You have to hand it to my partner-in-crime Ed Alvarez, in the sense that there was no stopping his flow over the Easter break, even as he sat contemplating whatever one sits and contemplates on Ipanema beach. On the other hand, I miserably failed to contribute from the wilds of the Highlands and islands of Scotland, which I visited not to gaze on beach things and thongs but rather to take my injured footballer-of-a-son back to Stirling on post-operation crutches, and then drive North to see a bit of the snowy and savage landscape that is still so wonderful up there.
In the wee village of Pitlochry, whose population is roughly equivalent to the number of stewards who will be at the Bernabéu for Sunday afternoon’s ‘derbi’, I watched the Juve v Real Madrid game with a few locals in the Old Mill Inn (good fish and chips, if ever ye pass that way) and was interested by the sudden silence that enveloped the place as Ronaldo’s ‘chilena’ looped and plopped slow-motion into the net. It was one of those ‘did that really happen?’ moments, but whereas I was stunned into momentary silence before exploding into embarrassing noise, the Old Mill Inn’s barflies barely registered a wobble on the Richter Scale. Tough to please, those Scots.
Whatever, all eyes are refocused now on the domestic programme, I’m back from snow in Scotland to 24 degrees (Celsius) this morning in San Sebastián and it’s my fair turn to write the quiniela. And just in case you’re wondering about the title, look at match number 6 (to be explained).
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw (that’s a ‘tie’ for you Americans out there), and ‘2’ for a smash-and-grab raid on someone’s home territory.
- Deportivo (19th) vs Málaga (20th): X (Friday 21.00)
It’s a dog-eat-dog event to kick off the programme, in the Friday night watch-while-I-eat-my-tapas clash. What can I say, but predict a draw? It’s the result that neither of them wants or needs, but that’s why it’ll happen. The Walking Dead from Galicia have now gone 15 games without a win, but of course a victory on Friday night would distance bottom-placed Málaga a little further and cause a possible flurry of feathers above, due to the other desperate struggle between Levante and Las Palmas. These two fixtures, involving the bottom four clubs, are kind of ‘X’ rated in both senses of the phrase, but anyway, you can see how motivated Deportivo will be to win this one. Lucas Pérez, very much their hope for salvation this season, last scored when Deportivo lost to….yes Málaga 3-2 in November’s game down south, and will be hoping to repeat the feat this time around (I mean scoring, not losing).
Málaga, eleven points adrift of safety, will nevertheless view this game as their last-chance saloon of initiating an unlikely ass-saving run. With the mayor of the town in open dispute with the Qatari owners, who themselves have stated that they’d rather not mention relegation just yet (or the fact that they might take their ‘investment’ with them if it happens), things couldn’t get much worse. But it’ll be a draw – mark my words.
- Alavés (16th) vs Getafe (11th) : 1 (Saturday 13.00)
Alavés’ season has lost a little bit of its shine of late, with only one win in six, but they haven’t been playing so badly, save their home defeat to Betis – but even then, one might prefer to praise the splendid form of the victors rather than point the finger at a decline in the Vitoria-based side. They’ve done well after a wobbly start and are unlikely to lose their top-flight status this season, something widely predicted in the pre-season runes. Getafe, on the other hand, seem to have moved into a period of inconsistency with Markel Bergara’s injury, and apart from their win at Real Sociedad recently they don’t travel well. It looks like a draw, but I think Alavés will just scrape it. I like the look of that Munir, Sobrino and Guidetti forward line. Home win.
- Celta (9th) vs Sevilla (7th): 1 (Saturday 16.15)
This is the game between the two sides who have been the weirdest this season for a variety of reasons, but mainly because of a lack of real definition in playing policy as opposed to the quality massing in both of their ranks. Sevilla are now in danger of finishing outside the top 7, with Girona bubbling beneath them, and with the prospect of elimination from the Champs League fairly probable after their midweek home defeat to Bayern, it’s hard to see Sevilla really going for it at Celta, especially with a visit to Germany on Wednesday a difficult but not impossible prospect – a sort of Damocles situation if you like where ‘the onset of tragedy is restrained only by a delicate trigger or chance’ (thanks Wikipedia). Incidentally, how come Sevilla are 7th with a minus 7 goal difference? See what I mean by ‘weird’?
When you see Iago Aspas play for Spain you also wonder why Celta aren’t doing better this season, although it hasn’t been a tragic season by any means – just a bit disappointing. Dani Wass, their best player after Aspas, was a little ambiguous about his playing for Celta next season, which is also bad news for the club. One win in the last five needs to be improved upon, but despite everything, this looks like the game to do it. Home win.
- Betis (6th) vs Eibar (10th): 1 (Saturday 18.30)
If I were allowed, I’d bet 1/X for this one, simply because the euphoria floating around Betis currently is of the type that can be severely restrained by the visit of a side like Eibar. Don’t count your chickens – Eibar are coming. It could be a new refrain for the Spanish language. Whatever, Musho Beti, everyone’s favourite second side apart from Sevilla’s, have won their last three and have moved into an unlikely Europa League place – I say ‘unlikely’ simply on the basis of their interesting defensive record this season – the 3rd worst in the league after Depor and Las Palmas. But they can score too! Along with Real Sociedad they’ve experienced 103 goals in their 30 games this season, which is an impressive, and let it be said, most entertaining average.
Their opponents on Saturday evening have slowed down a little, and the continued speculation about coach Mendilibar’s future has put some doubts into some of the squad’s decisions regarding their own contract renewals. Indeed, Takashi Inui has already pledged his future to Betis (should be interesting to see how he plays on Saturday), Dani Garcia looks destined to leave along with Capa, and the clouds seem to be gathering. One of the players, visiting my injured son a few weeks back at my house, told me that Mendilibar – caught between Real Sociedad and Athletic, was more of a Sociedad ‘fan’, but that he couldn’t see his more direct and less cerebral style fitting in at Anoeta. He may be right. Whatever, I reckon they’ll put up stiff resistance but won’t manage to stop the current Betis surge. Narrow home win.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Leganés (14th) (Saturday 20.45)
Ed Alvarez was brave enough to predict a non-win for Barça last weekend, but I’m not made of such mettle. Despite the minor distraction of a trip to Rome, you’d have to predict a win for Barcelona’s second team for this one. Leganés have had their moments this season, but with safety assured they seem to have lost some of their spark (two wins from their last eight games), despite their recent toppling of Sevilla. On the other hand, undefeated Barça just march on, and on….
Erm, home win, with Messi on the bench and Dembélé on from the start. It ain’t rocket science. And should Barcelona do as predicted, they will equal Real Sociedad’s all-time record of 38 games undefeated.
- Levante (17th) vs Las Palmas (18th): X (Sunday 12.00)
As in Scotland, where the famous East Fife 4, Forfar 5 scoreline is guaranteed to raise giggles from every language-sensitive schoolkid who inhabits the playground, this fixture in Spain is also a classic of its kind. The title header for this week’s article now becomes clearer, as ‘Levante las palmas’ translates as the subjunctive imperative ‘Put up your hands’, or at least the ‘palms’ of your hands, which you tend to do anyway when ordered by a police officer.
It only comes around every few decades or so, and given Las Palmas’ general form, will probably not be a top-flight fixture next season. In Palmas it’s being talked about as the ‘Gran Final(e)’, but you get the feeling that Levante will be happy enough to park the bus and try to hit on the break, but will be happy enough with a draw, thus retaining the 7-point distance between the clubs. That’s my view too. All square, like that other game just below them on Friday night.
- R Madrid (3rd) vs A Madrid (2nd ): X (Sunday 16.15)
It’s the big ‘un, but you get the distinct feeling that it won’t be a great game, sandwiched as it is between Real Madrid’s Juve adventure and Atlético’s Europa League wanderings. Both sides did rather well in the opening legs of their respective European ties, which was good for morale but which will be unlikely to affect the outcome of this game. Atlético remain stubborn at the back, despite the shock-horror of conceding twice at Villarreal two games ago and will be conscious of the need to preserve their four-point lead over their neighbours, who blew the chance to get closer by losing on that fateful night at Espanyol. CR7’s on fire, and by all accounts has the biology of a 23 year-old, according to a recent medical report. That’s good to know, since we more often dwell on the mental ages of players – something that medical reports fortunately tend to avoid, but anyway, we’re all happy for Cristiano. Long may he prosper and continue to treat us to bicycle-kicks.
Do you really want an insightful prediction? Filipe and Gimenez’ absences notwithstanding, they’ll still keep the blancos out. You just know it’s going to be a draw too. Oh, and Gareth Bale will start, but return to the bench against Juventus. He’s (Welsh) history.
- Real Sociedad (15th) vs Girona (8th): 2 (Sunday 18.30)
This will be my second live sighting of Girona this season (I saw their opening game) and they’ve proved me right after the solid impression they left after that fantastic night at home to Atlético. The one problem with the kind of season they’re having is that once they’d exceeded all expectations and looked as if they were going to make it to Europe, the slight slowdown in their results begins to look like failure, albeit a relative one of course. Girona have 5 wins in the last 10, which is much better than their host’s recent form, but the better sides they’ve come up against recently have rather exposed their defensive set-up (6-3 at Madrid and 6-1 at Barcelona) but that’s not necessarily a crime. This one’s hard to predict because of Sociedad’s consistent inconsistency, but the general depressing air around the Anoeta scene points to yet another disappointment, especially with Illarramendi suspended. Girona are everything that Sociedad are not this season. Away win.
- Valencia (4th) vs Espanyol (13th): 1 (Sunday 20.45)
You can’t really see Valencia blowing it now. I’ve liked them this season, for the first time in ages. Their high-tempo attractive play is winning them back friends, many of whom deserted them in the long and annoying hours of their exile from reality. Now they just need to keep the squad together. Espanyol seem to be winding down the season as draw-bore specialists, with the occasional fit of inspiration leading them to a giant-killing. Beyond that, they’re not very interesting. Home win.
- Villarreal (5th) vs Athletic (12th): (Monday 21.00)
Despite the Monday slot, this could be a game worth the watching, if only because Villarreal cannot be trusted on the quiniela these days. However, with Betis and Sevilla only a point behind, and Girona not a million miles away, they need to win this to stay on top of the group of Europa League aspirants. Athletic have improved a little of late, but are now busy re-building for next term, probably with a new coach too. Their minds are not very focused at the moment, although the return of Iker Muniain should cheer them a little. Home win.
Last week: 6/10 (60%).
Season: 109/230 (47%)
- Deportivo (19th) vs Málaga (20th): (Friday 21.00)
- Alavés (16th) vs Getafe (11th) : (Saturday 13.00)
- Celta (9th) vs Sevilla (7th): (Saturday 16.15)
- Betis (6th vs Eibar (10th): (Saturday 18.30)
- Barcelona (1st) vs Leganés (14th) (Saturday 20.45)
- Levante (17th) vs Las Palmas (18th): (Sunday 12.00)
- R Madrid (3rd) vs A Madrid (2nd ): (Sunday 16.15)
- Real Sociedad (15th) vs Girona (8th): (Sunday 18.30)
- Valencia (4th) vs Espanyol (13th): (Sunday 20.45)
- Villarreal (5th) vs Athletic (12th): (Monday 21.00)