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May 13, 2011

Quiniela - Week 35 - Three in a row

First of all, congratulations to Futbol Club Barcelona, winners of this season's La Liga trophy. For the third time in a row, Josep Guardiola's squad have conquered the title, in this case maintaining an unprecedented level of defensive consistency throughout the year. Barcelona are on track to put in the best defensive performance ever seen in a Liga-winning side, an unexpected record for a side known worldwide for their attacking flair.

But back to the Quiniela. The most pressing issues for the final two weekends of the season lay down in the lower half of the table. Even though Almeria and Hercules already know their dark destiny after the summer, there's still one available spot for the Liga Adelante (Forward), as the Segunda División has been optimistically titled by its main sponsor. In theory, and depending on how Zaragoza perform, any club with fewer than 46 points could become the third to go Backwards/Downwards, accomplishing the dubious feat of becoming the best relegated side ever.

Let's start. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. As is usually the case in the final two weeks of the competition, all matches will be played at the same time (Sunday, 9pm CET). @papamoskis will tweet non-stop during those nerve-wrecking 90 minutes.

1. Almería (20th) - Mallorca (13th): 2.

After losing seven in a row, relegated Almeria finally drew at home to Villarreal on Tuesday. It would be great for the Almerienses to bid their farewell to the Primeira División with a final home victory over Mallorca, but the team look so rattled and depressed that no sane gambler would bet on them. The fact that Mallorca just sent Hercules to the Backwards League with a shockingly effective second-half display doesn't help Almeria's chances either. The Mallorquinistas smell blood, as they need at least two points to feel 100% safe. Pierre Webo will be on the scoresheet on Sunday.

2. Villarreal (4th) - Real Madrid (1st): 2.

The management of the Club Formerly Known as Team M managed to spend a full week without blaming someone else for their troubles, so let's call them Real Madrid again. Yes, after a terrible gambling sequence, this column's moral standards sit at historic lows at the moment.

In any case, this should be an entertaining one to watch. Both teams have already effectively finished for the season, and will indeed enjoy a risk-free match to try players out and leave the usual tactical boredom aside for a change. Looking at the numbers, the home side's final third of the season has been disappointing - nine goals scored in their last 11 matches - probably because of their demanding Europa League campaign. Couple that with the killer away form of Real Madrid's B team - scoring 15 goals in just three outings at Bilbao, Valencia and Sevilla, no less - and it's a '2' here.

3. Getafe (17th) - Osasuna (16th): 2.

First seven-pointer of the evening (this point count includes the goal-average between teams, who in this case drew in their previous encounter). If we have to judge based on their recent form, the case for the visitors is clear: Osasuna have won their last three, including their impressive second-half comeback win over Sevilla. Javier Camuñas and Kike Sola have earned their right to a new, bigger contract, while boss Jose Luis Mendilibar has shown his value steering the ship.

Getafe's dismal display at the Bernabeu raised some doubts about the commitment of the squad. In stark contrast to Osasuna vs Sevilla, it seemed as though the Getafenses were already safe and playing for nothing. The atmosphere among Getafe's three or four supporters is quite charged, as has been the case between manager Michel and president Angel Perez. Things could end up ugly on Sunday at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez...

4. Sevilla (5th) - Real Sociedad (13th): 1.

If you, dear reader, have figured out Sevilla, you're probably a millionaire right now. Their remarkable impersonation of Atlético de Madrid this season has reached amazing heights: not only has their bipolar behaviour become eerily similar but both clubs also have exactly the same number of points, wins, draws, losses and goals scored. However, in this case Sevilla know what's at stake, as the club's financial stability depends on a spot in next season's Europa League. Despite the absences of Gary Medel and Didier Zokora, both suspended, cheaper tickets for this match should help the team to get the three points.

The bad news for Real Sociedad is that the squad sounds dangerously relaxed after their recent win over Zaragoza. "It's almost done," skipper Mikel Aranburu said. "It would be good to try to get one point in Sevilla." You don't get points when your objective is a draw, says the manual, and with that attitude the Realistas could find themselves fighting for survival against Getafe in their final match of the season.

5. Zaragoza (18th) - Espanyol (8th): 1.

This is a pick from the gut based 1) on this column's selfish desire to maintain the interest in the relegation battle until the bitter end and 2) on this column's tireless - and profitable - decisions throughout 2011 to bet against Espanyol. Come on, Zaragoza, give us another week of relegation battle!

6. Valencia (3rd) - Levante (12th): X.

Phil Ball loves the way we Spaniards use the word descafeinado (decaffeinated), and if you don't quite get its real meaning, this derby is a perfect example. When both teams looked at the calendar at the beginning of the season, they probably thought that this would be a very inconvenient moment to face their neighbours.

Now, they're both almost playing for nothing, which takes all the match's caffeine away, and therefore its fun. In all truth, a draw would be extremely fitting for the two contestants, as it would guarantee Valencia the third spot, and would take Levante to a solid 45 points. But a look at the calendar tells us that the visitors need more than one point to be safe, as they play against 18th-placed Zaragoza in their final match of the season.

7. Barcelona (1st) - Deportivo de La Coruña (15th): 1.

I know that Depor desperately need to win and that Barcelona have been on a three-day bender following the confirmation of their title on Wednesday. I know that at this point of the season, the 'Who wants it more?' factor outweighs almost any other. And I know that Josep Guardiola will probably start Gerard Delofeu, Andreu Fontas, Marc Bartra and even Thiago Alcantara's sister on Sunday.

But even if all that points to a win for the visitors, remember that Depor have only won three times at the Camp Nou, all of them back at the beginning of last decade, when players such as Djalminha, Roy Makaay, Mauro Silva and the pre-Newcastle version of Albert Luque, among others, strengthened the SuperDepor brand. And this season's squad have only scored nine times in 18 away matches. Hard to argue with a '1'.

8. Athletic de Bilbao (6th) - Málaga (10th): 1.

Five consecutive victories have taken Malaga out of the relegation zone. Finally, coach Manuel Pellegrini found the recipe for success: a healthy Julio Baptista, a consistent midfield - a trademark of the Chilean manager - and a back four marshalled by Martin Demichelis put the team on a whole other level, raising the owners' expectations for the upcoming season. But defeating Hercules, Racing, Sporting, Mallorca or even bipolars Atletico is one thing; to win in San Mames when the Bilbainos need the victory, especially now that Malaga have reached 45 points, is another entirely. Time for the Malaguistas to take one match off.

9. Sporting de Gijón (14th) - Racing de Santander (9th): 1.

Do you, dear reader, remember what happened last year at this exact moment of the season between these two teams? Well, then you already know that they get along extremely well, and that Racing owe Sporting big. Nothing could be farther from this column's intention than to insinuate the exchange of favours between teams in La Liga, or the sale of votes to decide the organising country of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups for that matter. However, if I were you, and given that Sporting aren't totally safe, I'd go for a '1' in this one and would monitor closely the next few knighthoods - or their local equivalents - granted by Russia and/or Qatar to foreign citizens...

10. Atlético de Madrid (7th) - Hércules (19th): 1.

Last weekend, right after Atletico's shocking home defeat at the hands of Malaga, this columnist decided to get his first henna tattoo. 'Never ever trust Atletico again,' it read. Even though this life-altering sentence shines even brighter in my skin following the Rojiblancos' loss against Racing only two days ago, it seems as though, in a Wildean way, I can resist everything but their temptation. Are you, henna tattoo, telling me that they can't beat the already relegated Hercules? That the row between Diego Forlan and boss Quique Sanchez will have such an impact in the remaining two matches? That I have to get a real tattoo with that same sentence so that I finally learn this lesson? Please...

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

Last week: 5/10 (50%)
Season: 162/320 (50%)

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