Friday, September 21, 2012
Week 5 - Team Work
This season started off poorly not only for a bunch of football clubs in La Liga, such as Espanyol and Osasuna, but also for this column, which after three weeks filled with blatant misjudgements sat at historical lows (30% of correct predictions).
Feeling that I was doing a perfect impression of Gonzalo Higuain, squandering sitter after sitter, I decided that it was time to ask the gaffer for some rest. That's what benches are for, correct? Phil Ballzema jumped in and scored a magic 6/10 which gave me the strength to carry on and face another set of unpredictable Quinielas by myself.
Let's take advantage of that momentum to pursue the perfect 10 one more week. Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Zaragoza (17th) - Osasuna (20th): 2.
The weekend kicks off with an unexciting duel between struggling sides. While Zaragoza's 17th place shouldn't surprise anyone, Osasuna's freefall sounds exaggerated. The Pamplonicas' defensive structure and of course their inspiring coach are almost intact from last year, so at some point they're bound to improve. La Romareda looks like the perfect stadium - this must be the first time in 30 years when 'La Romareda' and 'perfect' feature in the same sentence - for Osasuna to start climbing the table.
2. Celta (16th) - Getafe (13th): 1.
"We should be happy with our four points so far," declared Getafe boss Luis Garcia after the first four matches of the season. Given that they've played against Real Madrid and Barcelona, that sounds fair. But I can't see them defeating Celta in Balaidos. The Celtistas' naivety has cost them five valuable points, but they have played consistently well and know how to get to the opposition's goal. Easy home win.
3. Betis (7th) - Espanyol (19th): 1.
It's great to hear several theoretically proficient La Liga pundits pointing out that fans should keep an eye on Ruben Castro, as though the Betico were a promising youngster just promoted to the first team.
Late bloomer Ruben is 31, has scored 35 goals in eight top flight seasons - 16 of them in 2011-12 - and is closer to becoming a less prolific version of Atletico's Manuel Sanchez, 'Manolo', than to succeed as the next big thing. His recent scoring prowess is beyond doubts, though - at the end of last season and the beginning of this one, in particular, he seems to score even when he wasn't supposed to, like he did last Monday against Valladolid.
Espanyol have had one of those beginnings of the season: they have the second-worst defence in La Liga having conceded 10 goals in four matches, 4,000 socios less than last year, a raft of signings who have not lived up to their billing... and boss Mauricio Pochettino is suspended for the next two matches. Not auspicious.
4. Barcelona (1st) - Granada (18th): 1.
If you, dear reader, duly followed the gambling advice of the last three Quinielas regarding Barcelona, Phil and I probably aren't too high in your popularity rankings. However, please remember that fantastic saying: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." The saying runs out of epithets for that third time, but you and I can always blame Phil, of course.
In any case, no more fooling around. In-shape Barcelona should overcome their shortage of real centre-backs, using their wingers to defeat the lowly Granada, who look like a poor man's version of last season's side... which is what they actually have become with seven likely absentees for Saturday's match and a 19-year-old substitute goalkeeper, Jorge Sanchez, who earns barely a fraction of what his opponents do. Wouldn't it be nice to see him face millionaire Leo Messi as the Argentinean tries to convert from the penalty spot?
5. Mallorca (3rd) - Valencia (11th): X.
If you are wondering for how long Mallorca can keep this up, just remember Levante last year. Actually, that's not a good comparison. Levante were winning matches as convincingly as a 13-man squad can possibly win, while Mallorca have ground out two wins and two draws with just five goals scored, a prodigy in offensive efficiency that shouldn't last long once you take a look at their squad.
Valencia looked tired in their midweek defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, probably because of their tough calendar so far. A single point on the paradisiac island will mark the beginning of their rising, as their next six matches, easier on paper, should bring them closer to the top four.
6. Levante (14th) - Real Sociedad (10th): X.
Speaking of Levante, my bet is that all their midweek European excitement and memorable wins will end up costing them dear this season. The poisoned chalice of a Europa League spot has started to suck the life out of Levante's small squad in La Liga. We've seen this phenomenon in previous seasons, when a humble team had an amazing European experience that impacted negatively on their domestic performances.
The Realistas only need a solid display at the back to leave Valencia with a point, and judging by their last three matches, they can pull that off. They'll have to wait for Xabi Prieto's comeback if they want to be more ambitious away from Anoeta.
7. Atletico de Madrid (5th) - Valladolid (9th): 1.
Having watched Atletico live at the Calderon last Sunday, Valladolid's painful loss at home last Monday and Atleti reserves' Europa league victory in Tel Aviv, this should be a no contest. Atletico's intriguing new starting XI with both Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa will become a handful for teams in the bottom half of the table, as both South Americans play extremely well together on and off the ball.
Valladolid's goalie Jaime gave us an excellent example of how inexperience fatally brings bad luck last Monday. He'll have plenty of chances to get the ball from the net on Saturday, and this time he won't be the one to blame.
8. Athletic de Bilbao (15th) - Malaga (2nd): X.
Both were pretenders last season, and suffered mightily during the summer due to both management and squad issues. However, Manuel Pellegrini has been able to get an amazing performance from his renovated Malaga in the first month of the season, while Marcelo Bielsa has struggled to keep the team focused despite the fact that only one player, Javi Martinez, actually left the club.
The most telling stat when you analyse the Bilbainos' performance so far: they have the league's most porous defence with 12 goals shipped so far. It sounds preposterous to say that Martinez's exit is responsible for this, but something's just not right with Athletic, as we saw again on Thursday night. This scribe struggles to believe it will be fixed against Malaga.
9. Rayo Vallecano (6th) - Real Madrid (12th): X.
Yes, yes, I know: Real Madrid defeated Manchester City, suddenly Jose does have a team and Michael Essien looks like a great addition. However, this is La Liga and the Merengues haven't looked good for more than 20 minutes since the season started. Add the Sergio Ramos affair, bound to generate a few more Marca covers before Christmas, and the Fatal Distraction Syndrome should strike the Madridistas on Sunday.
Vallecas, short and narrow, is hardly the best pitch to get back on track, especially with Rayo on a great run - including their memorable 4-3 defeat at the Calderon. Andrija Delibasic's statements on Wednesday - "Even if Real Madrid play with seven or eight players, it wouldn't be an easy match" - showed that the Rayistas have the right attitude. A draw will get most of the Madrid media back on Mou's case.
10. Deportivo de La Coruna (8th) - Sevilla (4th): X.
Monday's match brings us what used to be a classic between two up and comers. Even though Depor and Sevilla have both started off the season well, one can't help but feel a tiny bit of nostalgia of the early noughties, when this clash would have meant a full house, great tactical movements and a collection of top players on both sides.
Reality isn't as beautiful as our memories, as it often is the case, but we'll make do with what La Liga brings us. In this case the visitors look more accomplished, but something tells me that the tough Deportivo, with Carlos Marchena leading the back four, won't give all three points away.
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. Zaragoza (17th) - Osasuna (20th):
2. Celta (16th) - Getafe (13th):
3. Betis (7th) - Espanol (19th):
4. Barcelona (1st) - Granada (18th):
5. Mallorca (3rd) - Valencia (11th):
6. Levante (14th) - Real Sociedad (10th):
7. Atlético de Madrid (5th) - Valladolid (9th):
8. Athletic de Bilbao (15th) - Malaga (2nd):
9. Rayo Vallecano (6th) - Real Madrid (12th):
10. Deportivo de La Coruna (8th) - Sevilla (4th):
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 15/40 (37%)