Week 9 - The perfect ten
This weekend is an important one because in a fortnight there are no games (Spain play at Wembley). So you don't want to be training for two weeks under the cloud of a defeat, particularly at this delicate stage of the season. Delicate? Well, we've finally had ten games, and everything goes in tens. Players see the first ten as the settling-in period, and now they know that they have to get down to business. For example, Getafe, who prop up the table this week, know that a couple of wins would haul them comfortably into a mid-table position, but that two more consecutive defeats would begin to see the mid-table sides disappearing over a temporary, but nevertheless more worrying horizon.
The only way is up? Both sides remain in the nether regions of the table, but are nevertheless buoyed by their wins last week, with Racing winning at last, at the tenth attempt, and Granada destroying everybody's quinielas with an eyebrow-raising 2-1 win at Sevilla. What does it all mean? Probably less for Racing than it does for Granada. The former are in even more turmoil than usual, their executive board having resigned en masse, leaving Ali Syed looking every which way but legitimate. The players, to their credit, have got on with matters, but with Diop, Kennedy and Acosta all sidelined, and Granada on the crest of their first wave, you fear for the visitors' ability to get a result. Home win. Mallorca (14th) v Sevilla (5th) X
Joaquin Caparros seems to have staunched some of the bleeding, but Mallorca continue to be an unhappy club away from the playing field, and not much happier on it, without a win in the last five. They've only won twice at home, and on both of those occasions they won narrowly, whereas the visitors Sevilla have an extraordinarily consistent away record, with all four of their games drawn, the last three having ended 0-0. They'll be looking to bounce back from the Granada result, but with Negredo and probably Kanoute out as well, it's difficult to see them changing their dynamic. Mallorca have only managed five goals at home so far, and although destiny is crying out for change, I don't think it'll be this weekend. Athletic (9th) v Barcelona (2nd) X
This is a tricky one, with Athletic on their usual upward curve (for this stage of the season), and Barcelona rather more modest than usual as regards their away performances, at least in the league. Both sides have travelled and won in Europe this week, with Barcelona getting more time to rest, but they won't be looking forward to a trip to San Mames, where Mr Bielsa and his charges are beginning to trust each other. The hosts are undefeated in the last six, and are on a bit of a roll. It's never easy playing in the lions' cage, particularly when they're roaring. Iker Muniain is on a streak of good form, and might be the next to get a national call-up. It's hard to see Athletic lying down. Scoring draw, and Victor Valdes to concede a goal at last. Zaragoza (15th) v Sporting (17th) 1
Sporting are another of the earlier strugglers beginning to see the light, with seven points from the last three games, whereas Zaragoza, after a half-decent spell, have lost their last three. Sporting, however, have only managed their results against fellow-strugglers, and even though Zaragoza come into that category, they'll be looking at this one as a vital three-pointer. It might be close, but I reckon it's a home win. Getafe (20th) v Atletico (10th) 1
Getafe may be bottom of the pile, but they're not exactly playing badly. They've just been drawing when they should have won, and losing when they might have drawn - if you get the picture. They're a better side than their position suggests, and just need their season to turn, as it often does in the eleventh game, the beginning of the season's second phase. Atletico can never be trusted, particularly for quinielas, but their win in Europe in midweek against Udinese will have done them no harm, and trouble with Jose Antonio Reyes notwithstanding, their win over Zaragoza last week might be evidence of a revival. I personally refuse to be fooled, and think that their short trip to neighbours Getafe will prove a difficult one. Home win, and crisis for Gregorio Manzano to return, despite the form of Adrian Lopez and Falcao - two players who tend to make a habit of performing mainly at home.
The game of the weekend. The Valencia local derby tastes of an almost unprecedented spice on this occasion. This is the first time since 1964 that the derby has been played with Levante in the ascendancy. Their motivation to remain thus is all the more acute, given their first defeat at Osasuna last weekend. They're keen to prove the 'now-the decline-starts' comments wrong, and will be hoping that their illustrious neighbours will be tired after their (successful) Champions League exertions - albeit on home turf. They are undefeated in five, nevertheless, and have Roberto Soldado in imperious form. They need to stay in touch with the leaders, and may prove too strong for Levante. Despite the injury to key man Ever Banega, I'll go for an away win. Real Madrid (1st) v Osasuna (8th) 1
Osasuna are looking a tough side to visit, and remain undefeated in Pamplona, but away from home it's the usual story. They've picked up three points from three draws, but it's hard to see them getting their first win, or even a result, in the Bernabeu, to a Madrid side who are peaking - too soon for some. There are those that would prefer them to be building up to this kind of form for the December clasico, but the league leaders will be looking to put pressure on Barcelona, who play later on Sunday in Bilbao. Madrid's game is at the curious hour of 12 o'clock noon, yet another instance of television-based whimsy. It has some novelty value for the Madridstas, who by and large have not complained, but Osasuna's only hope is to catch them half asleep. Madrid visit Valencia in their next game, and despite the good vibes floating around, cannot afford to be complacent. Rayo (11th) v Real Sociedad (16th) 2
The visitors are on a miserable ruin of form, despite playing quite well in several games where they came away with nothing, but you get the feeling that their luck may be about to turn. With one point from the last six games, they can't really afford to let this opportunity pass, and will be looking for all three points at Rayo, for whom ex-Realista Raul Tamudo is injured. Rayo are certainly no pushovers though, and are mainly suffering from a lack of consistency. Rayo beat Malaga in their last home game, but I'll stick my neck out for an away win. Espanyol (7th) v Villarreal (13th) 1
Espanyol are slowly settling into the season, despite last week's setback at Malaga, and lie just outside the Euro-zone. Villarreal's performance, if such it can be called, against Manchester City in midweek was so poor you had to wonder at the players' attitudes - not an accusation that has been levelled at Villarreal much in the past few years. The game may traumatize them, and their win last week at home to Rayo is hardly evidence of a revival. With Rossi injured long-term, Santi Cazorla conspicuous by his absence and Nilmar also out with a serious injury, it's pouring rather than raining. It's difficult to see any other result save a home win, and if that is the case, manager Juan Carlos Garrido may be on his way and Michel, allegedly waiting in the wings (despite his denial), may be about to regain full-time employment. Betis (12th) v Malaga (6th) X
Another local derby, this time of an Andalusian nature. Betis are on the crest of an alarming slump, and have lost the last six, after briefly leading the table in the early weeks. Defeats in the last three to Rayo, Racing and Espanyol also suggest that it's not as case of losing to the bigger boys during the present crisis. One goal in six games tells its own story, but their nouveau-riche visitors are not exactly setting the league alight as many predicted they might. One win in the last four games and ten goals conceded has seen the understandable expectations of their wide-eyed supporters a little dashed, but they still seem to believe. Plenty of quality, but is the flesh too mature? They're still poised in a decent position and their next five games are winnable. If they want to be taken seriously, it'll have to start here at Betis. It will, but not quite. Betis have problems in defence, with both regular centre-backs injured, but will force a result, largely on the back of their wonderful supporters.