The first quiniela of the season reminded us all that football matches are indeed played for a reason: none of the teams that occupied the top-three spots at the beginning of the weekend were able to win.
Who saw all this coming? My maid Lucía did. She got a staggering nine correct results, her only miss caused by her indelible trust in struggling Zaragoza (her family is from there). When asked how on earth she guessed that both Barcelona and Real Madrid would draw, and that Sevilla would lose to the colchoneros, her answer was: "I was feeling a bit wild on Friday night". Mind you, she is well over her 60th birthday.
Lesson learned, Lucía. Let's try to find the right level of wildness for this coming quiniela. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Valladolid (13th) - Atlético de Madrid (11th): 1.
Last week exemplified perfectly the painful life of the average Atlético supporter. On Sunday, they were treated to a huge injection of morale after beating Sevilla with an improbable, last-gasp header from left fullback Antonio López. Could that win be the beginning of their comeback?
Not really. On Wednesday, Atlético played their Copa del Rey tie at Huelva against 2nd Division Recreativo. Even though the Copa del Rey is probably the only title the rojiblancos could realistically aspire to, their players decided to take the day off.
Their outrageous behaviour in the 3-0 defeat prompted gaffer Quique Sánchez Flores to present us with what will probably become the most irate post-match press conference of the year, and it was only January 6. "I need to find players who don't let me down constantly", "Our lack of intelligence to read matches is disgraceful" and "I've never coached a team that behaved this poorly" ranked among Quique's most inspired moments.
If anyone has a clue of which version of Atlético will play on Sunday, please let me (and Quique Flores) know. In this case I believe that the combination of my man Diego Costa - who this week said that he is "ready to give some headaches to Atlético's defence" - and the Pneumonia Stadium - Valladolid's José Zorrilla is by far the coldest in the Primera División - will be too much for the eternally convoluted rojiblancos.
2. Sevilla (5th) - Racing (14th): X.
Sevilla recovered from their surprise defeat in Madrid with a great Cup win at Barcelona. During the week, they also got Lithuanian defender Stankevicius on loan from Sampdoria, to replace Sergio Sánchez, a promising youngster who fortunately was diagnosed with a heart condition early enough, and will spend the next few weeks trying to understand how serious the problem is.
There seems to be a growing impression among readers that I jinx Sevilla every time I predict they'll prevail. I wish I had that sort of ability. But whoever it is to blame, the sevillistas have not won a home match since the beginning of November. They will also miss several key offensive players for this one (Jesús Navas, Freddy Kanoute, Luis Fabiano).
After Miguel Ángel Portugal took over, Racing are looking better by the week, and even defeated mighty Alcorcón away in their midweek Cup tie. Unlike Lucía, I am not feeling wild enough to tip them for a win at Sevilla, but I am pretty sure they can manage a draw. 'X' it is, then. And this time it surely won't be my fault, Sevilla fans.
3. Villarreal (9th) - Almería (15th): 1.
Four consecutive matches undefeated for Villarreal, including a thoroughly deserved draw at the Camp Nou that could have been a win with just a bit of luck or more help from the ref. David Fuster, one of those once promising youngsters that take some time to bloom, already shows signs of greatness, while Marcos Senna is back to his usual self: perfect positioning, impressive distribution.
For this coming match, Almería recovers Colombian Fabián Vargas - former Boca Juniors player that should help their midfield noticeably - and Brazilian striker Guilherme, who spent one month suspended by the club due to his tireless enjoyment of the almeriense nightlife. Yes, you read that right. Apparently, Almería has a nightlife. My mom always says if you're looking for trouble, you'll find it no matter where you are. Even in Almería.
Both players should make an impact in the second half of the season, but not this Sunday against Villarreal. Easy home win here.
4. Sporting (10th) - Getafe (7th): 1.
Getafe played (and lost) on Thursday night at Málaga (South end of the Iberian Peninsula) and will have to go all the way to Gijón (North end) for their weekend match. We all know how football players love these trips. Getafe won't be a happy bunch on Sunday afternoon.
While Getafe travel around beautiful Spain, Sporting are calmly preparing their Sunday match, which could take them closer to Getafe themselves and Europa League spots. A rested Sporting supported by a packed El Molinón sounds like a home win.
5. Xerez (20th) - Valencia (3rd): 2.
"We need to start winning. We owe it to ourselves, to our supporters and to our families", dramatically said Xerez' Momo during the week. Not this coming Sunday, though. Valencia have recovered David Silva and Vicente Rodríguez, and despite their home struggles, own an impressive away record (six wins in eight matches).
Xerez' scoring woes (six goals in 16 matches) won't be solved with the current squad. They desperately need signings, or they not only will be relegated, but will complete one of the most embarrassing seasons ever. Unsettled Brazilian striker Keirrison, dying to leave Benfica, seems to be on their list. Xerez better sign him fast...
6. Deportivo (6th) - Osasuna (12th): 1.
Deportivo had spent four consecutive matches without a win, until they beat Valencia at Mestalla in their midweek Cup tie. On Sunday, they need all three points to maintain their Europa League hopes alive.
Depor's home field advantage should be enough against Osasuna, who will be happy for their spirited showing against Real Madrid last week, and the recovery of Brazilian centre back Roversio, back after one full year out with a knee injury.
7. Espanyol (16th) - Zaragoza (19th): 1.
A very tense encounter between two teams in serious trouble. Following their hard-fought win against Almería two weeks ago, the periquitos battled well again at Valencia, and were only defeated at the very last second by Nicola Zigic.
Zaragoza can't score to save their lives (four goals in their last seven matches). The fact that their top scorer last year, Brazilian Ewerthon, has been singled out as one of the team slackers by new manager José Aurelio Gay, does not help. Much like Xerez, Zaragoza badly need signings up front, but their tight-fisted President is not too keen on spending cash. Even if Lucía does not accept it, the blanquillos smell more and more like 2nd Division...
8. Málaga (18th) - Athletic (8th): 1.
Of all the teams at the wrong end of the table, Málaga are the most consistent. Amazingly enough, they have gone seven matches undefeated and are still in the 18th position. How's that possible? Six draws is your answer.
Two weeks ago, they managed to beat Mallorca at home, so Athletic should be an easier challenge. This match should take the home side out of the relegation zone.
9. Real Madrid (2nd) - Mallorca (4th): 1.
When Real Madrid hired Brazilian star Kaká in the summer, their attacking midfielder position appeared to have a rightful owner. Who would have thought that, come January, the Madrid media would be split between the Brazilian, Dutchman van der Vaart and none other than José María Gutiérrez, "Guti" to occupy that spot in the starting line-up?
Mallorca's impressive performance so far prompts any neutral observer to ask the Dirk Diggler Question: for how long can they possibly go? Midfielder Borja Valero and striker Aduritz are worth the price of the ticket, but their bench is staggeringly poor and that should show at some point in the season. Despite their 4th position in the table, anything other than a defeat at the Bernabéu will be a huge upset.
10. Tenerife (17th) - Barcelona (1st): 2.
Barcelona's slump in form is already obvious. It's been a few matches since we haven't seen that quick flow of the ball and the tireless exchange of positions between attacking players. However, one could argue that it is better to look vulnerable around this time of the season, while you lead the league and are qualified for the next round of the Champions League, than later on, when you actually have some titles on the line.
In any case, Guardiola has been the centre of the Barcelona week news-wise. Pep claimed full responsibility for the Cup defeat against Sevilla, as he fielded an almost full B-side - "I was mistaken". He also stood up for newcomer Chygrynsky, profusely booed by the Camp Nou faithful on Tuesday night. But the main concern for the blaugrana is the growing unanswered rumours about his intention to stop coaching at the end of this season.
With all this noise, Guardiola will likely start Barcelona's A team, on a mission to prove their doubters wrong. Poor Tenerife.
Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season Total: 28/60 (47%)