Every major – and probably minor – city in Spain has its own party week. Based on similar excuses, such as its patron saint or the anniversary of its foundation, mayors spend tons of cash to organise huge celebrations. Working becomes impossible, with the main streets packed with locals and visitors, and the beer flowing like wine.
Hard-working cities, such as San Sebastian, enjoy their party week in August, when everyone is on holiday anyway. Other (smarter?) cities decide to gain an extra week off by having their party week in a completely random moment of the year, away from Christmas or the summer.
This is the case of Valencia. It’s the Fallas week, with its burned puppets, its firecrackers and the real paella (not the Jamie Oliver sausaged version), and that will have an impact on no less than three La Liga matches this weekend.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Levante (17th) vs Eibar (9th): 2. (Fri, 21:00)
Yes, I know Levante won at Getafe last weekend, a win that this humble scribe must have been the only one in the country to predict. However, they are still absolutely awful. They should have lost 3-1, and did not show any qualities to make me believe that the good result can be repeated in the following matches.
A few extra pieces of info to make up your mind if you still have doubts: a) Levante have not won at home in six months (yes, you read that right); b) It’s Fallas week in Valencia (take a look at match #3 for further info on the topic); c) Charles starts for Eibar.
Walk in the park for the visitors.
- Deportivo de La Coruña (19th) vs UD Las Palmas (18th): 2. (Sat, 13:00)
Last week I read someone on twitter say that he’d rather watch Swansea vs Stoke than Depor vs Las Palmas. Well, I would not change this Depor vs Las Palmas for a Manchester derby. Huge doses of Morbo that not even a Pep vs Jose would provide me with, plenty of relegation drama about which Manchester teams have long forgotten, the nice Depor stadium by the sea…
Even to a greater extent than most of my Quiniela predictions, this one goes directly from my gut. Since Clarence Seedorf took over Depor, I haven’t seen anything that makes me feel he knows what he’s doing. Of course, he was not familiar with the team nor the tournament when he arrived, and is obviously testing stuff. Las Palmas’ coach Paco Jemez also joined the team well into the season, but has coached in La Liga for a few years, knows well most of his players and the opponents, and his team have shown some sparks of collective play and a lot more determination than Depor.
That said, Jemez looks anxious of late and the atmosphere in Las Palmas is still far from good, but I do believe that the visitors will win this one and leave Depor in deep, deep trouble.
- Valencia (4th) vs Alavés (16th): 2. (Sat, 16:15)
How can coach Didier Deschamps leave Geoffrey Kondogbia out of his French squad? Is Adrien Rabiot, who looks like a modernist poet of the early 20th century, playing better this season? Or (gasp) Paul Pogba? Kondogbia is one of the main reasons for Valencia’s success since he joined the team, and one can’t think of a reason not to have him covering the back of Antoine Griezmann & co in Russia.
Yet I digress. This match may well look like a clear home victory for many casual La Liga fans, but here’s the key piece of info you might be missing. It’s called “Fallas”, mentioned in the opening paragraph of this column, and one of the biggest party weeks in Spain. They officially last from the 15th to the 19th of March this year, but the fact is that all of Valencia have been partying like crazy since last weekend. Valencia players have traditionally enjoyed the Fallas as much as anyone else, and their hangoverish performances during the week have been well below average.
Previous Valencia coaches have decided to take the team out of the city for the weekend, so that they can avoid the noise and the distraction. It seems fair to mention that the Fallas features, among other things, the noisiest firecrackers on earth (go to min 2:10 of this video) FOR AT LEAST TEN CONSECUTIVE DAYS AND NIGHTS. However, Marcelino García Toral believes he knows better, and has decided to treat this as a normal week.
It’s the perfect chance for Alaves’ coach Abelardo to earn a famous win and thus guarantee his contract extension. His players will make the effort, as he indeed deserves.
- Real Sociedad (14th) vs Getafe (11th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Just when it looked as though coach Eusebio was bound to be fired sooner rather than later, his team won three in a row at home, buying his coach some extra time. In fact, the most likely outcome is still for Eusebio to leave in the summer. It’s a pity, as he had this squad playing superb football during long spells of last season and the first few matches of the current one. However, he has not been able to give his players that level of toughness required to compete with consistency at the top level, so it’s no wonder that club management is already looking for a replacement.
Getafe could not care less about the rest of the season, which makes them an extremely dangerous team to bet for or against. You never know what they can do: they could – and did – lose at home to lowly Levante, or they could win away in San Sebastian. However, all one hears about Getafe is gossip about their coach or transfer rumours. Hard to win many more matches immersed in that atmosphere.
- Betis (8th) vs Espanyol (13th): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
Are Betis for real? A season full of ups and downs, packed with fantastic wins and humiliating defeats, could finally deliver real happiness for the hosts if they can put together a few more victories. Only four points behind the top six, looking composed and organised of late, they need to milk Loren Moron’s amazing form. The 24-year-old has scored five times with just eight shots on goal, which shows he can strike the ball as well as the very best. Off the pitch, Betis keep working to reinforce the team for next season. Espanyol’s reserve keeper Pau Lopez and Eibar’s Japanese star Inui have already agreed to join the Verdiblancos in the summer.
Espanyol have not lost in their last seven matches, but lack that bit of extra talent required to seriously consider a top six finish. My bet is that they’ll let themselves go until the end of the season, but there’s a chance that their extremely gifted forward Gerard Moreno decides to lead the team for a late run, trying to convince Spanish national team’s coach Julen Lopetegui that he deserves a call for the Russian summer extravaganza due to start in June. It’d be great to watch, but one still thinks that the kid, good as he is, can’t do all that by himself.
- Leganes (15th) vs Sevilla (5th): 1. (Sun – 12:00)
This looks like the archetypal let-down match for Sevilla. An epic night at the Theatre of Dreams, in which the 30 minute-cameo of Wissam Ben Yedder made the difference, will indeed generate a hangover effect. By the way, the French striker cost Sevilla €9 million in July 2016. With the current inflation in the Premier League, I am not sure you get a full player for that price.
Sevilla can’t sleep at the wheel, as Girona and especially rivals Betis look at their 5th position with greed. However, it’s hard to disconnect from such a fantastic and tiring night, make the trip to Leganes’ tiny unglamorous pitch and face the Pepineros with the same motivation. The locals have lost plenty of their intensity since the beginning of the year, but can still grind out three points against an absent, dreamy rival.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Athletic de Bilbao (12th): 1. (Sun – 16:15)
Both Barcelona and Lionel Messi continue in the simple, effective path that Ernesto Valverde defined at the beginning of the season. The team puts in lots of work, an extremely consistent defence and plenty of help for his lead guitar. Messi adds those almost expected flashes of brilliance that would kill any team. The midweek win over Chelsea was a perfect example: the English side fought every ball with intensity and even had their openings, but that effort was met punch by punch by Barcelona’s tough display – an underrated feature of this team, more physical than most recent Barcelona sides – and Messi’s uncanny ability to make a stunning play look almost routine. The fact that Valverde threw the still inconsistent, but indeed talented Dembele (according to him, a Ferrari under construction) into the mix, while the CL-tied Philippe Coutinho watched from the stands shows how deep this squad has become.
That said, Valverde has rotated his team a lot less than previous Barcelona managers. Last weekend against bottom-of-the-table Malaga, the diminutive gaffer from Extremadura fielded mostly his A side, therefore I see no reason for him to change his approach against Athletic de Bilbao.
The visitors, fresh off elimination in the Europa League, seem to be pondering a change of coach in the offseason. The name of Thomas Tuchel has been mentioned which would be a huge hit for the Basques. Even though Valverde managed to get decent results out of a short squad, Athletic’s bar must be raised in terms of quality and focus of their players, and Tuchel would do just that.
- Villarreal (6th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 2. (Sun – 18:30)
Before the end of the season, Atleti must play two matches that could decide the intensity of their challenge for the title. This is the first one, and then they’ll have to visit the Santiago Bernabeu on the 8th of April. Winning both would probably mean that Barcelona will feel some slight pressure, as the Azulgrana also have to deal with the upcoming quarterfinals of the Champions League and its usual effect on players’ focus and stamina. If Atleti lose on Sunday or at the Santiago Bernabeu, the challenge will be over. They face Villarreal after a long, successful trip to Russia, so it’s uncertain how fit they will be.
Not that the hosts look as threatening as they did when they won at the Bernabeu two months ago either. They’ve lost punch and flair, their game disappointing even when they win over subpar opposition.
The problem is that they will have to face the top-five in full from now until the end of La Liga, which makes the hopes of retaining that sixth spot very, very slim unless they recover they swagger. On top of that, Villarreal is only 35 miles away from Valencia, and there’s a good chance that a few players will check how things are in the capital during the week.
The good news for Villarreal is that Roberto Soriano and Nico Sansone are back in the line-up, and the duo, together with Fornals, should freshen up the squad. Very interesting, tactical match for your Sunday afternoon, but again I’ll go for the Fallas factor.
- Celta (10th) vs Málaga (20th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
This is one of those matches that make me doubt when they happen in the last 10 weeks of the season. Team in mid-table playing for nothing hosts desperate club in the relegation zone. If we judge by Celta’s theoretically solid squad and Malaga’s hopeless performances, this looks like the most evident “1” of the weekend. But football and its mysterious ways sometimes surprise us, such as last week’s Getafe – Levante. In any case, it seems suicidal not to go for a home win.
Celta’s coach Unzue has tinkered quite a lot with his team in the last few matches, leaving the good keeper Sergio Alvarez, the unpredictable midfielder Jozabed and the irritating, but talented winger Pione Sisto on the bench, and trusting other players. The only tangible effect of these changes is that Celta have become a bit more consistent at home. Iago Aspas will score on Sunday, no doubt.
The visitors lead La Liga in three categories: least goals scored (16 in 28 matches), most scoreless matches (17!) most red cards (eight). Their season is an ode to life and football.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Girona (7th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
Zinedine Zidane’s team will take this one quite seriously. First, Girona defeated them in their first meeting ever at the end of October. Second, meritocracy has returned to Real Madrid’s dressing room, so those who start will feel the pressure to perform on Sunday evening. Third, Cristiano will start and we’ve seen that he wants to have a shot at the Pichichi (top scorer title). Girona are a fantastic team and all, but this is going to be a merciless display by the hosts.
Last week: 5/10 (50%).
Season: 99/210 (47%)
- Levante (17th) vs Eibar (9th):
- Deportivo de La Coruña (19th) vs UD Las Palmas (18th):
- Valencia (4th) vs Alavés (16th):
- Real Sociedad (14th) vs Getafe (11th):
- Betis (8th) vs Espanyol (13th):
- Leganes (15th) vs Sevilla (5th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Athletic de Bilbao (12th):
- Villarreal (6th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Celta (10th) vs Málaga (20th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Girona (7th):