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Friday, April 5, 2013
Bottom clubs bank on wins

Rob Train

While the survival of the European monetary union depends largely on the amount of cash flowing about, the Liga end-game for survival is governed by, well, exactly the same thing really. Clubs in dire financial straits are liable to start kicking up a stink against the moneyed gentry at this time of year while they are distracted by events on a continental scale. This week in La Liga may provide a few surprises. While not as unpleasant as finding you have to hand over half your savings to bail out a rancid banking system, there are some teams at the wrong end of the table that need to get the metaphorical bucket out to prevent sinking completely off the footballing chart (see Racing Santander and Hercules for details). Well, let's start. Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. Granada (16) - Betis (7): 2 The graveyard Friday night shift hosts an Andalusia derby in which both sides have wildly differing aspirations. The home side are aiming to arrest a slide of six games without victory that has left them perilously close to the drop zone, while Betis has their sights set slightly higher after dropping out of the European spots - largely because Valencia stuffed the verdiblancos 3-0 at the Mestalla two weeks ago. Granada are painfully goal shy at the moment, having scored three in their last five outings, while Betis put three past Real Sociedad and Malaga during the same period and popped in a brace against miserly Osasuna for good measure. Andalusians like nothing more than for their glasses to be half full, much like Granada's stadium most weekends. The short distance from Seville for some vocal travelling support to cover and the goals of Ruben Castro should suffice for Betis to take local bragging rights. Real Sociedad (4) - Malaga (5): 1 Joaquin is probably the best-liked footballer in Spain and watching the wise-cracking, cheeky winger in the Champions League's latter stages is a true joy. Much like David Ferrer, Joaquin is in sensational form in the twilight of his career, ageing like a fine Jerez. Unfortunately for Malaga's chances in San Sebastian, Joaquin will be rested, as will other key players Isco, Javier Saviola and Jeremy Toulalan with a tantalising chance for European glory beckoning next week. La Real has no such distractions and have only lost twice at home all season. In fact, the txuri-urdin haven't lost since the first week of January, a 4-3 ding-dong in the Bernabeu, and have beaten both Barcelona and Atletico in the meantime. With Real's 3,000th goal up for grabs, I can't see much but a Liga setback for Malaga that they won't care a jot about as, pending appeal, they are banned from Europe next season anyway. Unless, of course, Manuel Pellegrini leads The Anchovies to Champions League glory. Real Madrid (2) - Levante (10): 1 "Not one more goal conceded at home," Jose Mourinho said this week. Levante's European adventure has told on a thin squad (insert own Sergio Ballesteros joke here) and the Valencia club now have a mountain to climb to get back in the reckoning for a continental jaunt next season. Juan Ignacio Martinez congratulated his side on reaching the magical 40-point mark that generally spells survival (although this year, much like the economy, less is more and 30 might well do the trick) but despite Mourinho's obligation to field a 'weakened' team this weekend - which will include Alonso, Ramos, Kaka, Modric, Higuain and Ronaldo - any notion that tally will be added to brings to mind a phrase involving the bat on Levante's shirt and drooling insanity. Deportivo (20) - Zaragoza (17): X Rock bottom Deportivo scored their first away win of the season last weekend and on top of a recent morale-boosting drubbing of neighbors Celta, the theme tune of The Great Escape is sounding loud and clear around the Riazor. A valiant point against a distracted Madrid last weekend should not detract from the fact that Zaragoza are without a league win since before Christmas, and are a side that have let erratic Sevilla knock four past them in two meetings since then. The days of Super Depor are long gone and like many Liga sides, if the Galician club goes down, they will be staying there permanently because of their financial woes (of the combined debt owed to the tax man of Spanish clubs, Depor accounts for about a sixth). Like a cornered hamster, now is the time for Depor to show their teeth are larger than the sum of the parts. Barcelona (1) - Mallorca (19). X "Papa don't take no mess," sang James Brown. Mallorca can afford little of the stuff at this stage and the daddy of Camp Nou, Leo Messi, won't be taking part in this one. The Argentinean goal machine has scored half of Barça's league goals this term and last week completed the full set of hitting the target against every team in the division in 19 consecutive games. With Barcelona also distracted by a more important commitment next week, Gregorio Manzano's vastly improved Mallorca, fighting like Depor for their very survival and without anything to lose at Camp Nou, might just nick a point here. Celta (18) - Rayo (9): 2 Celta was full of vinegar and another substance before their demoralising derby loss to Depor and is now very firmly in the schtuck, three points behind Zaragoza and just one ahead of the Riazor club and Mallorca. Iago Aspas had been out of the form that almost got him a call-up to La Roja before Christmas for some time, and his decision to apply his head to the situation in, by the standards of the sport, quite brutal fashion in a tangle with Carlos Marchena has hardly aided the club's plight. Rayo, whose incredible ability to uncover gems in the rough of southern Madrid, should have too much for Celta to handle in the guises of Piti, Lass and Leo Baptistao. Even the return of the Danish international with the Star Trek surname, Micheal Krohn-Delhi, won't save Celta from being beamed a little closer to Segunda in this one as Rayo eyes the five point gap between them and sixth. Osasuna (15) - Espanyol (12): X A rare away win last week complemented the home form that has traditionally kept Osasuna in the division, while Espanyol has stabilised under Javier Aguirre (at the same time as Southampton, under ousted coach Mauricio Pochettino is flying high in the Premier League) but it's that stage of the season when games like this crop up. Neither side really have much to play for, but the edge here goes to Espanyol and Sergio Garcia. A former Spain international, whenever Espanyol have hit the net recently, Garcia's boot has been involved and the former Barcelona man has his eye on a return to the national fold. Combined with Osasuna's record of the lowest goals scored at home, a sneaky 1-0 away win isn't outrageous. However, Osasuna's fleeting love affair with the back of the net has been revived after a three goal showing last weekend. The last time the Parakeets managed that was last year - against Espanyol. Honours even, then, in Navarre. Getafe (8) - Atletico (3): 2 What seems to prevent Getafe from being the Getafe of old is that nobody - players, fans or coach Luis Garcia - really look like they want to be there. Being sent to Getafe is something akin to the anteroom for purgatory. Even if you get out, like Pedro Leon, you find yourself back where you started. It's amazing then that Getafe are in eighth and within a shout of another European campaign, despite looking less than spectacular all season. The visit of Atletico, whose coach Diego Simeone would rather rip his players' legs off than let them amble around the field for 90 minutes, could be an ugly wake-up call for a side that has been coasting in recent weeks. "To get to Europe we have to win and not lose," noted Garcia in a typically effusive war cry after last week's blank against Betis. Valencia (6) - Valladolid (14): 1 Enjoying something a of a renaissance under Ernesto Valverde, Valencia did what only Real Sociedad had managed before this season and prevented Atletico taking all three points at the Calderon on Sunday. With Roberto Soldado expected back for Los Che, Patrick Ebert doubtful for Valladolid, and his team having shipped seven in their last two games, it's bats, shirts and guano again as Valencia chases fourth spot, which they are currently just two points shy of. Sevilla (11) - Athletic (13): X When former Valencia coach Unai Emery was drafted in at Sevilla, a period of stability beckoned for the former Champions League contestant. It hasn't quite worked out that way, with classy wins punctuated with exasperating defeats in recent weeks. When Athletic started the season, hopes were high of building on last season's swashbuckling successes and taking the Basque club to the next level - maybe even the Champions League. It hasn't quite worked out that way. For much of the season, Athletic has been in more danger of losing its record of being the only team in Spain - no prizes for guessing the other two - never to have tasted the ignominy of Seguna. Fernando Llorente has been a brooding distraction and Marcelo Bielsa almost beat up the foreman at the new Lezema complex in pre-season. Both coaches have their quirks - Emery's being to make his unfortunate players sit through interminable tactical lectures and videos of opposing players. Either way, this has entertaining score draw written all over it with Jesus Navas in sparkling form and diet-Llorente Aritz Aduriz finally reminding himself where the net is last weekend. Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. It's the last chance for someone to get all ten correct, so give it a go. Granada (16) - Betis (7):
Real Sociedad (4) - Malaga (5):
Real Madrid (2) - Levante (10):
Deportivo (20) - Zaragoza (17):
Barcelona (1) - Mallorca (19).
Celta (18) - Rayo (9):
Osasuna (15) - Espanyol (12):
Getafe (8) - Atletico (3):
Valencia (6) - Valladolid (14):
Sevilla (11) - Athletic (13):
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 126/290 (43%)


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