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Friday, January 20, 2012
Week 17 - Famous last words

Eduardo Alvarez

After two years and two months writing Quinielas, this column has had more than its fair share of erroneous predictions. However, it is one thing to slightly misjudge a match and its outcome, and a very different one to egregiously pick a wrong result as though there was no other possible option. According to my own evaluation, in the last Quiniela all previous records of (in hindsight) preposterous statements were shattered. 'If Espanyol get to half-time with just 0-0, this match is theirs', the column stated of their trip to Sevilla. The half-time draw happened, but the match finished with the same score. 'A '1' as clear as they come', the article predicted for Valencia - Real Sociedad, which ended in a win for the visitors. 'Sounds like a trademark roll-over-and-play-dead match to close the weekend', the text unfairly read when describing Betis estimated effort (or lack of thereof) at the Camp Nou. All of those statements rather crossed the line between fair calculation and reckless guesstimate. However, another bold prediction from a previous Quiniela still stands on its feet: 'As long as Josep Guardiola occupies that Azulgrana bench, Real Madrid's sporting achievements will be rare and few.' Ok, ok, it wasn't that bold. Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. 1. Racing de Santander (15th) - Getafe (13th): 1. A more interesting match than you would probably think at first sight, dear reader. Since boss Hector Cuper left in late November, Racing are unbeaten. In a miraculous recovery - and while their shareholders fight among themselves - three wins and two draws have taken the Santanderinos from the bottom of the table to 15th spot. During that spell, four clean sheets have proved their solid defence. Racing host Getafe, another hot team after two wins and two draws in their last four. But such a streak sounds a bit too consistent for the fickle Getafe, so expect a traditional letdown away match from the blue team, and another goal from the penalty spot by Cristian Stuani. 2. Espanyol (9th) - Granada (17th): 2. Quiniela Buster alert! The hosts, obvious favourites due to their overachieving season so far, will miss their top three attacking threats - Sergio Garcia, Walter Pandiani and Alvaro Vazquez, all of them injured - and will have to make do with some combination of youngsters from the B-team and out-of-position players until the management sign a striker. Couple that with a tiring midweek Copa del Rey comeback win against Mirandes, and the conditions look ripe for Granada. Los Granadinos prefer to win against top10 sides away from Los Carmenes - as visitors, they have defeated Athletic and Sevilla so far. It will be nice to have Espanyol's scalp as well. 3. Real Sociedad (14th) - Atletico de Madrid (10th): 2. 'If I could, I'd love to shoot only once (during a whole match) and score', explained Diego Simeone to a slightly surprised bunch of journalists on Wednesday. Sure, they all were aware of El Cholo's conservative approach to football, but the comment exceeded everyone's expectations. But don't worry, Atletico fans. The hype is still there, El Cholo will play both Adrian and Radamel Falcao up front, and the bipolar Real Sociedad - able to win in Valencia after losing 6-1 to Mallorca - won't be able to stop the reborn Atletico. 4. Betis (11th) - Sevilla (7th): X. First things first: kudos to Miguel Guillen, Betis' President, and to Jose Maria del Nido, his Sevilla counterpart. What had, at some point in the previous decade, become the most violent derby in the country now seems under control (fingers crossed). On Thursday, both presidents met at the Sevilla Mayor's headquarters to wish each other luck and ask their respective fan bases for a peaceful encounter. Hats off. The two sides have not played each other in three years, so a full house is expected in the Benito Villamarin. The visitors arrive in the midst of a mini-crisis, as their under-fire boss Marcelino Toral tries to put together a starting XI that makes sense with what's left of a squad haunted by seven suspensions and injuries. Betis' impressive effort in Barcelona should grant them a '1', but something tells me that Sevilla will hold on for 0-0. 5. Osasuna (6th) - Valencia (3rd): X. Both teams let this scribe and many other Quinielistas down last week, with two shocking home defeats against, on paper at least, inferior opposition. 'Our results have been better than our game so far', the overly-honest Osasuna midfielder David Timor commented on Thursday. A draw would satisfy the tired Valencianistas, who won an exciting midweek match against neighbours Levante, as well as the hard-working hosts, achieving way beyond their own expectations at this point of the season. 6. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Mallorca (16th): 1. While Rayo try to solve the issues of their suddenly diminishing squad - centre-back Jordi Figueras unexpectedly left for Brugge and Brazilian Pedro Botelho could lose his job after a Drenthe-esque car episode in the wee hours of Monday - Mallorca arrive as the classic unpredictable visitors. Recently defeated in Bilbao by Copa del Rey addicts Athletic, their away record shows that they know how to grind out a draw (four in eight matches). However, Rayito are feeling it, and after two consecutive wins they have the chance to make it into the top 10. 7. Málaga (8th) - Barcelona (2nd): X. It only makes sense, don't you think? At this point, this season's Barcelona have demonstrated that they relish playing at the Bernabeu and get bored in any other Primera Division stadium. El Clasico aside, the Catalans have won only twice away from home this season (short and stressful 1-0 wins against Sporting and Granada), have drawn four times (versus Valencia, Real Sociedad, Athletic and Espanyol) and have lost to Getafe. In summary, their only comfortable away match happened against their arch-rivals, which begs the perplexing question: Are Real Madrid the only La Liga team that can't make Barcelona suffer when they travel? Malaga, with keeper Carlos Kameni just arrived from Espanyol, could take advantage of the very likely euphoria in Can Barsa. Obviously, that would assume that they recover from their slump in form of the last six weeks, which sounds a bit of a stretch. 'X' for a surprising result, but not a Quiniela Buster. 8. Levante (4th) - Zaragoza (20th): X. Last week, I predicted that Levante would start to lose their magic touch. The Levantinistas first lost 3-0 to Athletic and then 4-1 against Valencia in their midweek Copa del Rey tie, so it appears as though their decline has begun. In that same Quiniela, I also promised to never tip Zaragoza to win again if they weren't able to defeat Getafe. The Zaragocistas drew. Therefore, the only result that allows me to be consistent with last week's pair of restrictions is a draw. And believe me, it will be a boring one. 9. Real Madrid (1st) - Athletic de Bilbao (5th): 1. Last Wednesday, 15 minutes after Carles Puyol headed that corner kick home to bring Barca level in the Copa del Rey derby, I closed my laptop, turned off the TV and went for a walk. Pepe had just stepped on Lionel Messi's hand and a swarm of players surrounded the ref. After more than 30 years watching derbies, it was the first time that I didn't stay to see how the game finished. Just like in several other instances, Pepe's action had infuriated me, but that wasn't the reason why I left. It was that the derby entered into that loop mode we've watched so frequently in the last couple of seasons: all Real Madrid players in their own half, Xavi Hernandez distributing the ball at will - usually to whoever was in front of Altintop - just 25 metres away from Casillas' goal, Xabi Alonso's talent completely wasted, Real Madrid's forwards running 40-metre sprints towards their own goal, and every Barcelona player with at least two options to pass the ball and keep the Madridistas unsuccessfully chasing it. I had seen that movie too many times before, and the end rarely changes: constant ball movement, one or two dribbles, a through-ball and suddenly somebody scores. However, I am sure this won't be the case on Sunday against Athletic. Jose Mourinho will pick a far more sensible starting XI, the players will feel that this is their best chance to win silverware this season and will play to win the match, and once more the increasingly in-sync Athletic will feel the wrath of the Bernabeu. But not even a Liga title can wash away this feeling: the Merengues have indeed surrendered, losing their soul in the process. 10. Villarreal (19th) - Sporting de Gijón (18th): 1. It is time for Villarreal boss Jose Francisco Molina to win his first match with the Amarillos. After six matches without a win, visitors Sporting appear like the perfect guests. Expect Cani to score. 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. Racing de Santander (15th) - Getafe (13th): 1.
2. Espanyol (9th) - Granada (17th): 2.
3. Real Sociedad (14th) - Atletico de Madrid (10th): 2.
4. Betis (11th) - Sevilla (7th): X.
5. Osasuna (6th) - Valencia (3rd): X.
6. Rayo Vallecano (12th) - Mallorca (16th): 1.
7. Málaga (8th) - Barcelona (2nd): X.
8. Levante (4th) - Zaragoza (20th): X.
9. Real Madrid (1st) - Athletic de Bilbao (5th): 1.
10. Villarreal (19th) - Sporting de Gijón (18th): 1.

Last week: 4/10 (40%) Season: 80/160 (50%)

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