The most bizarre times of LaLiga, back when it was just the Primera División, were when Ramón Mendoza, Josep Lluis Nuñez and Jesús Gil y Gil – father of Atleti’s current GM and shareholder – occupied the presidencies of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico de Madrid respectively. Nothing was off the table, especially where Gil was involved. We saw him punch other clubs’ executives, present tv programmes from a bathtub surrounded by girls in bikini, vouch for his horse as the best candidate for Atleti’s bench… The other two presidents tried to look professional in Gil y Gil’s presence, but every once in a while they would fall for his provocations, which generated even more cheese and hilarity.
The reason I’m remembering those times, phenomenally fun, is that HBO just announced that they’re filming a tv series about the life of Gil y Gil. Even if it’s terribly done – and I have no reasons to believe it will be – his life was so full of surreal events that the series has to be must-watch tv. He was controversial, dodgy, a character out of a mafia movie. Even if it sounds too local, these series can’t disappoint. Stay tuned.
Shall we? Let’s start. Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Girona (14th) vs Espanyol (13th): 1. (Sat, 13:00)
Further to my obsession to define what is a derby and what it is not, I strongly believe that Girona vs Espanyol is not a derby, even if both teams are based in Catalonia. The reason is that they’ve played so few times that it’s hard to see a real rivalry between them, no past to dwell upon in terms of famous victories and humiliating defeats, players stolen from the opposite side with a wad of cash, families split over their allegiances…
In this non-derby there’s no clear favourite. Espanyol are such poor travellers that they’ve only won once away from home since the season started, and that victory happened in October vs the mighty Huesca. However, Girona are the worst home side of LaLiga, with 12 points and just two wins after 15 home matches, something that would surely lead to a relegation position in normal circumstances. They compensate for such a terrible home performance by being the fourth best traveller in the tournament, but coach Eusebio can’t be happy with that home record.
Hard to choose between two poor running streaks, but let’s vouch for the home side and the most decisive player on the pitch, Cristian Stuani.
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Eibar (11th): 1. (Sat, 16:15)
One more chance for Zinedine Zidane to continue with his casting of players until the season finishes. The depressing midweek defeat against Valencia probably made him think about what used to be his go-to midfield trio, Modric – Casemiro – Kroos, and how the impressive control of proceedings they used to exert over most matches has faded this season. The continued low production of Absentio and the constant question mark over Gareth Bale’s health will occupy Zidane’s mind as well. In fact, listening to his midweek press conference, this scribe felt that the Frenchman undoubtedly wants to recover Marcelo – as terrible as he looks these days – and Isco for the cause, while his comments on the Welshman were much less enthusiastic.
“I haven’t decided who will stay and who will leave”, Zidane offered on Friday, which means that we’ll see more tests on Saturday. What we know for sure is that Benzema will stay and will get plenty of minutes no matter what, but when you love someone – Zidane, not Benzema – you have to accept them with their highs and their lows.
It’s fair to remember that Eibar demolished Real Madrid 3-0 – with a very poor outing of the whole team – back in November. But this squad looks so out of it that it’s very likely that they don’t remember, so if they win, the tough loss won’t be a factor. And I guess they will, because after the Valencia fiasco, many players need to improve their performances if they want to stay in Madrid after the summer.
I have spoken quite often about Eibar and their coach. I think his stand on Saturday’s match at the Bernabeu speaks volumes. Asked whether he was going to play with his famous high line, a trademark of his teams, he said: “the Bernabeu is only two metres wider than our pitch, so why wouldn’t I?” A real character.
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Valencia (5th): 1. (Sat, 18:30)
Valencia have finally found their mojo, and they have such a talented squad that in almost no time they’re just one point behind their hated Getafe, who occupy the fourth spot, which gives access to Champions League football next season. And they play Rayo, struggling mightily despite the excellent season of Raul de Tomás. This is an easy win for the visitors, much stronger physically and with plenty of talent to throw at the humble hosts. [This was meant to be a 2, obviously]
- Barcelona (1st) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 2. (Sat, 20:45)
If there’s any hope of a mildly interesting final to the season, Atleti have to win at the Camp Nou. That would leave them five points behind with seven matches to be played. Barcelona would have to juggle between the Champions League and LaLiga, and we all know how much Valverde struggles with rotations. Perhaps another slip in the next couple of matches and then we do have a title mini-race in place.
Can Atleti win at the Camp Nou? Of course they can. If they play the way they have for most of the last two months, they should be able to get three points and get some tension going. The problem is that during those same two months Atleti have capitulated in two away matches, at San Mames and at the Juventus stadium, and the memories of those two stinkers are still fresh in my mind.
The situation is quite similar to last season’s, but with fewer matches left. Back then it was Messi – who else? – who won it for Barcelona with a free kick, a weapon he’s added to his arsenal in the last couple of seasons. With Messi’s current form, it seems reckless to back Atleti, but the Argentinean will have to manage his energy with the Champions League in mind.
Even if Messi plays well, we have not seen a sharp Barcelona in a while – I’m referring to the team as a whole – and that’s where the visitors can find their chance. It all depends on which Atleti shows up on Saturday, so it’s time for the best version of Cholo Simeone, the motivator, to get his team fired up for this. He’s got the narrative: some key elements of this historic Atleti squad may play their last match at the Camp Nou in a Rojiblanco shirt – Filipe Luis, Godín, even Saúl – so they will need no incentives. The big question mark is Antoine Griezmann, who is supposedly regretting his decision to stay with Atleti and might have approached Barcelona for a second chance. To say that his video wasn’t entirely well received by the Azulgrana faithful is something of an understatement, so I’d be surprised if anything happens on that front, but that might be some motivation for the Frenchman as well.
This is more a wish than a pick. Let’s hope that Atleti makes this Liga slightly more interesting, but they will have to show their best face to defeat Messi at his own home.
- Alavés (7th) vs Leganés (12th): 1. (Sun- 12:00)
Are Alaves losing steam? Two consecutive losses by an aggregate of 6-0 could make us think so, but they played against Atleti and Sevilla, so it’s not as bad as it looks. They could still play European football next season, but a certain relaxation is understandable at this point. Which is pretty much what happens on the other side: the hard-fighting Leganés have finally sealed their LaLiga status with two consecutive wins, and now just play to enjoy these last few matches. Hard to choose a winner here, with no major absentees and scarce motivation, but let’s go for Alaves’ solid home record.
- Getafe (4th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th): 2. (Sun- 14:00)
My hunch: this is the moment of the season in which Getafe’s short squad ends up paying the lack of bench players and drowns when they were reaching the promised Champions League land. Two draws and one loss in their last three, with only one goal scored, sounds like tiredness is catching up with the Getafenses. Athletic might not be playing sexy football, but they’re as energetic and physical as they come, and the Inaki Williams + Iker Muniain duo look unstoppable. They will overwhelm the usually tough, but now struggling Geta.
- Valladolid (16th) vs Sevilla (6th): X. (Sun- 16:15)
The best news for Sevilla this week came off the pitch. Monchi, the technical director that brought an amazing number of talented players to the club, which in turn made a killing selling them after the customary good performances in Spain and Europe, is back. His Italian adventure didn’t quite work out, and he’s again trying to find talent for Sevilla. His first task, however, is the retention of Pablo Sarabia, a player that hasn’t extended his contract yet and who is key for the team.
Can Sevilla win in Valladolid? They must if they still want to aspire to the top-four, but they have been surprisingly poor travellers so far. All this season Sevilla have not been able to win the matches that would have made a difference, and that is why I’ll go for the non-committal “X” in this one. Valladolid are getting closer and closer to the danger zone, and I believe that this could not end up well.
- Celta (18th) vs Real Sociedad (9th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
I thought it would take Iago Aspas a couple of weeks to reach match fitness, but boy was I wrong. Four points and three goals in two matches have taken Celta back into survival mode, just when they looked almost done. In this case my bet has to do exactly with survival: the hosts need three points and have recovered their fighting spirit, while Real Softciedad look too comfortable in midtable. They will end the season there, so they’ll need more arguments to retain Oyarzabal, finally finding his voice in LaLiga and with plenty of wealthy suitors.
- Levante (15th) vs Huesca (20th): 1. (Sun – 18:30)
“This has been shameful. I, who loved VAR, don’t believe in it anymore. I don’t care if they suspend me for 500 matches. In six matches more than ten plays have gone against Levante in a totally unfair manner”. This is Quico Catalán, Levante’s president, full of wrath after his team lost 3-2 in Bilbao. To be fair, he has a case. I’ll just mention Casemiro’s “penalty” against Real Madrid and Vukcevic’s handball against Atleti, two key calls that made Levante lose points. On Wednesday, they lost to Athletic in the last minute with another penalty that VAR shouldn’t have validated, as Simon got the ball first.
These things tend to change over time, so one, cynical by nature, believes that after Catalan’s complaints, Levante will get a couple of breaks. It’s even easier if you play against an almost relegated side, isn’t it?
Mind you, the visitors have improved so much that they will probably finish surprisingly close to salvation, but the order is just too tall at this stage.
- Betis (10th) vs Villarreal (17th): 2. (Sun – 20:45)
Betis run the risk of finishing this season in the middle of the table and with no decent challenges for the Europa League or the Copa del Rey after having played memorable football in several spells of the year. Even worse, they would see arch-rivals Sevilla finish in front of them and of course in a further stage of the European competition than them. For all the swagger bordering arrogance displayed by Setién et al this season, they need much more consistency to be able to compete with their outstandingly solid neighbours, who despite their ups and downs this year can still guarantee a top six finish every single year.
In perhaps the most entertaining match of the season, Villarreal lost two points that when all is said and done could have meant survival. The 4-4 draw against Barcelona had it all: goals, comebacks, tons of class and technical brilliance and suspense. However, this is not the first time that Villarreal have squandered a two goal lead this season – last weekend in Vigo was almost unforgivable, as they did the same thing against a fellow struggler — and it’s shocking to see such a talented bunch make mistakes as dumb as they have done on quite a few occasions this year.
Well, Betis vs Villarreal is a great matchup to finish the weekend, and once again I favour the amarillos, in this case because they need it more than Betis do. Yes, a couple of wins would get the Verdiblancos back in contention for a top-six finish, but despite Canales’s excellent season, they don’t have the required dynamite up front. Plenty of goals, Samuel Chukwueze on the scoresheet and an entertaining visitors’ win.
Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Season: 108/250 (42%)
- Girona (14th) vs Espanyol (13th):
- Real Madrid (3rd) vs Eibar (11th):
- Rayo Vallecano (19th) vs Valencia (5th):
- Barcelona (1st) vs Atlético de Madrid (2nd):
- Alavés (7th) vs Leganés (12th):
- Getafe (4th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th):
- Valladolid (16th) vs Sevilla (6th):
- Celta (18th) vs Real Sociedad (9th):
- Levante (15th) vs Huesca (20th):
- 10. Betis (10th) vs Villarreal (17th)