Sorry about the late post, but things are hectic at Chez Alvarez, as well as in Alvarez’s full time job. The question is not when will things go back to normal, but if. And I guess the answer is NO.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Girona (12th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (9th): X. (Fri, 21:00)
Girona haven’t won at home since October, vs Rayo Vallecano. They are in fact the worst home team of the tournament, tied with Valladolid, as both sides have only accumulated 12 points in 13 matches. Athletic don’t travel especially well, though, as they have the same 12 points in 13 matches. I expect them to start with five at the back, trying to get some defensive stability.
Portu, apparently back in shape, can make this one worth watching, but if any of this duo aspires to play European football next season, they need all three points, so this may end up being more fun than I thought.
- Getafe (4th) vs Leganés (14th): 2. (Sat, 13:00)
Yes, this is a derby indeed. In this case, both teams not only come from neighbouring towns in the South of Madrid, but they hate each other’s’ guts with passion. I know I’m backing the underdog, and it does look a bit reckless, but I believe Getafe can’t be properly focused on the match at hand when their coach and president have spent the full week speaking of how wonderful it’d be to play the Champions League next season. Gents, there’s still 11 matches to be played, your squad is extremely short and you’re riding the amazing shape of two forwards, Jaime Mata and Jorge Molina, who at ages 30 and 36 respectively, are playing the best football of their careers, which does not seem quite sustainable. Yes, it’s been two months since the hosts last lost a football match, but I like a lot more what I hear from the Leganés camp. Visitors upset and get bragging rights for the rest of the season.
- Barcelona (1st) vs Espanyol (13th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
One of the things I’ll never understand is the fascination that Gerard Pique generates among foreign journos. Granted, he’s an extremely articulate, intelligent footballer, well above the average of the profession, but his PR strategy is so obvious and so full of publicity stunts that it’s shocking that it hasn’t become evident what he does at this point. The reason why I’m writing this is that a few days before this match vs Espanyol – and before the beginning of the ticket sales period for the Davis Cup tournament in Madrid, organised by him among others – he appeared on a night TV programme to be interviewed by a famous Spanish comedian.
Pique devoted the time to show his coolest, show off side, making fun of Espanyol as much as he could (to the question: “How rich are you?” he answered that his wealth was bigger than Espanyol’s budget) and exacting revenge over the distasteful chants dedicated to his wife by the inevitable thug section of Espanyol’s fans. The controversy between Pique and Espanyol escalated after the player said in January 2018 that Espanyol were no longer a Barcelona team, but from Cornella – a neighbouring town full of immigrants where their stadium is now located –, and then insisted that they even had a Chinese president. If you think these are the words of a modern, open-minded citizen, well…
Espanyol’s coach Rubi tried to avoid the controversy in the pre-match press conference, but obviously couldn’t, and ended up mustering that being humble is more important than being rich, and that he tries to stay above all this nonsense, but the irritation was obvious after the club issued a statement earlier on Friday. Obviously Pique got what he wanted: rile the Espanyolistas and get promotion for the Davis Cup, but one is a fierce believer in karma, and so much arrogance can’t end up well. When Pique drops the mask – his troubles with the traffic police are perfect examples – it’s clear that he’s the son of a wealthy family who feels above any rules. Nothing cool or new about that.
Enough of my rant. In any case, this is a “1”. Barcelona have scored in every single match at the Camp Nou this season, while Espanyol have only managed to beat Barcelona’s keeper twice in their last nine visits. Even Coutinho may make the scoresheet on Saturday, mark my words.
- Celta (18th) vs Villarreal (17th): 2. (Sat, 18:30)
Partidazo. Both fighting to avoid relegation, desperate to get three points and still not quite believing how they got here, when they thought they would be contending for the top six at this stage of the season. Now, with six wins after 28 matches, they have entered into that confusing situation in which even a very decent squad may end up drowned by the circumstances.
The good news for Celta is that Iago Aspas is finally back, and that the stadium will be full, something rare in Vigo. That said, I guess it’s early for Aspas to start producing as much as Celta need, and Villarreal look like their best version of the season, with two consecutive LaLiga wins and the qualification for the next round of the Europa League. Visitors’ win, even with seven absentees due to injuries and suspensions.
- Alavés (5th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 1. (Sat, 20:45)
This may be a blunt statement, but I do believe that Atletico’s season has already collapsed. The defeat vs Juve has brought a terrible scenario for Simeone’s squad, now playing for nothing while club management and coach are preparing a complete renovation of the squad. If the noise around names such as Diego Godin and Filipe Luis was already high, now that’s the only topic of discussion at the Wanda. It’s impossible for the players’ performance to be consistent from now on, and hosts Alaves feel the prize to an excellent season too close to lose it now. Home side win.
- Levante (15th) vs Eibar (11th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
The other two Azulgrana sides face each other in Valencia, where Levante have not won in their last five matches. That said, Eibar are the worst travelers in LaLiga, with 9 points in 13 matches, so when hosts’ coach Paco Lopez says that they need to win every home match from now until the end of the season, perhaps this match could set the tone for his team.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Betis (8th): 2. (Sun- 14:00)
I had to check on three different websites that this kick off time was right. A noon kick off is ok, as it allows us Spaniards to each lunch at around 14:30, which is our average lunch time during weekends. A 13:00 kickoff starts to complicate things, but a 14:00 beginning means that you have to eat lunch at the stadium. It’s just preposterous.
Rayo, the worst defence of the tournament, have decided to put their fate in the hands of Paco Jemez, who took them to unprecedented heights… and lows. The lows had a lot to do with the ability of his previous Rayo side to concede goals at crazy rates, so this could end up in a tragic fashion. Jemez showed his regret at leaving Rayo in the past (“the worst decision of my life”, no less).
Of course, both coaches have exchanged pleasantries in their respective press conferences, as they both favour ball possession over goals scored as a life objective.
- Sevilla (6th) vs Valencia (7th): 2. (Sun – 16:15)
This is by far the most interesting match of the weekend, and I think that Valencia will win in convincing fashion. Their defence is solid — second best in LaLiga — and their strikers have started to wake up after a lacklustre season so far. And even if Joaquin Caparros could work wonders on Sevilla’s back four, the absence of keeper Tomas Vaclik makes things even more complicated. Expect a tactical battle, but this is a clear Valencia win.
- Valladolid (16th) vs Real Sociedad (10th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
The hosts will prevail, led by the fascinating Daniele Verde and his ability to hit the ball with genuine anger. Sorry, Phil. Your team needs to sign a handful of tough players or else it will become a Basque joke.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sun – 20:45)
I could imagine that Real Madrid’s season would not be successful when we started the campaign with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema as our main offensive targets. I could also imagine that he season would definitely go down the drain when Lopetegui left. What I could not picture in August 2018 is that Thibaut Courtois was such a player with the opposite sex, and that he’d occupy hundreds of pages in the gossip magazines. Well, that’s what’s being happening in the past few weeks, and when I thought we’d be discussing Keylor vs Thibaut, we’re now witnessing a sequence of women the latter’s been associated with that seems to have no end.
Following the gossip media example, from now until the end of the season the Bernabeu will become a catwalk in which Zidane will display his squad in order to decide who stays and who goes, although one thinks that the Frenchman already has very strong ideas about the topic. We’ll start on Sunday, and I expect a mixed line up, but one quite motivated to make an impression, which is good given that they are playing for nothing.
Huesca have become the tough team they needed to be in order to dream of staying up, but it’s taken them too long. They’ll enjoy the Bernabeu while the Madridistas keep thinking of how much they need to spend to challenge for Champions League glory again. In the total emptiness of this season, there is still a small space for solace, though: on the 28th of April, Zidane and his boys will visit Vallecas, to meet with Paco Jemez, Given the history between both coaches, that should be fun.
Last week: 6/10 (70%)
Season: 104/240 (43%)
- Girona (12th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (9th):
- Getafe (4th) vs Leganés (14th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Espanyol (13th):
- Celta (18th) vs Villarreal (17th):
- Alavés (5th) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Levante (15th) vs Eibar (11th):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Betis (8th):
- Sevilla (6th) vs Valencia (7th):
- Valladolid (16th) vs Real Sociedad (10th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Huesca (20th):