Week 4 - Slave to the rhythm
It's always slightly annoying for supporters and players alike when the league programme is disturbed after three weeks, just as some sort of rhythm was beginning to take hold. It's hard enough doing the quiniela at the best of times, with the early season's fixtures tricky to predict - see Eduardo's wonderful score for Week 3 - but the resumption of hostilities after the international games makes things more difficult still.
But I shall not offer up excuses, and no, Eduardo's not licking his wounds. We're just having a swap because I'll be in Austria on Sunday night, far away from a television and Real Sociedad v Zaragoza in Anoeta, a game I seem to specialise in missing every season. Below is your guide to unimaginable riches, should you win. If you get lucky, don't forget that Malaga might be looking for an owner soon.
Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
Malaga (3rd) v Levante (11th): 1
Santi Cazorla and Rondon may have gone, and Sheikh Al-Thani may have had a sudden attack of realism, but the show goes on. Isco and Nacho Monreal are looking good, the Champions League is on, Manuel Pellegrini is still up for the challenge and the young Fabrice Olinga looks more than just a flash in the pan. The news that UEFA are to postpone payment of the Champions League entry to Malaga (until creditor problems are sorted out) has been balanced this week by the rumour that David Beckham may become the owner. It's all happening. Meanwhile, there's a game against Levante, not quite the phenomenon of yesteryear, but with some morale restored after a startling comeback from 2-0 down to Espanyol in their last game. I'll go for a home win, but Levante will continue to be hard to beat this season.
Valencia (17th) v Celta (13th): 1
Valencia, whose star man Roberto Soldado scored the winner for Spain in midweek, have had a rather mixed beginning to the season, following up a worthy point in the Bernabeu with a careless performance at home to newly-promoted Deportivo, who came from behind to draw 3-3 at the Mestalla. Their next game was in the Camp Nou, where they acquitted themselves reasonably, but unless they win this one, the murmurs of discontent will soon begin to emanate from Valencia's famously impatient supporters. One suspects that this will be a difficult one for Celta, despite registering their first win in the third week at home to Osasuna, and generally playing some decent football since their return. Iago Aspas looks an excellent prospect, but this is the game where Valencia's season will kick off in earnest.
Getafe (10th) v Barcelona (1st): X
Getafe did it to Real Madrid, so can they repeat the feat against the other giant? Well, with Andres Iniesta out, and Jordi Alba very probably destined to join him, there is some glimmer of hope for the hosts. On their only away-day so far, Barcelona had an uncomfortable time up in Osasuna, but that's nothing unusual at that ground. However, Getafe have not lost since the opening day, and have a tendency to ruffle any sides who come complacent to the Coliseo. Adrian Colunga is looking good, and Barcelona just might succumb to their enthusiasm. I'll stick my neck out and plump for a draw. Real Madrid have had a few crises already this season, so it's time for Barcelona to have one too. Three wins on the trot is far too predictable. A fourth may be beyond them at this awkward stage of the season. David Villa to start the game?
Sevilla (7th) v Real Madrid (9th): 2
It's the late Saturday night match, and apart from the Madrid derby at the Calderon, it's the weekend's stand-out fixture. This game is always a high-tension affair, and despite Madrid's enormous victories there of late (1-6, 2-6), there is always a chance of things going awry for the visitors, especially if the hosts get off to a good start and the crowd gets behind them. The Pizjuan is not a place that Madrid relish visiting, despite their recent record there, but Sevilla's start is difficult to judge, with draws at Rayo and Granada hardly evidence of a great start - but they're undefeated, which is more than can be said for their visitors. Madrid need to get their league season under way, and will have a few things to prove, in the post-Ronaldo calm. The state propaganda machine has been in full flow this week, with pictures of a happy Ronaldo on the cover of Marca every morning - lest we should think the empire is about to collapse. Whatever - I think they'll win it, but it'll be a close affair.
Espanyol (19th) v Athletic (15th): X
With Espanyol's departed players now being missed (particularly Javi Marquez and Weiss), and manager Mauricio Pochettino under fire for the first ever time after an opening run of three defeats (and poor performances), this is a game that might cheer up at least one of the sides involved - Athletic's recent weeks having been also rather turbulent. But at least the Basques got off the mark last week, at home to Valladolid. No sign of a return for Fernando Llorente as yet, although his rebel sidekick Javi Martinez was spotted leaping over the training-ground fence in midweek to recover an old pair of boots - sneaking in under the cover of darkness to avoid the wrath of his ex-fans. Llorente has fewer places to hide, and no other team to go to, a situation still causing problems to the club and the normally positive atmosphere that surrounds it. Athletic will be happy with a result. It looks suspiciously like a draw.
Granada (18th) v Deportivo (6th): 2
Tricky one this. Los Carmenes needs to be the place where Granada pick up the points to remain in the top flight - a pessimistic outlook, but a realistic one nevertheless. Their manager, Juan Antonio Anquela, the man who masterminded Alcorcon's rise to fame, is about to have a street named after him there, but would probably prefer the simple pleasures this weekend of his first three points. Granada have looked rather inoffensive so far, whereas their opponents have started well - as many expected. Their home draw with Getafe in their last game seemed disappointing given the expectation their start had engendered, but the 1-1 scoreline hides the fact that they could easily have won it. I fancy Deportivo to win it, in an open game.
Osasuna (20th) v Mallorca (2nd): X
A game between two teams at the opposite ends of the form book, although it would be premature to write off Osasuna just yet. Traditionally bad travellers, their two away games so far have been to enthusiastic, pumped-up newly-risen promotees. Their only home game was against Barcelona, and they played well. Expect a dour struggle, with Mallorca's well-drilled soldiers beginning to take on the look of a real Joaquín Caparros outfit. But they've had a reasonable fixture list so far. Osasuna will be up for this game, with the disappointment of their lame defeat at Celta now a fortnight away. Tight game, most probably ending in a draw.
Real Sociedad (16th) v Zaragoza (14th): 1
It is Zaragoza's dream not to be fighting against relegation, and although Real Sociedad secured safety last season with less sweat than in the previous campaign, their inconsistent start has raised questions as to their durability. They have lots of young quality coming through the ranks (Ruben Pardo, Inigo Martinez, Antoine Griezmann, Asier Illarramendi et al) but long-term policies sometimes need to be protected with short-term pragmatism, and basically, they're great with the ball, not so good without it. Zaragoza would do well to take heed, although it won't have escaped Real's attention that their visitors have won their only game in three away from home, at Espanyol. Nevertheless, I'm going to vote with my heart and not my head. Real look good at Anoeta, less so away. Home win.
Atletico Madrid (8th) v Rayo Vallecano (4th): 1
They've chosen this for the late Sunday night game, and it looks like it could indeed be the game of the weekend. Rayo are undefeated, are missing Michu (and Tamudo) less than they thought they would, and play Real Madrid in a second consecutive derby next week in Vallecas. Exciting times for the minnows from Madrid, although they were a little fortunate in their last game against Sevilla, escaping two missed penalties. Promising times for their more illustrious opponents however, 8th in the table despite only having played a couple of games. In the last one, they destroyed Athletic 4-0, and you get the feeling that they can't wait to get going again, with the Super Cup vibes still running through their red and white veins. They have a tendency to promise much, and then ultimately fail to deliver, but there's a tougher look about them this year, and in Radamel Falcao and Adriano (yet to really figure) they have two exceptional players. It should be a good raucous encounter, but I think it'll be a home win.
Vallladolid (5th) v Betis (12th) X
This is the second Monday night game for Valladolid in four weeks. They'll be thinking that nobody loves them. After their last home game, the defeated captain of Levante, Sergio Ballesteros commented that with refereeing such as that of Iglesias Villaneva, Valladolid would go on to win the league. Indeed, they may not be handed two penalties this time, and a ten-man opposition, but they lie fifth in the league, despite their 2-0 defeat at Athletic in their last game. Betis, who haven't played since they were defeated by Rayo on a miserable home night, will need to recover the spirit that saw them score five at San Mames on the opening day. I fancy Valladolid for this one, but suspect it might end in an anonymous Monday-night draw.