As Bobby Robson said, ‘The first 90 minutes are the most important’. That’s what we’ll be basing the quiniela on this weekend, give or take a few stoppage-time accidents and the fatigue/morale of the teams who were involved in European ties and even the Copa del Rey (Athletic and Huesca). I’m taking my turn to do the predictions this time around due to a quick hop over to Africa at the weekend, which will prevent me from seeing most of the LaLiga games, so Eduardo will do the round-up.
Whilst on the subject of Eduardo, few folks know more about the Spanish game than he does, but his scores on the quiniela of late have not been too hot. Far from wishing to spare him the rod, I think that his low success-rate is indicative of just how unpredictable the league is this season, and just how much better that is making it. There has been a real outbreak of odd results, and just when you think that a side like Espanyol are worth backing, they go and lose heavily at home to Girona. And try as one might, it’s still mentally difficult to stick out your neck and say ‘Eibar will stuff Real Madrid this weekend’, despite the merengues’ current wobbles and Isco-Gate. Other sides like Villarreal and Valencia always seem to be on the verge of improving (well, they both are) but it takes a brave person to always bet against them. And teams like Rayo and Huesca, down in the dark with their torches dimmed, just have to get it together sooner or later….or do they?
So, now that I’ve got all the excuses out of the way, shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for the money, ‘X’ for the show, and ‘2’ to stick your neck out. Go cat go!
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Eibar (10th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
My kinda game, this one is, my kinda people. And each time I roam, Rayo is calling me home – except that the Marxist boys from Vallecas have only been victorious on a single occasion this season so far and it wasn’t at home. It was at Huesca, significantly, and since then not very much has gone right.
They have the division’s leakiest defence, which is clearly their problem – because some of their football this season has been quite ambitious and attractive, but they’re struggling. The visit of Eibar looks like a classic case of ‘team on three-game run, morale high after stuffing Real Madrid’ but you never know. Eibar are comfy the label of giant-killers, but when they become the giants, it doesn’t quite suit. This is a tricky one to predict, but I think they’ll cancel each other out. Scoring draw.
- Celta (15th) vs Huesca (20th): X. (Sab, 13:00)
I watched Celta quite carefully on Monday night from the stands of Anoeta, and although they’re capable of some good stuff going forward, they’re jittery at the back and still trying to adjust to their new coach. They got away with it against Sociedad, and the 2-1 defeat could and should have been much heavier. Nevertheless, this is their chance to re-boot their league season after only one win in their last ten games (against Eibar).
Bottom side Huesca might fancy their chances and just go for it, and in terms of performances they’ve been looking better of late, drawing or losing narrowly. Like Rayo, their only win was away from home. I’ve got a funny feeling about this one, and I think they might get a result. I know they were hammered 4-0 in the cup in San Mamés only last Wednesday, and that Celta have had more time to put their feet up in front of the fire, but I reckon they’ll get a draw. Trust me.
- Valladolid (13th) vs Leganés (17th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
It doesn’t sound like the most inspiring of fixtures for a Saturday afternoon, with the ‘let me entertain you’ hosts scoring a massive nine goals in thirteen games (and only conceding ten, to their credit), and although they’ve been doing better than people expected, they’re on a dry goalless run of three games and visitors Leganés, for all their inconsistency, are not too bad at the back. Again, it’s unlikely to end in a goal fest, these being the division’s two lowest scorers, although I’m prepared to eat my hat. Leganés haven’t won away yet either. I can’t see it happening on Saturday, I’m afraid. Home win (1-0), to warm Ronaldo el Gordo’s cockles.
- Getafe (12th) vs Espanyol (5th): 2. (Sat, 18:30)
Getafe are a better side than they look. They were robbed last week in San Mamés, unlucky the week before at home to Valencia, but it has to be pointed out that their style of play favours away games, as their data indeed indicates. Espanyol’s surprise setback last week might just be a blip, but this is another tough one to predict. I really like Espanyol this season, with Borja Iglesias outstanding. I think they’ll bounce back. Away win.
- Real Madrid (6th) vs Valencia (11th): 1. (Sat- 20:45)
Two of the Europe-involved sides this week, Madrid were rather more successful and were actually through before they even kicked off in Rome, but to their credit went on to win a tricky-looking game and bolster their image after the farce at Eibar.
Valencia lost to Juventus 1-0, which is hardly a poor result, and at least have the visit of Man Utd to look forward to, even though they’re now destined for the Europa. But after their stuttering start, you get the feeling playing in such company before Xmas is contributing to their improvement, and with the quality in their squad, it was merely a matter of time. It’s also worth noting that they’ve still only lost twice in the league, their problem being their tendency so far to draw their games. So this is also a tricky one, minor classic that it has become over the years. But…is two consecutive wins definitive proof of a turn-around? My feeling is that they’re not quite there yet. They can scare Madrid, but I think the Roma game will have restored some spark to the White House. Home win.
- Betis (14th) vs Real Sociedad (8th): 2. (Sun- 12:00)
Betis can’t quite get their act together in the league or at home, will have played Milan in the 2nd leg of their Europa fixture on Thursday, will be without Sergio Canales (suspended)…..and although Real Sociedad are not quite as soft as Eduardo would like to think, this should be an entertaining game, with the visitors slowly emerging from the over-pretty Eusebio era to the tougher Garitano era to something resembling a decent compromise. They’re on a run of two wins – expect them to make it three. They looked very good on Monday night against Celta, are coming into form and have a good away record, statistically the best in the league. Away win.
Girona (7th) vs Atlético de Madrid (3rd): X. (Sun – 16:15)
This was the game I attended last season, and it opened Girona’s first-ever campaign in the top flight. They almost won that night, but the team that played and the style that they used has changed since that 2-2 draw, with the arrival of the possession-obsessed Eusebio. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and other teams have been taken by surprise by Girona’s tactical changes – still looking for Stuani, but more able to retain possession and make the opposition think. Atlético, however, won’t be particularly interested in that, and will do their usual thing – with the slight adjustments they might make for post-Champions tiredness. In third place but nicely snuggled in, with everything to aspire to, they’ll probably go for it, but cautiously. I’m tempted to say it’ll end in a draw although incredibly, were Girona to win they would move into the European spots. Whatever – for me it’s a low-scoring draw.
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Villarreal (16th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Villarreal have only lost one in the last five, but only won once in the last seven. Draw your own conclusions as to whether they’re really improving or not. They also had to play on Thursday away at Rangers – very probably a tricky game (I’m writing this early Thursday evening) – and so my suspicions are that Barcelona will probably have a comfy ride on Sunday. Home win.
- Alavés (4th) vs Sevilla (1st): X. (Sun – 18:30)
In terms of the two teams’ positions, it’s the match of the weekend – but folks still don’t quite believe in Abelardo’s Alavés miracle, probably because nobody was expecting it. Sevilla had the issue of a trip to Standard Liege on Thursday night too, so would probably have welcomed a lighter home fixture for the Sunday, but the fates haven’t granted them it. One is tempted to think that their leadership may prove to be a transient thing, but despite the conditions they’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve it. Alavés would remove Sevilla from the top spot if they won, of course, but Sevilla are scoring quite freely in the Europa League and in LaLiga they’re the top scorers away from home with fifteen goals – not a trait one associates with them normally, due to their traditional home-based strength. Alavés, along with Atlético, are the only side to remain undefeated on home turf. I can’t see either of them winning it so I’ll cop out and say a draw.
- Levante (9th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (18th): 2. (Mon – 21:00)
Athletic won in midweek in the cup against Huesca at home. The 4-0 result might have relieved some of the gloom (and saved Berizzo’s butt) and should be looking to keep things going at Levante, an awkward since at the best of times, but with a poor home record (second-worst home goal conceders). Athletic still haven’t managed to win away, although most of their defeats have been tight ones, to be fair. In short, anything could happen, but Athletic are beginning to realise that if they don’t get their bums in gear soon, things are going to start looking very bleak. I think they’ll go for a result first (a draw) but win it on the bounce from Wednesday’s game. I’ll stick my neck out and predict an away win.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 49/130 (36%)
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Eibar (10th):
- Celta (15th) vs Huesca (20th) :
- Valladolid (13th) vs Leganés (17th):
- Getafe (12th) vs Espanyol (5th):
- Real Madrid (6th) vs Valencia (11th):
- Betis (14th) vs Real Sociedad (8th):
- Girona (7th) vs Atlético de Madrid (3rd):
- Barcelona (2nd) vs Villarreal (16th):
- Alavés (4th) vs Sevilla (1st):
- Levante (9th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (18th):