Well, the outcome of my first ever public Soccernet Quiniela was not very auspicious at all: only four correct results out of ten. Most readers who gave it a go managed to get at least five right. My maid got six (yes, my maid plays quinielas as well). This poor performance even granted me a "Definite room for improvement" grade from Phil Ball in his Monday column (ouch!).
• Introducing the Soccernet Quniela
• Ball: Apocalypse Now as Real face Barca
As you probably know, every decent gambler has a system, a set of rules that he/she follows to maximise their chances of success. I decided I was missing some kind of framework to put everything into context, and that is exactly what I did.
What follows is the first version of The Soccernet Quiniela Commandments, which I applied religiously (as only a set of Commandments could be applied) to predict this week's ones, exes and twos (please, check my first quiniela column if you are not familiar with the process, or if you want to have a laugh at my erroneous predictions).
1.You shall respect table positions.
Yes, I know this may seem obvious, but now that it's written I feel much better. After a thorough analysis, I'll go out on a limb and say that being five or more positions ahead of their specific rival should grant any team an automatic '1' if they play at home, and ''X' or '2' if they are visiting. And yes, I am the same guy who tipped Atlético (18th) to beat Deportivo (5th) at La Coruña just a week ago.
2.You shall ride positive streaks unless you have a VERY good reason not to.
In my predictions last week, I recklessly chose to go against two successful running streaks (Valencia away from home, Mallorca at home) when both teams were not only on fire, but also faced inferiorly ranked opposition (see rule #1). I really got too cute on those two matches.
Streaks happen for a reason. Valencia have a fantastic team to play away from home (consistent defence, hard-working midfield, lightning-quick wingers and strikers), while Mallorca have managed to build an amazing atmosphere at the Ono Estadi, where both players and supporters act as though the team was unbeatable.
In which events could one go against a positive streak? When the team in question plays one of the top four sides, when they have some serious injuries (top scorer, keeper), or if they play some kind of regional derby (see commandment #6). Other than that, just follow the streak.
3.You shall ride negative streaks unless an extreme event happens.
By extreme events I mean change of coach, one or more top class signings, or some kind of pandemic sickness on the opposing team (and no, I am not setting the scene to predict a Real Madrid win at the Nou Camp). When a side play awful football for a while, it's more difficult for them to stop the rot.
4.When in doubt, you shall pick '1'.
That is just a different way of saying that home advantage is called "home advantage" for a reason. In the story of the quiniela, over 70% of results are '1's, so that should tell us something.
The "Emotional Hedge" (a term coined by my friend Antonio) decision happens when you bet against your own team, thinking that if they win, you'll be happy and won't care about losing your bet, and if they lose, your anger will be compensated by the cash you just won. Our aim in the quiniela is to get the highest number of results correct, not hedging our feelings with money or vice versa.
6.None of the previous commandments apply to derbies. They require a completely separate analysis.
We have seen this too many times already, even though some derbies indeed show clear trends in their results - such as Barcelona frequently beating Real Madrid at the Nou Camp, or Real Madrid seemingly always defeating Atlético at the Calderón. Derbies are a different species altogether, and any result is possible.
Ok, done with the rules. Now that we have a clear approach - and remember it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win - let's analyse this weekend's games:
1) Sevilla (3rd) - Málaga (20th): 1
It's great to start applying the new set of rules with a derby, which by itself annuls all rules. In any case, and despite Málaga's good track record at the Sánchez Pizjuán (at least one point in over 50% of their visits), playing Sevilla at this stage is almost suicidal for any decent team, let alone the poor farolillo rojo (red light, meaning last-place team in Spanish football lingo)
2) Valladolid (15th) - Tenerife (16th): 1
These two teams have very similar playing styles. Both deliver entertaining football, but lack the killer instinct to close matches when they have the chance to do so. They could end up in the relegation zone if they don't wake up soon.
The match could go either way, so in this case commandment #4 applies (when in doubt, you shall pick '1').
3) Sporting (7th) - Villarreal (11th): 2
Sporting continue their great start of the season (they have not lost at home yet, and are undefeated in their last seven matches), while Villarreal have won three of the last four and seem to be getting back to their old impressive ways.
There's no commandment that justifies taking Villarreal in this match, but you will allow me to deviate only once from them, right? I am of Latin blood, and we believe that rules are no fun if you can't break them at least once a week. If I am wrong, I will confess my sin and do my penitence. I really, really, really like Villarreal here.
4) Getafe (9th) - Xerez (19th): 1
An unquestionable case of "You shall respect table positions" (Commandment #1). This match is a great chance for Getafe to extend their winning streak and aim for the European competition spots, after advancing to the next round of the Copa del Rey.
While Getafe can complete a U turn in a season they started poorly, Xerez are already in the midst of social unrest: this week 11,000 fans signed a petition to ask for general manager Antonio Fernández's head because of the lack of attacking reinforcements. Just four goals scored in the opening 11 matches is probably an all-time low record; my guess for total La Liga goals scored by the Jerezanos this year is 23. Anyone interested in taking the offer?
5) Atlético (18th) - Espanyol (10th): X
The Madrid media are already drawing parallels between Atlético's pathetic start of the 2009/10 season and their relegation year (1997). Can you guess the outcome? The relegated team had 7 points more than this Atlético side after the same number of matches. Not looking good…
Not that I believe that Atlético will go down this year, but they face an opponent who, despite their home defeat at Getafe, are much better positioned in the table and play decent football. You shall respect table positions, so Espanyol deserves a draw here.
6) Racing (17th) - Deportivo (5th): 2
Not only are their 12 league places between the teams (Commandment #1), but also Deportivo love playing at Santander (15 positive results in 20 visits). Coach Miguel Ángel Portugal had his debut at the Bernabéu last Saturday, although this will actually be his first serious match after a proper week of work with the team.
Even if the new gaffer manages to get the most out of young star Sergio Canales, who did more in 20 minutes at the Bernabéu than Mr. Benzema has done all year, that should not be enough against the born-again 'Super Depor'.
7) Barcelona (2nd) - Real Madrid (1st): 1
I could easily write a 6,000 plus words preview for this one, but I'll try to be brief. After some below par matches, Barça had an impressive midweek win over Internazionale without Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, while Real Madrid fans had to bear their team's umpteenth tedious home display against Zurich.
Cristiano Ronaldo will be back to the Real Madrid starting line-up and Barcelona are undergoing a H1N1 crisis, but some other factors are against the visiting team. The Merengues' track record is simply awful at the Nou Camp, the team lacks cohesion and the current Barcelona side knows how to exploit the Madridistas' dubious defence better than any other club. We have recently heard that Engineer Pellegrini believes that "the team are playing neither good, nor bad", but that sounds to me like a severe case of denial.
Given that "When in doubt, you shall pick '1', that is what I'll pick, and believe me, there's no emotional hedge involved in this prediction. None whatsoever. I promise. Really. You have my word.
8) Almería (13th) - Athletic (8th): X
You shall respect table positions, and I am even going to give you the result for this match:1-1.
9) Valencia (4th) - Mallorca (6th): 1
The best away team plays at home vsersus the best home team. It's a clear case of irresistible force against immovable object, only the exact opposite.
Whatever the best metaphor for this encounter is, Mallorca have only won once in 22 matches at the Mestalla, so I guess that sorts things out. Never play against the streak unless you have a very good reason.
10) Zaragoza (14th) - Osasuna (12th): 1
Another case of picking '1' when in doubt, reinforced by Zaragoza's good home performance so far (three wins in five matches), compared to Osasuna's struggles to get points away and their awful outing last Sunday. The home side should get the three points.
Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Total Season: 4/10 (40%)