Given that, except for Sevilla, no one really cares about these last two weeks of competition, La Liga could at least make their best effort not to become a nuisance for its participants. It’s nobody’s fault that the season ended prematurely because of the huge gap between the best team and the rest, and between the worst trio and the rest. But surely, La Liga should want their teams to do well in European competitions, right?
Well, then it’s hard to explain why Atletico, proud finalists of the Europa League, have seen their weekend match against Getafe scheduled for Saturday – initially it was supposed to take place on Sunday, but they complained – and not for Friday, like their rivals Olympique de Marseille in France. This season has seen a Friday evening match 90% of its weeks, and precisely when a Spanish team, especially one as short and exhausted as Atleti, needs an extra day, La Liga decides that “no Friday match this week, lads”.
Now that I think of it, I don’t know why I expected anything different.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Real Sociedad (11th) vs Leganes (17th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
Both contenders have no competitive reason to break sweat on Saturday, but there’s plenty of off the pitch factors to comment. In fact, this could be named The Farewell Match. First, it’ll be Xabi Prieto’s last performance for the hosts. The classy midfielder has played 530 times for Real Sociedad, and will enjoy an emotional farewell together with Carlos Martinez, who’s played for Phil’s team for the last 18 seasons. It also seems like Sergio Canales will leave the club for Betis at the end of the season, while caretaker coach Imanol, who’s done a fantastic job since he took over, should go back to his work with the youth teams to make way for a new, full-time coach. Anoeta will have to bid its farewell to quite a few important characters in this match.
On the opposite side, this will also be coach Garitano’s last trip with Leganes, at least at this stage of his professional life. He’s achieved wonders with such a short, humble squad, led by Martín Mantovani, who will also leave at the end of the season. Coincidentally, he could end up coaching in the Basque Country. San Sebastián, Bilbao… Who knows?
That said, the home side should win this one easily, as Leganes will try plenty of new, young faces on this trip and will miss Amrabat, their best offensive weapon.
- Getafe (8th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
The hosts will say cheerio to their supporters with a win over Atleti, who will very likely field its Z team for the reasons stated in the opening paragraph of this Quiniela.
- Alavés (13th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (14th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Another one with a few goodbyes. The most relevant is that of Athletic’s coach, Ziganda, who rarely looked like he knew what he was doing, but did well in a handful of matches that had some thinking he would stay in Bilbao.
President Urrutia is no fool, though, so he’ll be looking for another coach in the summer. The club, always a hard one to coach, needs a good shake up after a few disappointing seasons.
Alaves feel a bit more upbeat, and have the chance to finish the season above Athletic for the first time ever. Coach Abelardo just extended his contract, something he indeed deserves after arriving in midseason to solve an almost desperate situation and getting the team in safe positions with an outstanding streak of home performances.
If the hosts enjoy another Ibai Gomez performance like the one last weekend in Malaga, this will be a piece of cake for the hosts. Even more now that Athletic will miss Raul Garcia, who just had heart surgery and that at this point is the only Athletic player with enough hunger to make things happen on the pitch.
- Betis (5th) vs Sevilla (7th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the only match of the weekend that really matters, the one you should watch no matter what.
After a long spell in which Sevilla have been the dominant club in the city, with plenty of domestic and continental success, Betis are finally back in contention. They’re five points ahead of Sevilla with only six to play, and still remember the 5-3 at their rivals’ home in the first half of the season. Sevilla need at least a point to keep their hopes of European competitions alive until the last fixture of the season.
Betis now have the opportunity to earn huge bragging rights for the foreseeable future. Another victory over their neighbours would put an emphatic end to more than a decade of submission, and that is not an understatement. Betis have not defeated Sevilla at the Villamarin since 2006. On top of that, I can’t think of a bigger, more bitter rivalry in Spanish football. What we saw last Sunday between Madrid and Barcelona pales when compared to the Sevilla clubs. They hate each other’s guts. The signing of coach Joaquin Caparros only makes the noise bigger, as it’s one of Betis’ supporters preferred targets because of his Sevillista past and his outspoken statements.
As if that wasn’t enough, both coaches have exchanged pleasantries through the media, questioning each other’s credentials for the job and the kind of football they respectively prefer. Not good.
With regard to the result of this match, this column goes Betis all the way, as Quique Setién’s team have improved so much since they signed Marc Bartra and Sevilla have been such an unrecognizable team for most of the season that I don’t even think that the Ramos-fuelled victory last Wednesday over Real Madrid can get them back in business.
- Deportivo de La Coruña (18th) vs Villarreal (6th): 2. (Sat- 18:30)
Villarreal only need a win against relegated Depor to guarantee a Europa League spot next season. Sounds easy, right? Well, that same relegated Depor is undefeated against Villarreal in their last five matches, including a couple of wins at the Ceramica Stadium in Villarreal, land of tiles.
The problem is that those were competitive matches for Depor, and this one isn’t. There’s nothing left to play for, and most players and the coach know they’ll have to leave for pastures greener in a couple of weeks. When only one team has an incentive, it’s hard to see anything different from a “2”, here… unless those infamous suitcases full of cash appear in La Coruña.
- Eibar (10th) vs UD Las Palmas (19th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
In the farewell department, Eibar will say goodbye to two memorable players that took part in this – and other – glorious campaigns. Ander Capa and Dani García leave Eibar after a combined 360 matches (bear in mind they’re 26 and 27 years old, respectively) in La Liga, starring in key moments for the club in recent history. They both leave for Bilbao, as Athletic may well finish La Liga at the bottom of the Basque rankings, but they’ll buy whatever it takes to change that next season.
Las Palmas have not won since the beginning of February and look in no mood to start doing that now. It’s a shame that a team that impressed La Liga for a decent part of last season has disintegrated due to poor management decisions, but that’s what they have to deal with on the island. This will be a clear Eibar victory to finish the season at home in style.
- Girona (9th) vs Valencia (4th): 1. (Sat- 18:30)
Finally out of the contest for a Europa League spot, Girona have set themselves another objective: become the 2nd best La Liga debutant ever. The first position, unassailable, belongs to Benito Floro’s iconic Albacete (aka the Clockwork Cheese), but Girona still have the chance to surpass Unai Emery’s Almería. In order to achieve that, they need to win their last two matches, and at least this one should be a piece of cake.
Valencia, already qualified for next season’s Champions League, will rest Kondogbia, Garay and Pereira, which added to Parejo’s suspension puts coach Marcelino under the not minor challenge of putting together a fresh midfield. With the homework done, he can afford to give some playing time to lesser-known faces and start getting ready for next season.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Celta (12th): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
My over/under for goals scored in this match is seven. Zidane will rest most of his starters (and they’re not very good defensively, so imagine their second string!), while Celta arrive with the will to impress and wishing to cement Iago Aspas’s position in the Spanish national team with a good performance.
Like Zidane said after the bizarre midweek defeat in Sevilla, nothing is going to change their planning before the Champions League final, and that includes seeing plenty of Vallejo & co., avoiding injuries and testing specific formations for in-game situations that may happen against Liverpool in the final. The Bernabeu will wish its team a great trip to Kiev in the last match of the season in Madrid, one that has been tragic for the Madridistas at home: they’ve just won 15 out of 28 matches in all competitions. In La Liga, they’ve given away 17 points, something unheard of in the last decade.
- Espanyol (15th) vs Málaga (20th): 2. (Sun – 16:15)
Bizarre result of the weekend. I know that Malaga is Gerard Moreno’s favourite victim – four goals in six matches –, that the visitors have won once in their last 12 visits to Espanyol’s stadium and that they have only conquered five points in eighteen away matches, but something tells me that there’s some pride left in Malaga’s dressing room.
That pride demonstration could come from the sheik Al Thani’s latest public scuffle, in this case with sports director Mario Husillos. The sheik found out that Husillos was negotiating with Lucas Alcaraz to coach the side next season, and not being a fan of low-profile signings, immediately tweeted that Alcaraz was not an option for Malaga. Now Husillos is obviously considering his own resignation. The sheiks have simply replaced the most outrageous football club presidents of the 80s and 90s, the Mendozas, Gils and Gasparts of that era, but they’re not even mildly funny. Ah, the good old times…
- Levante (16th) vs Barcelona (1st): 2. (Sun – 20:45)
Ousmane Dembele is finally ready to be unleashed. He’s been showing glimpses of his talent in the last few matches, and I do believe this is the right match for him to shine. Levante will charge, aiming to say goodbye to this remarkable final third of the season with a famous win, so the youngster will find plenty of space to show his talent. Yes, this will be Dembele’s redemption match.
Last week: 2/12 (16%). Managed to err on both pending matches (Barcelona – Villarreal and Sevilla – Real Madrid)
Season: 117/260 (45%)
- Real Sociedad (11th) vs Leganes (17th):
- Getafe (8th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Alavés (13th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (14th):
- Betis (5th) vs Sevilla (7th):
- Deportivo de La Coruña (18th) vs Villarreal (6th):
- Eibar (10th) vs UD Las Palmas (19th):
- Girona (9th) vs Valencia (4th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Celta (12th):
- Espanyol (15th) vs Málaga (20th):
- Levante (16th) vs Barcelona (1st):