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Soccernet Quiniela - Week 1 - Weekly pleasures

After experiencing the indescribable joy of witnessing my own team win the World Cup final, could I be bothered to write about the irrelevant minutiae of a two-horse national competition? (Expletive) yes! True wisdom lies in being able to make the most out of our daily/weekly pleasures, while hoping for something out of the ordinary to happen every once in a while... even if it's only once in a lifetime.

Back to our weekly pleasures then. A new La Liga season is about to begin, therefore it's time for the Soccernet Quiniela to return. Let's start. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Hercules - Athletic Bilbao: 2.

Imagine someone hires you to manage a football team, under only two conditions: a) your transfer funds are just 10% of the league's average budget and b) you can only hire players who have been rejected by the remaining 19 teams. Assuming you do a reasonable job, you would probably end up with something similar to the 2010-11 Hercules squad. This season won't be pretty for the Alicantinos.

Athletic kept their core team intact, securing their key assets - Fernando Llorente, Javi Martinez, etc - for at least one more year. Alicante should be the first stop of a promising tournament for the Leones.

2. Malaga - Valencia: 1.

Malaga's technical staff worked well during the silly season. Their top acquisitions include a winning coach (Jesualdo Ferreira, who won plenty of silverware with Porto in Portugal), a pair of decent midfielders (Eliseu and Sandro Silva) and two intriguing strikers (Argentinean Sebastian Fernandez and Venezuelan Salomon Rondon), not to mention an impressive goalie (Brazilian Galatto), at least when he was playing for Atletico Paranaense.

The same can't be said about Valencia. I struggle to picture how Roberto Soldado and Aritz Aduriz, two competent but moody strikers, are going to be able to replace David Villa, or who will pick up the creative side of things now that David Silva has moved to Manchester. A hunch: Unai Emery won't occupy Valencia's bench before November begins. Odds on that, anyone?

3. Levante - Sevilla: 1.

And now that we're talking about coaches being fired, my cousin Antonio could break quite a few precocity records if his Sevilla lose their Saturday visit to Valencia. Levante have assembled an interesting side with plenty of competent Primera Division veterans, aiming to forget their atrocious passage in the top flight three years ago.

Sevilla's season couldn't have started any worse. They presented Barcelona with the Spanish Super Cup title after a dismal second-leg display, and were then eliminated from the Champions League by Portuguese side Braga, a defeat which will have terrible financial implications for the Sevillistas. Their back four looks lost, and the team still need a solution to their creative midfielder position.

4. Espanyol - Getafe: 1.

"Our team improved with the off-season signings," Getafe's upbeat boss, Michel, said. If we have to judge by their extremely lucky 1-1 draw against Apoel Nicosia, which saw them through to the next round of the Europa League, he's either wrong, or the new arrivals haven't had time to gel. In any case, this midweek match should take its toll on their visit to Espanyol on Sunday.

The young Pericos are defensively weak, but usually respond in front of their public. '1' seems like a safe bet.

5. Deportivo - Zaragoza: 2.

There were very few things to like about Depor's second half of the last season. There are very, very few things to like about their off-season signings. And they face Zaragoza, a side with some momentum because of their impressive resurrection from February, which should be reinforced by some decent hiring decisions by the Maños' technical staff. This season will be a long one for the Deportivistas, believe me.

6. Osasuna - Almeria: X.

Poor Jose Antonio Camacho, Osasuna's boss, spent the summer as a colour commentator for a Spanish TV channel, sharing with us some blunt opinions about Vicente del Bosque's dilemmas (which Fernando should start, Llorente or Torres? David Silva or Andres Iniesta? Two great defensive midfielders or just one?). Once the World Cup was over, he went back to Osasuna and therefore to his painful reality. Camacho's dilemmas aren't quite as exciting as Del Bosque's. His most promising player, Cesar Azpilicueta, was sold, his two Iranians, Javad Nekounam and Masoud Shojaei, returned five days late from holidays and his squad look even more limited than they did last season.

Almeria have been much sharper in the off-season, and can build on the significant improvement shown under Juanma Lillo. They have enough to get at least one point in their trip to Pamplona.

7. Real Sociedad - Villarreal: X.

Real Sociedad are back where they belong, which is great news for Phil, but I am not too sure about the ability of this squad to compete consistently in the Primera. When a 33-year-old, injury-prone Raul Tamudo is your biggest name, you're probably in trouble.

Villarreal decided to clean house and let ten players go, including the classy but ageing pair of Robert Pires and Ariel Ibagaza. The influential Borja Valero arrived from Mallorca to fill their gap, but it's evident that Villarreal's starting XI will take some time to play well together. 'X' applies here.

8. Racing Santander - Barcelona: 2.

Another free of charge prediction for you, dearest reader, to keep in mind during the season: when all is said and done, Racing will be relegated to the Segunda. A handful of exotic signings won't be able to compensate for the players who left, especially youngster Sergio Canales.

While new president Sandro Rosell tries to offload Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Milan, Barcelona sound as confident as ever. "You journalists love Mourinho, but what really matters is what happens with the ball on the pitch, and that is the players' territory," a cocky Victor Valdes said earlier this week. Their line-up sure looks intimidating, although maybe a tad bit short in specific positions to cope with another demanding season. In any case, Racing will be a toy in Guardiola's hands on Sunday.

9. Mallorca - Real Madrid: 2.

Is there life for Mallorca after coach Gregorio Manzano? Can new coach Michael Laudrup maintain the impressive level of performance this side consistently showed last season? After losing their biggest offensive threat (Aduriz) and their playmaker (Borja Valero), I don't think so.

And even if they could, it's Mourinho's Real Madrid coming to visit the Mallorquines on Sunday, not the best of opponents with which to begin the season. The Madridistas will very likely win 90% of their matches this season, just like they did last year. The question is: can they win the key five or six that really matter? More on that in upcoming quinielas.

10. Atletico Madrid - Sporting Gijon: 1.

The home team made some shrewd signings, such as Brazilian left-back Filipe Luis and Uruguayan centre-back Diego Godin, two players who should bring some common sense to Atletico's weakest area during the past few seasons - their back four. Amazingly enough, the Manzanares club also managed to keep Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero, therefore their starting XI looks intimidating. I can't believe I am actually writing this, but they should do very well this season. And no, it's not a reverse jinx... as far as you know.

The Rojiblancos from Gijon brought Nacho Novo back to Spain after nine years abroad, but other than that, there's not much else to be excited about. They will start the season with a loss.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section.

1. Hercules de Alicante - Athletic de Bilbao: 2.
2. Malaga - Valencia: 1.
3. Levante - Sevilla: 1.
4. Espanyol - Getafe: 1.
5. Deportivo - Zaragoza: 2.
6. Osasuna - Almería: X.
7. Real Sociedad - Villarreal: X.
8. Racing Santander - Barcelona: 2.
9. Mallorca - Real Madrid: 2.
10. Atletico Madrid - Sporting Gijon: 1.


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