It’s one of those weekends that doesn’t bode well and which promises a hangover – in the collective national sense because only one of Spain’s teams is in the draw for the Champions League quarter-finals. Let’s overlook the fact that a decent wedge of Barça’s supporters are in favour of their own Republic and just underline the fact that the 28th week of LaLiga will be played out in the shadow of the unfortunate and unusual reality of a slim presence in Europe, and that maybe only Barcelona will begin their game (at Betis) with a smile. The two V’s (Valencia and Villarreal) continue in the Europa League, but even in that context there was Spanish tragedy, with Sevilla knocked out in extra-time in Prague.
At least, the presence of Real Madrid, Atlético and Getafe in the top three motivates them to believe in the unique possibility that next season they will all represent the same city in the Champions League, even if that seems to be clutching at straws. This weekend will also be played on the cusp of an international break, meaning that for the teams in a state of depression the mood will not be lifted until March 30-31, unless they can snaffle a decent result. Oh – and a certain Frenchman has returned to the club he left only nine months previously, like a father returning to the nest after a period of difficult and lonely gestation for his partner.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Levante (15th): 1. (Fri, 21:00)
I’ll be there, and anyway, Friday night footy is a half-acceptable experience, as opposed to the horrors of a wet Monday night at 21.00 hours. The visitors Levante do not exactly whet the appetite but at least they look beatable. Real Sociedad, after a 6-match run that put them in the sights of the Champions League has fizzled to halt with a single point from the last three, with an abject performance at Sevilla last Sunday where they collapsed and were beaten 5-2 by a side who had been playing three days before in the Europa League. One suspects that they will need to redeem themselves on Friday night. Levante are no pushovers despite losing their last three on the trot, but uncharacteristically for them are rather leaky at the back this season. Sociedad will have some of their missing heavy-weights back and so I think it’s a hope win.
- Huesca (20th) vs Alavés (5th): X. (Sat, 13:00)
This one’s an interesting little clash, with Huesca playing out of their skins but still four points from the safety zone after having their half-decent run curtailed by meanies Getafe last week. Alavés are drawing more games than they did in the first half of the season but are nevertheless unbeaten in five. It remains an odd fact that they are 5th in the table with a negative goal difference, but I can’t see Huesca beating them. Draw.
Real Madrid (3rd) vs Celta (18th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
Zizou is back! And just before you start wondering, it was my esteemed colleague Eduardo Alvarez who left that first sentence in this paragraph. The rest of the addition to the template is mine, and I have to say that I’m less convinced by the logic of his return – I mean in terms of his original decision and in terms of what the club most needs. In the short-term it will plaster over the wounds/cracks and will almost certainly result in a home win. Let’s take that one for granted.
But the club needs a medium to long-term plan and they need it to be carried out by somebody new, somebody fresh. That’s my view, but it won’t stop Madrid beating Celta, who are in a woeful state just now. One point from the last 15, and in the relegation spots. They also looked demoralised last weekend when they lost at home to Betis. Stranger things have happened, but I can’t see my past a home win.
- Athletic de Bilbao (12th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 2. (Sat, 18:30)
Athletic traditionally approach this game with a sword between their teeth, and Diego Simeone is still remembered for his (in) famous foul on local heart-throb Julen Guerrero in 1996, still one of the most notorious fouls in the history of the game. The ironic fact that Atlético were founded by three Basques from Bilbao is long forgotten and Atlético could have done without this fixture coming on the back of their limp exit from the Champions League in Italy in midweek.
The only thing they can now hope for is the league, but if they lose and Barça win at Betis, it’s bye bye to the season. I’m not sure about this one, because although Athletic have picked up a little of late, there is still something very unconvincing about them. I think Atlético will be too pumped up for them, despite the hostility that will greet them.
By the way, just thought I’d mention it, but all 68,000 tickets have been sold for Atletico’s women’s side’s game against Barcelona on Sunday at the Wanda. Brilliant news and another example of the growing interest in women’s football here and in general.
- Leganés (13th) vs Girona (14th): X. (Sat, 20:45)
A mid-table struggle it may look, but Girona could still fall into the dodgy zone if they were to lose it. Eusebio’s side has picked up lately, but losing a thriller last week at home to Valencia means they really need a result from this one, at least. Their away record is better than their home points tally and suggests that they can get something from this game, but Leganés have only lost once at home all season. I think it’s a scoring draw.
6. Eibar (10th) vs Valladolid (16th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
Eibar have steadied their ship since losing at Barcelona two months ago, and have only lost on one occasion since, rather poorly to Athletic – but they remain a difficult side to beat. Valladolid are on fout straight defeats, some of them heavy ones, and have not won in the last six. The last time they managed three points was against Celta, but that was no great achievement. Their early-season spark seems to have dulled and you can see them struggling in the Eibar cauldron. They’ll play defensively and look to score on the break, but I think the Eibar tide will overwhelm them. Home win.
7. Espanyol (11th) vs Sevilla (6th): 1. (Sun- 16:15)
Two of this season’s enigmas meet on Sunday – Espanyol because there is no predicting whether they are in the ‘up’ or the ‘down’ side of the lift, and Sevilla because, well – they’re Sevilla. Don’t be fooled by their 5-2 win against La Real last week. Sociedad were under-strength and simply capitulated. Espanyol have been drawing a lot, but they remain undefeated in the last six and have unearthed a new star in the Chinese player Wu Lei. You get the feeling that this one might be the classic hangover game (Sevilla lost in Prague on Thursday), and despite the perennial return of uncle Joaquín Caparros to steady the ship after Pablo Machin’s sacking, this smells like home spirit. Home win.
8. Valencia (7th) vs Getafe (4th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
Valencia are looking good again, and the Mestalla is a happy place, at least for now. Rodrigo and friends seem to have found their missing confidence and this is an interesting one, with the in-form Getafe as visitors. It seems strange to say it after the early-season woes at Valencia, but were they to win this one they would be a mere three points from Getafe’s 4th spot and heading for the Champions League positions. They’ve only lost once in the last ten in the league, but Getafe have only succumbed twice in the same period and actually won more games. It’s a hard one to predict, but I think Valencia have the edge now. Getafe’s bubble to burst.
9. Villarreal (17th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
This is the dog-fight of the weekend, and it seems pretty obvious who will win it. This column has backed Villarreal blindly all season to end their poor form, basically because a side with their quality cannot surely go down. It was a question of turning the tide, of changing the mojo. They’re still in Europe and last week they scored a crucial win at Levante. Rayo keep trying but there’s not enough discipline at the back. Nevertheless, they’ll understand the importance of this fixture. If they lose it, then Villarreal will be six points clear of them. They don’t draw enough (only 5 this season) to depend on a point, and will probably try to attack. They’ll lose, I’m afraid. Home win.
10. Betis (8th) vs Barcelona (1st): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
In football terms this is the game of the weekend and I’m tempted to say that it’s a tricky one to predict, despite Betis’ maddening inconsistency. They’re capable of some great stuff, and won’t change their style for the visitors. I’ve gotta feeling, that Sunday night’s gonna be a good good night for them. Please don’t ask me to justify that, but Barça’s cup runneth over so much that they’re due a little smack on the bum. Home win, and re-called-to-Spain Sergio Canales to run them ragged.
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 104/240 (43%)
- Real Sociedad (9th) vs Levante (15th):
- Huesca (20th) vs Alavés (5th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Celta (18th):
- Athletic de Bilbao (12th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Leganés (13th) vs Girona (14th):
- Eibar (10th) vs Valladolid (16th):
- Espanyol (11th) vs Sevilla (6th):
- Valencia (7th) vs Getafe (4th):
- Villarreal (17th) vs Rayo Vallecano (19th):
- Betis (8th) vs Barcelona (1st):