Friday, May 11, 2012
Final matchday - Judgement day
Dear Quinielistas, after 37 matches and almost nine months, the end of the season is almost upon us. But before Phil Ball runs his customary season review, we still have one final set of fixtures to enjoy. And, thanks to the Invisible Hand, plenty is still at stake, so make sure to block your agenda for those two hours between 1900 and 2100 GMT on Sunday evening. Many twists and turns await - you won't be disappointed.
For the last time of the season, shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Real Sociedad (14th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.
The first of two almost meaningless matches to be played on Saturday evening, Anoeta's last event of the season will feature Mikel Aranburu's farewell after 14 years playing for Real Sociedad. The 33-year-old charismatic skipper, who could have had an even brighter career without that troubling injury in 2006, decided to call it a day and will enjoy a warm demonstration of respect from his fans.
Valencia, playing for nothing, will probably test a few players. If the Ches lose, they'll have the dubious honour of becoming the worst - as in 'squad with the fewest points' - third-placed team in La Liga in 15 years.
2. Betis (12th) - Barcelona (2nd): 1.
Betis' Benat Etxebarria puts it best: "This is a match to enjoy." Betis, probably much more focused than the Catalans, can say goodbye to the season with a famous home victory. And I'd rather not comment on Carles Puyol's Euro 2012 terminating knee injury - I need much more time, apparently more than Puyol himself, to get over it.
3. Getafe (11th) - Zaragoza (18th): 2.
Even though Getafe's Javier Casquero understandably denies any potential wrongdoing - "We're an honourable team," he says - too many factors point at an away win. Zaragoza have won 21 of the last 30 points, while Getafe wasted a good chance of booking their Europa League place with a languid final month of the season. On top of that, the Getafenses will miss between seven and ten players due to injuries and suspensions.
If that wasn't enough, Zaragoza seem - ahem - a tad bit too lucky with the ref's decisions in the last few weeks, so how can they possibly lose? On a side note, we'll probably enjoy a packed Alfonso Perez stadium for the first time of the season due to a massive exodus of fans from Zaragoza to Getafe. Apparently, that stadium can only be filled with fans from opposing teams.
4. Levante (7th) - Athletic de Bilbao (9th): 2.
Yes, I do remember that only two weeks ago I compared myself to Saul falling from that horse in his way to Damascus. Back then, I thought I'd seen the light as I predicted: "Levante will play in Europe next season".
However, I am sure that even Saul had his relapses, and I am dying to have one myself to cancel out all of my Levante-related mistaken predictions this season. Athletic will wipe their tears to finish their La Liga season with a win, as boss Marcelo Bielsa famously never takes a day off, and Levante won't make it into Europe.
5. Real Madrid (1st) - Mallorca (6th): 2.
After the over-the-top celebrations of their 32nd La Liga title, the Madridistas' focus has switched to two topics: first, their search of a new right back and, second, the so-called 'exit operation', an exclusive list that features underperforming and expensive and/or overpaid players such as Kaka, Hamit Altintop, Lassana Diarra and Fabio Coentrao. Okay, maybe one of those players is not in the list, but you get my point.
For the first topic, and judging by what has transpired in the Madrid media this week, you only need to play for a top-five team in any European league to be linked with a move to the Madridistas. The reality is tougher, and having Jorge Mendes as your agent would probably help.
Regarding the 'exit operation', you don't need a crystal ball to know that it will quickly evolve into a fire sale to avoid paying those huge salaries - as long as the Madridistas find some sheikh-backed team to fork out all that cash.
Four consecutive victories have taken Mallorca from potential relegation candidates to Europa League contenders - that is how cheap European football in Spain has become this season. Believe it or not, the Mallorquinistas will succeed in their unlikely aim, taking advantage of Real Madrid's B (and C) team.
6. Rayo Vallecano (17th) - Granada (15th): 1.
If you only have the chance to watch one football match this weekend, this is the one. Both teams will be playing for their lives in Vallecas and, believe me, that is as much fun as football at the foot of the table can possibly get.
Rayo found themselves in the danger zone after a convoluted end to the season on and off the pitch. Following the umpteenth discussion between management and players, this week's rumours pointed at a mutiny of the whole squad against their coach Jose Luis Sandoval, who almost lost his job in the process.
Still, it would be a shame that the Vallecanos, the fifth top-scoring team in the league, went down. Granada did themselves no favours last week, and will miss three suspended players to add to four injuries. One humbly believes that you need your top players in a situation like this. My money is on Diego Costa to save the day for the hosts.
7. Espanyol (13th) - Sevilla (10th): 2.
In three of the last five years, Espanyol have been second to last in points gained in the second half of the season. This means that a) they're usually content with survival and b) the club could invest a bit more in a deeper squad. That is probably what Mauricio Pochettino should discuss in his contract talks with the management at this point.
Sevilla lack such a clear candidate for their coaching job next season, but I am quite sure that current boss Michel will keep riding Jesus Navas' astonishing form until the season is over. A smart move, indeed.
8. Malaga (4th) - Sporting de Gijon (19th): 1.
According to full-back Ignacio Monreal, this is the most important match in the history of Malaga Club de Futbol. In a week packed with overstatements, this one sounds at least understandable given the context: the hosts can make it to the next Champions League, justifying the sizeable off-season investment from their owners.
Sporting will suffer another defeat on Sunday, thereby leaving the Primera Division. In this case, we've learned something else about the later stages of Javier Clemente's career: he will certainly improve his team's performance but then fall short in his rescue missions. In the last month we saw the Sportinguistas rowing like crazy only to die when they were oh so close to the beach...
9. Villarreal (16th) - Atletico de Madrid (5th): 1.
It is unprecedented but Villarreal's stadium won't have any empty seats on show on Sunday, which means that half of the city's population - 25,000 out of 51,000 inhabitants - will watch the game on site.
But what really matters for this prediction is Atletico's dismal away record after playing Europa League matches, and their likely disappointment after statements from both president Enrique Cerezo and owner Miguel Angel Gil made it clear to everyone that Radamel Falcao, Adrian Lopez and Diego Ribas will most likely leave in June. Not even the victory in that minor European tournament or the qualification for next season's Champions League will guarantee the required cash to keep them at El Calderon.
10. Racing de Santander (20th) - Osasuna (8th): 1.
Osasuna have an outside chance of making it into the Europa League next season, but during the week it's become clear that not even the Osasunistas themselves believe that to be possible. Let's tip Racing for a farewell win as they depart the Primera, and root for their comeback as soon as their ownership problems end.
PS. You can follow me on Twitter (@EdAlvarezSpain).
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. Real Sociedad (14th) - Valencia (3rd): .
2. Betis (12th) - Barcelona (2nd): .
3. Getafe (11th) - Zaragoza (18th): .
4. Levante (7th) - Athletic de Bilbao (9th): .
5. Real Madrid (1st) - Mallorca (6th): .
6. Rayo Vallecano (17th) - Granada (15th): .
7. Espanyol (13th) - Sevilla (10th): .
8. Malaga (4th) - Sporting de Gijon (19th): .
9. Villarreal (16th) - Atletico de Madrid (5th): .
10. Racing de Santander (20th) - Osasuna (8th): .
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 149/320 (46%)