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Friday, April 12, 2013
Race for Europe heats up

Rob Train

Five out of 10 huh? A sterling start. It all began to fall apart around the time that Mallorca did at Camp Nou and Sevilla did me no favours in picking up a late win against Athletic; although admittedly that's no mammoth task this season. April showers in Spain have given way to something approaching sunshine and several sides have a chance this weekend to put some of the yellow stuff between them and relegation to the long, black night of Segunda. There'll be little change in the glamour spots in a soft week for the top three but Betis could take a huge step toward Europe in the Seville derby. Revenge is a dish best served cold - and nowhere is that more true than in a Seville tapas bar if you're wearing the wrong shirt. Well, let's start. Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. Betis (4) - Sevilla (10): 1 I have always believed the most logical result in a derby fixture is a draw. This is largely based on scooping a decent haul from a coupon in the heady days of the mid-1990s, a time of epic duels in British history: Blur vs Oasis; New Labour vs the Tories; and Dundee vs Dundee United. A 3-3 classic in the barren north sealed the deal and has tempered my attitude to derbies ever since. However, the Seville derby is a different matter entirely. It's hot in Andalusia pretty much all year round and tempers flare as often as feet stamp and hands clap in musical appreciation. The police and residents living near the Benito Vallamarin will certainly hope that honours are shared but I fancy goals in this one, and for them to be shared out more evenly than in Sevilla's 5-1 destruction of Betis earlier in the season. Michel was hailed as a genius for that one, but promptly found out as anything but, paving the way for Unai Emery to rock up at Sevilla with his Powerpoint presentations. Pepe Mel's crew is fourth, on an excellent run and has been defying expectations for some time. Emery needs time to instil his methods in his players, much like Brendan Rodgers or Paul Lambert. Both Ruben Castro and Alvaro Negredo lead the scoring chart for the Zarra Trophy for top Spanish scorer in the league and both have wet their whistle in the derby before and both were on target last weekend It'll be tighter than an Andalusian when a bar tab needs paying, but Betis should edge this. Valladolid (14) - Getafe (8): 1 Maybe the pick of games to avoid like the Spanish tax agency this week has been shunted in the siesta slot on Saturday afternoon. Probably just as well. Between them the sides have mustered five goals combined in their past four matches, with Getafe drawing blanks in three games sans goals. I can't see a deluge of net-rippling in Valladolid this weekend either but fancy big Manucho to make the difference in a cheeky 1-0 win for the home side. Levante (11) - Deportivo (18): 2 It's all the threes in the Ciutat de Valencia this weekend: Deportivo have won their last three matches and have beaten Levante in each of the last three meetings between the sides. In their last three games, Depor have scored three and the Galician club has hauled itself up from the basement spot to the dizzy heights of third-from-bottom. Levante have managed just three goals in their last five outings and are in a mid-table funk with little hope of another European soiree, but they are in no danger of being relegated either. Depor's momentum is all the more remarkable because unlike other teams in the division they don't rely on just one scorer. In their last three outings, goals have come from all areas of the squad, with even Carlos Marchena banging in a couple. Levante, without top scorer Obafemi Martins, who moved to Seattle a month ago, are struggling and, despite the emergence of Ruben Garcia as something of a diamond, I don't fancy them to get much out of a fellow coastal club who desperately need another Primera season to shore up their finances. Espanyol (12) - Valencia (5): 1 Like so many Liga clubs, Valencia are, to put it mildly, financially screwed. Years of mismanagement, delusions of grandeur that have been redundant for a decade and financing deals involving insolvent banks and a regional government mired in corruption scandals have taken their toll. That Valencia manage to stay in the division at all is a miracle. That they manage to regularly secure Champions League football is more an indictment of the state of La Liga - a big plus on Unai Emery's CV and the judicious work of its scouting network. One of its finest acquisitions, the Duracell midfielder Ever Banega, summed up the situation this week: "We know in the summer that we'll all have to listen to offers. If we don't get into the Champions League we know it will be very difficult financially for the club." Quite. The man who has kept Valencia afloat for the past four years, Manuel Llorente, stalked from Mestalla this week after a difference of opinion with the major shareholders - although the club essentially belongs to me and the rest of Spain's taxpayers after being taken over by a bank bailed out with funds from Europe to prop up the national economy. It's hardly the setting for a harmonious run-in - especially if players aren't getting paid, all-too-common in Spain - and with Espanyol nicely stabilised under Javier Aguirre, playing some decent football and on a run that has included two away wins and a point at home against rampant Real Sociedad, a repeat of last year's hiding at Cornella beckons for Los Che. Malaga (5) - Osasuna (15): 1 The FIFA virus - where teams stuffed full of internationals suffer when domestic action resumes - has a slightly less virulent strain: the UEFA flu. Malaga were rightly aggrieved after being knocked out by Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday and could be forgiven for retiring to bed with a bottle of Lucozade, 20 ibuprofen and a very, very foul mood. However, Osasuna are dreadful away from Navarre, can't buy a goal and have won just three of 14 on the road this season. Someone, somewhere is going to suffer at the hands of Malaga, which cannot, as much as it would like, wrap them around midweek referee Craig Thomson. That someone is Osasuna, and this is going to get ugly fast for Jose Luis Mendilibar's side. Rayo (9) - Real Sociedad (4): 1 Real Sociedad are unbeaten in ten and flying high in fourth. Rayo are in good shape as well in ninth, despite four losses in their last seven outings (two of which were against Real and Barcelona). Both clubs have sorted out their finances - Rayo turned a Michu-shaped profit in the financial year and La Real became the first club in Spain to successfully emerge from receivership in January. Both have some excellent players and for the neutral, this is the game to watch this weekend. In the last five matches between the clubs, Real has hit 17 goals without reply but may have to manage without playmaker Xabi Prieto, top goalscorer Carlos Vela, Antoine Griezmann and midfield orchestrator Asier Illarramendi in Vallecas. Therefore, I boldly predict Rayo will arrest their goalless run against the Basque; and from my experience of living within shouting distance of the stadium that several Rayo fans will be in trouble with the law after tackling the midday kick-off by drinking solidly through Saturday night. Atletico Madrid (3) - Granada (16): 1 I'll keep this one brief as my affiliation is known: Atletico have only dropped four points at the Calderón all season and despite a pair of hardly inspiring draws in its last two games, Granada won't get anything much out of the home side here - 3-0 sounds about right. Zaragoza (17) - Barcelona (1): 2 Last week I boldly predicted that Mallorca might cause a minor upset with Barcelona focused on the looming shape of Paris Saint-Germain and cherished former locker room mediator Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With that score settled, albeit only just through Pedro's timely first European goal of the season, I see little to suggest anything other than a 2 here. Zaragoza held Real a few weeks ago but the reigning champions have been up and down this season like a vindaloo addict in rattlesnake country. In the partial absence of Leo Messi, who may well take a rare night off in Zaragoza to tend his minor niggle, Alexis, Cesc and Pedro have chipped in with goals to keep the league-Europe double very much alive. However, I'm going to stick the old neck on the block here and back David Villa to score at least one in a 2-1 or 3-1 win for the clean sheet-shy champion-elect. Athletic (13) - Real Madrid (2): 2 It pains me to say so, but Athletic have as much chance of getting anything in San Mames on Sunday as Quasimodo in the Next Top Model house. Marcelo Bielsa have, at last count, about 15 first team squad players available for the match and will play an inexperienced back four with the only glimmer of hope in the shape of a forward line containing Fernando Llorente, Markel Susaeta and Iker Muniain. Athletic, though, are a pale shadow of the side that handed Manchester United a footballing lesson over two Europa League legs last season and I fear that Real will run amok here, especially with Cristiano Ronaldo's current scoring streak. Mallorca (19) - Celta (20): X One of these two is going down, on that I would stake my house, if I owned one. As it is I rent, and I can't escape the feeling that one of Mallorca and Celta are also merely itinerant tenants in Spain's top flight. Neither team has shown much guile in recent weeks and time is running out for both as teams in the mix around them start to put together strong runs, or, Deportivo aside, at least the sort of limps that stricken survivors exhibit in the Walking Dead when they're heading for the nearest lockable door. The only door Mallorca and Celta are standing on is of the trap variety and despite a far better recent record I fancy Celta to nick a point in the Ono Estadi, based purely on the fact that they face another six-pointer next week against Zaragoza and a loss here will leave the psychologist the club has hired until the end of the season with a full sofa quota the club can hardly afford for the next seven days. 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. Betis (4) - Sevilla (10):
Valladolid (14) - Getafe (8):
Levante (11) - Deportivo (18):
Espanyol (12) - Valencia (5):
Malaga (5) - Osasuna (15):
Rayo (9) - Real Sociedad (4):
Atletico (3) - Granada (16):
Zaragoza (17) - Barcelona (1):
Athletic (13) - Real Madrid (2):
Mallorca (19) - Celta (20):
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 131/300 (44%)

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