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Feb 8, 2013

Real must get fans on side

For the first time since I can remember, La Liga occupied the bottom of the table in signings - measured in cash spent - during the 2012-13 season. Primetime Sport, a sports marketing company, analysed the spending of every major European league, adding the summer investments to the recently closed winter transfer window action. According to their numbers, this season La Liga cut down their expenditure by 62% when compared to the previous campaign, totalling €140 million.

How low is that?! Well, the Premier League expenditure so far this season has totalled €763m, Lega A clubs spent €426m and the Bundesliga forked out €271m on transfers - telling figures when compared to what the Spanish clubs invested in new players.

So, was it sensible spending or a lack of money responsible for the significant drop? The fact that almost half of the clubs in La Liga have gone, or will shortly go, into administration is already a telling sign that their scarce resources spoke louder than their will to recruit. Should we blame the uneven distribution of TV rights? Not really. Even though the way the cash is split would embarrass any boxing agent, when a large number of clubs have proven that they can not deal with cash, it's clear that more cash can't be the right solution. And now most of them are performing daily miracles with limited funds. Who would have thought?

Let's start. Remember, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Mallorca (19th) - Osasuna (17th): 1.

Joaquin Caparros finally lost his job as Mallorca's coach, after an appalling sequence of 17 matches in which the squad achieved a meagre six points. His successor, the surprising but not totally unexpected Gregorio Manzano, was greeted with 'Manzano vete ya' (leave now) chants in his first training session in the island. The fickle Mallorquinistas forgot his glory days at the helm of the club and chose to remember his nasty exit in 2010, after which he ended up suing Mallorca. 'Minutiae', my mother would say. What are one or two insignificant sues compared to footballing glory? (That last bit is mine).

Osasuna have left the relegation zone, but only because of their excellent form of late (seven points in their last three matches). The Rojillos travel poorly, and will suffer another away defeat against the invigorated Bermellones.

2. Celta (18th) - Valencia (6th): 2.

"This is the worst Celta I've seen all year," stated boss Paco Herrera after his team's defeat in Pamplona last week. The likeable and experienced manager then proceeded to throw his team under the bus for a good five minutes, to then finish with a far from convincing, "but the only responsible party is the coach". Sounds like the spitting image of a certain Jose, born in Setubal.

I rate Herrera highly, but we all know the consequences of this kind of tirade, especially when you coach a relegation-threatened team. Expect an easy win for Valencia, who seem to have finally found the right balance as their injuries diminish. Sergio Canales' comeback, providing serious competition for the good but inconsistent Ever Banega, should bring much needed flair to the Valencianistas.

3. Levante (9th) - Malaga (4th): 1.

Malaga's will probably achieve their objectives this season, which means securing a Champions League spot while putting up a decent fight in their remaining competitions and cashing in on a handful of players to pay for the Sheik's investment. The home win over Real Madrid will add to those achievements as Malaga exacted revenge over Jose Mourinho's slights to both the city and the club's manager.

It sounds like a decent season to me. However, one thinks there is more to this Malaga side than what we have seen, and we can feel disappointed because they still haven't put together an amazing streak, such as the one in the second half of Manuel Pellegrini's first season. After sixteen months out injured, Julio Baptista is finally back, and he might be key for the Malaguistas to add more bite to their so far almost robotic performances.

Because of that aloof feeling, I can't see them winning on Levante's bumpy, stressful pitch. The hosts will also welcome the finally on target Obafemi Martins and the recovered Sergio Ballesteros. Determined steal will defeat half-hearted flair.

4. Deportivo de La Coruna (20th) - Granada (16th): X.

Surprise, surprise: "Our squad is unbalanced," Deportivo's boss Domingos Paciencia said. After a rosy beginning, the road suddenly became steep and the Portuguese coach took the easy route: blame the previous regime. Knowing only too well that the club wouldn't be able to sign any decent talent due to their financial struggles, Paciencia will have to play with the cards he was dealt.

The situation can't look any bleaker. They sit bottom of the table with the worst defence, second worst home and away record and are coming off three consecutive losses. They face Granada, energised after new boss Lucas Alcaraz led them to defeat Real Madrid last weekend. Not that the visitors look like strong favourites here, but they can indeed leave Riazor on even terms in this archetypical six-pointer.

5. Real Madrid (3rd) - Sevilla (11th): 1.

Have Real Madrid thrown the towel in La Liga? After their indolent display in Granada, that appears to be a relevant question. They're in no man's land, seven points behind Atletico and seven points in front of Malaga, which should grant them the third position unless something strange happens.

If that is the case, and bearing in mind that their highly anticipated date with Manchester United is less than a week away, this annoying formality against Sevilla shouldn't be of any importance. On top of that, the Sevillistas arrive in the Bernabeu in their best moment of the season, as boss Unai Emery's method shows progress. Are we in for another subpar La Liga performance by the Madridistas?

We could be, but the fact is that Real Madrid need a resounding win to get the fans' support back for Wednesday's Champions League match. The defeat in Granada, added to the previous Andalusian failures - against Malaga, Sevilla and Betis - had a terrible impact among their supporters, who demand a decent display on Sunday. The Madridistas' home record is their only respectable figure this season, so let's bet on that.

6. Barcelona (1st) - Getafe (12th): 1. According to Barcelona's strict rotation plan, it is very likely that we'll see an unusual starting XI this weekend. Xavi Hernandez, injured, was going to be rested even before his niggling muscular problem, and it's likely that Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and Messi himself will play significantly fewer minutes than usual against Getafe.

Even if Messi plays for just half an hour, there's no need to analyse this match too deeply, as Getafe have become his favourite target every season. The Argentinean, finally enjoying football with his national team, just signed a contract extension with Barcelona until 2018, so he'll be keen to celebrate that on Sunday. Even with the infamous FIFA virus, a frequent visitor of the Camp Nou, Getafe will suffer.

7. Zaragoza (15th) - Real Sociedad (8th): 1.

The visitors underwent a convoluted week in San Sebastian, following former president Mr Badiola's accusations. According to him, his own club bought PEDs from Eufemiano Fuentes, currently under trial in Spain for an extensive list of crimes related to blood transfusions and all that fun stuff.

It was the last thing the Realistas needed, especially after their season started to improve. Real Sociedad have lost just once - against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu - in their last twelve matches, and look hungrily at a Europa League spot. However, it's hard to focus on the following match when all the media can't stop talking of injections, syringes and head sizes. Zaragoza haven't won at La Romareda in three months, but something tells me that this will change on Sunday.

8. Athletic de Bilbao (13th) - Espanyol (14th): 1.

The hosts have finally gone three matches undefeated, all of them against top ten teams. The improvement in their performance is obvious, but the noise surrounding Fernando Llorente won't stop. Was it that tough to send him to Turin in January for God's sake?!

In any case, the Bilbainos look increasingly in synch and they can take advantage of Espanyol, who under Javier Aguirre quickly understood that home wins will get you out of the relegation zone. They'll live with another away defeat.

9. Rayo Vallecano (7th) - Atletico de Madrid (2nd): 1.

I know what you're thinking, but you'll have to agree with me: this is not the same Atleti that impressed during the first half of the season. The current version still grinds out hard-fought home wins, but doesn't destroy teams the way it used to. Add to that the fact that they haven't won a La Liga match away from the Calderon since November, and factor in the likely effects of the FIFA virus, and the rested Rayo could have a field day on Sunday.

10. Betis (5th) - Valladolid (10th): X.

After three consecutive La Liga matches without a win and a clear elimination from the Copa del Rey in between, most inhabitants of Sevilla look for reasons to explain Betis' rapid fall. Half of the city, the Sevillistas, do that only for solace. The other half, the Beticos, genuinely try to understand what has gone wrong.

One name stands out - Benat Etxeberria. He is not really sure of what his own future holds, has seen his performance slump drastically and was substituted in all three of those winless matches. Without his clever passing, Betis lose pace and rhythm offensively, becoming one of the main reasons behind their goal scoring woes.

Valladolid don't need to do much to get a point, which should keep them on the right track for an eventless end of the season in the quiet part of the standings.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. Some day someone will guess all ten correctly, we hope.

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

Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 94/220 (41%)

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