Due to a quick trip to Tokyo on top-secret matters of the State, on Sunday night I will be at 33,000 feet, probably asleep, and thus unable to fulfil my usual obligations. Besides, it’s time I had a go at the quiniela and we need to let Eduardo loose on the round-up, so hey – a change is as good as a rest.
What’s the overall picture this week? Well obviously, the crisis in Madrid (I refer to the elimination of both their more famous sides) and the usual syndrome here of focusing on the vanquished (Real Madrid) as opposed to praising and analysing the vanquisher (Leganés). But that’s the way it goes. The bigger they come, the harder they fall, as the saying goes, so it’s news. I always prefer the other saying, drawled by the immortal John Wayne in some cowboy movie or other to a young upstart, to the tune of, ‘Big mouth don’t make a big man’. It sometimes behoves the giants to just be humble and praise the winner, but the media won’t allow that, of course. As a result, the alternative quinielas are now speculating on Zidane’s successor, but news of his death may be premature.
Whatever, the big game below is clearly Number 3 (more on that in a moment), and the Basque derby on Friday night, which should be a cracker – with or without Aymeric Laporte (seemingly on his way to Man City).
As Eduardo tends to say, with touching English politeness; ‘Shall we?’ And remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Athletic (12th) vs Eibar (8th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
Athletic have gone nine games undefeated, although too many draws (6/9) have prevented them from a dizzy climb. Still, it represents progress, but the news that their star centre-back Laporte is on his way to the Pep Farm has convulsed the place somewhat, with coach Cuco Ziganda caught off guard yesterday and the club emitting some odd noises. And all this after the (possibly) welcome news that goalie Kepa is staying after all (if the fans are nice to him – remember Fernando Llorente).
Eibar have taken more points from the last nine (21/9), and have reinforced well with Diop and Orellana. I think it will be a draw. Athletic are all nervy and nauseous, but Eibar might freeze slightly. They haven’t been quite so convincing in recent weeks.
- Deportivo (18th) vs Levante (17th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
The Galicians got bashed and bruised last week in the Bernabow (7-1) but that won’t necessarily carry over to this game. The coach has temporarily suspended Çolak for indiscipline, but useful new signings Bóveda and Koval might make their debuts. Their single point from the last 15 means that they simply have to win this one. Levante, with a major injury-list and a sagging morale (2 points from the last 15) might just enable them to do it. Home win.
- Valencia (3rd) vs Real Madrid (4th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
It’s the big one! Zidane, with his tail firmly between his legs, has gone for the ‘It’s all my fault’ method of deflecting further criticism, but it’s not quite working. It’s been said before, but nobody necessarily survives the demands of this strange but fascinating club. Zidane is a big name, but bigger ones have fallen before him. He knows this, and has said that his career depends on the PSG result. Maybe – but if Valencia stuff them, you never know. Morale at the club is very low, and certain players, such as Isco, are not happy bears. You can see Valencia taking advantage of all this, despite their unexpected setback last weekend at Getafe. They’re a bit unpredictable, but they’re still third – massively motivated to stay ahead of their opponents on Saturday, especially after having been drawn against Barcelona in the cup semis. Home win.
- Málaga (20th) vs Girona (10th): 2. (Sat- 18:30)
Well, Michel’s gone (turning up soon as a commentator on a TV station near you), and one might be tempted to say that the revival has already begun with last week’s draw at Eibar, but to be honest, they still look pretty ghastly. Their prodigal son Samu Garcia is back, but Girona are turning into tough opponents – the new Atlético of La Liga, at least as far as rough-and-tumble play is concerned. They leave no prisoners, are focused, and have plenty of talent too. Pons, Portu and Maffeo are really good players. I think it’s an away win.
- Villarreal (5th) vs Real Sociedad (15th): x. (Sat- 20:45)
Real Sociedad are really dire at the moment, playing nice pretty football but getting nowhere with it. The fans are getting restless and are asking for a Plan ‘B’, because the squad is a good one. Villarreal doesn’t look like the place to start the revival, but you never know. Sociedad play better against sides who try to knock it around themselves, and Eusebio knows he can’t afford another big defeat. I think it might be a scoring draw. The visitors concede a lot, but Villarreal have drawn two and lost two at home so far this campaign. I’ll go for a draw, with my head and a bit of my heart…
- Leganés (13th) vs Espanyol (14th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
The team of the moment, at least in the eyes of those who fail to see the universe in white-coloured hues. One is tempted to peddle the old cliché that Leganés’ midweek efforts might count against them on Sunday, but of course Espanyol were also playing in the cup, and will have had 24 hours less rest by the time they reach the outskirts of Madrid for this one. They were knocked out of the cup by their noisy neighbours, of course.
I can’t quite make my mind up about Espanyol this season. Doctor House (aka Quique Sánchez Flores) stalks the touchline with deep-looking ideas behind his eyes, but I’m sure he’s actually dreaming about a return to the Premier League. They’ve only lost one in the last five (last week at home to Sevilla) but I reckon they’re on the slippery slope. And Leganés are on a high. Home win.
- Atlético Madrid (2nd) vs Las Palmas (19th): x. (Sun – 16:15)
It looks like a home banker….but. If you want to make any money from the betting game, this would be the one to look at. Atlético are having a mini-crisis, are out of the King’s Cup and the Champions League, and can’t quite seem to get their forwards functioning on all cylinders, despite the welcome re-appearance of Diego Costa. They blew it at home to Girona last week, the same weekend when Las Palmas finally won. In terms of a possible shock result, I’m going to stick my neck out, but only as far as a draw.
- Sevilla (6th) vs Getafe (9th): x. (Sun – 18:30)
Sevilla are another of the various enigmas this season, unsure of how they want to play or of whom they want playing for them, but they’re still a potent force with the wind at their backs – as witnessed in their cup win over Atlético. However, Getafe are nobody’s fools, and have only lost 3 in their last 10. I’ll go for a draw.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Alavés (16th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
There’s something disturbingly irrepressible about Barça at the moment. I was just thinking as such on Thursday night when Iniesta was substituted by Coutinho. I think the rest of La Liga just put its collective head in its hands at that precise moment. And for all Alaves’ recent form, improvement, and tendency to do okay at the Camp Nou, I’m afraid I can’t see beyond a home win.
- Celta (7th) vs Betis (11th): 1. (Mon-21:00)
Celta are kind of weird. Any team with Wass and Aspas should be higher, or with more points in the bag, but there’s something a bit fragile about them this season. They were a bit lucky to get the three points at Anoeta last weekend, and Betis can surprise anyone. Nonetheless, I’ll plump for a home win. Should be an attractive match though – both sides believe in the beautiful game and are free to enjoy themselves on the park, courtesy of their respective coaches.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 69/149 (45%)
- Athletic (12th) vs Eibar (8th):
- Deportivo (18th) vs Levante (17th):
- Valencia (3rd) vs Real Madrid (4th):
- Málaga (20th) vs Girona (10th):
- Villarreal (5th) vs Real Sociedad (15th):
- Leganés (13th) vs Espanyol (14th):
- Atlético Madrid (2nd) vs Las Palmas (19th):
- Sevilla (6th) vs Getafe (9th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Alavés (16th):
- Celta (7th) vs Betis (11th):