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Dec 14, 2012

Research or Outlier?

"What are you doing?" my girlfriend asked on Thursday evening, while I was frantically navigating across seven different browser windows on my laptop. "You know what I am doing, vida mia, research for the Quiniela." "Does it make any difference?" she fired.

I started to stutter, searching for an answer, but she went on: "You spend hours reading all those interviews, stats, previews and godknowswhat, but how can you be sure that it really makes a difference? Have you tried 10 random results?"

Silence in the room.

"Last week I spent more time than usual and got seven out of ten, dear", I finally managed to answer.

"Yes, I remember a similar phenomenon from the statistics class in Uni. It's called an Outlier" (rather than saying the word she almost spelled it, slow motion).

Ouch.

Now in order to prove that research does matter, I need to go over six again this week. My beloved better half also remembers that the chances of two consecutive outliers in a random series of numbers are really, really small. Fingers crossed, a poor result this week and I could be strongly advised to write research-free Quinielas from now on.

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

1. Getafe (7th) - Osasuna (16th): 1.

Just a striker away from becoming a legitimate contender to the Europa League spots, Getafe keep exceeding expectations, but haven't managed to make it really big yet. To some of us it appeared as though they gave away the Copa del Rey against Atletico de Madrid on Wednesday, which from the cynical standpoint might have been a wise decision: more energy in store for La Liga. They will need it to break Osasuna's deadlock, tough as they get, but less productive in their trips away from Pamplona - only four points in seven matches.

2. Mallorca (17th) - Athletic de Bilbao (14th): 1.

An indeed disappointing duo will meet in Son Moix on Saturday evening, as both sides have consistently let down their fans this season.

In Athletic's case, the turmoil that accompanies the club since the summer sees no end. This week, Fernando Llorente made one of those 'Old News' press conferences, in which he gave us a huge scoop: he'll leave in June. Even though 80% of La Liga followers and 99% of Athletic supporters already knew that, the 'announcement' prompted several talking heads to examine whether Athletic's model is becoming obsolete. Their current top performers, who now want to compete in sides with no limitations to sign players, have clearly forgotten the lifetime dedication of the players of yore.

For us, football romantics, Athletic's philosophy deserves preservation at all costs. For those involved in its daily shortcomings, trapped in a ten-year career with scarce prospects of winning silverware on a consistent basis, the picture looks less rosy.

Back to the match-up, the Athletic that last year impressed on several European pitches, including obviously Old Trafford, have become the third worst visitors of La Liga, looking disjointed in their trips. Former Athletic boss Joaquin Caparros, now leading Mallorca, has the chance to buy some time and add more trouble to Marcelo Bielsa's growing pile of concerns.

3. Granada (18th) - Real Sociedad (9th): X.

The most perplexing non-development of the week: Juan Antonio Anquela has kept his job as Granada's coach. Right after their 4-0 defeat in Malaga and after 380 minutes without scoring, most sports newspapers had already written the text of Anquela's firing, just like most media outlets already had Ravi Shankar's and Oscar Niemayer's obituaries ready - by the way, the world lost big time this week.

Granada's president Quique Pina did not pull the trigger, but as we saw last weekend, most of their starters already treat their coach in the most 'dead man walking' way possible. Great chance for Real Sociedad to win at least a point away, while putting the last nail on Anquela's coffin.

4. Sevilla (11th) - Málaga (4th): 2.

So far, Sevilla's season has confirmed two facts we suspected: A) Great scouting is now more widespread, and therefore not a difference-maker anymore, but a prerequisite to feature among the top six. Sevilla used to leverage their impressive skills on that front, but they usually compete with another two or three teams to get whichever almost unknown, but competent player your scouts have spotted. Price goes up and you can no longer get away with loan deals or free signings for decent players. B) Their boss Michel, tactically smart and very skilful with the press, still needs to polish his ability to lead the dressing room, controlling his tendency to throw the team under the bus after defeats, a dangerous motivational approach with a time bomb attached to it.

Malaga look inspired again, Isco is back in top form and Manuel Pellegrini's system takes care of the defensive duties. With the memory of the derby against Betis already faded, I can't see Sevilla winning this one.

5. Zaragoza (12th) - Levante (6th): X.

A couple of weeks ago and after two full seasons struggling to overcome my own denial, I finally decided to grant Levante Powerhouse Status in La Liga. This means that they are automatic favourites at home, and that they deserve at least an 'X' when they play away, as long as they face any team not named Barcelona or Real Madrid. Even though Zaragoza sits in the middle of Barcelona and Madrid, that does not qualify the Blanquillos to trump Levante's Powerhouse status, but Manolo Jimenez's team fights the good fight and should play a couple of tactical tricks on the visitors. Both will be fine with a draw.

6. Valencia (10th) - Rayo Vallecano (13th): 1.

The visitors seem destined to live between 8th and 15th spot, always depending on two good or two terrible defensive matches. If they signed a couple of defenders in the winter transfer window, they could become a quite solid team, but they lack the funds. Valencia, on the contrary, have the personnel, and now hope to have found the right leader in boss Ernesto Valverde, who has raised the spirits with consecutive wins since he took over. The Ches should exploit Rayo's defensive frailties with ease at the Mestalla.

7. Real Madrid (3rd) - Espanyol (19th): 1.

The magic spell between Florentino Perez and Jose Mourinho looks fatally broken. The divorce process, which could easily end up outclassing The War of the Roses in both bitterness and drama, has already started, and the media keeps broadcasting it in detail. Given that there's still a good six months until the season is over, the potential for backhanded compliments and flat out sour statements can't be exaggerated. If you love soap operas, just buckle up and enjoy.

Despite the Madridistas' poor performance in their midweek Copa del Rey fixture, we all know how this match will finish: it's Espanyol at the Bernabeu! Need I say more?

8. Barcelona (1st) - Atlético de Madrid (2nd): 1.

The match of the weekend and in his own right one of the best match-ups each and every La Liga season finds Barcelona and Atletico leading the standings, six points apart. Rojiblancos aside, no one else believes they can mount a serious title challenge due to their bench's limitations - remember Cata Diaz at the Bernabeu? - but they've made it this far keeping their options open, and they enjoy playing against Barcelona almost as much as they detest facing Real Madrid.

Tito Vilanova has found a line-up that, even with David Villa sitting on the bench, makes the most out of the rest of the squad, integrating Cesc Fabregas into the team in a way that hadn't happened since the Catalan came back to the Camp Nou. Only a monster match from Radamel Falcao could keep Atletico in the fight, but he needs more out of his team than a certain Leo Messi to have an impact on the match. In any case, relax and enjoy. Should be a gem to watch.

9. Deportivo de La Coruña (20th) - Valladolid (8th): 2.

I will go out on a limb and say that Deportivo won't win this match and that boss Jose Luis Oltra will subsequently lose his job. During the last two months and after a reasonable start of the season, the hosts have made an art of playing poorly while squandering the few chances of scoring they create each match. The Deportivistas seem to have turned on Oltra, and a poor start on Sunday should create the perfect scenario for the solid Valladolid to make the most out of their visit to La Coruna.

10. Celta (15th) - Betis (5th): X.

In a mammoth two-hour radio Q&A session last weekend, Phil Ball stated that Betis could not last for the full season. I have been saying that for a couple of months already, but I am starting to feel as though last year's misjudgement over Levante is repeating itself with Betis. They show up every weekend, travel well and should be able to earn a point in Vigo, taking advantage of the more relaxed Celticos, after their famous win over Real Madrid.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get 10 correct results your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

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

Last week: 7/10 (70%)

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