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Koeman winning over Everton fans


Up off the canvas

The Quiniela this week comes to you from Barcelona, where heads are hanging very low indeed after what can only be described as a right old debacle. Sure, Leo Messi is a very, very good player. But Barcelona have a lot of very, very good players. 7-0? Pep's looking a wiser man every minute.

Likewise Real Madrid - who, if Spanish reports are to be believed, after doing a Dortmund on Dortmund - are apparently eyeing up half of the German team. It was close but no EU-regulation not-too-curly banana for the Bernabeu boys and there'll be a lot of soul-searching (or let's just call it spending of money) to come in the summer.

The Bundesliga might have conquered Europe, but there are still matters to be settled at the top and bottom of the continent's freshly crowned second-best league.

Note: There's been no internet at my brother's new flat (where I am) all week and this is going via phone, so all factual errors are due to lack of proper (Wikipedia etc.) source material. The author accepts no responsibility for any resulting offence that may be caused.

Celta (18) - Athletic (14): 1

Celta has been on a roll by its own standards in the last two games, but there have been no more than two goals between these two in their last five encounters, and Athletic is hardly scoring like a Hollywood star at a Victoria's Secret bash at the moment. After Athletic pulled off a morale-boosting draw against Barcelona last time out, with Ander Herrera and Iker Muniain making solid contributions, it seems strange that Marcelo Bielsa is apparently set to go with Iturraspe and Ibai Gomez in Vigo.

Celta, meanwhile, is following the lead of many Spanish clubs - mostly those at the bottom of the table - by abandoning the business model and offering their long-suffering fans cut-price tickets at the business end of the season.

I think I've mentioned Athletic are my second team over here, but the points here will remain where they are needed most.

Valencia (6) - Osasuna (15): 1

Valencia, on the other hand, has been scoring for fun lately, but also leaking a few at the other end. Osasuna, by its usual standard, has also been knocking a couple in and I fancy this one could be more of the same with the home side chasing the Champions League action it so desperately needs to survive, and Osasuna just trying to survive in La Liga. The Navarrese side is one of the league's better-run institutes but even so, the long sleep of Segunda is one that plenty of teams have never woken from.

With no major injury worries for the home side and Osasuna's form on the road - equivalent to highways on a Spanish bank holiday; not very pretty - there's only one box to mark on the coupon and that's the one with 1 on it.

Granada (16) - Malaga (5): 2

In the primera vuelta Malaga stuffed Granada 4-0 at La Rosaleda. But that was before a thorough piece of spotlight robbery in the Champions League at Dortmund, a potential ban on participating on the continent that looks to be more certain by the day, circumstantial uncertainty surrounding Manuel Pellegrini's immediate future and some of Europe's big boys casting admiring glances at Isco.

Granada, meanwhile, has not tasted life in the relegation zone since week 15 and after being handed its backside on a plate by Atletico a couple of weeks ago have regained some kind of form, with four points from the last available six.

Granada coach Lucas Alcaraz has called for "character and determination" from his squad. Stirring stuff indeed, but it will also take a bit of finding the back of the net to get out of this and Granada has the second worst goals-for record in the division.

With the wrong combination of results this weekend (something of a theme on the Quiniela page recently) Granada could find itself firmly back in the brown stuff by Monday.

Real Madrid (2) - Valladolid (12): 1

Barring the cup final against Atletico, Real Madrid's season effectively ended this week. However, the Bernabeu crowd is one of the most demanding in the country and Tuesday's raucous reception for the side will turn icily quiet if a lack of effort is suspected. Really, highly paid athletes should need little motivation to go out and try to win a game of football, but Real came so close to pulling off a famous comeback - and ending the season at Wembley instead of its own stadium - that it will be hard for anybody at the club to muster much enthusiasm for the visit of Valladolid.

The last match between the two at Nuevo Zorrilla was probably the best of Valladolid's season and Javi Guerra is in decent form. But the mid-table finish they are contemplating and Real's record at the Bernabeu only leaves one result likely here.

The possibility that Barcelona will implode sufficiently to let Real back into the title race is remote, but Los Blancos won't utterly give up the chase until the fat lady pushes her way to the front and clears her throat. That may or may not happen this week - but Barça are playing on Sunday and that's bad news for Valladolid.

Deportivo (17) - Atletico (3): X

Atletico is suffering from yet another derby defeat, its 25th on the trot in the league against its city rival. And it all looked like it would be so different when Radamel Falcao found the net after just four minutes.

But somehow, Real Madrid always comes out on top - hardly encouraging news for the upcoming cup final. In the meantime, Diego Simeone is only willing to talk about getting Atletico back into the Champions League, a job that will be fulfilled if his side beats Depor and Real Sociedad leaves Getafe empty-handed.

But Depor is not the soft touch it was when Falcao struck five past them in a 6-0 win at the Calderon last December; the Galicians have picked up 14 points in their last six matches.

The home side will likely not roll over for The Tiger to tickle their stomach here and should keep Atletico waiting for its bridesmaid place at Europe's fanciest banquet next season for another week.

Mallorca (20) - Levante (13): X

Levante's Jose Javier Barkero was forced into a humbling apology this week after accusing four of his team-mates of not trying too hard in the first 45 when the aforementioned A Coruña side visited the Cuitat de Valencia last month.

With the home side 3-0 down and Depor cruising, Barkero is reported to have said something to the effect of: "I don't want to play this lie of a match any more. It's a farce." The midfielder then basically accused four team-mates - captain Sergio Ballesteros, Juanfran, Munua and Juanlu - of chucking the game.

Now I'm not sure what Barkero does in his spare time, but offering professional Michael Madsen impersonator Ballesteros an excuse to remove your head is not wise. The bulky captain and Munua were subsequently left out against Barcelona the following week; a 1-0 loss.

This story has been doing the rounds all week and it seems the LFP has announced it will be poking its nose into this game as part of a wider match-fixing investigation. Spain is pretty notorious for the dark arts when it comes to promotion - and avoiding relegation. Club presidents are also extremely careless about using cellphones. Hercules owner Enrique Ortiz was tapped as part of a massive corruption scandal buying his side's way into Primera a few seasons ago, but nothing came of it as match-fixing was only classified as a crime two years afterward.

Levante, too, has some form here. Former club captain Iñaki Descarga and ex-president Julio Romero were also tapped up discussing paying players to throw a match against Athletic so the latter could avoid the drop.

In a nutshell, I wouldn't be sticking a suitcase full of used notes on any particular outcome here; far be it from me to suggest any skullduggery in Primera. But I would bet that the match shunted into the ever-popular 12pm slot on Sunday will be watched by more people than the fans that can be bothered to get up for it.

Zaragoza (19) - Rayo (8): X

Both sides desperately need a win here. Zaragoza is battling the drop as valiantly as you can when you've won one game in 15, while Rayo's season hinges on the next two. The loss of Leo Baptistao for the rest of the campaign certainly doesn't help the visitors - although Raul Tamudo knows where the goal is as well - but the home side's run of winless luck stretching back to well before Christmas ended last weekend in dramatic fashion. Combined with the visitors' desperation to arrest a slide out of the European reckoning, a scored draw looks about right in La Romareda, probably of the 1-1 variety.

Sevilla (10) - Espanyol (11): 1

Both Sevilla and Espanyol are teams with one eye already on next season: both have brought in new managers left to deal with old problems - although Mauricio Pochettino was hardly that, it was just a case of four-year-itch. Michel, well... let's just say he has a way of rubbing players up that specialist doctors usually treat English footballers on a training camp in La Manga for.

These are two types of project: Javier Aguirre is your typical fireman, brought in to add a bit of tough love while keeping the side up. Unai Emery is more tantric; intent on a long, steady, rise. Either way, there'll be little to get excited about here with neither side having a huge amount to play for. Jesus Navas' declaration that "we have to finish seventh" is a clue to what's at stake.

After a little light dancing and maybe the exchange of telephone numbers, I fancy the diminutive winger with the lightening feet to make the difference here with a couple of assists for a home win, by just the one goal.

Barcelona (1) - Betis (7): 1

Silence reigned in Catalonia on Wednesday night. It was quite unnerving. Silence is not something people take for granted inside Spain's borders, wherever your political leaning dictates they start and finish.

When Barcelona wins an important match the local freedom fighters take to the streets, smash things up, burn cars and throw incendiaries at the police. It's what most other nations do when they lose.

But when Barcelona lose the streets are empty, the Boixos skulk home and the Mossos get the night off.

You have to wonder how many nights of sleep Barcelona residents might expect in the next year or so: Bayern didn't beat the tiki-taka merchants over two legs; they liquidated them. The knockwurst is mightier than the butifarra on current evidence.

However, I fancy the best tonic for the kind of hangover that follows a four-year trophy bender is to get straight back on the wagon. Should Real lose and Barcelona win, there'll be plenty of upturned cars in Catalonia this weekend.

Maybe then the Barcelona-branded crisps that were on offer on Thursday morning - in Lidl for goodness sake - will be back to the full Catalan euro.

Getafe (9) - Real Sociedad (4): 2

Talking of the 12pm slot on Sunday, I'm led to believe that it was created to cater to the Asian market so that massive source of sporting lucre could be tapped by, I assume, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

You don't see too many shirts bearing the name of Juan Rodriguez, Pedro Leon or Borja in the Far East. Hell, you don't see many of them in Getafe. You don't see many people at Getafe's Colisuem at all most weeks, and not one of them is a very awed Japanese tourist trying to explain to his very bored girlfriend the illustrious history of the club behind the shirt he just gave her for their anniversary.

So my question is, why do they schedule such awful games for the 12pm kick-off? Why not just play Getafe there every week and be done with it. Real and Barça have I think played one each this season, but the die-hard Asian fan is hardly going to be put off by something as trifling as a time zone.

Don't get me wrong, Getafe have been bloody brilliant to watch at times. The UEFA Cup run culminating in a classic quarter against Bayern; the King's Cup semi - which probably caused a few south of the Manzanares - when Barcelona was put to the sword... but where have those days gone? It seems Getafe have lost their raison d'etre. And I imagine a fair few people in Asia do every Sunday evening when they flick on the Liga show and it's El Geta yet again.

Hence the Monday gig this week, which falls into the category of one team people want to see, and one that people don't. The one that people want to see are chasing the Champions League and the other is boring its way toward Europe's ugly sister. It's a Cinderella story - but one where nothing will have changed by midnight.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section.

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


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