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Pereyra gives Mazzarri's Watford hope


Quiniela - Week 19 - Half-term holidays

Eduardo has very kindly offered to step in and write the Sunday column this week because I'll be in England doing (tricky) non-football things, so he gets to do the half-term report. But as a special treat, I get to do the quiniela.

It's a tricky one, says he, because there has been the King's Cup this week, and as I write the final game of the quarter-finals is being played out in Madrid. Trouble is, I'm never sure whether a midweek game helps or hinders a team - win, lose or draw. I don't think anyone has ever done a satisfactory doctoral thesis on the topic, so I'll confine myself to writing the usual speculative nonsense.

1. Valencia (4th) - Deportivo (13th) 1.

Valencia weren't particularly wonderful last week at neighbours Levante, and the three points definitely flattered them. Nevertheless, their position of fourth speaks for itself and their home form, whilst not exactly sparkling, has been efficient of late. They haven't lost at home since Mallorca visited in late October, and whilst their visitors have improved from their wretched start to the season (it took them until week 9 to win a game) their interesting win two weeks ago in San Mames still seems the exception to prove the rule. Home win.

2. Barcelona (1st) - Malaga (16th) 1.

Ho hum. Well, what do you want me to say? Ed was very brave to predict a draw last week at Deportivo, but reality bit once again. Second Division Betis played very well in midweek in the Camp Nou - as well as I've seen any team play there this season, and they still went home with a 'manita'(5). There is still little sign of a collapse in either morale or playing strengths at Barcelona. The idea that Xavi and Iniesta will be so affected by being overlooked for the big one, and that internal strife will ensue at the Camp Nou, all sounds like the usual fantasy-merchants spinning out their hopes on a thinning ball of string. Malaga are beginning to get used to Manuel Pellegrini, but with six new players having arrived in the club's Christmas hamper they're still getting used to each other. Home win.

3. Athletic de Bilbao (9th) - Racing (14th) x

This fixture has quite a history to it, and the two sides (and supporters) have little affection for each other, says he diplomatically. The cities are close, geographically speaking, but culturally and politically separated by several light years. Since the disaster at Malaga, Racing will be buoyed by their away form and the fact that they've now gone four games without tasting defeat, steadying the boat a little on the way. Athletic always seem difficult to beat, especially at home, but they have actually lost three times there this season, and Racing will bring plenty of raucous support. It won't be one for the faint-hearted. Athletic still haven't drawn at home this season, but there's always a first time.

4. Sporting de Gijon (18th) - Hercules (11th) 2

Sporting haven't won in the league since mid-October, and despite the odd decent draw here and there, it's beginning to show in their nervy style and lack of confidence. On the face of it, this looks like a game that could help to alleviate their depression, but the visitors are capable of beating anyone on their day (to which Barcelona will attest) and despite the fact that the players have now not been paid for several weeks and rumours of action are a-rumbling, the 4-1 stuffing of Atletico Madrid last week should have put the smiles back on their faces. But in general, Hercules don't travel too well. This is a difficult one, but I'll stick my neck out. Away win.

5. Almeria (19th) - Real Madrid (2nd) 2

Almeria are just plain weird. Freed from the over-hip overtures of Juanma Lillo, they're faring little better under new management with three consecutive defeats weighing them down, and only the King's Cup (in which they look possible semi-finalists) for solace. They are physically resilient, and can worry sides with their hustle and bustle, but the lack of overall quality is likely to be exposed by their illustrious visitors, also involved in midweek cup action. Real Madrid always have to sing for their supper on their travels, but so far have coped well with this sort of fixture. I see no reason for things to change in Almeria.

6. Villarreal (3rd) - Osasuna (15th) 1

Villarreal are everyone's darlings at the moment, and are managing to lend the second tier of La Liga some sort of dignity with their classy play and positive thinking. The only way that Osasuna, statistically the league's worst travellers, can get anything from this game is to hope that the splendid 3-3 draw that their hosts fought out with Sevilla in midweek will leave them jaded and jelly-legged. They've also just lost Juanfran to Atletico. Not very imaginative I know, but I still think Villarreal will win.

7. Getafe (7th) - Real Sociedad (12th) x

I have to try to do this with the head and not the heart. Real are on a run of four consecutive defeats, although the results do not do justice to some of their play. There is just a lack of steel at the back, a lack of top-flight canniness at times, which the Norwegian centre-back Vadim Demidov might solve, if he makes his debut at Getafe. Both sides play attractive stuff, and the hands-off approach that both adopt should result in a good game, in theory. In practice, with four defeats on the trot, expect a more cautious, more defensive game from the visitors. A definite draw.

8. Sevilla (10th) - Espanyol (5th) 1.

Sevilla lie a disappointing 10th, and when you watch them with their mojo working, as in Anoeta last week, it's difficult to understand why they have had such a lousy season so far. Because Jesus Navas has only just come back, Fabiano has been moody and Kanoute has also been injured? Probably. But there's a lot of quality in the side, quite apart from the names just cited, and I suspect that the second half of the season might see an upturn in their fortunes. The visitors are, meanwhile, having a whale of a time but mostly at home, where their record is second only to Real Madrid's. This might be a close game, and Sevilla also played out an exhausting but wonderful game at Villarreal on Wednesday. Nevertheless, I reckon Sevilla's improvement will continue. Home win - just.

9. Zaragoza (20th) - Levante (17th) 1.

As the cliché goes, it's a six-pointer. There do appear to be signs of life now at Zaragoza, despite the 4-0 whipping they received last week at Espanyol, and they can't really afford to lose or draw this one. For starters, all bottom three clubs are now on 13 points (unlucky for some) and beating Levante will draw them down into the mire. Levante are also poor travellers and although they are rarely thrashed (they put up a good show at Barcelona a fortnight ago) they may be swamped by the tsunami of Zaragoza's desperation. It's not going to be pretty, but expect a home win.

10. Atletico (6th) - Mallorca (8th) x

Atletico will be tired from their Thursday-night exertions, although they didn't have to travel far (to the Bernabéu) to play. They'll also be frustrated at losing 3-1, after taking the game early on to Real and scoring first. Still inconsistent in the league, with two poor games recently drawn and lost (0-0 at home to Racing and then stuffed away 4-1 at Hercules), they're the quiniela student's worst nightmare. Mallorca might fancy their chances in this one, having put to bed their December wobbles. But I'll take the coward's way out and go for a draw.

Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get 10 correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

1. Valencia (4th) - Deportivo (13th) 1
2. Barcelona (1st) - Malaga (16th) 1
3. Athletic de Bilbao (9th) - Racing (14th) x
4. Sporting de Gijon (18th) - Hercules (11th) 2
5. Almeria (19th) - Real Madrid (2nd) 2
6. Villarreal (3rd) - Osasuna (15th) 1
7. Getafe (7th) - Real Sociedad (12th) x
8. Sevilla (10th) - Espanyol (5th) 1
9. Zaragoza (20th) - Levante (17th) 1
10. Atletico (6th) - Mallorca (8th) x


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