Buenas tardes, quinielistas! I have to admit that last weekend I was dreading a terrible outcome, after my Saturday's predictions went all wrong. However, in an amazing Sunday evening comeback, I managed a 6/7 that keeps alive my slim hopes of surpassing the 50% mark for the season.
This will be a tough quiniela, packed with several matches between teams contending directly for Champions League or Europa League spots, or fighting to avoid relegation. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Málaga (18th) - Getafe (7th): 1.
This matches features the 'Kings of Draw' (Málaga with eight) against the 'Team that Can't Draw' (Getafe with none). In their last night Cup encounter, Getafe won 5-1, outclassing the malacitanos in the process. Málaga were probably more concerned with their 18th spot in La Liga, so they did not make much of an effort in a very cold night at Getafe.
Málaga need this win badly, while Getafe will be happy to oblige after their Cup qualification and the comfortable point cushion they have right now.
2. Atlético de Madrid (11th) - Sporting de Gijón (9th): 1.
(Staring blankly at the screen). Should I really do any research on an Atlético match? Will it take me anywhere? Isn't it a complete waste of time? Is there any rhyme or reason to their season?
In a week, they managed to beat Sevilla, then lost miserably to a Segunda División side, Recreativo, in the Cup, and finally destroyed Valladolid away from home. In this last match, even the referee gave them a hand, which, according to their fans, only happens once every decade, and it's never when they play against Real Madrid.
Their moves in the transfer window don't make much sense either. When everyone knows the poor state of their defence, they spent their very limited cash in a promising Argentinean forward (Salvio from Lanús). What about a full-back or a centre-back?
In any case, the good news for them is that Kun Agüero is back in shape, therefore Diego Forlán is smiling again. That should be enough to beat a Sporting that only plays well at home (just one away win in eight matches).
3. Racing de Santander (12th) - Valladolid (16th): 1.
How impressive was youngster Sergio Canales at Sevilla last weekend? I am not too keen on making wild comparisons to players of the past, but this teenager's coolness in front of the goal reminded me of the first few matches of Butragueño and - deep sigh - Raúl for Real Madrid.
Besides Canales, Racing's team play improves week in, week out, exactly the opposite to Valladolid. Agreed, the referees are really not helping, but the pucelanos seem to have only one attacking option (long ball to Diego Costa) that most teams know how to defend by now. Even Atlético managed a clean sheet against them.
Couple that with Valladolid's away record (one win in eight matches), this match is a '1'.
4. Barcelona (1th) - Sevilla (5th): 1.
Can we please have one Barça - Sevilla every week? If the first leg of their Cup tie was exciting - bar the awful refereeing - Wednesday's second leg was as fun as football gets. Despite their win at Sevilla, Barcelona were finally eliminated from a competition for the first time in over a year, but they fell in style. Zlatan Ibrahimovic won't be happy with his finishing, while Andrés Palop reminded us that he is still a top-level goalie.
Both teams play again at the Nou Camp at the weekend. History favours Barcelona (Sevilla only won six times in 65 La Liga matches at the culés stadium), but also the visiting side still miss Luis Fabiano and Freddy Kanoute up front, given Negredo's poor run of form. After Sevilla's huge effort paid off on Wednesday, Barcelona should win easily this one.
5. Almería (15th) - Tenerife (17th): 1.
Last week, the premonitory final sentence of this column was "Poor Tenerife", anticipating a tough match-up with Barcelona. However, despite the 0-5 result, one had fun watching Tenerife play like the old Valdano/Cappa times: taking risks and aiming to score… at least for the first 35 minutes.
I have to confess I underestimated Lillo's champagne effect. During his two first weeks, he has been able to motivate his players with sentences such as "Football is not an island, but a continent" (real quote from his second training session), only to say two days ago that "If you are able to speak properly in the football world, people will criticize you for that". Understood, I won't say a thing.
6. Valencia (3rd) - Villarreal (10th): X.
In midweek both teams were outclassed in the Copa del Rey, so now they can "focus entirely on La Liga" (typical quote from any footballer/manager whose team has just been eliminated from the Cup. It makes elimination almost sound like a good thing)
Villarreal love playing against their neighbours (five positive results in ten visits to the Mestalla), who are having a well below-par season at home (three wins in eight matches). This one looks like a very entertaining draw.
7. Zaragoza (19th) - Xerez (20th): 1.
Quick note; after years of listening to friends - and especially girlfriends - telling me about it, last weekend I finally realised they were right: my football addiction problem is beyond control.
You know you have a football dependency issue when: 1. You plan your weekend social activities around, and never interfering with, televised football matches. 2. You feel glad when you check the TV guide and see three consecutive La Liga games scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday, killing your social agenda.
But you only know it's beyond control when 3. You feel genuinely happy to realise you'll be able to watch mighty Xerez playing at home for the first time in the season. Yes, last Saturday I smiled in delight at the prospect of watching arguably the worst side of the modern Primera history hosting Valencia. I need help.
Back to the column: slugfest alert! A match between the bottom two should not be much fun. Last season, both teams met twice in the Segunda, with two 2-1 Zaragoza victories. The squads haven't changed that much since then - that's probably why they are where they are - so let's give Zaragoza the nod.
The maños finally hired a decent striker, Chilean Humberto Suazo, top scorer in the World Cup qualifiers in South America. Suazo, indeed a fine player, humbly stated that he is "technically very skilled" in his first press conference. Well, then.
8. Osasuna (14th) - Espanyol (13th): 2.
My choice for 'Surprising Result of the Week'. I know that Espanyol have a lousy record away from home (one win only). However, Osasuna have had a challenging week, after a tricky Cup tie they only took care of in the second half of the match, with all their starters on the pitch. While that was happening, Espanyol were resting.
The rojillos are not particularly good defending his home turf, and Espanyol appear recovered from their five-match slump. A good chance for the periquitos to leave the dangerous end of the table.
9. Mallorca (6th) - Deportivo (4th): X.
I am now blatantly breaking my commandments, and going against one of the most impressive running streaks in La Liga: I just can't believe that Mallorca will keep their perfect record for one more match at the Son Moix. It's been eight in a row already. Not even Professor Manzano can believe this is true.
And he really can't. Earlier this week, the usually well-behaved Manzano went on a surprising tirade against Mallorca supporters complaining of their low assistance to the stadium. Manzano has messed with karma, and that has a price. It's time for the streak to finish, even if it is just with a draw that will probably satisfy both teams.
10. Athletic de Bilbao (8th) - Real Madrid (2nd): 2.
San Mamés (a.k.a. "La Catedral") was always an unwelcoming, hostile pitch for the merengues. It won't be different this time: with Athletic close to Europa League spots, the chance to beat the madridistas is even more appealing to every bilbaíno.
Athletic players behaved smartly this week: Koikili ignited their fans ("Real Madrid will have to suffer a lot here"), while Orbaiz tried to trick Pellegrini into starting Raúl ("He is the biggest Real Madrid star for me") now that Gonzalo Higuaín is injured. I doubt the Chilean will fall for that one.
The good news for Real Madrid? José María Gutiérrez, "Guti" is back on and off the pitch. His first press conference after his comeback was a classic. The mysterious injury that had kept him out since his fall-out with Pellegrini two months ago had become a running joke among journalists, so after a couple of sarcastic questions, he lost his temper: "I was really injured. Those who don't believe it can go get daisies in the countryside" (the second sentence sounds as bizarre in Spanish as it does in English, if not more). Great to have him back.
Jokes aside, San Mamés' dimensions fit pretty well with Real Madrid's lightning fast strikers: Kaká, CR9 and Karim Benzema should have plenty of space to exploit their speed. This one will look more like the Valencia match than the Reyno de Navarra one. Too much class for Athletic, I believe.
Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season Total: 34/70 (48%)