Week 7 - Mayan Prophecy
Only ten weeks away from what should be the end of the world according to the Mayans, you've probably read thousands of reasons that should prove them right. Allow me to jump on this at this point hardly creative bandwagon with ten of my own, one per match this weekend.
Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Celta (14th) - Sevilla (4th): 1.
Reason: This match happens on a Friday. This scheduling decision means that at least one match of football will have been offered on live TV - mostly paid, but still - every single day from Saturday, September 28 until Sunday, October 7, something unprecedented in Spain. Instances of hedonism such as this - pleasure and leisure every day of the week, with no time for introspection or real work - ended up with Rome in flames.
Regarding the match, Sevilla - without suspended Gary Medel and boss Michel, and tired after a demanding sequence of matches - should lose some of their momentum. And it always feels good to bet on cantera-friendly teams such as Celta. Don't miss the duel between goalies Andres Palop and Javi Varas, both on Sevilla's payroll.
2. Rayo Vallecano (13th) - Deportivo de La Coruna (16th): 1.
Reason: For the first time in his 16-year career, Manuel Pablo will miss a match because of a minor muscular injury. Usually you needed to break his leg for him to sit a game out, as indeed happened in 2001 when he fractured his shinbone in two different places. Our own Carl Ripken Jr just took a day off.
In related news, Rayo's remarkable president Martin Presa has vowed he'll find "the real culprits" after the CSI: Vallecas affair. Leaving aside the obvious OJ reminiscences - without the car chase, obviously - one has to wonder how the whole thing was even possible. Time for Rayo to get their act together and take advantage of Depor's likely lack of energy after two consecutive trips to Madrid.
3. Valladolid (7th) - Espanyol (20th): 1.
Reason: After a dismal start of the season, and rather than going down the almost mandatory road of firing boss Mauricio Pochettino, Espanyol's board of directors have decided listen to the people, resign en masse and call elections. Fine, there's a 100% chance that the current president will keep his job, so it's all quite a masquerade, but when has this ever happened?
Valladolid forwards Alberto Bueno and Manucho have starred in the feel-good story of the season so far. They seemed to be out of the squad in July and August, but after two months of hard work boss Miroslav Djukic decided to give them a chance and they're making the most out of it. With their in-form duo, the hosts should take care of business against the most depressing Espanyol side in a long while.
4. Zaragoza (15th) - Getafe (11th): X.
Reason: After Monday's pulsating encounter and victory over Mallorca, five Getafe supporters appeared out of nowhere and bought season tickets this week.
I really like the visitors here. They're tough, have great talent in Abdel Barradas and Diego Castro, and have over performed so far with a tough schedule. Zaragoza have lost the will to fight that they showed in their last 15 matches last season, and their coach, Manolo Jimenez, can only do so much with his extremely limited squad. However, La Romareda always helps the home team to play an ugly match. 'X' it is.
5. Betis (9th) - Real Sociedad (8th): 2.
Reason: After comprehensively defeating Athletic in the Basque derby, the Realistas have kept a complete low profile all this week, avoiding cheap shots and easy jokes about Bilbainos, thus breaking a century-long tradition. Okay, I made this up. They've been merciless, as usual.
Real Sociedad won all of their home matches and lost every time they travelled. They have a great opportunity to break this streak against a below average home team in Betis. The Verdiblancos' defence conceded four in each of their last two matches, while the Realistas' solid performance against Athletic deserves our backing this weekend.
6. Levante (12th) - Valencia (10th): 2.
Reason: The mere existence of Valencia's Grada Jove (Youth's Terrace) - a recently created group of Valencianistas who root for their team all match long. Can you believe it? A group of Valencia fans who support the side without booing, complaining or turning their backs on the players for a full match! This can't last long.
As though he were manager of a top team, Levante boss Juan Ignacio Martínez decided to rest three starters for their midweek trip to Hannover. He learned the hard way that they're no Barcelona, as they lost a match they could have won. Now he'll learn that, even after resting starters, most bigger teams, including neighbours Valencia, can beat them on their own turf.
7. Mallorca (5th) - Granada (17th): X.
Reason: For the first time in six years, Mallorca's power struggles between their shareholders have not generated a single headline in a full week. Even if the world does not explode in December, all this peace in the beautiful island will very likely bring the club down to the Segunda. Mallorca can't possibly perform when all is nice and quiet.
Mallorca boss Joaquin Caparros will have to change all of his back four due to injuries and suspensions. That should give Granada some advantage, but the Granadinos and their fantastic goalie Tono can't score to save their lives. Boring draw at Son Moix.
8. Athletic de Bilbao (18th) - Osasuna (19th): X.
Reason: These two teams have never played each other while occupying relegation positions. While some say that their strong policies on homegrown talent limit their chances of being more competitive, the fact that both have fallen this low after fantastic seasons last year points at something deeper: the demise of the Basques, the modern-day Mayans.
This non-committal pick means that Marcelo Bielsa could be out of his job on Sunday. If he manages to stay, the terrible sequence of results and his clear fall-out with most of the squad and the president make this outcome almost a must in the next couple of weeks. The team looks dysfunctional, irritated, lazy... well, some would say they're trying to get the coach fired.
9. Barcelona (1st) - Real Madrid (6th): 2.
Reason: Carles Puyol, Spain's poster boy for physical power and endurance, has undergone a series of injuries that make him look like an unlucky Yao Ming. I can't think of a stronger metaphor for the end of a race. Even the strongest of us are human, therefore fallible, mortal and bound to disappear.
This mega-derby feels weird so early into the season, especially with Real Madrid desperately needing a victory to avoid a monster gap with their arch-rivals. Despite the reigning bad blood in Real Madrid's dressing room with the Jersey-gate and all, the Madridistas should have the upper hand on Sunday. They can easily exploit Barcelona's make-do centre-back pairing with their quick counters, while Barcelona's passing game has been less effective than usual, and should be controlled by Real Madrid's likely midfield of three, with Sami Khedira, Michael Essien and Xabi Alonso. On top of that, the well-documented yin/yang dynamic prevents either of these teams from holding an advantage of more than ten points over the other. While exceptions must be made in the case of a monster game from Leo Messi, the Merengues should recover some ground in their least favourite stadium.
By the way, it's shocking how Barca's usually aggressive youth policy becomes extremely conservative when it's time to promote central defenders. Barcelona's bosses have used pretty much any defensive midfielder rather than their promising youngsters when Puyol and/or Gerard Pique can't play. Are they not that promising?
10. Atletico de Madrid (2nd) - Malaga (3rd): 1.
Reason: Atletico finally won two consecutive away matches despite just two days' rest - unprecedented since I began writing this column - and 15 (you read that right: fifteen) in a row in European competition. Not only that, but if the results this column predicted actually happen, they will lead La Liga come Sunday night. Need I say more?
Any other week, this would be the top match to watch. Two teams at the peak of their powers with very different ways of playing the game. In such a clash of styles, one favours the more physical, more direct Atletico, who have the best player of both teams in Radamel Falcao and will be supported by a legion of Rojiblancos who can hardly believe what they're witnessing. Their run of victories is indeed a chain of events that takes us closer to the end of the world.
Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. We only need ten correct results to guarantee Armageddon in December, and your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!
1. Celta (14th) - Sevilla (4th):
2. Rayo Vallecano (13th) - Deportivo de La Coruña (16th):
3. Valladolid (7th) - Espanyol (20th):
4. Zaragoza (15th) - Getafe (11th):
5. Betis (9th) - Real Sociedad (8th):
6. Levante (12th) - Valencia (10th):
7. Mallorca (5th) - Granada (17th):
8. Athletic de Bilbao (18th) - Osasuna (19th):
9. Barcelona (1st) - Real Madrid (6th):
10. Atlético de Madrid (2nd) - Málaga (3rd):
Last week: 8/10 (80%) Season: 28/60 (47%)