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Sep 24, 2010

Soccernet Quiniela - Week 4 - Surprise surprise

Just a week ago, most of us were celebrating a surprisingly competitive beginning to this La Liga season. Real Madrid held by Mallorca, Barcelona defeated at home by Hercules and Valencia winning their first three. That is exactly what we wanted to see: an open tournament in which more than two teams have something to say. Seven days and two consecutive victories by Real Madrid and Barcelona later, things seem to be slowly going back to their Old Firm ways. Or maybe not - take a look at this week's quiniela as we may be about to witness a couple of surprises... As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. 1. Sporting (15th) - Valencia (2nd): 2. For the last 18 months, los valencianistas have played a distinct brand of football away from home, getting positive results more often than not. Despite several changes in their starting line up, this season has begun similarly: no matter the tournament, they keep winning when they travel. "My players are exhausted and heartbroken," Sporting's frustrated boss Manuel Preciado said after their narrow 1-0 defeat at Camp Nou on Wednesday. A demanding week for the gijoneses' short squad should take its toll on Saturday. 2. Levante (18th) - Real Madrid (1st): X. The casual La Liga follower might find Marca's cover last Wednesday completely futile: 'Mourinho rejects Casillas' proposal to start training sessions one hour later.' However, the well-trained eye interprets several hidden messages:

A) Casillas wants to occupy Raul's vacant throne as 'the Capo' in the Bernabeu's dressing room. The rumour had it that, in seasons past, Real Madrid used to train exactly when it suited Raul's schedule.
B) Casillas is not a morning person (understandably so, once you've seen his girlfriend).
C) Mourinho will have none of it, and wants to show the players and the media who's boss. Coupling this with other 'minor' issues, such as the obvious lack of chemistry between Gonzalo Higuain and CR7, Mou's team still appear far from sharp. Even though they face the recently promoted Levante, one of the strongest candidates for relegation, this looks like a trademark letdown match by los madridistas: fifth match in two weeks, away from home, weak but extremely motivated opponents, and flying tackles galore. When the match is over they'll be happy with a draw. 3. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Barcelona (4th): 1. "The team have always come through without Messi," Pique said on Thursday night. Well, they almost didn't at home against Sporting, and now Barca visit San Mames, which is hardly a walk in the park. The young bilbainos smell blood, play their second consecutive home match and are aware that this is a fantastic opportunity to beat "the best team in Europe", as coach Caparros put it. The in-form Fernando Llorente (three goals in four matches) will put Barca's back four in trouble... 4. Racing de Santander (14th) - Getafe (11th): 1. The home side started poorly this season but have managed to get four points in their last two matches and even had chances to win on Thursday night at the Sanchez Pizjuan. Getafe come from a shocking home defeat at the hands of Malaga, and have had two demanding games this week. '1' it is. 5. Deportivo (17th) - Almeria (19th): X. At first sight this is not the most exciting of encounters. Both teams add up to five points out of a possible 24, and have scored a combined four goals in eight matches. In his public statements, boss Lotina finally started to recognise Depor's difficulties in scoring, which unfortunately should not change until December. Meanwhile, in Almeria, the club's president decided to put some pressure on coach Lillo: "I really don't like how the team play." Lillo could easily respond by questioning his president's musical taste: Almeria will carry David Bisbal's name (a pop Spanish singer) in their sleeve this season. It can't be a good omen. 6. Espanyol (9th) - Osasuna (11th): 1. Boss Pochettino should be able to channel Espanyol's bitterness, after their harsh defeat and the controversial refereeing at the Bernabeu, to beat one of the worst visiting sides of La Liga. Los periquitos have won two of two at home, while los rojillos have lost two of two away from the Reyno de Navarra. Sounds like a trend, correct? 7. Mallorca (16th) - Real Sociedad (13th): 1. On Tuesday night, Raul Tamudo scored his third La Liga goal in three matches. I was about to print a copy of my first quiniela of the season to literally eat my words when I remembered the reasons I thought Real Sociedad wouldn't do well this year: short squad, lack of experience in the top-flight and extremely high expectations. In Tamudo's case, his long injury background and his age should show at some point. They couldn't keep the lead against a troubled Osasuna on Tuesday, a telling sign of their lack of know-how in finishing off their opponents. Mallorca are quite competent at home and should get an easy win. 8. Hercules (10th) - Sevilla (5th): 2. Have you figured out Sevilla yet? I guess I have. They can't play in front of their own fans this year: two draws against inferior opposition in La Liga, and another two embarrassing showings in European competitions (and counting). They just can't deal with the pressure. However, whenever they leave the Sanchez Pizjuan, they look like their old selves again. Fast counter-attacks, great wingers, deadly strikers. Bizarre. Hercules, responsible for what will likely become the biggest upset of the season when all is said and done, don't seem to be able to do much more than that. Their best player is Calatayud, a pretty impressive goalkeeper. Enough said. 9. Atletico de Madrid (6th) - Zaragoza (20th): 1. But Calatayud is not the goalie of the season so far. This title belongs to David De Gea, the Plastic Man. Watched closely by Sir Alex Ferguson himself, Atletico's keeper continues to amaze with superhero showings week after week. His team have the perfect chance to get closer to the leading pack, beating bottom of the table Zaragoza on Sunday. Los manos seem to be doing their best, or rather, their worst, to mimic their depressing beginning of last season. Back then it took a full revamp of their side to make things work. Let's hope they don't have to go that far this time. 10. Malaga (15th) - Villarreal (7th): X. And if De Gea is the best goalie after this first month of competition, Nilmar has to be the best striker. The Brazilian is finally showing all the talent and promise he was supposed to bring to Villarreal. His partnership with Rossi up front can indeed be deadly. Malaga seem to follow the Sevilla pattern: great away, poor at home. Their lightning fast counter attack works wonders when the other team take the initiative, but they suffer when they have to build up plays against a fully prepared defensive structure. In this case, Villarreal's style suits them better. It should be an 'X' to finish a quite surprising weekend. Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. 1. Sporting (15th) - Valencia (2nd): 2.
2. Levante (18th) - Real Madrid (1st): X.
3. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Barcelona (4th): 1.
4. Racing de Santander (14th) - Getafe (11th): 1.
5. Deportivo (17th) - Almeria (19th): X.
6. Espanyol (9th) - Osasuna (11th): 1.
7. Mallorca (16th) - Real Sociedad (13th): 1.
8. Hercules (10th) - Sevilla (5th): 2.
9. Atletico de Madrid (6th) - Zaragoza (20th): 1.
10. Malaga (15th) - Villarreal (7th): X. Last week: 4/10 (40%)
Season: 16/30 (53%)

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