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May 6, 2011

Quiniela - Week 34 - Strange Times

The aftermath of the four consecutive clasicos finds us, La Liga followers, in the final weeks of the season. It's always a bizarre period, full of contrasts between those squads who have done their homework and the ones who have to play for their lives; those players and coaches who have a guaranteed job for next season and those who'll have to find one; and those executives who have a good foundation to build on and those who will have to start from scratch. This Quiniela indeed shows plenty of those disparities.

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

1. Hércules (19th) - Racing de Santander (13th): 1.

Turbulent times for both teams. On one side, Hércules are trying to find guilty parties of their desperate position in the table - striker David Trezeguet was even accused of feigning an injury in his last outing at Málaga. On the opposite corner, Racing's owner, Mr Ali Syed, has gone missing, laying the grounds for the Regional Government of Cantabria, Racing's main creditor, to execute his bank guarantees. Despite the proverbial mountain to climb before Hercules, they can still count on this and their next home matches (both 'winnable' and to be played in a four-day span) to maintain their hopes of staying in the Primera. Expect a determined Hércules to take advantage of Racing's defensive woes away from El Sardinero (fourth highest goals suffered). And of course, it's time for Royston Drenthe to shine.

2. Sporting de Gijón (10th) - Deportivo de La Coruña (17th): 1.

Even after their highly predictable "Germany v. Austria '82" draw in Levante, Sporting can't still feel totally safe. Another point would see them off the hook, but they won't be able to apply the same 'no aggression approach' with Deportivo. The coruñeses badly need three points on Saturday, especially when you take a look at their next three matches (Athletic and Valencia at home, both fighting for European competition spots) and Barcelona away (probably with a B team willing to impress the Camp Nou).

So there will no doubt be a contest, and in that situation Sporting have more to win. Depor have been held scoreless in 12 of their 17 away matches, including their last four. I can't find any evidence to think that this will change on Saturday.

3. Athletic de Bilbao (7th) - Levante (9th): 1.

Dearest reader, you already know that you shouldn't always believe what people say in the media, don't you? Another two glaring examples: a) Borja Ekiza, Athletic's talented defender: "Levante will fight to die in San Mamés". Yeah, right. B) Levante's boss, Luis Garcia: "Our team will go to Bilbao to win the match". Sure, exactly like they did against Sporting last week…

We can safely say that the levantinistas' season is as good as over, which opens a fantastic chance for the bilbainos to get closer to a Europa League spot. Congratulations to Levante on a fantastic season, they've earned themselves one extra month of holidays.

4. Getafe (18th) - Almería (20th): 1.

Imagine the feeling of relief Getafe's boss Michel experienced when he saw Almeria next on his team's calendar. Exactly the opponent his boys needed: bottom of the table, almost relegated, terrible away record and even unlucky with the referees. What else could you ask for? Not even the bipolar Getafe can possibly botch this one, right? Right?

5. Valencia (3rd) - Real Sociedad (12th): 1.

Two consecutive defeats have raised doubts among the Valencia camp regarding what earlier in the season seemed 'their' third place. On Wednesday, Juan Mata stated that "the third spot has become a quite difficult goal". One begs to differ: three points in hand, the tie-breaker over Villarreal, and two easy home matches should do the trick.

This column considers Real Sociedad's visit included in those two easy home matches. The ecstatic realistas, who just defeated Barcelona in San Sebastián, are just a couple of points away from salvation. However, their shockingly dismal defensive performances away from home (they're the worst side of La Liga in this department) hint at salvation coming from Anoeta, not the rest of the country.

6. Atlético de Madrid (6th) - Málaga (14th): 1.

Atletico's president Enrique Cerezo continues to apply the Smoke Curtain Technique in order to keep his seat. Mr Cerezo just announced a 'deep re-structuring effort' in Atlético's management team, to be explained to the media and the public at the end of the season. Some former players, such as Toni - currently with Getafe - and Kiko, could be brought aboard, while Luis Enrique sounds like the likeliest option to occupy Quique Sanchez's position as a coach. The name-dropping helps to confuse the general public about what is actually going on in the club, and to perpetuate Mr Cerezo and his partner Miguel Angel Gil holding the reins of this venerable institution.

In any case, this match is a must see. LeKun Aguero, with nine goals in his last seven matches, meets Julio Baptista, with seven goals in eight matches with Malaga. Both teams arrive in their best shape of the season. Atlético need all three points to keep their Europa League hopes alive, while Málaga would give a giant step towards salvation if they win in the Calderón.

And even though Málaga are reasonable performers away from La Rosaleda, tipping them to win in Madrid sounds like a stretch. Their recent victories, all of them over bottom half of the table clubs, don't sound consistent enough to resist LeKun's killer form.

7. Sevilla (5th) - Team M (2nd): X.

Before you ask, yes, Team M are still Team M (click here to understand why this column refuses to write the name of the white-shirted team from Madrid). The club's public statements before and after the Champions League semi-finals' second leg only confirmed their shocking transformation into the Merengue version of Jesus Gil's Atlético de Madrid. When you find yourself nodding while listening to former president Ramon Calderon's reflections on Team M's current state of things, you know there's something horribly wrong going on.

Tainted reputations and a wasted hundred plus years of principles aside, Team M should use these last four matches to define who stays and who leaves the club in the summer. Expect a decent amount of minutes for some players you haven't seen play that much so far. And if that should be an advantage for Sevilla, remember that this week most sevillistas (both fans and players) have been enjoying themselves in the impossibly entertaining Feria de Abril, Sevilla's own inimitable party. Both Sevilla and Betis have traditionally fallen in their performance at this time of the year, so let's pick a safe 'X'.

8. Mallorca (11th) - Villarreal (4th): X.

A team playing for almost nothing (Mallorca) hosts an exhausted Villarreal who couldn't pull off a miracle over Porto in the Europa League semi-finals. In Mallorca, the focus has shifted to signings and, especially, sales to alleviate the seemingly eternal financial struggles of the club. Villarreal can't still understand how they allowed Porto to score five after the interval of their first leg match, and will be probably re-playing that match in their minds until next season. 'X' sounds good for two over-achievers entitled to plan their holidays in advance.

9. Barcelona (1st) - Espanyol (8th): 1.

Unlike Team M, Barcelona's executives and public speakers appeared to recover some (some!) of their mental sanity last week, which gets them back their full name in this column. The Barcelonistas' immediate focus after the four clasicos should be to become La Liga champions as soon as possible, freeing up time to prepare for the Champions League final at the end of this month.

Espanyol have already embraced the silly season. Their two best offensive players, Argetinean Osvaldo and Spaniard Jose Callejon, are being auctioned on e-bay as we speak, with an endless list of clubs trying to lure either one or the other away from Barcelona. Even if their classy midfielder Joan Verdu believes that "We can win in the Camp Nou", this column does not agree. Easy home win.

10. Zaragoza (15th) - Osasuna (16th): 1.

Match ball for both clubs. Zaragoza had bought themselves a lifeline with decent home performances in the last couple of months, and then pulled off one of the upsets of the season by winning at the Bernabeu while scoring three times in the process. Three points on Sunday would almost mean salvation, while Osasuna would still need another result with a tougher calendar. The rojillos still are the worst visitors of La Liga, and that should show on Sunday.

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

Last week: 6/10 (60%)
Season: 158/310 (51%)

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