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Friday, December 9, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: December 10, 5:36 PM UK
Week 13 - Seeing white and blaugrana

Eduardo Alvarez

This column was initially conceived as a tongue-in-cheek, comprehensive preview of every Primera Division match of the weekend, with the added bonus of the often-unlucky writer trying to guess the outcome of matches to make things a bit more interesting. Readers could make fun of him (actually, me) in the comments section (not this week, though) as well as post their own guesses and track their progress or lack thereof. One of the more interesting by-products of this concept lies in the weekly analysis of La Liga, going beyond the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona duopoly and discussing every team every week. However, the derby obsession has reached new, unprecedented heights in the Spanish mass media. At this point, the derby fever has occupied the last two weeks of the lives of any Spanish football follower, contaminating even this humble writer. I can only see white and blaugrana, nothing else. In this column, I shall find a way to mention Real Madrid and/or Barcelona in every match of the weekend. Wait and see. Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. 1. Levante (4th) - Sevilla (5th): 2. My strange 'white and blaugrana' eye disease only gains strength with the first match of the weekend, in which the blaugrana Levante host the white Sevilla. Another Real Madrid v Barcelona in disguise? While the home side have undoubtedly overachieved so far, the visitors' combination of a solid back four but hardly enticing offensive game has been unjustly interpreted as an average season by Sevilla's media and supporters alike, despite their being fifth in the table. Let me give you a hint for the super-mega-derby: the team wearing white uniforms will win this one. Time for Levante's miracle to start wearing off, and for Sevilla to finally come together in the attacking side of things. 2. Betis (17th) - Valencia (3rd): X. During the week, this column devoted quite a long time to find a precedent for Pepe Mel's current situation, i.e. another Primera División boss who managed to keep his job after winning one point out of the last 30. None found, and yet I'm not sure whether this is good news (trust the man and don't overreact for a change) or bad news (could firing Mel be categorised as 'overreacting?) for Betis fans. Even worse, Valencia - the second best visiting La Liga team - come to town, which is far from the ideal circumstance in which to save one's job. Los Ches come from a brutal midweek defeat at the hands of Chelsea and experienced their last instance of the Champions League virus this season, now that they're out of the competition. Juggling between competitions is something that only Real Madrid and Barcelona seem able to do. Go and ask a couple of teams from Manchester. In any case, 'X' sounds reasonable. 3. Real Madrid (1st) - Barcelona (2nd): 1. When Phil Ball shies away from the responsibility of predicting a derby score, the stakes are high. In his defence, I've had five more days and about one thousand more articles to read since he wrote his Sunday piece, but don't think that makes me any wiser. Let's see what we know. For instance, we do know that since he began coaching Barcelona, Pep Guardiola has never lost to Real Madrid in a La Liga match (five wins and one draw, 17 goals scored and only three against). This season we've seen Pep Guardiola play with a throwback three-man defence formation, which is risky but great fun to watch. We've seen Lionel Messi, Cesc Fábregas and Thiago Alcantara enjoy themselves on the pitch, while David Villa struggles to keep his place in the starting XI. And we also know that Barcelona have been playing well below their impressive average away from home (two wins, three draws, one defeat, eight goals scored, seven against). As for the Madrid camp, we know that the Madridistas' offensive flow has benefited from Sergio Ramos playing as a centre-back, Xabi Alonso's excellent start of the season, Cristiano Ronaldo's sudden generosity, Angel Di Maria's skills as an agitator and the fantastic competition between Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema. Madrid's daunting physical play progresses as Jose Mourinho has configured a potent, intimidating squad, usually the type against which Barcelona suffer the most. And we also know that the missing element is Mesut Ozil, who is far from at his best but is still key in providing some inventiveness in an otherwise very direct football team. This is Real Madrid's chance to make a statement, although clearly not in an 'end of the Barcelona cycle' sort of way. If the Madridistas deliver on Saturday, this match could represent the beginning of an extremely rare phase of parity, during which both sides play at their best and can only be stopped by their one arch-rival, not only in Spain but in Europe as well. In this new stage, home advantage finally recovers its meaning, which is why I favour the Merengues on Saturday. The Bernabeu know that it's time to go for the jugular, as does the team. And Guardiola has a trip to Japan to win yet another title to worry about. Note: not enough El Clasico for you? Check out Robin Hackett's excellent list of previous derbies with great links attached. 4. Rayo Vallecano (11th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): 1. Rayo desperately need three points and, after four winless matches, Sporting sound like the perfect visitor for an easy win. The side from Gijon could find themselves without defensive midfielders to start the match, as Sebastian Eguren is suspended while Nacho Cases and Ricardo Leon are injured. Tough sequels of last weekend's defeat versus Real Madrid that should cost them dear on Sunday. 5. Villarreal (15th) - Real Sociedad (13th): 1. "Now it is the time to focus on La Liga," Villarreal's midfielder Bruno stereotypically said after his team were defeated for the sixth time in six Champions League matches. Most worrying is that the hosts have developed the terrible habit of losing - a hard one to shake off. However, Real Madrid, er, Sociedad won two consecutive matches with last-gasp goals, which lifted some pressure off the shoulders of boss Philippe Montanier. The Realistas will take Sunday off. 6. Getafe (16th) - Granada (12th): X. Had any of you told me that Granada would sit comfortably in 12th spot after 14 matches with eight goals scored, I would have probably thought that you weren't taking your medication. The fact is that they play hard, defend well and make the most out of the goals they score, which is usually a good recipe for a modest team aiming to survive. Getafe love to live on the edge, defeating Barcelona and Atletico when they feel it and then losing to Sporting or Rayo. In this case, I believe the visitors' defence will prevail. Boring stalemate. 7. Zaragoza (20th) - Mallorca (14th): X. And speaking of boredom, meet Zaragoza and Mallorca. The home side, with the worst defence of La Liga, tend to entertain their rivals rather than their own supporters. The visitors, a cash-strapped version of last season's Athletic under boss Joaquin Caparros, won't set the world alight either. If I were you, I'd record the Real Madrid-Barcelona derby and watch it again on Sunday instead of wasting your time with this one. 8. Málaga (6th) - Osasuna (7th): 1. Believe it or not, after 14 matches, the extremely rich Malaga are competing head to head with the extremely humble Osasuna. Malaga left-back Ignacio Monreal will face his former team, while the hosts will miss former Real Madrid player Julio Baptista for another two months, due to recent surgery on his right foot. Osasuna's long list of absentees becomes the deciding factor: Javad Nekounam and Damia Abella are suspended, while Raul Garcia and Marc Bertran are injured. Too much for the Navarros to get a result at La Rosaleda. 9. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Racing de Santander (18th): 1. Can't figure out Athletic. They're as good at San Mames (nine points in seven matches) as they are away (same number of points in the same number of matches). They play quite poorly after every midweek match. They haven't learned how to finish rivals off yet. However, they still look like a very interesting team to watch, a competitive side in the formative stages, just like last season's Real Madrid. Last week, Racing defeated Villarreal, which in hindsight might have not been such a feat. The visitors took the unusual measure of opting for a triumvirate to coach the team, following bizarre 'more the merrier' logic. Don't think it should work in Bilbao. 10. Espanyol (10th) - Atletico de Madrid (8th): 1. The other Barcelona v Madrid derby closes our weekend. The hosts keep discussing winter reinforcements for their languishing offence, while the visitors arrive in Cornella after a boring Copa del Rey tie with their B-side in Albacete and in the midst of yet another heated debate regarding Jose Antonio Reyes. The talented but controversial midfielder seems to be headed for Turkey, but he won't leave silently. Sounds like a classic lazy away display from Atletico, the worst Primera side on their travels (one point in six matches). Consolation prize for the ville de Barcelona. PS. You can follow me on twitter (@EdAlvarezSpain). 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. Levante (4th) - Sevilla (5th): 2.
2. Betis (17th) - Valencia (3rd): X.
3. Real Madrid (1st) - Barcelona (2nd): 1.
4. Rayo Vallecano (11th) - Sporting de Gijón (19th): 1.
5. Villarreal (15th) - Real Sociedad (13th): 1.
6. Getafe (16th) - Granada (12th): X.
7. Zaragoza (20th) - Mallorca (14th): X.
8. Málaga (6th) - Osasuna (7th): 1.
9. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Racing de Santander (18th): 1.
10. Espanyol (10th) - Atletico de Madrid (8th): 1. Last week: 8/10 (80%)
Season: 66/120 (55%)

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