Friday, November 12, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: April 15, 9:49 AM UK
ESPNsoccernet Quiniela - Week 10 - I don't like Mondays
The weeks leading to the hugely anticipated first Clasico of the season have brought us distressing news: the match will be played on the night of November 29: a Monday. The previous Sunday, Catalans are due to vote in the elections to their Parliament (Catalonia's legislative body), and La Liga's governing entity believes that playing the match on that same Sunday would generate 'security issues'.
What a way to spoil El Clasico! Probably the most interesting part of the build-up to such an event lies on the preceding hours, when you spend a whole Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching footage from old games and interviews with former players, arguing endlessly with friends about what may or may not happen, awaiting impatiently for the line-ups to be announced...
Similar to other experiences, preliminaries indeed enhance the final climax. On the bright side, we can blame politics for one more thing now.
Let's start. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Athletic de Bilbao (10th) - Almeria (16th): 1.
Kings of the draw Almeria (three consecutive ties for a grand total of six) travel to the opposite end of the Iberian Peninsula, where Athletic find themselves at a crossroads: they need to decide whether they want to fight for a European competition spot, or prefer to surf in mid-table positions for the rest of the season, focusing their energy on the Copa del Rey.
The physical intensity of the Bilbainos and the usually intimidating San Mames should warrant a local victory, as Almeria have trouble dealing with more direct, English-like squads like Athletic.
2. Atletico de Madrid (8th) - Osasuna (12th): X.
Is Diego Forlan really for sale? If you are to believe Marca (quite a big 'if', mind you), the Uruguayan is being shopped around for a meagre €18 million as we speak. Forlan himself declared this week that "we'd listen to a good offer".
Apparently, the relationship between 'Doctor House' Sanchez Flores and the World Cup's best player deteriorated in the last couple of months, enough for Atletico to be ready to sell one of their icons for 50 cents on the euro. Doctor House denied all this on Thursday, but the whole thing indeed fosters an intriguing atmosphere for visitors Osasuna, who have not won away from Pamplona yet.
Smells like troubled waters over the Manzanares. The quiniela's crystal ball foresees a boring stalemate, seasoned with constant boos from the rojiblanco faithful, who start to get that familiar impression: their friend 'Cris Is' is back.
3. Barcelona (2nd) - Villarreal (3rd): 1.
This match will very likely terminate any expectations of new horses joining La Liga's title race. Even though Villarreal got positive results in their last three visits to the Camp Nou, let me point out a few reasons to tip Barca for an easy win:
a) Villarreal are less than frightening away from home
b) David Villa has finally started to score, a scary realisation for all of Barca's competitors
c) Barcelona have won their last four matches for a combined 12-2 goal aggregate
d) Barcelona can't afford to lose even one point before the upcoming Clasico
On an unrelated note, Andres Iniesta made the outstanding gesture of presenting Espanyol with the T-shirt he wore under his Spain shirt in the World Cup final, which was dedicated to deceased Espanyol player Dani Jarque. Espanyol corresponded by awarding Iniesta with their Gold and Diamonds medal.
Great to have some inspiring behaviour once in a while.
4. Hercules (17th) - Real Sociedad (7th): X.
This season, Hercules encapsulate perfectly why quinielas represent such a challenge for knowledgeable football fans... and the other types of fans as well. The alicantinos have won only two matches so far, although those were impressive, unexpected victories against Barcelona at the Camp Nou and home versus Sevilla.
Hercules have a completely unpredictable squad, suffer a constant string of injuries that never allows you to adequately judge how well they can do, and if that wasn't enough chaos, they also have Royston Drenthe.
Real Sociedad arrive in Alicante, where they've never won, after three consecutive La Liga victories, but have just been eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Almeria. Two away matches in four days are usually a heavy toll for any team, but the donostiarras look good enough to get a point against Hercules.
5. Racing de Santander (14th) - Espanyol (4th): 1.
Assuming you've carefully read the previous line, you probably share my shock. Indeed, Espanyol occupy the fourth position, an almost unreal prize for a team who have scored only nine times in ten matches, with a -4 goal difference so far.
I recognise I might be experiencing some sort of denial, but this can't last long. Even if they play Racing, whom I tipped for relegation at the beginning of the season, and who have just been eliminated from the Copa del Rey in heartbreaking fashion, Espanyol can't keep this up much longer. They just can't. Come on, sing with me! Can't you hear Bob Marley on the background? "You can fool some people sometimes..."
6. Malaga (20th) - Levante (18th): 1.
Poor Manuel Pellegrini. Malaga's brand new coach finds himself at the bottom of the La Liga table, and therefore with the proverbial mountain to climb ahead. His squad's home record, five defeats and 14 goals suffered in five matches, can't get any worse. Okay, it can, but let's look at the bright side of things: Pelle's first rival, Levante, can hardly scare Malaga if the locals intend to turn things around.
The levantinos have lost their last three, including a shocking home defeat against Deportivo. A perfect chance for the Chilean to leave the relegation zone in his first match, putting an end to Malaga's awful home streak.
7. Mallorca (9th) - Deportivo de La Coruna (15th): 1.
And talking about betting against streaks, some may think that Super Depor is back. Three consecutive wins (two in La Liga, one in the Copa del Rey) right after boss Lotina switched to a 5-3-2 formation have brought smiles, and more importantly points, back to La Coruna. Forward Riki has also helped a lot, with four much-needed goals and his tireless movement on both flanks.
It's still not enough to trouble a consistent home side like Mallorca. Even the mallorquinistas B-team are doing well in the cup...
8. Zaragoza (19th) - Sevilla (6th): 2.
Telling text from my friend Luis, a die-hard Zaragoza fan, last Sunday right after Zaragoza finally won their first match of the season with a penalty kick in extra-time: "Three points! Anyway, we are total [place synonym for 'detritus' here]." Sounds like a fair, almost clinical, description of the state of affairs in Manoland. Their midweek Copa del Rey home defeat at the hands of Betis only confirmed what most of us suspected: significant reinforcements are required for this team to stay in Primera Division.
Sevilla erased their ugly Camp Nou display with two consecutive wins, and look like a worthy opponent for Zaragoza. Actually, it's more like Zaragoza don't look like a worthy opponent for Sevilla. A very clear '2'.
9. Sporting de Gijon (13th) - Real Madrid (1st): 2.
"Barca complaining about the refs? That means things are getting back to normal" - the provocative comment of former Real Madrid captain, Manolo Sanchis, when asked about Gerard Pique's view on the last few refereeing jobs the madridistas have enjoyed. The Clasico is getting closer, therefore things will get progressively warmer with every passing day.
Aside from boss Mourinho's peculiar way of motivating his players ("Canales played terribly, exactly the same way he's been training," he told the press after Wednesday's cup tie), the general atmosphere in Madrid is overwhelmingly positive. The squad's impressive run of form, together with the fact that playing at El Molinon is almost like playing at home for the merengues, will make this a walk in the park for Real Madrid.
10. Valencia (5th) - Getafe (11th): X.
After winning one lonely point in their last four matches, Valencia come back to the Mestalla feeling the pressure grow heavy on their shoulders. To make things easier, boss Emery had his umpteenth disciplinary issue with Ever Banega last weekend, and will also miss starting goalkeeper Cesar for the next two weeks.
Getafe can't be proud of their utterly shambolic cup performance, as they weren't unable to beat a Third Division team in two matches, and only made it to the next round on away goals. However, Michel rested a few key players who will be back on Monday to get a point at Mestalla and increase the doubts about this Valencia squad.
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.Athletic de Bilbao (10th) - Almeria (16th): 1.
2.Atletico de Madrid (8th) - Osasuna (12th): X.
3.Barcelona (2nd) - Villarreal (3rd): 1.
4.Hercules (17th) - Real Sociedad (7th): X.
5.Racing de Santander (14th) - Espanyol (4th): 1.
6.Malaga (20th) - Levante (18th): 1.
7.Mallorca (9th) - Deportivo de La Coruna (15th): 1.
8.Zaragoza (19th) - Sevilla (6th): 2.
9.Sporting de Gijon (13th) - Real Madrid (1st): 2.
10.Valencia (5th) - Getafe (11th): X.
Last week: 7/10 (70%)
Season: 47/90 (52%)