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Nov 2, 2012

Week 10 - Hardly News

In recent years, La Liga has indeed grown into a tireless new-generating machine, not only on the pitch but off it, too. Especially off it. The antagonism between the current duopoly of giants, supported by their respective local media outlets, provides a relentless stream of the shallow, enough for a full-blown, never-ending soap opera in which their constant jibes at each other, coupled with the painstaking publication of their internal issues, become fast food material for a morbid legion of readers.

Only this week, we were bombarded by debatable news items such as the hardly unpretentious Sandro Rosell's speech about the importance of staying humble in front of a bunch of high school students, clearly intending to pick on Cristiano Ronaldo (pot calling the kettle black, anyone?) and Jose Mourinho's rant about Real Madrid's youth-team system, undoubtedly said with the intention of seeing the B-team manager fired.

"Is this really news? Who on earth is interested in this?" my enraged mother asked after 25 minutes of nonsensical, scarcely sports-related chatter on the evening news. "My readers, dear mother, my readers," I answered proudly.

Shall we? Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Malaga (3rd) - Rayo Vallecano (15th): 1.

Malaga's squad and coach Manuel Pellegrini have continued to excel throughout the first quarter of La Liga. The club, having surpassed all their previous records, are now tied on points with Villarreal's best beginning of the season under the Chilean. "The players have done their bit on the pitch," Pellegrini said after his side defeated Cacereno 4-3 in their midweek cup trip to Caceres. "Now it's the owner's turn." He was referring to the fact that the club still owes the players €8 million from last season's unpaid salaries. Surprise, surprise: once again, Al Thani did not deliver on his word - this time to pay the staff by October 31 - and therefore the players are now discussing potential action against the owner.

But assuming they keep doing their bit, this should be an easy win. Rayo arrive in Malaga on the back of a two-day rest after a long midweek trip to the Canary Islands, and without two of their defensive pillars, goalkeeper Ruben and centre-back Amat, which is not good for the worst defensive side in La Liga.

2. Barcelona (1st) - Celta (13th): 1.

"It had been a year since you last scored in consecutive matches," an inexperienced journo noted when interviewing Barcelona's David Villa after his Copa del Rey goal in Vitoria. "Yes, it was hard to score from the hospital," the striker replied. Villa is back, and Barcelona and Spain will not be complaining. With Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas also hitting a great run of form, Barcelona suddenly look like the dominating, unstoppable scoring machine of old, having overcome their successful although hesitant beginning of the season. How can young and hopeful Celta defeat Barcelona at the Camp Nou? Only if Barcelona play with Alexis Sanchez and ten clones, which does not sound remotely possible.

3. Real Madrid (4th) - Zaragoza (9th): 1.

Allow me to follow my mother's advice and ignore the umpteenth internal war started by Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho. Kaka's recent comeback deserves our time more. The Brazilian now looks motivated in every single match, even in the midweek cup tie against humble Alcoyano, in which he captained the Madridistas to a 4-1 win and scored again. Regardless of the fact that his playing style hardly fits Real Madrid's and that he's played a full 90 minutes in barely 10% of the club's matches since he arrived, it's strangely comforting to see a 30-year-old millionaire who has already won it all - both financially and competitively - run around like a youngster trying to make the first team. It's a game after all.

Other than that, it should be business as usual for the Madridistas on Saturday. Zaragoza got some breathing space with two consecutive wins, so they can relax and enjoy their trip to the capital.

4. Valencia (11th) - Atletico de Madrid (2nd): X.

Valencia's last seven matches: three wins (all at home), four defeats (all away). Looks like a trend that would support a home win, correct? It's no reason for the Rojiblancos to lose their sleep, though. Atletico's run is even stronger, having won 95% of all their official games this season while benefiting from the increasingly productive supporting cast.

On top of that, Atletico are becoming the Tony Blair of La Liga, with a playing pattern that looks like a Third Way between Barcelona and Real Madrid: the Rojiblancos have conceded the second fewest shots per game while registering the third most shots on the opposition's goal. All of that with just 46% possession - 16th in the rankings - and only average passing accuracy, according to whoscored.com. It all comes down to great positioning and tactical acumen.

However, one can't totally go for the visitors, as that would suggest we ignore Valencia's usual dominance at the Mestalla. 'X' sounds reasonable.

5. Real Sociedad (14th) - Espanyol (19th): 1.

Both teams enter the tenth match of the calendar as clear underperformers, and after a midweek cup tie that took them away from their natural habitats. Real Sociedad found themselves wasting a lead for the ninth time of the season at Valladolid last Monday, while Espanyol can't seem to get going and leave the relegation zone. The Realistas' home advantage gives them the edge.

6. Deportivo de La Coruna (18th) - Mallorca (12th): X.

With one win in nine matches, Depor's confidence looks shattered, even though boss Jose Luis Oltra stated that they "feel reinforced" after grinding out a draw in the Galician derby against Celta. Draws will take you nowhere when you're in the relegation zone, even if they happen against your biggest rival.

These same sides already met on Thursday night at Riazor for their cup tie, drawing 1-1. I would not be surprised if they repeat that result on Sunday.

7. Osasuna (20th) - Valladolid (10th): 1.

Osasuna's nose dive into the relegation zone has to stop at some point, I keep telling myself. Perhaps this is the right moment, against a rival with a few more points than they expected to have after nine matches, but still inconsistent away from home. The issue is: can the home side produce something in attack? "We lack the appetite to score," their boss, Jose Luis Mendilibar, says. They'd better find it soon.

8. Granada (17th) - Athletic de Bilbao (16th): X.

If you enjoy dramas, you'll have a truly pantagruelian helping to rejoice over in Granada. A defeat will most definitely mean that the losing coach will end up unemployed at some point next week, so it's high stakes for both host Juan Antonio Anquela and visitor Marcelo Bielsa. Given that the atmosphere in Bilbao is brutally charged, and that Athletic have travelled poorly this season, this jury feels slightly inclined to favour the locals, but the visitors do have an advantage in terms of skill. Let's go for an 'X', which should keep both coaches living in their respective miseries for one more week.

9. Sevilla (7th) - Levante (6th): 1.

Levante can 'blame' their shrewd signings of pure strikers for a decent chunk of their success in recent seasons. Felipe Caicedo and Arouna Kone, both of them bought at zero cost, led the Granotas to impressive seasons, and now it's Obafemi Martins, another striker hired for free, who's keeping the Levantinos among the top teams with his scoring.

The thing is, ObaOba hasn't produced away from home yet, much like Levante - two goals in four matches - while Sevilla look tough and aggressive at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Another striker in sweet form, Alvaro Negredo, looks destined to win this one.

10. Getafe (8th) - Betis (5th): 1.

Monday's match brings us two sides looking up. Getafe, better travellers than hosts, entertain Betis at the Coliseum, which in all likelihood will take its usual emptiness to unprecedented lows, given the day of the week and the kick-off time. The encounter could be interesting, as it is full of upsides for both teams, but the fact that they played away cup ties during the week, coupled with their overachievers status so far, lead me to believe they're likely to take a day off, and in that context the advantage should belong to the home team, regardless of the number of fans present.

While all this happens, Mexican millionaire Carlos Slim is evaluating the possibility of buying the La Liga club with the fewest followers. He probably knows something we don't, which only makes sense, given that he's the richest man on Earth, and all the rest of us are not.

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. Malaga (3rd) - Rayo Vallecano (15th):
2. Barcelona (1st) - Celta (13th):
3. Real Madrid (4th) - Zaragoza (9th):
4. Valencia (11th) - Atletico de Madrid (2nd):
5. Real Sociedad (14th) - Espanyol (19th):
6. Deportivo de La Coruna (18th) - Mallorca (12th):
7. Osasuna (20th) - Valladolid (10th):
8. Granada (17th) - Athletic de Bilbao (16th):
9. Sevilla (7th) - Levante (6th):
10. Getafe (8th) - Betis (5th):

Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 39/90 (43%)

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