Since the winter break, there have been a handful of teams whose performances have improved so much that right now, half of the league would not want any piece of them. Let me list them in order of danger: Betis, Athletic de Bilbao, Villarreal, Celta, Elche and Getafe. Yes, none of them would make you shiver at least on paper, but their coaches have managed to find a very intimidating style of play, and it seems like they are bound to end the season a lot better than they started. And of course, the Xavi effect finally seems to have worked its magic in Barcelona. I’ll take all this into account for the predictions in the upcoming weeks, while I’m pretty sure that Phil will disagree.
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Elche (14th). 11/2, 21:00
Eduardo Alvarez: X. With three wins and two draws in their last five, Elche have found their form just as they finally look like they’ve learned how to get the best of Lucas Boye. Sevilla haven’t impressed lately, so I’m quite inclined to give the visitors a point here.
Phil Ball: X. Yes. Every week I also put the boot into Sevilla, but at least last week I got it right with regard to their visit north to Osasuna. For those not in the know, this looks like an easy home win but I agree with Ed about Elche and their inclusion in his ‘order of danger’ list. Draw.
- Cádiz (18th) vs Celta (10th). 12/2, 14:00
EA: 2. The visitors started the season off the wrong foot, but four wins, two draws and one loss in their last seven show how well they’ve been playing. They just have too much talent to be struggling two seasons in a row. They’re also better away from their own stadium, so a visit to the depressed Cadiz is the perfect occasion to get to the right half of the table and dream of a top-seven finish.
PB: 2. Again – difficult for me to argue here (but I will, later). Cádiz have lost a coach that they didn’t want to lose, (Alvaro Cervera) and something seems to have died a little with his enforced departure. Celta are on a roll and Europe-bound. I can’t see any reason to disagree with Ed. Away win.
- Villarreal (6th) vs Real Madrid (1st). 12/2, 16:15
EA: 1. Two elements lead me to think this is going to end badly for Ancelotti’s side: one, Villarreal look so good that they easily disposed of the most in-shape team in Spain, Betis, away from home last weekend. Two, Real Madrid will miss a handful of key players and will also rest others, as they face PSG next week. Even though the hard-fought win over Granada was an injection of morale for the subs, I can’t see them beating the impressive Villarreal.
PB: X. Although the basis of Ed’s pessimism is justified, I don’t quite trust Villarreal as yet. It would be more typical of their season thus far to blow it when they’re least expected to. I think that the members of RM’s squad who are sometimes overlooked will seek to justify themselves in the absence of the regulars, although I can’t see them winning it. Scoring draw.
- Rayo Vallecano (9th) vs Osasuna (12th): 12/2, 18:30
EA: X. These two are losing steam as the long season wears down their short squads. Rayo have been fantastic at home, but they just played – and lost to Betis – two days ago in the Copa del Rey semis. Osasuna, very solid travellers, will at least get a point on Saturday.
PB: 2. I’m going to go further. Rayo will not only be knackered (it was a great game against Betis) but their brilliant home record (one game lost and only five goals conceded) is bound to fray at the edges, in the end. Osasuna, I insist, are better than they look and as Ed says, are solid away. I’m going to stick my neck out. Away win.
- Atlético de Madrid (5th) vs Getafe (15th). 12/2, 21:00
EA: 2. This is a terrible time for Simeone to host Getafe. Yes, the visitors have a fraction of Atleti’s budget, but since coach Quique Sánchez Flores arrived they’re a different team, even with moments of offensive flair. Atleti, trounced by Barcelona last weekend, have lost their fourth spot and are in danger of a downward spiral that would cost them dear in terms of cash and ability to retain players. We could be, once more, close to the end of Cholismo, but that has never materialised yet. I see the visitors upsetting the Wanda.
PB: 1. That’s a big call Ed. I can’t see it myself. Getafe have improved, sure, but I didn’t like what I saw in Anoeta. They’ve won 4 from the last 6, but Olivera and Aleña are out and Joao Felix problems notwithstanding, Atlético will still have too much for them. Narrow home win.
- Alavés (19th) vs Valencia (11th). 13/2, 14:00
EA: 1. Valencia don’t seem able to win even a couple of matches in a row, and that is killing their season. Alaves need a win now or their Primera División dream will be over. If Joselu shows up, they should take advantage of Valencia’s tired legs – played a Copa del Rey thriller against Athletic on Thursday night.
PB: X Interesting one this. I have to confess that I thought Valencia were good on Thursday, despite their usual mix of Bordalás tricks and physical play. The addition of Bryan Gil has made them immediately more likeable and I’m not sure Bordalás will be too concerned with fatigue and will set them up to play on the break. Alavés are really not great this season and although these are desperate times, I don’t see them beating Valencia. But I’ll be a coward and say ‘draw’, probably scoreless.
- Levante (20th) vs Betis (3rd). 13/2, 16:15
EA: 2. Not only have Betis been hugely entertaining with Canales and Fekir in top shape, but also other, less entertaining players, have chipped in with spectacular performances. While most Portuguese fans don’t quite rate William Carvalho and can’t understand Fernando Santos’s infatuation with the midfielder, Carvalho is indeed playing his best season in Spain. He’ll run the midfield on Sunday and Levante will sink a bit more.
PB: 2. Betis also played in midweek, but they seem to be getting used to it. It’s true that they lost last week at home to Villarreal, but we’ll cut them some slack. Juanmi looks to be injured but they’ve got plenty of alternatives. Levante are rock-bottom, but they don’t actually play bad football. Entertaining and open game, but Betis will surely win it.
- Real Sociedad (7th) vs Granada (16th). 13/2, 18:30
EA: 1. The hosts have slept for a few matches and now they find themselves on the edge of losing the coveted last spot to play European football next season. They need to react and even though Granada are as nice as a visit to the dentist, the hosts have the talent and the speed to win this one. Keep an eye on Granada’s keeper, Luis Maximiano. He’s excellent and is bound to have a lot of work on Sunday.
PB: 1. Yes – and although my instinct tells me that the Granada are the type of side RS have struggled against recently, I just think that they’ll come good. I have no rational reason for saying this, give the hosts’ terrible home-scoring record (the worst in the entire league), but just trust me. I pick up the vibes from the San Sebastián air. Tight game, but a home win.
- Espanyol (13th) vs Barcelona (4th). 13/2, 21:30
EA: 2. The Xavi effect is here. The ease with which Barcelona put four past Atletico in less than an hour proves that the Catalan coach knows what he’s doing, even if the side still shows surprising moments of disconnection at the back. The hosts, who haven’t won in the last four, don’t stand a chance.
PB: X. I think that Ed is forgetting the ‘derby’ effect here, although I concur with his withering analysis of Espanyol in general. But they have a decent enough home record, and this is the kind of motivating fixture to wake them up a little. Raúl de Tomás is up for it and Dani Alvés is out. Those factors are not in themselves reasons for doubting Barça’s improvement, but I think that the derby aspect might get to the visitors. Despite last week’s showing, I’m not convinced as yet that they can handle a side who will try to worry them on the counter.
- Mallorca (17th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th). 14/2, 21:00
EA: 1. Now this is going to be a letdown match from Athletic. They’re simple too short of talent in several key positions, and they have been playing non-stop in the last six weeks, especially because of their impressive Copa del Rey run (they eliminated Barcelona and Real Madrid and now have the chance to do so with Valencia after a 1-1 draw in Mestalla on Thursday). And, of course, Mallorca need those three points like the deserts miss the rain.
PB: X. I agree on the letdown, because despite their recent good run there were signs on Thursday night that Athletic are running out of steam. They got lucky with several decisions, but Mallorca are not cut from the same cloth as the orcs from Valencia. It might well be a soporific encounter, but Mallorca don’t score goals and Athletic don’t concede them. For me it’s an obvious draw.
And what’s that aggregate score below? I’ve been let down by refereeing decisions. It’s time to stage the comeback.
Phil Ball: 8/30
Eduardo Alvarez: 12/30