Friday, March 16, 2012
Week 25 - Bored by success
After an exhilarating series of great results by Spanish clubs in European competitions, it feels strangely comforting to get back to the nuances of La Liga. With very specific exceptions, when a team from your country play in Europe, you root for them unconditionally, a rare fact under normal circumstances; another key dimension of these competitions lies in the fact that in these knockout stages, the results of each matchup arrive almost immediately.
Those two factors make for intense, but shallower and short-lived emotions, while La Liga, with its twists and turns, can make you support one team one week and root against them the following, legitimising that turncoat most of us hide deep inside; the deferred nature of its final outcome often finds you wondering how this all will end up, the endless possibilities of the final standings changing week after week in our troubled football-obsessed minds.
Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Granada (16th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X.
Mental note: never underestimate the power of Il Grande Stratega. Last weekend, his dark arts rewarded Sporting with a victory out of nowhere against a rival with more talent and superior resources. From now on, this column will ride his reputation until the end of the season: our new rule states that against the bottom ten sides, Javier Clemente guarantees the Gijoneses a sure win at home and a draw away. Against this growingly troubled Granada I'd even go for a '2', but breaking my own rule on the same day it became effective doesn't sound coherent. 'X' it is.
2. Zaragoza (20th) - Osasuna (6th): X.
When your team occupy the last position of the table and have both the lowest scoring record and the most porous defence, things can't get any worse. Nine points away from salvation and with terrible limitations in the squad, the best thing Zaragoza can expect is simply a decent end of the season, grab a few more points and home victories, and prepare the team for a tough next season in the Segunda.
That doesn't mean that Osasuna should get their European football hopes up. For all their excellent form in the Reyno de Navarra, the Rojillos are the sixth worst away team. A draw would content both sides.
3. Getafe (13th) - Real Sociedad (11th): 2.
And finally it's here: the highly expected duel between this year's finalists to the Most Unpredictable Team Award. A terrible nightmare for any decent gambler, this match features Getafe, able to lose to Sporting one weekend and then defeat Barcelona the following, and Real Sociedad, who can win in Valencia or lose 4-0 at home to Atlético in just seven days.
Given this background, it seems mandatory to leave aside absentees, potential tactics, home and away form and all those factors this column usually considers, to decide on a simple pick from the gut. A '1' would be the safe choice, therefore we can probably dismiss it. An 'X' could also make sense, as two bipolar sides would seem destined to draw; however, that would be too rational. Therefore, we shall ride Carlos Vela's outstanding form and go for an inexplicable, unjustifiable '2'.
4. Sevilla (12th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2.
Sevilla President Jose María del Nido believes that 'our level of frustration and disappointment with this year's squad is rated A+ (meaning huge)', while 'there's a bunch of our players performing well below expectations'. His statements, coming from a president that more often than not spoiled and defended his players beyond what appeared reasonable, sound even tougher.
But if Sevilla have been distracted by their president this week, what to say about Barcelona and Josep Guardiola's future? This soap opera has reached Eastenders heights, and rightfully so, because in Javier Mascherano's words, 'which club are ready for the most successful coach of their history to leave?'
And while we wait for its next chapter, let's go for a '2', given that Jesus Navas nurses a torn ankle, Jose Antonio Reyes has started to check out from matches as he usually does when his coach tells him to play wide open, and because, according to Phil Ball, Lionel Messi is not human. It will be a victory dedicated to Eric Abidal, who will have to undergo a liver transplant in the next few weeks.
5. Rayo Vallecano (10th) - Betis (15th): X.
This interesting encounter features two coaches who know each other from the lower divisions and who last year competed toughly in the Segunda División. At the end of the previous season, both of them succeeded in bringing their squads back to the Primera, and while Rayo's Jose Ramón Sandoval subsequently bagged Marca's Coach of the Year award, Betis' Pepe Mel won the Spanish FA prize.
Before he went to Betis, Mel used to coach Rayo's first team while Sandoval was responsible for the youth squads; therefore both gentlemen know each other well. The type of football they enjoy would be favoured by a bigger pitch than that of Vallecas, but get ready for an entertaining match in any case. No major injuries or absentees make this column choose the non-committal, always helpful 'X'.
6. Levante (5th) - Villarreal (17th): 2.
Had someone told me at the beginning of the season that, come Matchday 26, a Villarreal away win against Levante would qualify as a Quiniela Buster, I would have sent him to Quiniela Purgatory for a couple of weeks. But at this point, just like keeper Diego Lopez said on Thursday, Villarreal are 'wishing that the season had finished already' to avoid even more negative developments, such as relegation.
However, my money goes to the men in yellow. Levante on 5th is still an anomaly that must/will be corrected, even more when the home side will miss not only the long-time injured Juanlu Gómez, but also Jose Javier Barkero, while Juanfran Garcia and Arouna Kone will play despite not being 100% well physically. It's time for the Villarreal stars to show up and let their fans breathe some fresh air.
7. Mallorca (14th) - Atlético de Madrid (8th): 1.
And now that the Diego Simeone Effect is officially over, at least in La Liga, we can safely say that Atletico will go back to normal, meaning that letdowns like this upcoming match in Mallorca become easily foreseeable for the wise gambler. An away match after an exhausting trip and authoritative win in Turkey on two-day rest sounds like a trademark no-show from the Rojiblancos, and that is exactly what will happen on Sunday. Expect another goal from the in-form Victor Casadesus, Mallorca's finally found striker.
Let me finish with the Delusional Quote of the Month Award, which goes to former Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano: 'I honestly believe that, had I kept my job, Atlético would have finished the season between the fourth and the sixth position'.
8. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.
Very tricky match, as at least on paper it should bring us some top-class football, but both teams just played quite demanding Europa League matches and that will probably take its toll on Sunday, raising the unpredictability level of an already tough pick.
The most logical decision favours Athletic. Even though their Europa League rival was a tougher matchup, they played at home, got a famous win and will probably feel more rested than Valencia. Great chance for the Leones to get closer to the third spot, getting over Fernando Llorente's disappointing injury.
9. Real Madrid (1st) - Málaga (4th): 1.
Can we feel the first signs of divorce between Jose Mourinho and the Santiago Bernabeu? Until now, the Madridista faithful had shown an inexplicable level of loyalty towards the Portuguese, ignoring a series of sobering defeats against arch rivals Barcelona as well as the sequence of bizarre off-the-pitch incidents that Mou has starred in this season. The Special One is the first Real Madrid coach whose name is chanted week in, week out by the Bernabeu, never a coaches' stadium.
After their midweek match against CSKA Moscow, Mou reacted to some booing from the crowd going to salute the Fondo Sur, gesture bound to infuriate the rest of the stadium, who tend to disagree with the energetic, but often ill-advised Ultras. His post-match press conference only reinforced his displeasure with what he perceived as lack of support from the stadium.
And now Malaga arrive, trying to get at least one point to strengthen their top-four finish challenge. However, their three consecutive wins will end in La Castellana, as Mourinho exerts his hypnotic influx over Manuel Pellegrini to defeat the Chilean once again. With CR7, Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain in their current shape, it's hard to lose a match.
10. Espanyol (9th) - Racing de Santander (18th): 1.
Last weekend, the hosts came back from the ashes (a 5-0 thrashing at the Bernabéu) to defeat Rayo 5-1. A second home match in a row, in this case against the relegation-threatened Racing, means that they can aspire to finish the weekend in Europa League positions.
Any gambler should consider that Espanyol are Racing's favourite away rival. The Santanderinos have won in five of their last eight visits to the Españolistas. But that sounds like science fiction to this season's Racing, who have only been able to win once away from El Sardinero. Espanyol's shrewd winter reinforcements, such as Uche and Philippe Coutinho, have started to deliver, which reinforces the '1'.
Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get 10 correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!
1. Granada (16th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): X
2. Zaragoza (20th) - Osasuna (6th): X
3. Getafe (13th) - Real Sociedad (11th): 2
4. Sevilla (12th) - Barcelona (2nd): 2
5. Rayo Vallecano (10th) - Betis (15th): X
6. Levante (5th) - Villarreal (17th): 2
7. Mallorca (14th) - Atlético de Madrid (8th): 1
8. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Valencia (3rd): 1
9. Real Madrid (1st) - Málaga (4th): 1
10. Espanyol (9th) - Racing de Santander (18th): 1
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 115/240 (48%)