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Friday, January 27, 2012
Week 18 - Non-transfer window

Eduardo Alvarez

Most of us La Liga followers anxiously anticipated January's arrival, with its endless collection of rumours, gossip and (hopefully) transfers. However, and as of the 27th of the month, we are entitled to feel disappointed. Very few moves have attracted real interest, while a concerning trend sees more players leaving the Primera Division than actually joining it. While small teams get even smaller as their squads contract, the middle class and the two giants appear to have hibernated, waiting for the transfer window to quietly finish. And some thought football was crisis-proof... Let's start. Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. 1. Espanyol (5th) - Mallorca (14th): X. Espanyol, overachievers in their own right so far, just lost a spot in the Copa del Rey semi-finals to the biggest overachievers this season, 2nd Division B (which means third tier) Mirandés - an extremely humble club, who have eliminated three Primera outfits in the tournament. Last week's question still remains: how can the Periquitos survive without strikers? At some point that shortage should take its toll and Mallorca, with three clean sheets in their last five matches, look decently equipped to grind out a point in Cornella. 2. Rayo Vallecano (13th) - Athletic de Bilbao (7th): 1. Two significant events that took place this week lead me to believe in a surprisingly easy home victory. Firstly, my man Diego Costa -Atletico's Brazilian striker - left El Calderon for Vallecas, as the Rojiblancos had clearly lost that loving feeling for him. Now that Rayito have a real centre-forward - allow me to consider Raul Tamudo a pensioner at this point - the sky is the limit. Secondly, Athletic just made it to their fourth Copa del Rey semi-final in 25 years. It's time for the Leones to celebrate and take the weekend off after consecutive trips to Madrid, Mallorca and Vallecas in only one week. 3. Real Madrid (1st) - Zaragoza (20th): 1. When the first and the last team in the standings meet, the result should be obvious, correct? Well, not really; we have witnessed this type of upset in previous seasons. However, this version of Zaragoza would struggle even in the Segunda Division, and the Madridistas have recovered some of their self-esteem after their useless, but cathartic draw at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. One can see the hosts scoring six or seven. Ask your bookie for odds on that, you won't regret it. 4. Villarreal (17th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2. Listen to the optimistic Mateo Musacchio, Villarreal's Argentine import: 'I'm one of the few people who believe we can beat Barcelona'. Indeed, my son. The Amarillos currently live among a steady trickle of rumours, according to which almost no player is safe until the transfer window closes. Not the best of environments to fight a relegation battle. Even their victory over fellow strugglers Sporting last weekend can hardly be considered a new beginning. Many may believe that, at some point, Barcelona should pay the price for such an intense first half of the season, with a squad configured for flair and quality, rather than physical resilience. In fact, the constant stream of injuries - Andres Iniesta and Alexis Sanchez are the latest additions to the sick list - already seems like an undesired consequence of such a demanding calendar. Remember at the beginning of the season, when some pundits worried about Guardiola's theoretical challenge to find minutes for all his men? This season Villarreal have lost what used to be a great anti-Barca formula. Just like he did in Malaga, Lionel Messi should be enough to give the Azulgranas a much-needed away win. 5. Betis (12th) - Granada (18th): 1. Phil Ball and I believe that Granada have enjoyed a quite decent first half of the season, even after three consecutive defeats (one of them at the Bernabeu). Well, their management disagrees with us and fired coach Fabriciano Gonzalez, who had taken the club from the dark depths of the Segunda Division B to the Primera in two seasons. The chosen replacement, former Atletico goalkeeper Abel Resino, hasn't been able to keep his job for two full seasons with the same club yet in his coaching career. As a punishment to Granada for a rushed decision, let's favour Betis on this one. The Verdiblancos also play better, a factor somewhat more relevant. 6. Real Sociedad (15th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X. A depressing encounter. Just look at a random collection of news from both teams. Last weekend, Real Sociedad lost 4-0 at home against the thus far winless (away from El Calderon) Atletico. At the end of the match, local media described the atmosphere in Anoeta as 'irritated' regarding coach Philippe Mountanier. In fact, the home side have won more points away from home than in San Sebastian. And what to say about Sporting? Boss Manuel Preciado stated on Sunday that he 'felt punch drunk' after the worst Villarreal in nine seasons scored three against his side. The visitors rank second in goals conceded when they travel. The cherry on the cake: one group of Sporting fans won €91,000 in the last Quiniela after tipping the club they support to lose their match. In summary, these two would be happy with a draw. 7. Levante (4th) - Getafe (11th): X. This column has recently warned its readers about the imminent conclusion of Levante's surprising campaign and things are indeed coming to an end. When the coach celebrates a home draw against bottom-of-the-table Zaragoza - 'That point was excellent', said boss Jose Ignacio Martinez - something is rotten in the state of Levante. Inebriated by the success of their elderly signings, the hosts have just hired Oscar Serrano, another player in the winter of his career with two serious knee injuries that not even Racing wanted to retain. Time to trust Getafe (an almost reckless statement), to earn themselves a point in Valencia. Now that I think of it, that will probably please Jose Ignacio Martinez. 8. Racing de Santander (16th) - Valencia (3rd): 2. Racing keep letting players go (this week the aforementioned Oscar Serrano and Argentinean Ariel Nahuelpan left for free) and not hiring reinforcements, a puzzling approach when your squad is already painfully short, methinks. While that happens, Valencia renewed Ever Banega's contract, therefore killing one of the media's favourite targets for speculation. The Ches have lost seven points in added time this season, but something tells me that there won't be a similar occurrence in El Sardinero. An easy win for the visitors. 9. Málaga (10th) - Sevilla (9th): 1. The hosts last won in La Liga two months ago, which is not good. They're not paying their debts, such as full-back Monreal's transfer from Osasuna, which is even worse. The suddenly demanding Malaga supporters behave impatiently with their team because they 'only' occupy tenth position in the standings, which is obviously preposterous. Remember that, despite all the cash, this is still Malaga in their second year after the Hijra. In any case, they should take care of business in this Andalusian derby against a more and more boring Sevilla. In related news, Martin Caceres, aka Mr Loan, has been loaned once more, this time from Sevilla to Juventus, where the Uruguayan had already been loaned previously. But the good news for Sevilla comes from Portugal: the Sevillistas just signed Maritimo's Papa Babacar Diawara, 'Baba'. Firstly, what a fantastic name for a footballer, bearing in mind what 'Papa' (Dad) and 'Baba' (Drool) mean in Spanish. And secondly, get ready for the hyperboles: according to his former coach, Mr Martins, Baba is 'fast like Samuel Eto'o and explosive like Didier Drogba'. Fasten your seatbelts, Daddy Drool is in town! 10. Osasuna (6th) - Atletico de Madrid (8th): 2. Dear Atleticos, this is the last match of Diego Simeone's hype spell. Expect another serious performance by the Rojiblancos, who will authoritatively win in the Reyno de Navarra. Things will become tougher in the next five matches: Valencia, Barcelona and Sevilla await to test what this squad is really made of. The fun stuff will begin then. 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. Espanyol (5th) - Mallorca (14th): X.
2. Rayo Vallecano (13th) - Athletic de Bilbao (7th): 1.
3. Real Madrid (1st) - Zaragoza (20th): 1.
4. Villarreal (17th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.
5. Betis (12th) - Granada (18th): 1.
6. Real Sociedad (15th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X.
7. Levante (4th) - Getafe (11th): X.
8. Racing de Santander (16th) - Valencia (3rd): 2.
9. Málaga (10th) - Sevilla (9th): 1.
10. Osasuna (6th) - Atletico de Madrid (8th): 2.

Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 86/170 (50%)



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