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Feb 25, 2011

Quiniela - Week 25 - Three in a row

Dear reader, consider yourself warned: this is not your average La Liga week. In the space of seven days, all teams will play three key matches, while some of them will even have to resume their Champions League duties immediately after. This week becomes especially interesting in the now slightly revitalised title race: Real Madrid play three arguably straightforward games, and have the chance to reduce Barcelona's advantage, given that the Catalans have two tough away matches at Mallorca, and particularly at Valencia.

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

1. Atletico de Madrid (9th) - Sevilla (7th): X.

Two weeks ago, and also referring to an Atletico home match, this column debated the questionable impact of the 'One for All and All for One' meals. As predicted in that Quiniela, the Rojiblancos played 15 good minutes (which we could call the 'Champagne Effect' of the aforementioned meal) and then collapsed against Valencia.

This week, Atletico took the team building initiatives one step further, and spent one full day of food, beverages and bullfighting (I am not kidding) in one of the Rojiblancos owners' vast possessions in the Spanish countryside. Bearing in mind the precedents, factoring in that Atletico have only won four points of a possible 30 when playing against the top seven sides so far, and adding that Diego Forlan might not play, a '2' seems a reasonable pick.

However, visitors Sevilla appear to be on a mission to replace Atletico in the 'Club That Most Ruthlessly Tortures Their Fan Base' category. On Wednesday, they were eliminated from the Europa League after an impressive effort in Porto, which for most of the match made their supporters believe they could make it to the next round, only to fall mightily short at the end (a textbook Atletico trait). The Sevillistas also have a poor record visiting the Calderon - 14 wins in 71 games, so let's go for an 'X'.

P.S: These two teams may very well end up switching coaches next season. In a wicked way, it makes complete sense.

2. Sporting de Gijon (16th) - Zaragoza (18th): 1.

This one's not for the faint of heart. After hitting rock bottom in matchday 17, Sporting have won three, drawn another three (including Barcelona and Valencia in consecutive matches) and lost only one. Zaragoza were unlucky in their defeat against Atletico, although my sources in La Romareda tell me that they'd rather watch a 24-hour session of Lars von Trier movies than go through one more of the unbearable string of matches they have had to suffer this season. '1' it is.

3. Espanyol (6th) - Real Sociedad (8th): X.

Raul Tamudo comes back to the pitch that saw him play for most of his career. 'There are no accounts to settle', he explained on Thursday when asked about his controversial last season with the Periquitos. The in-form striker - he has three goals in his last four matches - will face his former side at their lowest ebb this season. After the management sold two of his back four starters, boss Mauricio Pochettino has had to deal with a plague of injuries and the resulting lack of resources has led to Espanyol losing their past four games. It should be an interesting, open match to watch, and a draw sounds like a reasonable result, even though both teams have only drawn once each all season.

4. Mallorca (11th) - Barcelona (1st): 2.

Pep Guardiola finally signed his one-year contract extension on Wednesday, which according to Sandro Rossell is a lot cheaper than that of a certain Jose Mourinho. Leaving aside for a second all the noise of the week - namely, Guardiola's decision to sign only for one year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic's new wave of sarcastic comments about the Barca coach's man management and Gerard Pique's slump in form after his relationship with Shakira came to light - the reigning champions would like to focus solely on their key Champions League second leg match against Arsenal… only there are still three La Liga matches before that, and Real Madrid have shown they'll do whatever it takes to get within striking distance of the Catalans.

No room for mistakes, then. In their encounter at the Camp Nou in October, Mallorca achieved a well-earned draw, but that now appears out of reach for the Mallorquinistas. Since that match, they've sold most of their attacking players, while Barcelona have oiled up their engine. And I believe in Barca's February 'problems' as much as I do in Santa Claus.

5. Deportivo de La Coruna (13th) - Real Madrid (2nd): 2.

Can you imagine Kun Aguero in a Merengue shirt? Well, his distinguished and opinionated father in law, Diego Armando Maradona, believes that Sergio will end up playing for Real Madrid. The most vocal part of the Bernabeu already shared their (negative) opinion about Aguero with us a couple of matches ago, but we all know how easily a striker can win over a theoretically adverse fan base.

In any case, Real Madrid would have to make room for the Argentinean, a challenging task when 'Manolo' Adebayor, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo, plus the injured Gonzalo Higuain form a pretty threatening front line. Perhaps the Madridistas can fork out another €60 million for Aguero to occupy Kaka's place on the bench?

Sarcasm aside, Real Madrid will find a tough atmosphere at the Riazor, always a hostile stadium for them. If tradition wasn't enough, Depor supporters haven't forgotten Mourinho's provocations back in 2004 when the Portuguese, leading Porto at that point, eliminated the Gallegos in the Champions League semi-finals. But Mou knows that this is a key week in the season and will go full steam ahead into this match. Too much for Deportivo, I'm afraid.

6. Hercules (15th) - Getafe (10th): 2.

A tough one to predict; Hercules have won five of their last six at home (their only defeat coming to Barcelona), but will miss injured striker Haedo Valdes. Getafe, deliriously unpredictable home and away, flirt with the Europa League zone and can get really close if they get three positive results in this coming week. When the outcome isn't clear, look for a sign: Getafe just had their 65th anniversary this week. Time to celebrate.

7. Levante (17th) - Osasuna (14th): X.

Can Osasuna's new manager, Jose Luis Mendilibar, break the spell? The Rojillos haven't won away from El Sadar in over a year, and after Mendilibar's bright start - a 4-0 win over Espanyol - the Pamplonicas expect bigger and better things from their squad. Winning in Levante sounds like a stretch, but they should take advantage of the new momentum and get at least one point against a clearly-improved home team.

8. Racing de Santander (12th) - Villarreal (4th): 1.

You're obviously entitled to believe that I'm over-estimating Ali Syed's 'Champagne Effect' in favour of his newly owned club, Racing de Santander, but Villarreal should be exhausted after their Europa League win over Napoli, and Racing's new manager Marcelino appears to have impressed well his players in these first two weeks. Let's ride Racing's streak.

9. Athletic de Bilbao (5th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.

The case for Athletic: eight wins in their last nine home matches, an impressively brave display against Barcelona last weekend, no major absentees (suspended Iraola will be replaced by de Marcos) and the 26th birthday of Fernando Llorente to commemorate.

The case against Valencia: two disappointing home draws (against Schalke and Sporting de Gijon), unsettling public statements from president Manuel Llorente ("Unai Emery won't necessarily keep the job if Valencia finish third"), and the absence of Aritz Aduriz. '1'it is, but don't miss this one if you have the chance to watch.

10. Malaga (20th) - Almeria (19th): 1.

If you struggle to understand how a team like Malaga, with a decent coach in Manuel Pellegrini and plenty of money to spend at the start and in the middle of the season, could possibly be bottom of the table, the reason is that they can't get their act together when they play at home. The Malaguistas' eight points from 11 matches at La Rosaleda is the worst home record in La Liga (the second-worst home team, Almeria, have 13). This week, every single Malaga player has publicly sworn they'll win this derby on Monday, and the club's management obliged by cutting in half most of the ticket prices for the game.

Last weekend, Almeria lost two points after Deportivo's keeper, Aranzubia, became the first goalkeeper to score off a header in La Liga's history in the 94th minute of their match. Seems safe to say Almeria are jinxed, correct?

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

Last week: 5/10 (50%) Season: 112/220 (51%)

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