Primera Division predictor

The Sunday at 8pm Quiniela

May 25, 2013
By Rob Train

It's all about the bottom six this week as the LFP plays fast and loose with its usual scheduling brilliance and plays every single Primera match at eight o'clock on Sunday.

This is great news for two reasons: instead of spending half the weekend checking results against the coupon, this week punters can have a quick glance at halftime and realise another week at work beckons. It's less misleading that way. It also means at least one channel will have the "carousel" up and running - a frantic two hours of ground-to-ground action punctuated by the beep-beep-beep goal flash and over-excitable backroom staff suddenly thrust into the limelight, screaming into the mike as though it's the World Cup final. It's gloriously over-the-top and wholly unnecessary, but at least it creates about six temporary jobs: six more than the current conservative government has managed in a year and a half in power.

As befits the penultimate round of the season, this week's picks are all a bit fanciful. But football is a funny old game, so you never know. Expect a postcard from easy street if this little lot comes off...

Getafe (10) - Rayo (8): 2

Getafe claimed a spirited win
GettyImagesGetafe and Rayo are set for a crucial clash this weekend

The 'other' Madrid derby will not take place at 12pm on Sunday, which might throw Rayo a tad out of kilter as it never seems to play at any other time of day. If you'd told a madrileño a couple of years ago (and had this season's schedule handy) that this one would be a Euro-battle you'd have been carted off to the funny farm.

Getafe is probably out of the running on 47 points, and as forward Adrian Colunga said this week: "We could probably have given a bit more." A sentiment anyone who has had to sit through a Geta match this season would readily agree with.

Rayo, though, is in eighth and in with a decent shout of sneaking into European competition next season - not bad for a club with Real Madrid's hairdressing budget. Geta couldn't score in one of Madrid's many houses of ill-repute at the moment, while Rayo recovered from two unsolicited spankings last weekend with a 3-2 win at Levante. The side from Vallecas has beaten its southern suburban neighbor in its last three meetings and I see no reason it won't do the same here.

Valencia (5) - Granada (15): 1

Granada is not entirely out of the relegation scrap and probably could have done with a softer match this week to ensure Primera status. Still, the visit of a Getafe side that will probably have nothing to bother playing for next week should be enough for Granada to allow itself a slip-up here.

That's probably just as well, as Valencia needs Champions League football like its regional politicos need a bloody good lawyer (they usually get one). It's all very well pointing to relegated sides and laughing, but poor old Valencia is in as much financial doo-doo as the country at large. In a twist that could only possibly happen in Spain, Valencia was handed over to the control of Bankia, a bank (clever name, isn't it?) that was bailed out after criminal mismanagement (quite literally) with €20 billion of European cash that the Spanish taxpayer will have to foot the bill for. It is very much the people's club: as a Bankia customer (closing an account in Spain is harder than opening one in Switzerland) I am essentially an unwilling shareholder in Valencia Club de Futbol.

Even if they do qualify, Valencia will still have to sell anybody worth more than half a farthing in the summer and then trawl through the Liga bargain bucket to chuck another team together for next season.

All in all, I think this is going to get pretty nasty for the visitor as the home side, which has scored nine without reply in its last three, fills its boots.

Osasuna (16) - Sevilla (9): X

My tip to be one of the three teams sent to Liga purgatory next weekend, Osasuna has the worst imaginable run-in of any of the six threatened sides. Sevilla may be just out of the running for a Euro spot, level on 47 with Getafe while local rival Betis' holds the final Europa League spot at the moment with 52 (although if Malaga's appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport fails eighth may yet do), but points mean cash prizes of course and Sevilla is as skint as the next club. And the next club either side at the moment is Rayo and Getafe.

Osasuna has by far the worst scoring record in the division and next week travels to the Bernabéu, where it has won only once in its existence (a 3-0 win in 2004 at the business-end of the season). José Luis Mendilibar's team would doubtless prefer not to have to repeat that trick next week so must get a result here. But they'll have to score early to negate Sevilla's front four. Failing that, expect a rearguard action to match an Oxford University student at an initiation ceremony in the second half.

Real Sociedad (4) - Real Madrid (2): 1

Jose Mourinho dejected Real Madrid
GettyImagesJose Mourinho has at times appeared to struggle with the pressure of coaching Real Madrid

Bill Clinton was in Madrid this week, possibly because he heard Chelsea had offered Jose Mourinho some kind of job. It's been a busy week in the capital, what with the many factions of the Syrian opposition meeting in an undisclosed hotel to discuss a peace plan, the admission of Gibraltar as a national football association and the European Commission's decision to overturn a controversial ban on the serving of olive oil in earthenware jugs.

Among this avalanche was sneaked the 'news' that Mourinho and Real have had enough of each other. Front pages were duly held, in a sad admission that the Portuguese provocateur has been about the only interesting thing about the title race this season. Real will have to sign RuPaul to top the air time they have been afforded through their irascible disciple of handbag-swinging. All in all, Mourinho is probably glad to be up North in the delightful city of San Sebastian for the weekend.

But there is more at stake in Anoeta than the inevitable camera-love Mourinho will generate. La Real is on the verge of the Champions League and will not be particularly hospitable on the field or in the stands. Philippe Montanier has joined other high-profile coaches in bidding au revoir this week, with Ligue 1 midtable sluggers Rennes his likely destination. A curious decision, but one based on La Real offering a one-year deal when the Frenchman wanted three. Luckily for fans of the Basque swashbucklers, almost the entire squad are products of Sociedad B and the team has clicked this season in a similar way to Barcelona under Pep Guardiola. That should be enough to see them home here against a Madrid side that will look very, very different next year.

Malaga (6) - Deportivo (17): X

Speaking of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez's restructuring plan has apparently alighted on the dashing form of in-form and in-demand Isco. The price that has been bandied about is €20 million and Jose Callejon, but it sounds rather like running into a dead-end street for the speedy Andalusian winger.

Malaga's grand design has gone the way of a Dolly Parton slip on an ice rink. The well of oil money promised to make Malaga a European force has dried up, wily schemer Manuel Pellegrini has decided he's had enough and is off to a "project that will best allow me to carry out my profession" (ahem), while half the squad is eyeing the exit door and the Court of Arbitration for Sport is yet to rule on whether to overturn a UEFA competition ban next season.

It's hard to see Malaga outdoing Depor in the effort stakes here, but the Anchovies have Pellegrini's farewell to consider - the final third of the feared journalistic trinity of Pochettino, Pellegrino and Pellegrini to leave La Liga this year - and the still tantalizing end-of-season topping of another tilt at Europe. But Depor also has the bit between its teeth and faces Real Sociedad in the last game of the season. A point might do for Depor to stay up. It'll get it here.

Espanyol (11) - Barcelona (1): 1

Quite the political hoo-ha in Barcelona has been unfolding in the Spanish press this week and for blessed relief it hasn't been about the CiU's faintly ridiculous drive to secede from Spain. I say faintly ridiculous because 1: the region borrowed five billion euros from the central government last year because it has no cash, and 2: because polls show that only one third of Catalans think it's not utter madness anyway.

No, this furor centers on a statue of Christopher Columbus and a huge Barcelona shirt. In an ill-advised decision, the city government draped a massive claret-and-blue garment over the effigy of the great explorer, which stands high in the city with his finger pointed toward the glittering horizon. Espanyol's president, fans and players have understandably been raising a finger of their own to the powers-that-be amid cries of institutional bias, and not without good reason. I don't recall ol' Chris sporting an Espanyol shirt when they won the cup in 2006.

One fan of the parakeets tweeted urging the city's pigeons (although there are parakeets in Barcelona as well) to perform an inglorious flyover and "do what needs to be done." With Barcelona all but done for the season except for chasing down Madrid's record of 100 points - for which Sandro Rosell has reportedly offered the squad a cool million to share - and Espanyol suitably fired up for the game, I predict the parakeets will comply with their tweeting fan and do exactly what was requested on the field of play. Figuratively, of course - there are laws about that sort of thing, as Brighton and Hove Albion found after their Championship playoff semifinal against Crystal Palace.

Valladolid (13) - Celta (20): 2

I like the image of a fat lady bustling to the front of an opera stage, clearing her throat and lifting her arms as far as possible to announce the beginning of the end of the show. Celta will certainly not be in singing mood if Valladolid wins this one on home turf: they'll be back from whence they came, the endless Spanish zarzuela - a sort of cheap and barely watched second-tier opera in Spain - of Segunda.

It took Celta years to drag itself out of the second division last time and it's mentally competitive down there this season, as the promotion of Elche (25 years outside the top flight) and the presence of Alcorcon, Las Palmas and Cordoba in the playoff places proves. Villarreal looks to be going back up but Sporting is doomed to another season in the doghouse of Spanish football, while Racing is in the relegation zone and may never been seen again at this rate.

Celta is a better-run club than most and at least has players it can sell to offset the massive losses incurred through relegation. But the Vigo outfit isn't in the mood to play second fiddle and I fancy it to pick up three points here to keep the dream alive for at least another week. The fat lady can return to her dressing room for now.

Atletico (3) - Mallorca (19): X

Diego Simeone and Falcao Atletico Madrid
PA PhotosDiego Simeone and Falcao have been integral to Atletico Madrid's recent success

Strange times abound at Atletico Madrid. The Champions League was secured weeks ago. Real Madrid was beaten last weekend for a first copa in almost 20 years. The team was whisked to Singapore after last weekend's celebrations (at which an unfortunate supporter heckled players as they picked up their cars at the Calderon late into the night only to find man-mountain Cata Diaz alighting from his to offer him a fight) for a promotional tour usually best reserved for the off-season. Meanwhile, the best offer that has apparently been tabled for goal-machine Radamel Falcao has come from Ligue 1 new-boys Monaco.

Mallorca desperately needs a win, and an Atletico side thinking more about the cañas and tapas on offer after the game than the opposition during it, likely to field a few stiffs and basically already on the beach in their minds, might just provide it. However, the prospect of being chewed out by Diego Simeone and leaving the Calderon with a bitter taste in its collective mouth after a season to remember should inspire someone to find the back of the net. It'll either be a slaughter for Mallorca or a score draw. I fancy the latter.

Betis (7) - Zaragoza (13): 2

I'm happy to report that I have only the slightest inkling of who Kim Kardashian is but profess to be stumped as to her importance in the modern world. If success be measured in column inches in the 21st century, though, the girl done good.

I similarly shun reality television. In fact, as anybody who has lived in Spain will quite understand, apart from the football and the news I don't bother watching the television at all. I don't know who is in Spain's 274th Big Brother and care even less.

No, I have a perfectly healthy fascination to keep me occupied in the long winter months. And that fascination is one Helder Manuel Marques Postiga. Quite how Zaragoza persuaded him to move to Aragon from Sporting is a mystery. How it managed to part with just €1 million to get him is an enigma. This is a player who has been Portugal's main striker for best part of a decade, averages almost a goal every two games for his national side and has played in three European Championships and a World Cup. Surely the Premier League or Bundesliga were monitoring him? Sure, he had endured a rancid season in the Primeira Liga, but he knows where the net is.

He also knows where the opposition is: no player in La Liga has committed more fouls this season than Postiga. He is certainly no shirker. He was instrumental in keeping Zaragoza up last term and has scored 13 goals this campaign. Zaragoza needs a favor or two to survive but Postiga is its best bet of doing so by itself.

Athletic (12) - Levante (14): 1

Two teams already safe, with no further aspirations for the season. In Athletic's case, there's a star forward fallen from grace and a coach who probably won't be around next season; in Levante's, there's a team that will likely be broken up one way or the other in the summer. It's a combination that would usually guide my pen toward the middle ground of the old X.

But, quite simply - and lamentably - this is the final competitive game that will ever be played in San Mames, the Cathedral, the scene of so many triumphs and legendary players. The atmosphere in Bilbao's stadium is unparalleled in Spain. The good vibrations outside in the match preamble would change the lyrics of the Beach Boys' tune if they had ever been there. It's an experience that no amount of California girls could drag a proper football supporter away from.

There is absolutely no way Athletic's current crop will permit anything other than a victory to honor the stadium's illustrious history. The only gimme on the coupon this week.

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Getafe - Rayo: 2
Valencia - Granada: 1
Osasuna - Sevilla: X
Real Sociedad - Real Madrid: 1
Malaga - Deportivo: X
Espanyol - Barcelona: 1
Valladolid - Celta: 2
Atletico - Mallorca: X
Betis - Zaragoza: 2
Athletic - Levante: 1