Glory in the offing
I didn't even bother checking my results last week. Accumulators on both the English and Spanish leagues were scuppered after a couple of games. I didn't get a single number on the Euro Millions lottery. I lost a bet with a friend about when the Baltic states entered the European Union. Carnage. However, my beloved Charlton Athletic thumped Barnsley 6-0 away, so silver linings and all that.
All that aside, another weekend of pitting my wits against the bookies and the Spanish state Quiniela beckons, and I'm pretty darn confident that I will prevail. So confident, in fact, that I'll merrily buy anyone who outdoes my predictions a pint (but you'll have to find your own fare to Spain, naturally).
A Celta-Zaragoza six-pointer on Monday, a Sevilla-Atletico dust up and Valencia and Malaga going toe-to-toe in a Champions League duel are some of the weekend's highlights, with Real slayer Betis traveling to the Bernabeu in search of a Liga double over Jose Mourinho's men. It's not as exciting as the Championship playoff race, but it'll keep us all warm while we wait for the midweek embrace of the European clashes and next week's Madrid derby.
It's a raft of 2s, and come what may I'm banking on away-day profits to carry the good ship 'retirement at 36' to more prosperous waters this week.
Mallorca (19) - Rayo (9): 2
Rayo have never won on the Balearic island of Mallorca and last carved out a point in the Ono Estadi in a more romantic, pre blanket-sponsorship age when it was still the Son Moix in the 2002-03 season, when the club had already been mathematically relegated. What a change in circumstances on this occasion with Mallorca desperate for the points as it battles the drop and Rayo eyeing a European affair next season.
Mallorca's Emilio Nsue is out having picked up a spot of glandular fever, or "kissing disease", on an island where thanks to the vacationing antics of my compatriots far worse is readily available for the price of a couple of jagerbombs and a taxi home.
Other than the unfortunate Nsue, neither side has any significant injury worries and Rayo will be smarting from last week's defeat to Real Sociedad (as am I). I fear that Mallorca are going to be on the medicinal end of a bit of nastiness on the island that gave us Rafa Nadal (a club shareholder), rampant political corruption and the unfathomable practice of 'balconing' - another export from my own island that makes us about as welcome there as a dose of Magaluf mouth - to send the oddly named "Clockwork Pastry" a little closer to the oven of Segunda.
Granada (17) - Valladolid (13): X
Now, I love Granada, as I mentioned in the comments section last week. It's a wonderful city, bejewelled with stunning Arabic architecture, the white-washed facades of the Albaicin, copious food and wine and some of the finest mountain views in the country. However, Granada the football club is about as exciting as watching the paint on the Albaicin's walls turn even whiter and I think I can safely say that few outside the UNESCO-happy city will mourn the passing of a club that largely earned promotion through the divisions by fielding Udinese's B team.
That said, Valladolid are not much better and apart from giving Real Madrid a torrid evening months back have failed to light up La Liga this season, despite a quite glorious home strip. Thus, I predict a forgettable affair - quite possibly sans goals - at Los Carmenes with honours even.
Real Madrid (2) - Betis (7): 1
A tricky one, this. A case of head versus heart. With Real focused on the Champions League, Jose Mourinho is unlikely to field all the aces up the sleeve of his tailored jacket, but pesky Cristiano Ronaldo will likely play some part and that means a goal or two on any stage. Real is unbeaten at home in the league this season and, although Betis provided the snag that saw Mourinho's fabric start to unravel in the return game last year, I can't see an erratic visitor undoing a record that has seen Real win four of the last five meetings between the two - a couple of which were authentic tonkings.
Gonzalo Higuain especially enjoys playing against Betis but even if the in-form Argentine is rested ahead of Real's midweek date with Borussia Dortmund the home side has enough firepower to trip up Pepe Mel's merry band, and the mere sight of the Bernabeu is worth a 1-0 headstart most weekends.
Barcelona (1) - Levante (12): 1
Another team with bigger fish to fry, Barcelona is equally unlikely to risk anything unpleasant happening to any of its key players ahead of arguably the most tantalising European tie in years - a sage decision when Sergio Ballesteros and David Navarro are on the opposing team.
Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes scoffed when asked if he would seek the advice of coach-elect Pep Guardiola to find a way around Barça's tiki-taka stylings and Juan Ignacio Martinez will need no pointers either. Everybody knows how to beat Barça - harass, pressure, get tackles in early, nick the ball, keep the defensive banks together and try to poach a goal on the counter. Easier said than done though.
Even without Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and half of its defence, I fancy Levante will still have a tough time in Camp Nou and Cesc, Tello, Villa et al will continue their recent run of form to comfortably ease Barça a step closer to the title.
Valencia (6) - Malaga (5): 2
The pick of the week takes place at Mestalla where Champions League aspirants Valencia and Malaga square off. Malaga may be prevented from taking part next season because of its financial conundrum while Valencia cannot possibly afford to miss out on European qualification, but none of that will be on the players' minds when the ball is rolled off the spot at 10pm. "Saturday matters to the team, not the board or the [source of cash] foundation," said Valencia coach Ernesto Valverde.
For many Valencia staffers games like this are shop window stuff; summer sales are as inevitable as the Spanish Christmas lottery rolling out its ad campaign when the mercury is still touching 40ºC.
There is also the added spice of Joaquin and Isco to consider. The former hardly enjoyed a golden era at Valencia and the latter was poached quite spectacularly before Mestalla had a chance to see what a player the club had produced. Combined, both cost Malaga about 10 million euros. Isco alone is currently valued at double that and Joaquin, easily the neutral Spaniard's favorite player of all time, is in the sort of form he displayed as a youngster at Betis. The smart money is on a 1 or an X here, but only the bold win the big one on the Quiniela, by betting against something as trifling as logic. So Isco and Joaquin to bag in a 2-1 away win it is.
Getafe (8) - Espanyol (11): X
Not exactly one for the purists, hence the Sunday midday slot. In Getafe's last outing the main attraction was Alexis Ruano, who received a four-match ban in last weekend's 2-1 loss at Valladolid; one for a red card, two for a crisp appraisal of the referee and another for offering to fight an entire stand of the home support on his way down the tunnel.
Unfortunately - and I should point out here that my good lady's cousins are both canteranos at Getafe, so I have a vested interest in the club's well-being - that sort of excitement is rarely matched on the pitch. The potential return of Pedro Leon for this snooze fest is good news for anybody in Spain even conscious at midday on Sunday as Getafe have forgotten where the goal is in recent weeks.
There used to be a decent vantage point from a hill overlooking the Coliseum, which the council has since erected a bloody great wall around. You don't get anything for free in Spain these days, unless you're getting sacked. Still, nobody will much care this weekend. The 12pm kick-off is among the most hated 'innovations' on the part of LFP in recent years, and was designed to placate the growing demand in the Far East for Spanish football.
Curious, then, how Real and Barcelona are always spared it. Gate non-receipts perhaps? Check the empty stands at Getafe for details.
Anyway, not that I'll be awake for it personally, but Getafe's tedious home form and its ability to put everyone bothering to watch into a coma should negate Espanyol's lively away form and provide another X on the coupon in southern Madrid.
Think the gladiator in "The Life of Brian" running around until his opponent collapses of a heart attack.
Deportivo (16) - Athletic (14): 1
Deportivo is on a roll. As JIM, the coach of last week's victim Levante, noted ahead of that clash: "Depor has got more points in 20 days than it has all season." Much as I love Athletic, and much as they gave Real a go last weekend, the away form of Marcelo Bielsa's side is awful and Depor has the scent of another season in Primera firmly in their nostrils.
Athletic isn't in quite the state defensively it was last week and has recovered midfield dynamo Mikel San Jose for the Riazor match but Depor's momentum, combined with Athletic's melancholy, points firmly to a home win here.
Osasuna (15) - Real Sociedad (4): 2
Ah, Real Sociedad. A fickle mistress indeed. Every time I bet against them they win - in fairness to the txuri-urdin they've only been beaten twice since November, so probably my bad. Anyway, I'm duty bound to do Osasuna - a team I barely care exists let alone want to stay up - a favour by saying that La Real's incredible form will continue in the Reyno de Navarra.
The sight of Vicente del Bosque stroking his marvelous mustache in the stand at Anoeta last weekend was by no means incongruous for a team that has not provided a Spain player at a major tournament since Xabi Alonso in 2004 - several of its current crop are not far from a call-up and as I wrote in a Real blog this week (go on, it doesn't bite...). Asier Illarramendi is as close as any Under-21 player to a Roja debut. Although Xabi Prieto should also get a lifetime achievement cap if there is any justice. Let's see Iniesta, Xavi or Villa do this.
With a staggering 17 canteranos in its squad this year, the side that gained promotion in 2009-10 is practically the same one that sits fourth in La Liga. A victory for cantera over cartera then (youth over wallet). Despite Osasuna's fearsome reputation in Pamplona, Alvaro Cejudo more or less wrote this section for me this week: "There are teams in a worse situation. The dynamic of the team is not good, but only the players can change that."
Sevilla (10) - Atletico (3): 2
I've asked around on the subject and quite simply nobody seems to know where the bad blood between Sevilla and Atletico stems from. But to quote the facilitator of the scrap between Liam Neeson's Rob Roy and Tim Roth's acerbic English bladesman in the film of the same name: "They're none too fond."
Picking a result between the two is like stuffing a hand into a fruit basket addressed to Cleopatra - there's no milk or honey on the end of this result so I'll be steering as clear as Marc Anthony should have on the coupon. That said, anybody with access to an online betting account would be well advised to stick a fiver on there being fewer than the 22 players who take the field still being on it when 90 minutes is up.
In the last meeting, in the King's Cup, three red cards were shown, three penalties awarded and Diego Costa, who regularly loses his head in the metaphorical sense, was very nearly deprived of the real article by, I think, Gary Medel.
Medel is suspended for this one, aquel surprise, but there is plenty enough livewire on the field for another supercharged encounter that will quite likely be settled from the spot again, where Radamel Falcao is unparalleled in the league this season. Costa's, ahem, "sportsmanship" leaves few opposition players indifferent and big Geoff Kondogbia, Fernando Navarro and Jose Reyes, a former Atletico man, are no angels either. 18 red cards this season between the sides tells its own tale.
A narrow win for Atletico, and a new pile of paperwork for the LFP on Monday morning.
Celta (20) - Zaragoza (18): 1
"Oh my", as C-3PO would say. Celta and Zaragoza are firmly up a certain type of creek and lacking a specialist instrument for paddling, and there's only one way either is going to reach the shore - by beating the other in the mother of all six-pointers at Balaidos.
Celta was rightly aggrieved after having two penalty shouts denied last weekend only to watch Giovanni dos Santos pop up with a last-gasp winner but there can be no excuses if three points are not delivered this weekend. The home side failed to build on a spirited 2-2 tie against Barcelona three weeks ago and has drawn two consecutive blanks since then.
Three points adrift at the bottom of Primera - it reminds me of my own backside. At my first match in Spain, I was curious about the sunflower seed shells covering the floor, the seats and the shoulders of a large number of attendees. They were also caked to the seat of my pants. I was informed people munch these abominations when they are nervous. There will be a lot of pipas being consumed on Monday night by home fans. If Celta loses, there will be plenty more locals with mouths like the bottom of a bird cage on Tuesday morning. Quite simply, Celta have to win or they'll be ducked like Donald.
Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section.
1. Mallorca (10) - Rayo (9)
2. Granada (17) - Valladolid (13)
3. Real Madrid (2) - Betis (7)
4. Barcelona (1) - Levante (12)
5. Valencia (6) - Malaga (5)
6. Getafe (8) - Espanyol (11)
7. Deportivo (16) - Athletic (14)
8. Osasuna (15) - Real Sociedad (4)
9. Sevilla (10) - Atletico (3)
10. Celta (20) - Zaragoza (18)