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Oct 28, 2011

Week 8 - Status Quo

Dear readers, our favourite national football tournament is indeed losing its north. We La Liga followers used to have a nice, enjoyable, predictable life. You'd wake up in the morning under the complete certainty that, even if the rest of our daily endeavours were chaotic and unforeseeable, our preferred and, more importantly, extremely dependable football competition would be indeed led by one of only two sides. Paraphrasing the great Benjamin Franklin, nothing could be said to be certain except death, taxes and Barcelona or Real Madrid leading La Liga.

While the world around us remained untidy, frenzied and unruly, La Liga became our safe harbour, our trusted friend, our firm base for all things organised, harmonic and impossibly steady. It was the reliable, almost Germanic element of an otherwise very Latin-like supporter base, the Swiss watch in our Asterix-like life. That is not the case anymore. Newcomers Levante have led La Liga since the end of matchday seven, and that we don't like. These intruders have put together the third best record EVER in the history of La Liga (23 points, only five goals against) after the first nine matches. This is totally unacceptable. It goes against everything we hold sacred. We don't like chaos. We want our lives back. Someone needs to do something. Osasuna, in you we trust. As usual, it's '1' for a home win, 'X' for a draw and '2' for an away win. 1. Valencia (4th) - Getafe (16th): 2. Let's start with a Quiniela Buster, and don't ask this humble writer to give a well-structured rationale about it because Quiniela Busters are exactly the opposite of rationality. The fact is that hosts Valencia, with their openly-under-scrutiny boss Unai Emery, have behaved awkwardly at the Mestalla so far, with three very narrow victories and two draws. On the other side, the usually bipolar Getafe have not pulled off one of their trademark upsets yet. With Daniel Guiza back on track (two goals in 35 minutes on Wednesday), they are well overdue for a shocking away win. 2. Villarreal (18th) - Rayo Vallecano (9th): X. What else can go wrong for Villarreal? Not only are their results this season nothing short of abysmal but now their deadly striker has Giuseppe Rossi picked up a serious injury, the kind that can keep him out for up to six months. The Amarillos had managed to retain him and Nilmar during the summer, and now both are hurt, leaving the team deprived of their top two offensive weapons. Rayo finally won two in a row, and while it is hard to see Villarreal scoring until they develop alternative options offensively, it would be a stretch to tip Rayo for a third consecutive win. Let's go for an 'X'. 3. Barcelona (3rd) - Mallorca (13th): 1. Mallorca boss Joaquin Caparros is starting to feel the size of the challenge he took on when he accepted the job. No cash, a squad reduced to their bare bones in the final third, and the absolute certainty that if any player has the foolish idea of standing out, he'll be summarily sold. Barcelona, or should we say Lionel Messi, have finally hit a slump in form, after an impossibly prolific beginning of the season. The endless streak of injuries - now it's Pedro who will miss at least two weeks - allows Pep Guardiola to give quality minutes to almost everyone in the squad, but the usual combination of pace and precision seems to have been a bit off this last couple of weeks. However, this match smells like another dose of 'broken plates' (scroll to match #4 of this Quiniela to understand the meaning), with poor Mallorca in the paying end. 4. Real Sociedad (15th) - Real Madrid (2nd): 2. If you have not read Phil Ball's latest piece on 'The new creators' yet, I strongly suggest that you do it and then watch closely Saturday's contest at Anoeta. One of the keys to Real Madrid's energetic resurgence in the last few matches is Sergio Ramos, usually a somewhat undisciplined full back but playing an instrumental role as a ball-playing central defender ever since Ricardo Carvalho got injured. Ramos' skills and will to initiate plays from the back have brought Xabi Alonso and the Player Now Starting to Resemble the Artist Formerly Known as Kaka more open space, more time to think and better options to steer the offensive ship. Coupled with hyper-active pressurising in the opposition half, this Real Madrid have become extremely hard to handle, especially away from home. Since their Basque derby defeat four matches ago, Real Sociedad have one point to their name, and plenty of reasons to believe they've been jinxed. They'll finish the weekend in the relegation zone. Time to look for a healer. 5. Sporting de Gijon (17th) - Athletic de Bilbao (8th): 2. Finally some relief for Sporting boss Manuel Preciado. His squad just won two in a row, which took them out of the relegation zone and bought some more time for this sensible manager, who's already been at the helm for five consecutive seasons - something very uncommon in La Liga. Athletic impress more and more with each passing match. Their demolition of Atletico de Madrid in just seven minutes proved how far they've come under Marcelo Bielsa, as they merge their customary physicality with a flair they have started to unveil (Ander Herrera, take a bow). Got to like them to win in Gijon. 6. Osasuna (11th)- Levante (1st): 1. Right now, the million-dollar question about La Liga leaders Levante is for how long can they keep their streak alive. Not only their seven consecutive wins but also the 13 goals they've scored in their last five matches, and even that bit of luck that every squad needs going their way: everything's working out. Their midweek last-gasp victory over Real Sociedad was justifiably celebrated like a Champions League final win in Valencia, but at some point this needs to end, right? "We're not used to playing three matches in a row," Levante boss Juan Ignacio Martinez - aka Jim - warned on Thursday night, and this column thanks him for the heads up. Osasuna, in good shape and unbeaten at the Reyno de Navarra, should bring us back to the good old duopoly, once and for all. 7. Racing de Santander (19th) - Betis (10th): X. If you're an optimist, you probably watched Jairo's impressive outing at the Sanchez Pizjuan and fondly remembered Sergio Canales, the now injured Valencia midfielder, introducing himself to football society with the same team on the same pitch a couple of seasons ago. If you're a bit of a cynic, you probably thought: "Let's hope that Real Madrid don't sign this toddler, please." In any case, Racing have found something they desperately needed - a creative player able to find space and gaps in the opposition's defence. Betis' freefalling has no discernible end. The improbable leader during the first few weeks of competition became the ugly, sweaty girl at the party overnight (beware, Levante). Santander could be a nice place for the Verdiblancos to get one point and start over again. 8. Atletico de Madrid (12th) - Zaragoza (14th): 1. "My style totally fits with Atletico," the never subtle Bernd Schuster said earlier this week when asked about his potential next coaching job. After five winless matches and Thursday's embarrassing defeat in Bilbao, pressure mounts on Atletico's current boss, Gregorio Manzano, but I do believe that Radamel Falcao is well overdue another hat-trick, and the consistently inconsistent Zaragoza look like the perfect victim. After their first defeat against Real Madrid, the Zaragozanos have followed a very steady sequence: two good matches, two poor ones. According to the maths, their visit to the Calderon should fall into the 'good match' category, but looking at their squad it seems safe to forget about the sequence. Home win. 9. Malaga (7th) - Espanyol (6th): 1. If correct, this pick would break two running streaks: Espanyol have won their last two away matches, after ten winless months away from Cornella, while Malaga have lost their last three (nine goals against, none scored). The fact is that Espanyol, although inspired by Sergio Garcia's comeback to the world of football, live well beyond their scarce means, while Malaga aren't nearly as bad as they've looked in the last couple of weeks. Time for Santiago Cazorla and company to show up on Sunday. 10. Sevilla (5th) - Granada (20th): 1. While Levante's unexpected renaissance provokes feelings of uncertainty and awkwardness among true La Liga fans, Granada behave as the extremely well-mannered guest who never surprises you. A safe bet (against, obviously) if there was ever one, the Granadinos haven't scored away from home, and haven't even earned a single point as a visitor yet. Sevilla may have jeopardised their karmic balance by signing a sponsorship agreement with a clothing company that will also dress Betis players off the pitch, but they are still unbeaten and have won four of five at home. With Alvaro Negredo back, even if still noticeably overweight, this Andalusian derby should have a clear winner. 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. Valencia (4th) - Getafe (16th): 2.
2. Villarreal (18th) - Rayo Vallecano (9th): X.
3. Barcelona (3rd) - Mallorca (13th): 1.
4. Real Sociedad (15th) - Real Madrid (2nd): 2.
5. Sporting de Gijón (17th) - Athletic de Bilbao (8th):
2. 6. Osasuna (11th)- Levante (1st): 1.
7. Racing de Santander (19th) - Betis (10th): X.
8. Atletico de Madrid (12th) - Zaragoza (14th): 1.
9. Málaga (7th) - Espanyol (6th): 1.
10. Sevilla (5th) - Granada (20th): 1. Last week: 4/10 (50%) Season: 36/70 (51%)

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