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Nov 25, 2011

Week 11 - Champions League virus

Do you, dear reader, think that those FIFA breaks have an impact on the bigger clubs' performance? In other words, do you believe in the so-called 'FIFA virus'? If you do, let me introduce you to its sibling, the 'Champions League virus'. Four La Liga teams played midweek matches in the aforementioned competition, and according to this Quiniela, three of them will drop points at the weekend.

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

1. Rayo Vallecano (10th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.

Rayo's impressive beginning of the season becomes less so when you factor in their soft calendar so far. However, nothing lasts forever. Their next three intimidating rivals are Valencia, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (yes, I know, Atletico and intimidating on the same sentence? Humour me, please). Assuming that the theoretical favourites win those three matches, Rayo could find themselves in troubled waters by Christmas, but here's when the 'fatal distraction syndrome' comes into play.

Not only have Valencia spent half of the week ruminating over their home defeat against Real Madrid (Should Jose Mourinho be allowed to celebrate goals? Was Higuain's defensive move a handball? Is there justice in football?), but they will also feel the Champions League virus in their own skin. Their 7-0 demolition of Genk will result in a trademark Valencia let-down match on Saturday, even if Brazilian Jonas looks like the biggest bargain in the last five years and Roberto Soldado can't stop scoring.

An upset to start the weekend: '1' it is.

2.Real Madrid (1st) - Atletico Madrid (9th): 1.

And talking about upsets … No, not really. After a full week listening to most Colchoneros play the harmless, victimised puppy, this writer over-analysed this match trying to find a justification for an upset. Not an easy task.

Last time Atletico defeated Real Madrid, back in 1999, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink played for the Rojiblancos, Jesus Gil was their president and mobile phones were only used to talk to other people. Since then, 15 victories for the Merengues and six draws configure one of the longest and most authoritative streaks in top-level football.

The 'derbies are derbies' argument has therefore been shattered 21 consecutive times. The only rationale supporting an upset by Atletico lies with their coach. Low-profile boss Gregorio Manzano has already won three times at the Bernabeu, with quite humble sides at that - twice with Mallorca and once with Valladolid.

He's got a recipe for Saturday: 'We won't play fun, open or exciting football'. Defensive improvements notwithstanding, many of us can't picture the current Atletico successfully deploying this type of gameplan in La Castellana, especially with the frightening state of form that Real Madrid have been displaying week in, week out.

3. Getafe (15th) - Barcelona (2nd): X.

Lionel Messi's remarkable four-month spell makes this theoretically outrageous question actually pertinent: is he human? Since July 2, the Argentinean has played in every single match for club and country, which means 28 times, spending just 63 minutes on the bench, and travelling around the world almost non-stop. Messi never seems tired. He even looks better than last season. At some point he needs to take a break, and this column expects him to do so against Getafe, usually one of his preferred victims.

This season, Barcelona have been surprisingly wasteful away from home, and the recent sequence of matches and travels from most of their starters, topped with a physically exhausting midweek win in Milan, invite the overworked Barcelonistas to relax … and drop two points. Another victim of the Champions League virus.

4. Betis (13th) - Real Sociedad (19th): 1.

Both teams started off really strongly, but suddenly collapsed and are now in freefall. The home side, for instance, just broke their own negative record by spending 472 La Liga minutes without scoring. As boss Pepe Mel said: 'When you get one point and score once in eight matches, you know you're in trouble'. Immediately after, Betis president Miguel Guillen stated that 'At the current date, Pepe Mel is still Betis' coach'.

Using Guillen's words, 'at the current date' Philippe Mountanier is Real Sociedad's manager, although chances are that one of those two 'current-date' facts will change on Saturday. Forced to choose, and having in mind that Xabi Prieto and Asier Illaramendi will be out injured for Sociedad, Mel seems the more likely coach to keep his job.

5.Levante (4th) - Sporting Gijon (14th): 1.

Since this column demanded some sanity in La Liga, Levante have lost three in a row. Enough punishment for the hard-working Levantinistas, methinks. Sporting arrive in Valencia on a roll, following a five-match unbeaten run, but their natural relaxation having fled the relegation zone should make things easier for the hosts.

6.Mallorca (16th) - Racing Santander (20th): 1.

Not that long ago, these two teams used to be fun to watch. Nowadays a lack of money, controversial management and endless fights for control of the club have taken both of them to the wrong end of the table. Things shouldn't change in the short term, unfortunately. Racing look the weaker, more troubled side, so Mallorca it is by a very narrow margin.

7. Espanyol (8th) - Osasuna (11th): X.

Espanyol can't possibly do more with less. The 4th worst attack in La Liga occupies the 8th spot in the standings - a meagre eight goals in 12 matches have given the Pericos 17 points. Their scoring woes should persist as Sergio Garcia's injury deprives them of their best forward, however, keep an eye on Espanyol's young midfield, with talented imports Vladimir Weiss and Thievy Bifouma next to the more experienced Joan Verdu.

A cold look at the numbers could lead you to qualify Osasuna's defence as porous, as they have conceded the second highest number of goals (24) in La Liga this season. However, 15 of those happened in just two matches, against you-know-which-two powerhouses. Actually, the Pamplonicas know how to keep a clean sheet. All nicely laid out for an 'X'.

8. Athletic Bilbao (7th) - Granada (18th): 1.

Marcelo Bielsa's Athletic finally introduced themselves to the Spanish football society last weekend in Sevilla. After a few decent outings, for the first time this season Athletic totally dominated a match the way their boss intended, a scary realisation for many teams.

Granada, lead character in one of the biggest anti-climaxes to ever be seen in a football match (read the final bit of Phil Ball's latest to understand why), should work as the ideal sparring partner for Athletic. Clear '1'.

9. Zaragoza (17th) - Sevilla (6th): X.

Even though this writer would watch pretty much any football match, you'd have to make the sales pitch of your life to talk me into this one. Do you want to give it a go?

Reader A, Sevilla supporter: 'Ed, Sevilla are playing their least appealing football since their last relegation season in 1999. I thought you enjoyed drama'. Reader B, Zaragoza supporter: 'Mr. Alvarez, we have Helder Postiga. He can score a wonder goal and then be caught offside 10 times in a row. Fun guaranteed'.

Ok, ok, twist my arm. In any case, we all know this'll end up in a draw.

10. Malaga (5th) - Villarreal (12th): 1.

After Monday's rather dull win in El Sardinero, Manuel Pellegrini thought it was payback time: 'Real Madrid couldn't win in Santander'. Hardly qualifies as 'exacting revenge', right? Grudges aside, his less-than-entertaining Malaga keep winning the easy matches.

Villarreal said goodbye to European football with a harsh, hard-fought Champions League defeat in Munich. It should prove be a blessing in disguise, though, as they can now focus on improving their disappointing La Liga campaign. However, this match comes a bit too early for that. Pellegrini will blow his own horn again come Monday night, and will probably have to thank youngster Isco, more at ease with La Liga football with each passing match.

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. Rayo Vallecano (10th) - Valencia (3rd): 1.
2. Real Madrid (1st) - Atletico Madrid (9th): 1.
3. Getafe (15th) - Barcelona (2nd): X.
4. Betis (13th) - Real Sociedad (19th): 1.
5. Levante (4th) - Sporting Gijon (14th): 1.
6. Mallorca (16th) - Racing Santander (20th): 1.
7. Espanyol (8th) - Osasuna (11th): X.
8. Athletic Bilbao (7th) - Granada (18th): 1.
9. Zaragoza (17th) - Sevilla (6th): X.
10. Malaga (5th) - Villarreal (12th): 1.


Last week: 7/10 (70%)
Season: 54/100 (54%)

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