With Ed Alvarez away celebrating his magnificent seven from last week (which included the nigh-on impossible prediction of an Osasuna away win) it behoves me to step in and guide the nations far and wide in their betting tendencies this weekend. It's a tough responsibility, but I'm prepared for the challenge.
The season is also moving into that final third phase where the struggling teams begin to wake from their torpor, and realise that they have to get their acts together. It can make for a difficult 'kiniela', as they spell it up here in the Basque lands. The Champions and the Europa can make it tricky too. Still, that's when you make your fortune. Take as little notice of me as possible, and you may do well.
1. Zaragoza (17) v Valencia (3) X
The new(ish) manager effect does seem to have had some influence on Planet Zaragoza, and the 1-0 defeat away at Barcelona last week was evidence of improvement, of a kind. But with two away games coming up after this one, there is still a lot at stake. The game is on Saturday night, and visitors Valencia, high-flying but no doubt deflated after their exit from the Champions League, might have wished for another day to lick their wounds before returning to combat. The implications of their defeat at the hands of Raul's Schalke may have serious implications for the club's financial future, but all they can do is grit their teeth and try to hang onto a Champions League place for next season. At the moment, that looks fairly feasible, but I can't see them summoning up enough energy to win on Saturday. A draw looks the likely result.
2. Sevilla (7) v Barcelona (1) X
Sevilla's recent and decent form has been based mainly on their home improvements (sounds like the builder's been round), but they remain unpredictable. They can only really aspire now for a Europa League place, but there are several candidates who will remain keen competitors. Still, Sevilla have always been a difficult side to visit, and they tend to play well when motivated by the presence of 'un grande' like Barcelona. Ivan Rakitic, their new midfielder from Schalke, looks an excellent buy, and the Catalans might just be a bit battle-weary from their midweek tussle with Arsenal. It should be an interesting game, especially as it is the late one on the Sunday night. Madrid will have already played, and face a more comfortable-looking fixture at home to Hercules. It puts a little bit of pressure on the leaders. Expect them to come mildly unstuck.
3. Getafe (11) v Athletic Bilbao (5) 1
Getafe are going through some sort of crisis, and have only won once in their past 11 games. In homage to their early-season form, they still lie in 11th place, only five points from the Europa places, but they cannot afford to let things slide any further. They have managed four draws during this brittle period, but there have even been whisperings of discontent about Michel, their formerly untouchable manager, who was apparently still being groomed to return to the Bernabeu in triumph before this latest lapse. Mou can sleep soundly, it would seem. Their opponents Athletic stopped the rot last week (of four successive defeats) with a home win over Sevilla, and it will have done their morale no harm. Nevertheless, their away form, with only three wins on their travels, is not really becoming of a side in fifth place. Getafe to start their revival. Home win.
4. Villarreal (4) v Sporting (16) X
Villarreal have only won a single game in the last six, and despite their excellent 3-2 win in Germany on Thursday night in the Europa League, their home form has been particularly poor of late and they simply seem to be suffering the weight of expectation and the effects of a smaller pool of quality than your average top-four side. The quality that they have is, of course, exceptional, but Sporting have been looking like a tougher nut to crack of late, and seem to be on a slow but identifiable improvement curve. I'll stick my neck out and appeal to the European hangover law.
5. Almeria (19) v Atletico Madrid (8) X
This is a difficult one, but then again it always is with Atletico. They're on a decent run at the moment (undefeated in four), but the nature of their apparent revival and the vague signs of a smile on Diego Forlan's face are still flimsy evidence that all is well in Doctor House's house. Kun Aguero has just signed a contract until 2014, but that seems more like bad news for him (nobody wants him any more) than it is good news for Atletico. Added to all of this, a visit to a place like Almeria, whose team have begun to look as though they might be getting a revival together, is not what you would fancy at this particular juncture. It should be an entertaining spectacle, whatever the score, since both teams are capable of anything on their day - ineptitude and skill in equal measure. Atletico have more of the latter, obviously, but in Pablo Piatti and Jose Ulloa, Almeria have two very dangerous players, and Atletico still look unsure of themselves at the back. Don't be fooled by Atletico's win over Villarreal last week. I reckon they'll struggle, but just nick a draw.
6. Real Madrid (2) v Hercules (18) 1
They may have their minds focused on their subsequent crunch fixture at home to Lyon, but injury-hit Hercules are unlikely to cause Madrid much trouble on Saturday night at the Bernabeu. It's tempting to think that the visitors might remember their epic win in the Camp Nou earlier in the season, but they were fresh and innocent back then. Now the reality of the top flight has kicked in, and they have lost seve of their past ten games. Even worse, they have managed to score a paltry three goals away from home all season, which is going some when you consider that they scored two-thirds of those in the Camp Nou. In fact they haven't scored away since October 24th, when they managed one at Almeria. Stranger things have happened, but it's difficult to see the getting a result at the Bernabow, especially with the new Ronaldo-less machine purring very nicely thank you. Expect a fairly easy weekend preparation session for the more serious stuff against Lyon.
7. Osasuna (15) v Racing (14) 1
As the merry cliche goes, it's a six-pointer. Between Barcelona seven games ago and Real Madrid last week, Racing had enjoyed an undefeated run, and all was looking less rusty in the Sardine Can. Now the doubts are creeping back, with the players' delegates meeting club officials last Monday to discuss unpaid bonuses and wages, and now the unsettling news that their new owner, Ali Syed, is being accused of financial fraud on a major scale in Australia. On top of all that, the runes look unpromising with a shortish visit to Pamplona, where new manager Jose Luis Mendilibar seems to have cast off the slough of despondency that had descended there under Camacho. Osasuna have only lost once at home this season, and have conceded a mere six at the Reyno de Navarra, always a hostile place for visiting teams. Racing have some fighters in their ranks, but they won't fancy this one. Home win.
8. Real Sociedad (9) v Malaga (20) 1
Neither side are exactly setting the world on fire at the moment, although La Real are certainly capable of putting lesser sides under the cosh in Anoeta, when their classier players can get their mojo working. Malaga have been pretty disastrous both home and away all season, but only in terms of results. Their weakened side and pallid performance in the Bernabeu should not be too easily interpreted as the beginning of their death-throes, and there is enough talent in the side, at least up front, to cause an uncertain Sociedad some problems. It could go either way, but I reckon it'll still be a home win. Malaga are far from finished yet, but their revival will have to wait another week. A narrow home win looks likely, if only because Sociedad will need to react positively after their poor performance last Monday in La Coruna.
9. Espanyol (6) v Deportivo (13) X
Espanyol's previously impeccable home form has been creaking of late, despite the 4-1 win against Real Sociedad, and Deportivo are suddenly looking harder to beat. They are hardly distinguishing themselves in terms of football, but they seem to have developed a tougher streak of late. It looks like a draw.
10. Levante (12) v Mallorca (10) 2
This is a difficult game to predict, given the two sides' inconsistency throughout the season. However, Levante have won their last four home matches and hauled themselves into a respectable mid-table spot, but cannot afford to relax. My only excuse for predicting an away win is that I can't find one anywhere else and I sense that Levante's home run, all narrow wins, is unlikely to last. Believe that and you'll believe anything.
Use this easy 'Copy and Paste' summary to write your own Quiniela and share it with us in the 'Comments' section. If you get ten correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!
1. Zaragoza v Valencia X
2. Sevilla v Barcelona X
3. Getafe v Athletic Bilbao 1
4. Villarreal v Sporting X
5. Almería v Atlético Madrid X
6. Real Madrid v Hercules 1
7. Osasuna v Racing 1
8. Real Sociedad v Málaga 1
9. Espanyol v Deportivo X
10. Levante v Mallorca 2
Last week: 7/10 (70%)
Season: 122/240 (51%)