After six consecutive weeks getting five or more correct results, last weekend I relapsed into my old, error-prone ways and got a meagre 3/10. How on earth did this happen?
I found two main reasons. First, last week I sent my column in on Wednesday night, with some Copa del Rey matches still left to play and therefore lost a full day of news to base my predictions on. My cumulative record on Wednesday-sent columns: 8/30. Telling, right? Secondly, I openly chose to ignore my own rules and commandments in no less than three matches, following completely nonsensical hunches. Result: 0/3.
So it's time to get back to basics. This column was written on Friday, so my first mistake has been already taken care of. Now I only need to follow my own rules, which at times is kind of hard for a hot-blooded Latin football junkie.
Let's start with this week's match previews and predictions. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.
1. Sevilla (6th) - Almería (15th): 1.
Sevilla have consolidated their 'Adulterer' tag after their Copa del Rey displays against Barça and Deportivo. Their 0-3 win at La Coruña was particularly impressive, with the added bonus of 'O Fabuloso' Luis Fabiano coming back after almost two months out. For Saturday's match, the sevillistas will also see Freddy Kanoute return from his African Nations Cup duties.
The big question is: can they really win at home? They haven't managed a Sánchez Pizjuán victory since early November, and have lost their last four La Liga matches. Very different from Almería, who have not lost since Juan Manuel Lillo took over three weeks ago. In any case, Sevilla's home record against Almería (75% wins) is hard to argue with. Looks like a '1' to me.
2. Valladolid (17th) - Barcelona (1st): 2.
Before we get into this match, a quick tangent: last weekend, Thierry Henry had the nerve to appeal for a handball during the first half of Barcelona's home win against Sevilla. According to the French star, Sevilla's goalie touched the ball with his left hand outside the area. After a careful review of the play, this column can guarantee that that did not happen.
My suggestion: Henry should be shown a yellow card every time he appeals for a handball, regardless of whether he's right or wrong. Actually, if he's wrong he should get a straight red. It makes sense. Even Barcelona fans will agree with this, as it would get Pedrito more playing time…
Other than that, everything goes fine and dandy in Barcelona. Joan Laporta and Josep Guardiola reached a smart agreement, by which Laporta gives another push to his political career by kind of renewing Guardiola's contract and getting the valuable handshake picture, while Pep has the right to leave if he does not want to work for the new President. Very neat.
On the pitch, this match should be a walk in the park for Barcelona. No midweek commitments, plus that speedy ball rhythm recovered during the last few matches - not to mention Ibrahimovic with a chip on his shoulder after his poor performances of late -- should combine for a rout of unfortunate Valladolid. The vallisoletanos will have to wait for another week to start their fight against relegation…
3. Deportivo de La Coruña (5th) - Athletic de Bilbao (7th): 1.
A mouth-watering contest between two Champions League spot contenders. As mentioned earlier, the home side were comprehensively defeated in their cup tie before their fans against Sevilla, so they'll want to make a better impression on Saturday. Filipe Luis, their Brazilian left-back and one of their best players, is nursing a niggling injury and could sit on the bench.
Athletic sound confident after their victory over Real Madrid last weekend. Koikili stated that "not all teams can beat Real Madrid", while Susaeta mentioned that "the Real Madrid match can set the trend for the rest of the season". Nevertheless, Deportivo have a great home record against Athletic (over 60% wins), so I'll go for a '1'.
4. Sporting de Gijón (9th) - Racing de Santander (13th): X.
Sporting's numbers so far are a delight for devil-friendly mathematicians. They have won six, drawn six, and lost six (the devil-friendly bit). They have also scored 20 goals and suffered the same 20. And while their home record is 5/3/1, their away record is 1/3/5 - a neat display of balance and symmetry.
That being said, the gijoneses are very consistent at home, even if they miss their forward Diego Castro, who got slightly injured against Atlético. Their rivals this weekend, Racing, keep getting better and better under Miguel Ángel Portugal. Their record in their last six matches is 4/1/1, impressive for a side that not too long ago were flirting with relegation.
This should be another interesting match, but I can't see anything but a draw here.
By the way, in this age of PR agents and sponsors, someone should teach young Sergio Canales how to properly celebrate those beauties he's been scoring. Have you seen his goal celebrations? He just runs around with no purpose, smiling and hugging team mates senselessly. It's reminiscent of girls commemorating a lacrosse match victory (don't ask me how I know this). A basic fist pump will do, Sergio. You'll look much, much cooler and will sign bigger sponsorship contracts, believe me.
5. Tenerife (18th) - Valencia (3rd): 2.
Troubled Tenerife host the best visiting side of La Liga. Valencia have won seven of nine away from Mestalla, and have not lost since David Silva came back to the side. He ran the show in last weekend's trouncing of Villarreal, showing how his subtle passing can disarm a well-structured back four.
The home team will try to replicate their wonderful first 35 minutes against Barcelona, but that will probably fall short against Valencia as well. The naive tinerfeños have the second worst defence of the tournament. That porous protection will have to deal with the third best offensive side, plus the top scorer in La Liga (David Villa, tied with Lionel Messi). Should be an easy win for Valencia.
6. Villarreal (10th) - Zaragoza (19th): 1.
Last week, Zaragoza were unable to beat Xerez, arguably the worst Primera División side since the league had 20 teams, at La Romareda. To add insult to injury, Xerez played with ten men for 35 minutes. If you can't beat a ten-man Xerez, who can you beat?
To make things more interesting, the club held meetings during the week with six players (including last season's top scorer, Ewerthon, and Argentina international Fabián Ayala) to terminate their contracts. Not an easy time to root for the maños, indeed.
Villarreal started 2010 on the wrong foot, with two draws and last week's brutal defeat at the hands of Valencia. They need to win their next two matches, both at home, to get back to Europa League spots. They have no major injuries, and face a decomposing side with the worst defence of La Liga. This looks like a safe '1'.
7. Xerez (20th) - Osasuna (12th): 2.
Finally, a full revamp in Xerez! Argentina took over: the jerezanos gave their welcome to a new president (Federico Souza), a new coach (Nestor "Pipo" Gorosito, former player and coach with River Plate), and a new sports director (Federico Lussenhoff), all of them born in the land of tango. My over/under of new Argentineans hired by Xerez before the end of the transfer window is four.
While the club sits 'comfortably' in the bottom spot of the table, with only eight points and seven goals after 18 matches, Xerez player Leandro Gioda said yesterday that "we need to win the next two matches, or else the situation will become difficult". Does that imply that it is NOT difficult now? Dear Leandro, even in the unlikely event of winning them both, the situation will still be difficult.
Can Osasuna not win here, against another club in complete disarray? I guess not.
8. Espanyol (14th) - Mallorca (4th): 2.
I have been announcing the end of Mallorca's winning streak for a few weeks, with no luck so far. But in this case, I have some data to back my thesis. Gregorio Manzano's side do play awfully away from Son Moix: one win and three draws in nine matches.
The thing is, they face Espanyol, who have the worst offensive numbers of La Liga (if you're paying attention, you know that those numbers actually belong to Xerez, but I refuse to consider them a La Liga team anymore), 12 goals in 18 matches, and who are suffering an injury plague that has left their defence in tatters.
Therefore, it seems that I will have to wait until next week to tip Mallorca to start losing...
9. Getafe (8th) - Atlético de Madrid (11th): 1. Atlético, suddenly in shape after three consecutive La Liga wins, just hired promising youngster Salvio, one of those short, fast, tricky Argentineans from Lanús. His first words in Madrid: "I did not want to go to Russia or any other of those weird leagues." If Salvio has signed for Atlético expecting something 'not weird', the kid's in for a shock.
The rojiblancos drew in their Copa del Rey home tie last night, showing again their Mr Hyde version against Celta, a Segunda División side. "We played like crap," the overly sincere Quique Flores said after the match. On top of that, Mariano Pernía has finally come back, which is great news for the footballer - who suffered a serious traffic accident six months ago - but terrible for Atlético's defence.
Getafe play at home, have had one more day of rest after their impressive cup win at Mallorca and seem a much better assembled side than the work-in-progress, hit-or-miss Atlético. '1' it is.
10. Real Madrid (2nd) - Málaga (16th): 1.
This match looks like one of those fast and easy Sunday evenings at the Bernabéu, hosting a visiting side that will give up at the first sign of a demanding match. Real Madrid have won all of their home encounters so far, but have shown a surprising lack of finishing touch in their last two away matches. Can you lack fire power when you have CR9, Benzema and Kaká on the pitch? Apparently, yes, but not at the Bernabéu.
Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season Total: 37/80 (46%)