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Feb 5, 2010

The Soccernet Quiniela - Week 11 - Foreplay recommended

Last week's 'No Foreplay' approach was far from rewarding: a miserable 3/10, including some gross misreads, such as Real Madrid's win at La Coruña or Sevilla's victory over Valencia.

It's only fair to point out that this was arguably the toughest quiniela so far this season: the bottom two teams won their matches, Real Madrid broke their 18-year Riazor spell, and Málaga stunned Atlético at the Calderón. OK, OK - the last one wasn't really an upset.

Anyway, only one gambler got all 15 results correct (ten Primera matches plus another five from Segunda), pocketing almost three million euros for his troubles.

But that hardly qualifies as an excuse. The 'No Foreplay' thing didn't work and is now officially over. Regardless of how cold or insensitive the specific target may be to our physical attributes, foreplay does help indeed. I've learned this lesson the hard way - and you still believe I'm talking about last week's column...

In any case, let me touch upon four relevant quiniela-related topics to leave you at ease before we get into the long, deep analysis of this weekend's matches:

A) We need to identify The Token Couple of Teams That Will Bloom in the Second Half of the Season, and fast. Remember last year? Osasuna, Espanyol and Mallorca occupied the bottom three spots by mid-season. None of them was eventually relegated. Candidates for this category include Zaragoza, Almería, Málaga and Sevilla.
B) We should also quickly spot The Token Couple of Teams That Will Collapse. Betis supporters thought they were safe for most of last season, poor things. This year, the best positioned teams for this class are Mallorca, Getafe, Deportivo and Osasuna.
C) Atlético de Madrid rightfully belong in the previous two categories. Go figure.
D) The most boring transfer window of my lifetime just closed. One club revamped their team (Zaragoza), while another one took a couple of gambles (Atlético, although they forgot to include a brand new back four in their shopping list). All the rest did next to nothing to improve their squads. Very disappointing.

Was that enough? Are you in the mood yet? Can we get down to business? As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Valencia (3rd) - Valladolid (17th): 1

"Entrenador nuevo, victoria segura" (new gaffer, guaranteed win), an old Spanish saying boldly states. Last Monday, Valladolid fired José Luis Mendilíbar and announced Onésimo Sánchez as their new coach. Back in his day as a player, foreplay master Onésimo was able to dribble past five defenders plus the goalie, and then miss the target from close range. Hopefully his squad won't be that wasteful.

Sayings and foreplay aside, Mestalla does not sound like the best place to start your Primera coaching career. Valencia let themselves down last weekend, and will be determined to maintain their advantage over Sevilla. During the second half of the season, the chés have to visit Barcelona, Real Madrid and Mallorca, so they can't afford to drop more points at home.

2. Barcelona (1st) - Getafe (7th): 1

Was Pedrito offside? What is the correct interpretation of the offside rule? Did Marca forge the tape? How many points have Barça unfairly won because of referees' mistakes? Is that more or less points than Real Madrid have won for the same reason? Honestly, I couldn't care less. The referee thing bores me to death. Let's just make them professional once and for all and move on, please.

Other than Pedrito's goal, and niggling injuries to Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, life goes on peacefully in Can Barça. The blaugrana supporters spent the entire week trying to decide who their best option for the next season is, Cesc Fábregas or Frank Ribèry. Just like choosing between Eva Mendes and Scarlet Johansson, you can't go wrong. When such a level of excellence is achieved, the decision comes down to pure personal taste.

Can Getafe possibly win at the Camp Nou? Tired after a midweek Copa del Rey defeat in Sevilla, playing the second leg next Wednesday, and comfortably sitting at the seventh position, I don't think they'll even bother trying.

3. Real Madrid (2nd) - Espanyol (14th): 1

Did you really think I wasn't going to talk about Guti? Not a chance. I learned to despise him back in the early 90s, when he was still playing for Castilla and got his hair cut to look like Fernando Redondo. My hatred progressively increased as his career with Real Madrid evolved into a shocking mixture of arrogance and under-delivery, bar some sporadic showings of his amazing talent against sub-par opposition.

During his 15 years with Real Madrid's first team, he has given us enough proof that he can play masterfully as a defensive midfielder (take my word for this, I have seen it happen), offensive midfielder, left wing and even second striker. He only needs to be in the mood, which is rarely the case. His off-the-pitch stories don't help his case either. They are so bizarre I'd rather ignore them.

As a play, that backheel to Karim Benzema was Guti in a nutshell: an extremely talented but irresponsible player, who risks a sure goal in a do-or-die match just to show off. No decent coach would have let that happen without benching the player immediately. To add insult to injury, his second half was simply awful, one lost ball after another, aloof defensively, disconnected from the rest of the team.

Now you know where I stand in the whole 'Guti for the national team' argument. I'd rather pull Spain out of the World Cup.

That being said...

You already know that I watch more football than I should for my own wellbeing. All that airtime gives you an accurate sense of how 99% of the plays are going to unfold. Navas to Negredo? As the play was happening, the pass was always an option, and Navas used his heel to materialise it. Ibra's masterful back-heels? His only possible way out from those specific situations. Technically impressive, but predictable.

What killed me about Guti's play is that I NEVER saw it coming. Actually, at first I thought he had tripped on the ball, and only understood what he'd done when I watched the replay. I can count with my right-hand fingers the number of plays that have surprised me like this one.

No matter how wrong his decision was, no matter how much he's wasted his talent in the past, no matter how much I hate his guts, Guti made me laugh out loud and had me screaming expletives for a good ten minutes. No small feat.

From now on, in this column, Guti has officially become Don José María Gutiérrez, and that's that. Let's just hope I don't have to type his full name when writing about the national team this coming June.

Back to the quiniela. The madridistas' perfect home record should remain perfect for one more week, given Espanyol's poor form, their endless absentee list (Moisés Hurtado, Iván de la Peña, Juan Forlín, Raúl Tamudo, Shunsuke Nakamura and José Callejón) plus the fact that Espanyol are their 'Equipo Hermano'. Let's move on.

4. Málaga (15th) - Deportivo (6th): 1

Málaga qualify as the golden candidate to become one of the 'bloomers' during the second half of the season: experienced team, decent defence and even a brand new funky-looking forward (Ecuadorian Caicedo). They did well at the Vicente Calderón last Sunday, although I am not sure about the real meaning of a win over Atlético (fourth dig at Atlético in only one column, probably a personal best).

Last Sunday, Deportivo's performance cast some doubts regarding their defensive midfield and their attacking options, now that Filipe Luis is out for the season. That sixth spot looks too good to be true. Mid-table sounds more reasonable to me.

5. Athletic (8th) - Xerez (20th): 1

Four consecutive '1's and, on top of that, our fifth match of the weekend features mighty Xerez as the visiting side. Is there any reason to believe they can pull off an upset win in San Mamés? Not really, unless the two players they have just signed (striker Alustiza and winger Vigneri) make the difference immediately. Don't think so.

6. Mallorca (5th) - Villarreal (10th): 2

Both teams disappointed last week. The bermellones managed to lose at Xerez, just to go back to their island and find out the club can't pay their salaries. Villarreal lost at home to Osasuna, getting their coach, Ernesto Valverde, fired in the process.

Juan Carlos Garrido took over, arriving with an excellent reputation because of his job at the helm of Villarreal B. A case of 'entrenador nuevo, victoria segura'? Mallorca have to lose at least once at home, right?

7. Osasuna (9th) - Tenerife (19th): 1

This season, Osasuna have made a living off beating teams at their worst possible moment, like Villarreal last week or Xerez the week before. And now they host Tenerife, with the worst away record in La Liga. How the chicharreros did not sign a single striker in the winter transfer window escapes me. Relegation looms...

8. Almería (16th) - Sporting (11th): 1

Latest pearl from Juanma Lillo, Master of the Soundbite: "Football is a social dildo." No mention of foreplay, though. In any case, this quote alone should grant his team an automatic '1', but we also have more tangible reasons to support that prediction: striker Kalu Uche is back, as is midfielder Fabián Vargas, and left winger Adrián Crusat usually runs riot against Sporting. The esportinguista defence will be in tatters, so this is the chance for Almería to start putting together their great escape.

9. Zaragoza (18th) - Sevilla (4th): 1

On paper this looks like a clear '2', right? But let's not forget two factors: first, Sevilla will have to play the second leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final next Wednesday, so they will probably rest a few players. Second, Zaragoza got an energising away win last Sunday, and that will give some confidence to their seven signings (including Edmilson's walking corpse, which may even resurrect) and their supporters.

10. Racing (12th) - Atlético de Madrid (13th): X

The Dr Jekyll version of Atlético demolished Racing last night at the Calderón (4-0) in the first leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final. On Sunday, rojiblancos and racinguistas will surely play with their B-teams, resting players for the second leg.

And then the drama comes. If we have learned something about the colchoneros in the last few decades, it's that they can't keep their supporters happy for more than a week. I foresee a breathtaking Wednesday cup match, in which Atlético's Mr Hyde version takes over. I wouldn't miss that match if I were you.

Last week: 3/10 (30%)

Season Total: 47/100 (47%)

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