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Nov 30, 2012

End of the line?

For the first time since Jose Mourinho took control at Real Madrid, the manager looks in a weak position. President Florentino Perez has denied some of Mou's recent demands, after the Portuguese coach specifically asked for more power inside the organisational structure, as well as support in his various crusades against referees, fixture lists and forgotten plaques.

At the same time, and this is probably not the consequence but the cause of Perez's actions, the Bernabeu has voiced its unhappiness with the team, probably related to the disappointing results and unexpected struggles in both La Liga and the Champions League.

Is Mou's job at stake? No, not yet. But assuming that this Quiniela is right - huge assumption - we could be hearing Spanish journalists calling for his head sooner rather than later. Who would have thought that just two months ago...

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

1. Barcelona (1st) - Athletic de Bilbao (14th): 1.

Athletic recovered some of their self-esteem after their youngsters defeated Hapoel Kiryat in a meaningless Europa League match on Thursday. A bunch of young lions proved their worth in Israel and Fernando Llorente and Gaizka Toquero managed to get on the scoresheet, something the duo desperately needed.

Despite the fact that all of the first team players stayed in Bilbao to rest, it would be a surprise if Athletic pulled off a shock in the Camp Nou. The Bilbainos have not had much time to prepare to face Barcelona. Some of the Catalan stars have taken their time to hit top form this season, but are now back to their usual high standards. David Villa, for instance, looks like the offensive threat he's always been while Lionel Messi, on a mission to break Gerd Muller's goalscoing record for a calendar year, is unstoppable. Easy home win.

2. Celta (15th) - Levante (6th): X.

Celta have what it takes to upset many teams. A decent defence, hard-working midfield and a really hot striker in Iago Aspas - with a €10 million buyout clause, this guy is a steal.

But can they defeat Levante? The Levantinos keep adding new tricks to their repertoire. Now there's even a talented player from the youth teams, Roger, who put in an impressive display in their midweek Cup tie. Levante producing their own players? Just when I thought I had seen everything in football... In any case, this smells like a boring stalemate; one point will satisfy both teams.

3. Mallorca (16th) - Zaragoza (13th): 1.

Eight matches without a win would mean trouble for any coach, even if like Mallorca's Joaquin Caparros you keep pulling one magic trick after another with extremely limited resources. His bosses appear to be well aware of his value, but most fans are rarely that forgiving, and the Andalusian coach could face a real pañolada - fans waving white handkerchiefs in the stands - if Mallorca fail to defeat Zaragoza on Saturday.

I still believe that Caparros will at some point find a formula for his forwards Victor Casadesus and Giovanni dos Santos to coexist peacefully on the pitch, which would solve plenty of the offensive issues the Mallorquinistas have gone through in this last two months. Hopefully that'll happen this weekend.

4. Osasuna (19th) - Rayo Vallecano (8th): 2.

The Rojillos, slowly recovering their solid structure from last season, have gone three consecutive matches undefeated with three clean sheets. Best defences in La Liga: Malaga (nine goals against), Real Madrid (ten), Atletico (11), Valladolid (14), Osasuna and Barcelona (15). How come Osasuna are placed 19th with such a firm back four? Obviously, they're the worst scorers with 11 in 13 matches.

The question is: can they keep their composure against the wild Rayo? Given that Osasuna have to go out to win this match, my gut tells me that Rayo will exploit plenty of open spaces on the counter. If the match were to be played in Vallecas, I'd feel more upbeat about Osasuna's chances, but they have to take the initiative, and they don't perform at their best under those circumstances.

5. Valencia (11th) - Real Sociedad (12th): X.

"Valencia [the club, not the city, obviously] is not for sale," said president Manuel Llorente while spending a few days in Dubai talking to the reigning sheiks of the Emirate. "We would love to partner with associations eager to participate in the history of the club."

It all sounds very well, but don't ask me the difference between selling a stake in the club and a finding a 'partner', especially when you owe over €200 million and have just stopped building your new stadium because you ran out of cash.

Real Sociedad, recently outclassed in the Copa del Rey by Segunda Division Córdoba, seem determined to keep us guessing all season long, not unlike Valencia themselves. Neither side have put together three consistent matches in a row, as their respective managers look unable to define a clear playing style and both fan bases wait for them to slip once more. Can't you feel the second pañolada of the weekend coming up at the Mestalla?

6. Getafe (7th) - Málaga (4th): 2.

It promises to be an entertaining match between two of the most enjoyable sides to watch. Although Getafe's strikers struggle to score - Paco Alcácer, Álvaro Vázquez and Adrián Colunga have only one goal to their names - midfielders and defenders are picking up the tab, but this does not seem sustainable. The forwards need to step up.

Malaga have a more balanced team and play comfortably enough away from La Rosaleda, having lost only one of their matches as visitors. Their midweek home defeat against Cacereño should work wonders as a motivational tool if used properly by Manuel Pellegrini, although at some point the on-going crisis with the sheik and his annoying habit of not paying salaries on their due date will wear the squad down.

7. Granada (18th) - Espanyol (20th): 1.

"We need to start winning," said Granada's boss Juan Antonio Anquela right before their midweek Copa del Rey victory over Zaragoza. Sounds like a sensible policy, even if the win in question was insufficient, as they eventually went out on away goals.

If you need to keep winning, you'll find no better opponent than Espanyol in La Liga. They've lost eight of their 13 matches and now put their fate in the hands of manager Javier Aguirre, whose last job in Spain consisted of saving Zaragoza from relegation one season, only to lose his job the next year after leaving the Blanquillos at the bottom of the table.

One year unemployed has gone by and the affable Mexican is back. The road ahead of him looks really tough.

8. Sevilla (10th) - Valladolid (9th): X.

Sevilla took advantage of Espanyol's awful situation and manhandled the Periquitos in Cornella during their midweek cup tie, getting some of their swagger back alter a brutal league defeat at the Calderon. A lack of consistency appears to be the main issue for the hosts, able to win the local derby against Betis 5-1 one weekend and then lose 4-0 against Atletico the following.

They indeed look like favourites on Sunday, but this column quite enjoys the way Valladolid play away from the Jose Zorrilla. A draw is in the cards.

9. Real Madrid (3rd) - Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 2.

"Atletico look like a much more accomplished team," said Miguel Angel Mista in an interview with marca.com. The former Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid forward reflected on: a) Diego Simeone's control of the dressing room versus Jose Mourinho's apparent quarrels with some key players, and b) The obvious growth of the anti-Mourinho brigade among the Madridistas, a section of the fans that could make themselves heard on Sunday if things don't go according to plan.

Let me add c) The fact that Atletico have indeed matured over the last few months and now seem capable of winning anywhere, including the Bernabeu; d) the humongous motivation of Radamel Falcao, anxious to lead Atletico to break their shockingly long spell of failures against their arch-rival before leaving the club in January and e) all that sadness in Cristiano Ronaldo's heart, and a '2' appears more sensible than one would think at first sight.

10. Deportivo de La Coruña (17th) - Betis (5th): X.

The name of the week in Sevilla is Alvaro Vadillo. The kid, who suffered two serious injuries that left him out of the senior team for almost a year, starred in his own Hollywood-ish comeback match in a Copa del Rey tie this week, during which he trounced Valladolid's defence with a mixture of speed and skill rarely seen in the Primera.

Never a fan of Jose Luis Oltra, this column strongly suspects he could follow Mauricio Pochettino's steps soon. Already out of the cup and mightily close to the relegation spots, Depor and their coach have so many issues to solve that if they both finish this season in the Primera it will feel like a miracle. I haven't seen many of those lately.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. We only need 10 correct results to guarantee Armageddon in December, and your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

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

Last week: 5/10 (50%) Season: 54/130 (41%)

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