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Serie A heavyweights head-to-head

50-50 Challenge 2 days ago
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Nov 9, 2012

Week 11 - Who's first?

After the first ten matches of the competition, all 20 coaches in La Liga have kept their jobs. Could this mean clubs have suddenly seen the light and now wish to grant their employees a bit more time to do their work in peace? Not really. They just don't have the cash to hire and fire recklessly anymore. We finally found a positive byproduct of the financial crisis: less turnover on Spanish benches.

Unfortunately, it's bound to end sooner rather than later. Even if they have to resort to some of the more creative forms of finance, I'm sure that at least three presidents will consider firing their coaches if they don't win this weekend. Let's find them scattered around this week's ESPN FC Quiniela.

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

1. Betis (4th) - Granada (19th): 1.

The first candidate to lose his job - and he is quite a strong candidate - is Juan Antonio Anquela, who put together a palatable run at the beginning of the season with eight points from the first seven matches but has since lost three in a row, plus a cup tie against Zaragoza. The troubled Granadinos play with more flair than their status in the table would imply, and striker Youssef El-Arabi, on the scoresheet in the last four matches, is on the verge of breaking a club record.

At the opposite end of the table, Betis boss Pepe Mel is unexpectedly concerned: "We should not believe we're this good, because then we'll start losing. We're specialists in screwing things up." Last season, Granada won at the Benito Villamarin, but bearing in mind Betis' great shape and their options off the bench, another victory seems out of the question. Tough days ahead for Anquela.

2. Rayo Vallecano (11th) - Celta (15th): 1.

They did not need to do much to gain my favour, but the way Rayo play this year, with an almost irresponsible desire to score, has led me to support the Rayista cause even though they have the worst defence in La Liga. Leo Baptista, Piti and Jose Carlos, able to drive any defence nuts with their passing and movement, deserve a much better supporting cast, but their growing coordination should be enough to keep Rayo in the Primera for another year. They will enjoy the chance to entertain their fans against Celta, who are still winless away from Balaidos this season.

3. Espanyol (18th) - Osasuna (20th): 1.

While Mauricio Pochettino bought himself some time after Espanyol's victory last weekend in San Sebastian, Osasuna's Jose Luis Mendilibar may very well join the 25% of the Spanish active population without a job this coming Saturday. How's Mendilibar doing under all this pressure? "Same as always," goalkeeper Andres Fernandez says. "Grumpy, loud as hell and really hard-working." That does not sound quite like your dream boss, I know, but how would you behave if your manager told you that your job is secure only until the next weekend, as Miguel Archanco, Osasuna's president, said last Sunday?

Espanyol have started to climb up the table with seven points from three matches. They should put the last nail in Mendilibar's coffin.

4. Zaragoza (12th) - Deportivo de La Coruna (16th): 1.

Just when they managed to get themselves back into La Liga, Depor have had to file for bankruptcy. The Spanish tax authority just embargoed all of their revenues to pay a €34 million debt, which left president Augusto Cesar Lendoiro with no other option but bankruptcy. The players were already complaining of delayed payments, and now wonder what will happen with their salaries.

It's bad timing to try to reverse an already difficult situation in the standings. Their visit to Zaragoza won't be successful either, as the hosts have improved their performance in the last few matches, and even managed to impress in Madrid despite their misleading 4-0 defeat at the Bernabeu.

5. Malaga (5th) - Real Sociedad (17th): X.

Another manager in trouble, Philippe Montanier, knows how to dribble his way out of the relegation zone, as he proved a couple of times last season. "Firing Montanier is not the solution," Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay said on Thursday, but when a sizeable part of your fanbase is demanding your coach's head, as was the case last weekend in Anoeta, you need more than balanced statements to calm things down.

It's hard to imagine Malaga losing two in a row at home, but they looked tired against Rayo and their successful and historic trip to Milan will not have helped their energy levels. Montanier has seven lives and he'll show that again on Saturday.

6. Valladolid (8th) - Valencia (9th): 2.

Valladolid, together with Rayo and Betis, are probably the most enjoyable surprise packages of the La Liga season so far. They make the most of very limited resources, play with flair and try to score, even if that leads them to suffer one or two occasional thrashings along the way.

However, this match-up looks like bad news for Valladolid. Valencia, serious and focused, are the kind of team that know how to exploit their defensive deficiencies on the counter, and with three consecutive wins, the Ches, and especially striker Roberto Soldado, have recovered their mojo.

7. Athletic de Bilbao (14th) - Sevilla (7th): 1.

"I'd love to go back and coach Athletic," French coach Luis Fernandez said this week. Never the most tactful, his latest statement arrives at a very tough time for Argentinean manager Marcelo Bielsa, who just saw his team lost at home to Lyon in their midweek Europa League match.

The Bilbainos are underperforming and desperately need a win; luckily for them, they should take advantage of Sevilla, who are poor travellers, to extend Bielsa's tenure in Bilbao for at least another couple of weeks.

8. Mallorca (13th) - Barcelona (1st): 2.

Did you see Rod Stewart crying tears of sheer happiness? Yes, Celtic defeated Barcelona, ending Tito Vilanova's undefeated run and reminding us all that you can beat the Catalans if you defend perfectly, have your lucky day and take your chances on the counter. Three huge ifs, by the way.

But that shouldn't happen very frequently from now on. Barcelona have already been bolstered by the returns of Gerard Pique and Daniel Alves, so their build-up game will immediately improve. Bearing in mind the fact that they opened up an eight-point lead over arch-rivals Real Madrid while suffering that plague of injuries, things can only get even better for them now. Mallorca have lost five in a row and, without the injured Giovanni dos Santos, they will get to six.

9. Atletico de Madrid (2nd) - Getafe (10th): 2.

It's officially over. Atletico's honeymoon has ended abruptly with two consecutive defeats, first against Valencia and then, more disappointingly, in Portugal against Academicos de Coimbra, who had not won a single European match in 43 years. Yes, I know that boss Diego Simeone took a second-string side to Portugal but, to quote Junior Soprano, these things come in threes.

Believe me, I can easily see the visitors suddenly putting in one of those performances when everything works out. I can also see Getafe striker Alvaro Vazquez playing his best game of the season on Sunday. And of course, I can see a shocked Calderon muted as the ghost of Christmas past makes an unexpected cameo near the Manzanares river. Atletico are back.

10. Levante (6th) - Real Madrid (3rd): X.

If we have to judge them by the performances of the last month, Real Madrid have recovered their top form in La Liga but still need some improvement in Europe. Taking only one point - via a last-gasp goal - from two matches against Borussia Dortmund hardly impresses, particularly as the Madridistas' most chaotic aspects related to the midfield, which is the key to the game.

"Playing against Levante feels like torture," Sevilla boss Michel said after his side had to settle for a 0-0 draw versus the Levantinistas, and something tells me that that could be the score again on Sunday. Real Madrid will have to find an alternative to injured couple Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema, which means that Sergio Ballesteros will mark Cristiano Ronaldo man-to-man - we already know he's faster than the Portuguese star. This has 'stalemate' written all over it, and could start a mini-crisis at the Bernabeu.

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

Last week: 2/10 (20%)
Season: 41/100 (41%)

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