osasuna and Granada, whereas a loss might leave it needing to win its last two games against Malaga and Real Sociedad to have even the slightest chance of survival, especially if the former wins and the latter two draw.

Espanyol, meanwhile, has largely exhausted its options of doing anything other than remaining in Primera this season. This match is one I like to call window dressing, in that there are several players pulling on their strips with a view to attracting the eye of a potential summer buyer. Espanyol striker Sergio García and midfielder Stuani are two. Riki and Pizzi can reasonably be expected to be rescued from the ship if Depor sinks. But on a purely personal note I would hate to Valeron to spend another season in Segunda - despite being a cut above every other player in the division, making his presence last term a joy to behold - and truly hope Depor escape the drop. So heart over head here and three points for the home side.

Barcelona (1) - Valladolid (12): 1

Leo Messi will play no further part this season - and why should he? Messi-dependency has become the focus of Barcelona's season and with absolutely nothing left to play for, the wee man deserves his rest. Barcelona's problems - such as they are for a team that has won four of the last five domestic championships - will be addressed in the summer, with the pursuit of Neymar hotting up and the likely promotion of some Barcelona B talent such as Sergi Roberto and Gerard Deulofeu to fill a few gaps. Thiago Silva is also a target apparently, which would make perfect sense. In the meantime, Barcelona is Liga champion with three to spare and unlikely to bust an Anderson-sized gut hammering the point home in the final stages of the campaign.

When Barcelona won the 2008-09 title, it promptly went to Mallorca and lost. If this game were in Valladolid a similar outcome wouldn't be unthinkable. But at Camp Nou the panorama for visiting teams is about as cheerful as a Catalan who has missed calçot season, only to discover his company is relocating to Madrid and his wife is leaving him for Espanyol's pelvis-thrusting, parrot-costumed mascot.

Mallorca (20) - Betis (7): 1

There isn't much Mallorca can do but win this with five points separating Gregorio Manzano's side from Zaragoza in 17th. "The only battle you lose is the one you give up on," said the veteran coach, rolling a cee-gar in his mouth and squinting into the Balearic haze in a Sergio Leone close-up. But Mallorca has been good, bad and downright ugly this season and a recent mini-revival has not erased the club's shoot-own-foot start to the season.

My best friend's stag took place on the island of Mallorca during the World Cup of 2010. Under express instructions to bring the groom back in one piece, and not to hold the event the weekend before the nuptials, I did what I could. Leaving first on a shaky Sunday morning, I was informed by text at the airport that one of our number had been forced to climb a not-inconsiderable natural obstacle to escape the onrushing Mediterranean tide to reach our hotel, despite having an emergency €50 sewn into his shorts that might have served for a taxi. Another attendee, with an extraordinary lack of tolerance for the Iberian sun, was missing in action entirely. Still, we all made the wedding the following weekend in England, even if Swiss looked like a toasted sandwich after a long day lost in the Balearic wilderness.

Apropos of not much, I fancy Betis to play bridesmaid to Mallorca here as Manzano's team attempts to postpone its divorce from Primera for at least one more weekend.

Real Madrid - Atlético: X

Real Madrid celeb v Atletico group
APReal Madrid have had the edge over cross-city rivals Atletico for many years

It's the decimal all over again! Atletico is gunning for its tenth Copa del Rey against a team it hasn't beaten in the last decade and half, and will be attempting it in the Bernabeu to boot. However, I have a radical solution to Atletico's run of 2-1 losses to Barcelona and its capital city rival in their last four or five matches: score more than one goal.

There is precedent for this remarkable insight: Atletico has beaten Real three times in the cup final, in 1960, 1961 and 1992. On each occasion, the rojiblancos had scored 50 or more league goals before the knockout showdown (3-1, 3-2 and 2-0, if you were wondering, were the results). The teams have not met in the cup final since 1992. The clouds above Madrid have parted long enough for the alignment of these flimsy statistics to shine through in hope more than anything tangible.

Tickets for the cup final this year are the most expensive in Europe - anything from €60 for the nosebleed seats to €250 or even €350 for anything like a decent view of Ronaldo's eye-liner. This, in Europe's most woeful 'large' economy. Meanwhile, a hayfever epidemic in the capital has been attributed by white-coated beardy types to "banana pollen." Your correspondent even has itchy eyes, and I don't go anywhere near bananas until they've been made into a palatable milkshake. I've never even seen a banana tree in Madrid. Combined with an interminable northern European climate, strange times are indeed afoot in Spain. So why not? Atleti on penalties.

Villarreal - Girona: 1

Third-placed Villarreal plays host to second-placed Girona in the game of the week in Segunda, although all eyes in Madrid are on Alcorcon and the possibility of five teams from the capital in the top flight next season. Alcorcon travels to the Mini Estadi, where Barça B might as well do them a favor as it obviously can't take part in the playoffs. Girona will go five points clear of Villarreal, aiming for an immediate return to Primera, if they win with two rounds left to play in the euphemistically named "silver division" of Spanish football after this weekend.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section.

Getafe (9) - Valencia (5): X
Granada (15) - Osasuna (16): X
Sevilla (8) - Real Sociedad (4): 2
Levante (13) - Rayo (10): X
Zaragoza (17) - Athletic (14): 1
Deportivo (18) - Espanyol (11): 1
Barcelona (1) - Valladolid (12): 1/b>
Mallorca (20) - Betis (7): 1
Real Madrid - Atlético: X
Villarreal - Girona: 1