La Quiniela: Atletico Madrid travel south to Real Betis for top-four showdown in Seville

Eduardo Alvarez: It’s been quite a convoluted week, and it seems a bit frivolous to be discussing lesser matters like the predictions of the football weekend in La Liga. Here’s hope that things improve quickly, although it does sound like wishful thinking when I’m writing these lines.

That said, last weekend saw something amazing happen in our Quiniela column. After only two correct guesses in the opening matches, Phil [Ball] got eight consecutive outcomes right, which is something extremely rare. Now he’s feeling grand as he has a four-match lead over this scribe, but I’m ready to catch up quickly.

Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.

  1. Alavés (19th) vs Sevilla (2nd). 4/3, 21:00

EA: X. Coach Lopetegui keeps getting the points despite terrible performances, but I tend to think that these kind of things come to an end sooner rather than later. Alaves, struggling as they are, have shown some pride in the last three matches, so I guess they can stop Sevilla… Let’s just say this one is not in my top three of must-watch matches this weekend…

PB: X. Agreed. Ed’s come around to my way of thinking on Alavés – that they’re not quite so bad as painted, despite their horrific first half to the season, and Mendilibar tends to bring with him some backbone. Sevilla have injury problems, which in part explains their less-than-convincing wins, and in the last 5 they’ve drawn with Espayol, Osasuna and Celta, so it’s not as if they’re thrashing the sides that a team chasing the league title would be expected to.  They’re also have their minds on next week’s interesting Europa League clash with West Ham. Draw.

  1. Osasuna (11th) vs Villarreal (7th). 5/3, 14:00

EA: 2. The visitors are FLYING. They can do no wrong. They even got Yeremy Pino to score four last weekend, which feels like a miracle for a player who always looked threatening, but often fails to deliver a decent final pass or a shot on goal. I can only see them winning in Pamplona, and thus getting closer to Barcelona, Atletico and Real Sociedad.

PB: X. Well they’ve certainly grown wings and have won 4 from their last 5 league games, scoring lots in the process.  I was going to counter Ed by saying that Osasuna are a tough nut to crack but they seemed rather inoffensive in Anoeta the other week when I went along. They’ve still only won twice at home and Villarrreal don’t have the distraction of the Champs League until the 16th (at Juve).  Nevertheless, just to be awkward I’ll go for a draw.  Why? Because I still think that Villarreal are vulnerable to weird lapses.

  1. Espanyol (14th) vs Getafe (15th). 5/3, 16:15

EA: 1. Espanyol are going down fast and Getafe have improved, but the hosts play decent football in Cornella, while the visitors are still terrible travellers. The hosts need this win to breathe a bit, as they are getting dangerously close to the relegation zone.

PB: X. Not sure about Ed’s logic here, with Getafe in more trouble than Espanyol, but it’s true that neither of them can afford to relax. I just see them cancelling each other out here. Getafe are now the only side not to have won away, and despite their 1-4 crash against Betis, Espanyol are a much better side at home.  The host’s coach Victor Moreno, recently looking to be on his way out, responded this week that his objective is ‘to win the league’ but that he had to ‘be realistic’. Erm, yep.  I just think Getafe will dig in. Very possibly a bore draw.

  1. Valencia (9th) vs Granada (17th): 5/3, 18:30

EA: 1. Only last week I was lambasting Valencia’s coach Bordalás because of a lacklustre season and here he is now, with the club in the Copa del Rey final and therefore some hope of getting back to European football next season. They’re nine points away from the seventh spot, which is obviously not good, but the chance to win silverware will indeed compensate for a mid table finish in La Liga. And given that they’re on a roll – they won in Mallorca last weekend – we’ll forget the Valencianistas terrible performances vs the top clubs and bet on them to defeat the struggling Granada, who are getting more and more troubled after eight winless matches.

PB: 1: Yep. The only argument for a Granada draw/win is fatigue on Valencia’s part, but the feelgood factor should see them through this one. Granada haven’t won in the last eight. I think they’ll need to wait a little longer (for the home game against Elche in a fortnight) to do that.

  1. Real Madrid (1st) vs Real Sociedad (6th). 5/3, 21:00

EA: 2. It’s fair to say that the hosts will try a few new things on Saturday so that the Wednesday match vs PSG feels somehow trained beforehand. That said, this could have been done much earlier in the season, but we know that Mr Ancelotti does not enjoy rotations that much. Someone will have to play left back as Mendy will be suspended – Alaba? –, another player will have to occupy Alaba’s position in the middle of the defence – Nacho? –, and then we have Casemiro and Kroos to be replaced too. Valverde will surely start, and then it’s a question of Carlo deciding between Camavinga or Ceballos, two players he hasn’t trusted much so far. That lineup looks weak for PSG, and will probably struggle against Real Sociedad as well due to the lack of playing time together. The visitors would love a result in Madrid and they can take advantage of all this testing to achieve a famous win. I expect a monster performance from Oyarzabal.

PB: X: Blistering barnacles!  I’m not sure what we’ve done to deserve this rush of generosity from Ed, but I don’t trust him for a minute.  He just doesn’t want to jinx the hosts. Then again, there’s some truth in what he says, and although RM cannot afford to give Sevilla too much motivation, you suspect that the PSG game will inevitably condition what happens, whether Carlo rotates or not.  Real Sociedad are picking up better vibrations, and won comfortably on Wednesday night in Mallorca. Isak should be back, Illarramendi will want to strut his stuff, and there are some useful new youngsters popping up their heads above the parapet again – it will be interesting to see if Näis Djouahra starts. Make a note of the name. He’s French-Algerian but has come through the ranks in Zubieta.  He’s quick as a whippet.  Whatever – I’d settle for a draw.

  1. Cádiz (18th) vs Rayo Vallecano (12th). 6/3, 14:00

EA: 1. On Thursday, Rayo missed out on the Copa final by just a couple of minutes and I’m sure that’s going to have an impact on Sunday. Cadiz desperately need three points, and if they fail to win their upcoming calendar looks more brutal still: Atletico, Villarreal, Valencia, Betis, Barcelona and Athletic. I’m sure they’ll make an extra effort vs Rayo.

PB: 1. I have to agree. If Cádiz lose this, it’s not curtains yet, but how many points are they going to garner from the next six games, and they’re already four points adrift of safety. Rayo were great at Betis, but just lacked the energy to see it through. Theirs was no disgrace, but they’ll struggle at stubborn Cádiz. Yeah. It looks like a classic 1-0 or something.

  1. Elche (13th) vs Barcelona (4th). 6/3, 16:15

EA: 2. You read the Barcelona media and think: are Barcelona going to win the Champions League? Of course, the answer is no, but the level of hype that Xavi has generated with a handful of wins full of flair is quite impressive. The winter signings are working out and the team has evolved with Pedri’s plethoric comeback, so the running streak must go on. Elche have done well so far, but their lack of options in specific position is costing them dear in specific matches. 

PB: 2. Well I don’t want to seem as if I’m taking Ed’s lead, but it’s hard to see Barça blowing this, not simply with regard to the contrast between the two squads but also the ‘animus’ factor, as Ed has said. I’ve always thought Elche as good enough to stay up this season, and although I called their defeat last week at Levante, I was surprised by the manner of it (3-0).  I like Boyé and Pere Milla, but I think it’s going to be an away win.

  1. Celta (10th) vs Mallorca (16th). 6/3, 18:30

EA: 1. Ed left this out, for some reason, so when I whatsapped him across the Atlantic he responded that I should just say, on his behalf, that Celta always win every three matches, so he’s going for a home win. 

PB: 1. Mallorca looked poor in midweek against Real Sociedad, bereft of offensive ideas and dodgy at the back.  Celta have been stumbling a bit lately, but you’d expect them to win this, with Aspas, Suarez and Mina all fit up front.

  1. Real Betis (3rd) vs Atlético Madrid (5th). 6/3, 21:00

EA: 1. Hard to predict anything with Atletico these days, but luckily they play with a team that not only are in top form, but they also have that extra bit of luck that you need when the going gets tough. Betis are in the Copa del Rey final thanks to a goal scored in the 92nd minute, and that morale boost should take them at least through the next month. It’s a very well-built side in which starters and bench players are performing as well as you could expect them to. Another huge job from Pellegrini, his third memorable one in an allegedly midtable Spanish team, after Malaga and Villarreal.

PB:  2. This is probably the match of the weekend, but Betis might be a bit floppy after their late-night epic on Thursday.  In fact, good as they are, one can detect signs of fatigue, or something, creeping into the ranks.  I actually don’t think they’ll turn up for this one, and Atlético will want to confirm their recent improvement, with a 4th win on the trot.

  1. Athletic de Bilbao (8th) vs Levante (20th). 7/3, 21:00

EA: 1. The hosts will indeed be frustrated: they gave away their match in Barcelona last weekend with an almost unrecognisable line-up in order to save energy for the Copa del Rey semi-final, and they were duly eliminated by Valencia three days later, so they lost three points and a spot in the final. I expect them to react here, especially because they now depend on plenty of solid performances in LaLiga if they want to play European football next season. And of course, they play bottom of the table Levante, who have looked slightly better in the last few matches, but who indeed seem bound for relegation.

PB: X. The Monday night classic eh? Well, whilst I concur with Ed on the Athletic need-to-win factor here, Levante are riding a little bit of a wave (at last) but if you’ve played football, you’ll know how much that can mean to a team’s spirit and confidence.  Levante have nothing to lose now, in truth.  Athletic don’t like Monday nights (see their result at Mallorca a fortnight ago) and the drop in atmosphere it brings.  I’m not sure they’ll bounce back so easily.  I’m tempted to call this as a 2, but I’ll settle for a draw.

Playing a bit tactically this week, with five of the results the same as Ed.  He’s going to have to do well to overtake me.  But hey…plenty of games left, as the cliché goes.

Aggregate results:

Phil Ball: 28/60

Eduardo Alvarez: 24/60

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