Friday, August 17, 2012
Week 1 - Back to Black
The hangover of yet another spectacular Spanish success in international football competition - no, not the Olympics - didn't quite allow this humble writer to put the right focus on the early start of La Liga's new season until it was almost too late. Once I gathered the strength to leave the sweet world of the winners, the scenery was doomed to look ugly by comparison.
And ugly it looked indeed. During the summer break, more than half of the league - thirteen clubs - threatened to go on strike because of the ridiculously unfair deal they were offered to share the TV rights. Most of them suffered a subsequent punishment by the league administrators in the shape of even more ridiculous kick-off times in their first two matches - some of them scheduled to start as late as 11pm - under the preposterous excuse of unbearable heat in earlier kick-off times.
Add to that tiresome struggle: a) the painful realisation that 'our' sheiks have less money than those who own English or French clubs, therefore La Liga have lost key players and missed out on some serious signings; b) the likely continuation of the ominous duopoly for one more season; c) the bizarre exit of Pep Guardiola; and d) the metamorphosis of 'The Special One' into 'The Only One', and I am going to need a really great first Quiniela of the year for my motivation level to reach its usual heights. Fingers crossed.
Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Celta (Prom) - Malaga (4th): 1.
After a convoluted summer, Malaga's ambition for the new season is to become the new Valencia: able to sell their top talent in the off-season, and somehow remain competitive. Easier said than done, especially when you have lost most of your offensive flair in Santiago Cazorla and Jose Salomon Rondon, and still need to sell one or two assets more to make ends meet.
Celta come back to the Primera Division hungry to prove their worth after five seasons in the Segunda. Some shrewd signings - Argentinean international Augusto Fernandez from Velez Sarsfield and goalkeeper Javi Varas, on loan from Sevilla - should help them to start off the right foot in this home match. And please, keep an eye on Enrique de Lucas, pompously nicknamed 'The Spanish Brad Pitt'; although inconsistent, once in a while he makes one or two stunning plays.
2. Sevilla (9th) - Getafe (11th): 1.
It's strange to see Sevilla out of Europe this season, and even more strange to watch their first home match of the term without their most loyal - although sometimes violent - supporters, the Biris, as a result of their protest against President Jose Maria del Nido and his new security policy for the stands. As it's been usually the case, the Sevillistas added good pieces to their puzzle, and should perform better than last year.
Getafe are one of the instances of the 'our sheiks have less money that theirs' syndrome suddenly invading La Liga's immunity system. The Getafenses have spent almost zilch to bring a bunch of average players, and currently lack a decent striker, as Miku is for sale and manager Luis Garcia doesn't particularly enjoy Dani Guiza nor Adrian Colunga. It's hard to win that way.
3. Mallorca (8th) - Espanyol (14th): 1.
One more year in the Primera Division and it's business as usual for Mallorca. Once again, they've sold their best players and aspire to stay for one more season in the top flight, just like they do since 1997. Espanyol need some cash to reinforce the team after a promising, but eventually frustrating offseason. They'll start La Liga by losing away from home, a recurring trait of the Periquitos in the last few years.
4. Athletic de Bilbao (10th) - Betis (13th): 2.
If you feel down about your team's prospects for the new season, just imagine your sensation if you supported Athletic de Bilbao. A summer full of controversy between manager Marcelo Bielsa and the club's management got its proverbial cherry this week, when two of their best three players - Fernando Llorente and Javi Martinez - gave clear signals of being on their way out.
Given how this column enjoys a good pañolada (white handkerchiefs being waved by unhappy supporters in the stadium as a sign of protest), I can't help but favour a visitors' win, even if their signings have been lower than low-profile ones.
5. Real Madrid (1st) - Valencia (3rd): 1.
The most interesting match of this first weekend of competition, hands down. The home team still await Luka Modric's arrival, as the debate over which side of the bench the Croatian will occupy heats up. Valencia have signed a few competent players, but as it's been the case in the last few seasons Los Ches have lost quite talented ones as well. The Bernabeu sounds like a tough scenario for manager Mauricio Pellegrino's debut match in Valencia's bench, as he hasn't enjoyed much time for his team to gel, and even more when we consider the precedents between both clubs since Jose Mourinho took over. Easy home win.
6. Barcelona (2nd) - Real Sociedad (12th): 1.
Probably one of the biggest question marks of the season: how will Tito Vilanova, Barcelona's new manager, do in his new position? Mere inertia and two great signings - Jordi Alba and I'm already including Alex Song - should be more than enough to keep the team going during the first couple of months. But whenever a tougher stretch or a negative sequence comes up, we will see whether or not Tito is ready for the big stage.
Despite Real Sociedad's sensible reinforcements to their already decent squad, a win at the Camp Nou seems out of the question. Another easy home win to keep La Liga's duopoly alive and kicking.
7. Levante (6th) - Atlético de Madrid (5th): X.
Atleti's beginning of the new season has all the ingredients for their trademark 'rope your fans in, then break their hearts ruthlessly' routine. They've kept most of their starters, with the exception of Diego Ribas. They've added the next big player in Oliver Torres, who sounds like a cross between Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane when you listen to any Atletico fan talk about him. And they hired a couple of journeymen slightly past their primes, but who should help an otherwise young team in high profile matches. Sounds ok for a cash-strapped club, right? Well, be prepared to see them draw in an extremely boring stalemate against strikerless Levante.
8. Deportivo de La Coruña (Prom) - Osasuna (7th): 1.
Depor are back in the top flight and most of us feel quite glad about it. During the off-season they've copycatted the Real Madrid model by embracing their Portuguese cousins, so they hired five players from the Portuguese League that should change the face of the team. Osasuna over delivered last season, but have lost some key players in the summer, especially Raúl Garcia and Lekic. Can't see them keeping it up this year.
9. Rayo Vallecano (15th) - Granada (17th): X.
Brand new squad for one more cash strapped club in Spain, Rayo Vallecano. They've brought no less than ten players and a new manager, and let 12 go. It's hard to picture them playing well together this early, but they face Granada with 15 new players as well as a new coach. It should be a chaotic match, as ironically enough both teams try to forget their last encounter of the previous season, which almost saw one of them go down and interestingly enough ended up granting salvation to both.
10. Zaragoza (16th) - Valladolid (Prom): X.
Zaragoza and Valladolid will finish their first match of the season at 00:45 of Tuesday the 21st. The over/under for number of spectators in La Romareda, estimated around 1,000 sounds optimistic. This type of scenario usually favours the promoted visitors, although a quick look at their roaster and their recent signings quickly cools off the possibility of an away win. 0-0 makes sense.
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. Celta (Prom) - Málaga (4th):
2. Sevilla (9th) - Getafe (11th):
3. Mallorca (8th) - Espanyol (14th):
4. Athletic de Bilbao (10th) - Betis (13th):
5. Real Madrid (1st) - Valencia (3rd):
6. Barcelona (2nd) - Real Sociedad (12th):
7. Levante (6th) - Atlético de Madrid (5th):
8. Deportivo de La Coruña (Prom) - Osasuna (7th):
9. Rayo Vallecano (15th) - Granada (17th):
10. Zaragoza (16th) - Valladolid (Prom):