Strange set of fixtures this weekend, influenced by the Copa del Rey final on Saturday evening. Barcelona and Sevilla will play for the cup title at the Wanda, while the remaining teams try to get on with their lives in La Liga.
In this edition of the Quiniela, we’ll take a look at the eight La Liga matches to be played this weekend, and we’ll also analyse the, at least on paper, easy to predict Copa del Rey final.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Leganes (14th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th): 2. (Fri, 21:00)
Clarence Seedorf finally found the right line-up for Deportivo, although it might be a bit too late for the Deportivistas. Two wins and a draw in their last three, with plenty of chances to have win their last encounter against Sevilla, tell a story of a team that has revived at the least likely moment of the season.
Surprisingly enough, Seedorf has realised that his squad plays better when Florin Andone sits on the bench. The talented, but controversial forward does not mix well with Adrian Lopez and Lucas Perez, and even though the latter still can’t score to save his – and his team’s – life, their offensive flow has improved enormously.
The big question is will Depor keep it up after Levante’s victory last weekend? After the Levantinistas got that win over Malaga, Depor find themselves seven points behind in the standings, occupying the first relegation spot. With fifteen points left, they do need a miracle, but they can start with a win against the idle Leganes, who are at this point playing on the house’s money after a season that’s been a lot calmer than they thought.
- Eibar (12th) vs Getafe (9th): 2. (Sat, 13:00)
Both teams have done their homework, avoiding the relegation battle and even entertaining some hopes of European football next season at some moments of the year. In fact, Getafe do still have some slim chances of making it to Europe next season, but they’d need to win at Eibar to put some pressure on Villarreal. They’ll miss most of their talent up front – Remy and Molina won’t play – and will have to face Pedro Leon, his former team mate, who just renewed his contract with Eibar and is finding his best shape after a long injury. The visitors have the biggest incentive, so let’s go for another “2”.
- Celta (10th) vs Valencia (4th) vs: 2. (Sat- 16:15)
This was supposed to be a fantastic duel between the two Spanish forwards in best shape: Iago Aspas, who played a monster of a match against Barcelona in midweek, and Rodrigo, who has scored in seven of his last eight matches and looks as sharp as ever. Aspas has 20 goals to his name this season, while Rodrigo follows him close with 16 in the standings of top Spanish scorer.
However, on Tuesday Aspas picked up an injury who will keep him out for three weeks, and his team loses so much offensive creativity without him that it’s difficult to imagine an Aspas-less Celta defeating Valencia. It will be a match without some key players, as Parejo and Zaza won’t play for Valencia and Radoja and Jonny won’t feature for the home side.
The visitors made a fatal mistake in midweek against Getafe at home, as that loss prevented them from closing in on Real Madrid for the third spot, but a win on Saturday would confirm their spot in the Champions League next season, so it’s the third “2” of the weekend.
- Girona (8th) vs Espanyol (16th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
Time for a “1”. It does not really matter than the hosts look determined to go back to their winning ways at home after two winless matches. It’s also unimportant that Cristhian Stuani speaks for the whole dressing room when he says “We’ll keep fighting for a place in Europe” – Girona are only four points behind sixth-place Villarreal.
What really matters is that they play against Espanyol, probably the most depressing team to watch in La Liga at this point. Not even the already relegated Malaga look as bad as Quique Sanchez Flores’s team, booed by its fans and unable to score in its last five matches. It’s a pity that the season is finishing in such a poor fashion for Espanyol, which at some points defeated Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico, but the fact is that Quique has lost control of the dressing room and the squad only wants this season to end. The most damaged party is Gerard Moreno, who at some point harboured legitimate hopes of playing for Spain in the World Cup, something unthinkable after his team’s collapse.
(Note: 10 minutes after this post was published, Espanyol fired his coach Quique and his football director Jordi Lardin. They could not wait until the end of the season. They could not even wait until after the match on Sunday).
- Málaga (20th) vs Real Sociedad (11th): 2. (Sun – 16:15)
“Relegation is a huge failure”, said Malaga’s keeper Roberto after his team lost to Levante in the 93rd minute of their match, thus making it mathematically impossible for them to catch the Levantinistas with the remaining fifteen points. Roberto has probably been the only Malaga player one would single out as a decent performer for his team this season, and he’ll probably find a La Liga job in the summer. However, the big question mark is the club’s future in the Segunda Division, managed – if we can call it that – by an absent Sheik and with the huge hit of losing most of its TV revenue.
The change of coach has worked wonders for Real Sociedad. Phil’s team has won the last three matches for a combined 9-0, keeping the offensive flair alive and kicking, but defending immensely better than they did under Eusebio. Great end of the season for the Realistas, especially with last Thursday’s 3-0 win over Atleti, a rival they really enjoy defeating. They should also win in Malaga.
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Alavés (15th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Both teams changed coaches at similar moments of the season. It worked for Alaves, it didn’t for the hosts. “When the club sold Jonathan Viera, I should have left”, said Las Palmas’ coach Paco Jemez last Wednesday in yet another incendiary public statement aiming to free himself of his obvious responsibility on the team’s poor performances. The club management has been atrocious since Quique Setien left last season, but the squad was better than 19th position, and Jemez has not helped using a bizarre motivation technique consisting of weekly press conferences complaining about his own players.
One never heard a bad word of Alaves’ coach Abelardo about his own players. Maybe something to keep in mind, Paco.
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Betis (5th): X. (Sun – 20:45)
At home, Atleti are an imposing team. Away, they look like a bad impersonation of themselves, having conceded in their last eight exits. Given that they play at the Wanda and that Betis look on fire, this is by far the most interesting match of the weekend, a real test for both teams. The winner will give a giant step to keep their current, overachieving spots in the standings until the end of the season.
This Betis, inconsistent for most of the season, has found its stride and keep breaking their own records. Six consecutive wins in La Liga, five matches without conceding – was their biggest weakness until they signed Marc Bartra –, and the biggest amount of points in La Liga since 1997.
Can’t decide on a winner, as Atleti have not lost at the Wanda this season. Draw it is.
- Athletic de Bilbao (13th) vs Levante (17th): X. (Mon – 21:00)
Athletic season has been almost as puzzling as Espanyol’s. They have shown plenty of talent and commitment in some performances – the draw at the Santiago Bernabeu last Wednesday is a great example – but have lacked consistency and at times have even embarrassed themselves and his own supporters.
Some of it has had to do with coach Ziganda’s decision-making, and others with the players’ motivation (or lack of thereof) depending on the match. Monday’s match looks like one they won’t care much about, and a chance for the almost safe Levante to earn another point in their unlikely convincing end of the season.
- Sevilla (7th) vs Real Madrid (3rd): 2. (May 9th)
Even though this will be played in almost three weeks, the scenario at that point will see a convoluted Sevilla trying to find a new coach and a free of obligations Real Madrid, out of the Champions League and playing with its talented youngsters. Easy “2”.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Villarreal (6th): 2. (May 9th)
I can see Barcelona letting themselves go with the La Liga and the Copa del Rey titles already under their belt. They would start Digne, Aleix Vidal and other suspect footballers while Lionel Messi keeps himself fit on the bench for the World Cup. Villarreal will still have to fight for a Europa League spot. Barcelona’s bench is not that good.
Copa del Rey Final. Barcelona vs Sevilla: 1. (Sat – 21:00)
Given that Sevilla has only defeated Barcelona once in their last 20 matches, it’s hard to see a different outcome than a Azulgrana win.
The Catalans only need to be a bit careful. Barcelona’s coach Ernesto Valverde puts it best: “We need to remember what happened in Sevilla”. Three weeks ago, Barcelona were trailing 2-0 in Sevilla after 88 minutes. Suarez and Messi scored one apiece in less than two minutes to draw the match, but before the Argentinean took over, the hosts had shown how to play against the current Barcelona and punish their mistakes.
However, this has not been an easy season for Sevilla. Under Eduardo Berizzo first and Vincenzo Montella after Berizzo’s dismissal, they have been able of heroic performances – such as the memorable win at Old Trafford or those 88 minutes against Barcelona – and godawful displays – a 5-0 defeat at the Bernabeu or the 5-2 home defeat to Atletico come to mind. However, the latter situations have happened way too often for a squad with the talent of Sevilla. In fact, that draw against Barcelona is their last decent result in La Liga: in the last six matches, they have drawn three times and lost another three, numbers more fitting of a relegation-bound team than of a contender for European spots.
There are two alternatives for this match: a) Sevilla shows up. Then it becomes an interesting contest, with chances on both goals, but Barcelona eventually prevails because they are the better team, have a more defined style and, especially, are much better both in the final third and on goal. Banega and N’zonzi can keep things tight in midfield versus Rakitic and Busquets, but amazingly enough, Sevilla lacks a decent goalkeeper, while its forwards have seen better days. Keepers Rico and Soria have cost the Sevillistas dear plenty of times this season, while Ter Stegen keeps growing more and more solid. On the offense, Messi and Suarez can drive Sevilla’s back four crazy, or any back four for that matter, while Muriel, Nolito and co. can make the easiest chances look incredibly complex. Again, Barcelona should win this one where it matters: in both penalty areas.
Option b) is that Sevilla can’t deliver that level of competitiveness, and then it will be ugly. If Montella’s team can’t find it in themselves to try hard for one more match, Barcelona will score quite a few.
For the Azulgrana, this is a chance to add to an unbelievable sequence in the Copa del Rey. It could be their fourth title in a row, something that only Real Madrid (back in 1905-1909) and Athletic de Bilbao (1930-1933) have achieved, in obviously very different eras. As long as they avoid a mental block like the one they had in Rome, this title should be theirs.
Last week: 5/10 (50%).
Season: 108/230 (46%)
- Leganes (14th) vs Deportivo de La Coruña (18th):
- Eibar (12th) vs Getafe (9th):
- Celta (10th) vs Valencia (4th):
- Girona (8th) vs Espanyol (16th):
- Málaga (20th) vs Real Sociedad (11th):
- UD Las Palmas (19th) vs Alavés (15th):
- Atlético de Madrid (2nd) vs Betis (5th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (13th) vs Levante (17th):
- Sevilla (7th) vs Real Madrid (3rd):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Villarreal (6th):