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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

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Liverpool and Arsenal set for showdown

50-50 Challenge
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Quiniela - Week 22 - Mourinho's curse

In June 2003, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez announced Carlos Queiroz as the club's new coach. Right after the shocking dismissal of Vicente del Bosque, then the recent winner of the La Liga title, Perez explained to a befuddled audience that the Portuguese manager would take Real Madrid into the 21st century, introducing innovative techniques that would turn that group of Galacticos into a ruthless winning machine.

Eyewitnesses swear that, during lunch prior to that press conference, Mr Perez had slammed the table with his fist several times while speaking about Del Bosque, knocking down the salt shaker in the process and spilling salt all over the tablecloth.

Leaving aside occasional hiccups - such as a brutal November defeat in Sevilla after which Queiroz admitted he cried in the dressing room - the 2003-04 campaign exceeded the expectations of the most optimistic Madridistas up to March 2004. At that time, the club led La Liga, had made it to the Champions League quarter-finals and were also finalists in the Copa del Rey, having played with an enjoyable mixture of consistency and flair for most of the season. A treble seemed to be in the cards for this modern version of Real Madrid, despite the worrying presence of 13 vultures flying in circles around La Castellana Avenue since Queiroz first set foot in the Bernabeu grass.

The Merengues' subsequent collapse can't be hyperbolised enough. A series of unexplained events in the week leading up to the Copa del Rey final reached its climax when a clutter of black cats crossed the street from left to right in front of the team bus as Real Madrid were on their way to the stadium. The dazed team lost in extra-time to a Zaragoza side that on paper appeared quite inferior. It was a defeat that triggered a phenomenal, almost supernatural slump in Real Madrid's performance.

The squad, at this point jinxed beyond any reasonable doubt, thus presented Monaco with a place in the Champions League semi-finals - wasting a 5-2 aggregate lead with only 50 minutes left to play in the second leg - and then handed Valencia the La Liga title. In the domestic competition, the Merengues managed to lose their last five consecutive domestic matches, their worst losing streak ever in the Spanish tournament, with an added twist of pain: they only needed eight points out of those five games to conquer the title.

At the end of the season, Florentino Perez recognised his mistake: Carlos Queiroz did not have the required experience to manage Real Madrid.

Despite his doomed fate in Madrid, Queiroz is still the only Portuguese manager to have completed a full season as a manager of a La Liga team after the end of the Spanish Civil War. The moustachioed - and successful in Portugal - Toni Oliveira failed miserably at Sevilla in 1995 (five months in the job), while the also previously victorious Jesualdo Ferreira lasted less than four months at Malaga this very season. Even if we go to the Segunda División, Joao Alves got the boot at Salamanca after just three months in 1996 (the team ended up promoted to the Primera thanks to this fast decision-making process).

Now, do you believe that the determined, Special but undoubtedly Portuguese Jose Mourinho can avert this destiny? The month of April has the answer.

Let's start. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win.

1. Athletic de Bilbao (6th) - Sporting Gijon (12th): 1.

And talking about curses, Gaizka Toquero got rid of his 'best non-scoring striker in La Liga' with a brace last Sunday. That should be relief for most Bilbainos, now that Fernando Llorente's exit next summer seems like a done deal. Both teams arrive at this match in their best form of the season. San Mames should make the difference.

2. Zaragoza (15th) - Racing Santander (17th): 1.

Zaragoza finally understand that they need to beat their direct rivals if they want to stay up. Consecutive victories against Malaga, Depor and Levante have taken the team out of the relegation zone. They should continue that positive streak on Saturday, despite Racing's new flashy signing, Mexican Giovani dos Santos.

3. Getafe (10th) - Deportivo de La Coruna (14th): X.

After what feels like an eternity avoiding any kind of expenditure, Deportivo signed three players on the same day. President Lendoiro made the announcement with the facial expression of a man who just gambled his house in Russian roulette. One point against out-of-form Getafe seems feasible, though.

4. Almeria (19th) - Espanyol (5th): 2.

In a classic instance of 'Small Team Do Well in the Cup and End Up Killing Their La Liga Season', Almeria left the Copa del Rey semi-finals after two painful encounters with Barcelona, and now look at the mountain they have to climb in front of them. Espanyol haven't slowed down yet, so this should be an easy victory for the visitors.

5. Osasuna (16th) - Mallorca (11th): 1.

Walter Pandiani, Osasuna's target man, started the week by stating out loud that CR7 needs to learn how to be humbler from no other than Leo Messi. Ouch. Below the waist, Walter. In any case, right after their win over Real Madrid, the Osasunistas host a troubled Mallorca: three consecutive losses in which the Mallorquinistas couldn't score, and an almost striker-less squad, following last week's fire sale. This column hereby classifies Mallorca under the 'Team That Will Suffer Mightily to Avoid Relegation When All Is Said and Done' tag.

6. Villarreal (3rd) - Levante (18th): 1.

Happy anniversary, Señor Garrido! It's been one year since Villarreal's boss replaced Ernesto Valverde, and the courageous decision to promote internal talent has indeed paid off. They should celebrate against strugglers Levante on Saturday. Just this week, the home side agreed to loan Ecuadorian defender Jefferson Montero to the visitors, including one of those sneaky contract clauses that will prevent him from playing against his former team this weekend. Does that break the rules of competition? You tell me.

7. Barcelona (1st) - Atletico Madrid (7th): 1.

While life looks fine and dandy in Barcelona, things seem to be falling apart at the Calderon. The Catalans have reached the cup final, keep scoring tirelessly and even have given some decent playing time to some bench players. In stark contrast, the Rojiblanco supporters are asking for the head of everyone who has ever been involved with the club, in their present lives or even in past reincarnations.

Sounds like the perfect scenario for a trademark Atletico resurrection, correct? One of those heroic displays in which Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero look like their old selves again, De Gea recovers his Plastic Man impersonation and Atletico's back four keep the best La Liga striking trio in ages at bay for a full 90 minutes. Knowing Atletico, doesn't that sound entirely plausible? Believe me, I did try to talk myself into this, but no, the answer is NO. One of the clearest '1's of the season.

8. Sevilla (8th) - Malaga (20th): 2.

Time flies and Malaga can't seem to get anything going. Hirings, firings, Manuel Pellegrini, sponsors ... Nothing really works. But for some reason, this column feels like this is the Quiniela Buster of the Week. Sevilla find themselves in this traditionally heated derby after their Copa del Rey elimination, and they'll find Malaga playing with genuine desperation. Like the '2' here.

9. Real Madrid (2nd) - Real Sociedad (9th): 1.

If you believe Jose Mourinho, his team aren't used to playing twice a week, so they should have difficulties to win this one. However, Real Sociedad are one of Real Madrid's favourite rivals, therefore expect a full house and an entertaining match. The Merengues' upcoming appearance in the Copa del Rey final should help Mourinho to motivate his team after their lacklustre display in Pamplona. Expect an authoritative Real Madrid display.

10. Valencia (4th) - Hercules (13th): 1.

This match looks like such an easy win for Valencia that we can focus on more interesting things, such as Miguel's troubles with the Portuguese Justice. Apparently, after having being denied entry to a trendy Lisboa club, Valencia's starting right-back decided to pull out his gun and started to fire shots. And, yes, you're reading a La Liga column, not an NFL or NBA one. He faces up to five years in jail for that moment of rage. Another Portuguese Curse in the making?

PS. Quick reminder: you can follow me on twitter! (@Papamoskis).

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

Last week: 3/10 (30%)
Season: 100/190 (52%)

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