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Dec 2, 2011

Week 12 - El Clasico Eve

Only one week before the super-mega-derby and the whole of Spain can't stop talking about it. But let me surprise many of you by saying that this weekend's fixtures will have to be played, and that their results will be reflected in the standings. I am dead serious.

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

1. Racing de Santander (20th) - Villarreal (12th): 2.

The last six months of bizarre events in Santander have ended up with Racing at the bottom of the Primera Division, as their coach Hector Cuper just resigned before being fired (an elegant exit indeed) and their president continues to be MIA. If they manage to stay up at the end of the season, they'll deserve a full column 'they didn't know it was impossible and they made it happen' hyperboles.

And even though their skipper and prodigal son Pedro Munitis stated that "We are not dead" this week, it's hard to agree with him. At least on paper, it should be a walk in the park for Villarreal, who will warmly welcome back the oft-injured Nilmar to lead their line.

2. Sporting de Gijon (18th) - Real Madrid (1st): 2.

The most uneven encounter of the weekend brings together deeply troubled Sporting and overwhelmingly upbeat Real Madrid. Last season, the Gijoneses pulled off a shocking win at the Bernabeu, three key points that allowed them to stay up and threw Real Madrid off the title race.

If that win seemed unlikely, another Sporting victory on Saturday sounds as likely as the discovery of extraterrestrial life. Even Miguel de las Cuevas, the scorer of Sporting's goal at the Bernabeu, admits so: "Real Madrid are passing better and look much stronger than last season".

The only point that favours the home side is Xabi Alonso's suspension. With him on the pitch, Real Madrid have only lost five times in 72 matches, as opposed to three of seven without him. But despite the absence of the best passer of the squad, Real Madrid will find enough space in El Molinon for their in-form strikers to make the difference. It would be their fourteenth consecutive win with the super-ultra-mega-derby coming up on the 10th of December. Get ready for the hype.

3. Barcelona (2nd) - Levante (4th): 1.

Levante's boss JIM (Juan Ignacio Martinez) tested a three-defensive-midfielder tactical formation this week, with the aim of holding up Barcelona's slick passing game. Given the home side's recent record at the Camp Nou, one would like to suggest JIM using at least five or six of them.

In eight league matches, Barca's stats show 34 goals scored, none against. Impressive stuff indeed. A single 0-0 draw against Sevilla does not look like enough reason for gamblers to risk an 'X' or an extremely daring '2'. Barcelona's latest victim, Rayo Vallecano, saw Alexis Sanchez score a double in their midweek match, moved earlier than scheduled due to Barcelona's trip to Tokyo to fight for the Club World Cup in two weeks' time.

If you support Levante and demand at least one data point to build up your expectations, take a look at forward Kone, who scored four goals in the previous four years and has already scored five this season. I know, not that much to feel optimistic about, but we're grasping at straws at this point.

Even if Barcelona's vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu will sorely miss Gerard Pique due to his unfortunate and totally unintended suspension, this looks like an easy Barcelona win against their footie strip-sakes.

4. Valencia (3rd) - Espanyol (9th): 1.

Almost one year ago, this column warned you, dear reader, that Valencia had completed a very shrewd signing (scroll down to the last match). Jonas Goncalves is now showing why a €1.2 million price tag on him was a real bargain. Fantastic passer and great finisher, Roberto Soldado's explosion during 2011 (he is Spain's top scorer by far this year) has a lot to do with Jonas' off the ball movement and through balls.

This match could present us with a case of pre-Champions League virus. Valencia will put their European future at stake next week at Stamford Bridge, therefore Unai Emery will very likely rest Soldado and other quite tired Valencianistas. However, Espanyol still struggle mightily to score and now realise why they got Koffi Romaric so cheap: the Ivorian was sent home due as he was late for training on Wednesday, and then wasn't allowed to train with his team mates the following day. Valencia should prevail.

5. Atletico de Madrid (10th) - Rayo Vallecano (11th): 1.

Their exaggerated defeat at the Bernabeu and their remarkable win in Glasgow could set a new tone for Atletico's season. Regardless of the results, those two matches unveiled an unknown Atletico, fighting and stubborn, while the players proved to themselves that they're better than what they've shown so far. Time to build some excitement and buy time for Gregorio Manzano, while visitors Rayo should lose their third in a row after three challenging matches.

6. Real Sociedad (17th) - Malaga (5th): 2.

Malaga keep winning by playing ugly, but boss Manuel Pellegrini has been slowly putting together a more synchronised starting XI, with star-in-the-making Isco Alarcon striking up an understanding with Santiago Cazorla. Scary stuff for their theoretical competitors for Champions League spots such as Athletic, Atletico and Villarreal, who now watch Malaga from the distance.

Real Sociedad's Inigo Martinez may have extended the tenure of his coach for another week with his second 50-meter cracker of the season, but that'll probably not be enough. Philippe Mountanier's tactical decisions, especially the three-centre-back defence when his team lead, have been strongly questioned in San Sebastian, so the atmosphere is still quite charged and one more slip-up could mean the Frenchman's immediate exit. Perfect state of things for a seasoned visiting squad to take all three points from an impatient Anoeta.

7. Osasuna (7th) - Betis (14th): 1.

And talking about endangered species and coaches out of a job, meet Betis boss Pepe Mel. Like one of those horses who starts strong but finishes 50 yards behind the the pack, his squad now seem incapable of winning. For the record, here's yet another joy of a statement from Betis' president Jose Antonio Bosch: "It would be foolish to fire Mel, we would still have the same players in the squad". This logic would prevent any coach dismissal unless the club fired quite a few players as well. Groundbreaking stuff for the word of football.

Osasuna are unbeaten at the Reyno de Navarra. Not the best stadium at which to have your job on the line. Nice to have had you around, Mr. Mel.

8. Mallorca (15th) - Athletic de Bilbao (8th): X.

Mallorca hosts a tired Athletic after a demanding Europa League match that saw them secure first place in their group. Even factoring that into this fixture, Mallorca's attack is as threatening as a two-year-old child. A draw would be welcome by both sides.

9. Granada (16th) - Zaragoza (19th): 1.

Granada, who are careful with their goals, have scored five times to get 12 points, numbers that could evolve to seven goals and 15 points assuming their suspended match against Mallorca finishes the way it currently stands. Finally out of relegation spots, they host Zaragoza, La Liga's worst defence, in a terrible streak of six winless matches. If Granada can't score against them in Los Carmenes, it'll be time to hire a striker.

10. Sevilla (6th) - Getafe (13th): 1.

Last season, Sevilla couldn't keep a clean sheet to save their lives. This season, they defend rather well (second best defence in La Liga), but they bore their fans to death. The lesson: it's hard to please everybody, especially when that 'everybody' has been spoiled by years of overachieving.

In any case, the Sevillistas sit comfortably in sixth place and host Getafe, who just secured a huge upset against Barcelona (huge at least for those who didn't believe in the Champions League virus), and are entitled to take a match off as is often the case after a small team defeat one of the top five. Easy home win.

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 ten correct results, your name will be mentioned in the following Quiniela column!

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

Last week: 4/10 (40%) Season: 58/110 (51%)

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