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May 20, 2011

Quiniela - Week 36 - Final question

The final week of the 2010-11 season brings us one, and only one, major question: Who will be the third relegated side? Up to six clubs have struggled for months, only to arrive to the very last date of the calendar with still 90 minutes of guaranteed suffering. Intrigued to know the answer to the puzzle? Then follow me in the closing issue of this season's Quiniela.

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

1. Málaga (10th) - Barcelona (1st): 1.

Judging by Barcelona's starting line-up last Sunday, and bearing in mind that on Saturday we'll only be one week away from the Champions League final, Malaga would have to play as poorly as … er… Deportivo, not to beat the champions. They're now better than that, as the Sheik's promise to give his players €50k per point won seems to have worked.

2. Real Madrid (2nd) - Almería (20th): 1.

CR7 on a mission to break the 40 goals barrier and the La Liga record in the process. Not much relegated Almeria should be able to do about it and the final match of keeper Diego Alves, signed by Valencia, could be a tough one for the Almerienses.

3. Hercules (19th) - Sporting de Gijon (16th): 1.

I mean, really, who cares about this one? I'm just hopeful that Royston Drenthe finishes his unforgettable season for Hercules with a bang in what will surely be his last act as a player in Spain.

4. Osasuna (13th) - Villarreal (4th): 1.

One can think of at least four clubs who would put money on the table so that the Amarillos awaken their, at this point clearly dormant, footballing skills to defeat Osasuna and leave the Rojillos hanging by a thread. And even though the scary thought of a motivated, but at the same time pressure-free, Villarreal has probably kept Osasuna supporters wandering around like zombies during the week, I do believe that the Reyno de Navarra will show up big on Saturday night, helping a decent team to victory and survival.

5. Real Sociedad (14th) - Getafe (16th): 1.

In an evening packed with nerve-wrecking matches, this is THE one to watch. Just like Phil wrote last Monday, 'No maletines, no messing. Just a fight to the death'. It's hard to come to terms with the fact that these two teams, who had in several moments of the season shown attacking flair and intriguing potential, have been taken to the last match of the season fighting to avoid relegation. In the case of the Realistas, they've never occupied a relegation spot during the whole season, whereas Getafe have been there only for one week.

But that would just give whining rights to the loser here. At least from this column's point of view, the pick appears obvious (final 'famous last words' of the season, I promise). Getafe will depend on other results to stay in the Primera because of: a) Real Sociedad's home record - they with the seventh best with 11 wins in 18 matches, and three consecutive wins. b) Getafe's poor away record, as they've lost their last six. c) The visitors have never won at Anoeta, although they've only paid three visits to San Sebastian in their history. d) The environment in San Sebastian is a much healthier one than it is at Getafe, where the fights between President, players, fans and the manager have been a constant during the season. '1' it is then.

6. Espanyol (8th) - Sevilla (5th): 2.

During the first 19 matches, Espanyol won 37 points. In their last 18, they've managed to get just 12. ''We lacked ambition'', keeper Carlos Kameni said accurately this week. Can they turn it on for no apparent reason when their best players are already negotiating their contracts with their new clubs for the next season? You have got to like Sevilla here, finishing a topsy-turvy season in a remarkable fifth position.

A quick farewell line for Ivan 'Little Buddha' de la Peña, who announced his retirement on Thursday. One of the most exciting young players I have ever watched, the second half of his 1996-97 season was one for the history books, and even after his physical decline, he always gave us those two or three moments in every match worth the price of admission. Thanks very much, 'Lo Pelat'.

7. Levante (11th) - Zaragoza (18th): 2.

Do you know the difference between this match and the remaining others on the maletin front? The Levante players actually need the money. Their club pay the lowest salaries in La Liga by a mile, so any 'incentive' will be extremely well received by the Levantinistas.

On Thursday, Levante's president, Quico Catalan, stated that: ''If we win, they'll say it was because someone paid us big bucks to win. If we draw, they'll say the same. And if we lose, they'll say we were bribed to tank the game''. Which bears the question: Who will pay more?

According to Mallorca's keeper Dudu Aouate: ''Zaragoza will win, and I'm going to bet the house on them. Our whole dressing room agrees with me''. I wouldn't categorise this under the 'insider trading' tag, but it's unusual to hear a player being so vocal about a match in which his team aren't playing. Let's go with Aouate's 'hunch' (for lack of a better word).

8. Mallorca (12th) - Atlético de Madrid (7th): 1.

Only one year ago, Diego Forlan and Quique Sanchez Flores had just led Atlético to two titles and looked like the perfect player /manager marriage. Now they are both leaving the club in less than ideal terms, after months of fights and arguments that have no doubt impacted upon the team's performance, except for the stunningly resilient Sergio 'Kun' Aguero.

Thanks to 'Kun', Atletico have managed to sneak into the Europa League. If you have read the Rojiblanco news this week, you'll probably have noticed that 95% of them are transfer related (Salvio, Aguero, Silvio, Forlan himself), and only 5% have to do with their final match in Mallorca. Fatal Distraction Syndrome applies indeed, even more when Mallorca still need a victory to be totally safe.

9. Deportivo de La Coruña (14th) - Valencia (9th): X.

Off the charts 'Morbo' factor for this highly awaited reunion 17 years after the Riazor tragedy. Back in 1994, some of you might remember that Depor only needed to defeat Valencia in the last match of the season to win the tournament for the first time in their history. Los Chés, a clearly more limited squad back then, were playing for nothing at this point but, in an impossibly brave display, they resisted until the very last minute of the match, when full back Nando brought down Depor's midfielder Fran inside the box.

Following the conspicuous disappearance of striker Bebeto, who walked in the opposite direction of Valencia's goal right after the penalty was awarded, it was Miroslav Djukic the chosen one to score. The classy sweeper, now coaching relegated Hercules, took one of the poorest penalties of the 20th Century, and Valencia's keeper Gonzalez - ironically a member of Hércules coaching staff until Djukic took the reins in the final third of this season - easily saved.

The outcome of this match left the title in a silver tray for Johann Cruyff's Barcelona, their third consecutive title won in the final match of the season, all of them because their rivals couldn't grind out a finishing win. Valencia players celebrated as though they had won the title themselves, as they had earned a decent bonus from Barcelona - a fact recognised by Gonzalez himself some years later.

So, ironies of fate, now Valencia have the chance to send Deportivo to the Segunda Division after having deprived them from a title. That is morbo right there, ladies and gentleman. And as I do believe that history has a way of repeating itself, both teams will draw again, which will be enough to send Depor back to the Segunda after twenty seasons in the top flight.

10. Racing de Santander (9th) - Athletic de Bilbao (6th): X.

If, at the beginning of the season, someone had told any Athletic supporter that they'd be booing coach Joaquin Caparros' after the team classified for the Europa League, that Athletic supporter would have laughed that possibility off. However, Caparros well known conservative approach reached new heights last Sunday, when he replaced a forward with a midfielder, and made an additional time-wasting substitution in the 91st minute of the match… all of this while drawing at home against a ten-man Malaga.

In any case, sounds like a harsh farewell to a quite competitive coach that recovered a good deal of the Leones' traditional fighting spirit. While that happens, the Racing players keep trying to get paid by owner Ali Syed. Something tells me that they'll still be doing that come the start of the new season…

PS. You can follow me on twitter! (@EdAlvarezSpain).

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

Last week: 6/10 (60%) Season: 168/310 (50%)

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