The weekends after European competition tend to favour a handful of upsets. Rested teams with no European affairs in midweek prepare better for the matches and look far more rested than their rivals, especially if the latter have played Europa League matches. That said, I don’t think this will be one of those weekends. At least from my point of view, Barcelona, Villarreal and Atletico should win their matches outright, while Betis and Sevilla will have to face each other and Real Sociedad will confirm a trend that started before this Europa League round. Of course, Mr Ball will differ with me on this one…
Shall we? Remember, it’s ‘1’ for a home win, ‘X’ for a draw and ‘2’ for an away win.
- Levante (20th) vs Elche (13th). 25/2, 21:00
Eduardo Alvarez: X. The hosts have shown signs of life lately, but their squad is painfully short compared to Elche’s. They would need most of their starting line-up in top form, and that hasn’t been the case in months. For the visitors and their extremely conservative coach, a point here would be fine and that’s how they will play this one.
Phil Ball: 1. Hmmm – I think I’ll start by disagreeing. Just a little elbow as I jump with Eduardo, but I can’t see Levante lying down and being relegated here, particularly with the stakes so high for them. They’ve got a decent dynamic going at last, and I think they’ll prolong it. It’s true that Elche have taken 14 from the last 21 in the new year, but their relative safety will reduce their motivation for a Friday night trip. Home win.
- Mallorca (16th) vs Valencia (12th). 26/2, 14:00
EA: 1. Coach Bordalas’ first campaign leading Valencia is quickly becoming a huge disappointment. Yes, club management has gladly complied with every financial fair-play rule as they want to spend as little as possible, as that has limited the squad’s depth more than we’ve seen in previous seasons. That said, these 23 players are much more talented that Bordalas’ team in Getafe, and they’re having a simply mediocre season. On Saturday, I do believe that Mallorca’s need for three points will speak louder.
PB: X. Yes – I more or less agree on this one but not on the result. As perceptive readers will have noticed over the years, Bordalás ain’t my favourite coach/person, although I’m sure he’s nice to his mum. Valencia have lost 5 from the last 7 (and drawn the other 2) and have to contend with the second leg of their King’s Cup semi against Athletic next Wednesday – never the easiest of runouts, physically speaking. But…I think they’ll park the bus, play some reserves, and Mallorca will struggle to see the goalposts. Bore draw.
- Getafe (15th) vs Alavés (19th). 26/2, 16:15
EA: 1. After a disastrous start to the season, Getafe keep growing in the standings and I see them getting up to mid-table in the next month or so. They’ve improved so much and look so confident that it’s easy to see them defeating the demoralised Alavés, who behave almost like they’ve given up the fight already. An impressive comeback to LaLiga football by coach Quique Sanchez Flores.
PB: X. I’m not so sure that Alavés are ‘demoralised’, when 3 of their last 5 games have been against Real Madrid, Barça and Betis. Getafe have perked up, sure, but they’re only really taking points off the sides (now) below and around them. I’m not quite convinced and I think that Alavés have enough to get a point. They’re 4 points shy of the safety zone now, and Mendilibar won’t take any slacking. Score draw.
- Rayo Vallecano (11th) vs Real Madrid (1st): 26/2, 18:30
EA: X. Rayo have lost steam, but they are still a hard side to beat at the tiny Vallecas while I expect Carlo Ancelotti to finally implement some rotations as the key match vs PSG approaches. The hosts have spent six consecutive matches without a win, but they had eight days to prepare for this match so I guess a draw will do here. Expect the visitors to experiment with Alaba on the left fullback position, Nacho in the middle of the defence and Valverde in midfield. Perhaps four in midfield? No, that would not be Mr Ancelotti…
PB: 2: This is a nice try by Ed to be humble, but don’t be fooled. Rayo are indeed on a downward spiral and could have done without this one. They’ll be more worried than Madrid, for who the PSG game is still fairly distant. They’ll be much more conservative about their home game with Real Sociedad on the 5th than with this one. Come on – Ed knows it’s an away win.
- Atlético de Madrid (5th) vs Celta (9th). 26/2, 21:00
EA: 1. Just when you thought Simeone’s time at Atleti was approaching its end, the team plays two excellent matches – away at Osasuna and home vs Manchester United —so that it feels silly not to give them the benefit of the doubt against Celta. The squad still has the same gaps as they did a week ago, but seems like they’ve found some new energy to avoid a complete breakdown at the most important juncture of the season. Celta have improved after their awful beginning of the season, but they’re short of the ambition to make this a memorable campaign.
PB: 1. Ok – now we agree. I’ve been saying for a while now that Atlético would react, simply because they do have the personnel. Simeone has been calm and collected (for him) about the bad phase, and this is the perfect game to confirm the recovery. Celta have started to wobble again, and as Ed says, they just won’t have the wherewithal to avoid losing this one. I suppose you could make an argument for possible host tiredness, but no – for me it’s a home win too.
- Villarreal (6th) vs Espanyol (14th). 27/2, 14:00
EA: 1. If you look at the standings using just the last 10 matches, Villarreal lead the table comfortably, with two more points than Real Madrid. That’s how consistent their reaction has been after a lacklustre beginning of the season. They will probably feel the stress of their midweek match vs Juventus, but they have enough bench to dispose of Espanyol easily.
PB: 1. Villarreal do look pretty tasty at the moment, but they’re still capable of strange and unexpected flops (particularly at home). But that win at Betis a few weeks back proved the point about their potential. Espanyol are looking better these days and have earned respectable draws in their last two, against Barça and Sevilla, but I can’t see them getting anything from this one. Their only hope will be, as Ed says, that their hosts are tired. I’m tempted but no – home win.
- Sevilla (2nd) vs Betis (3rd). 27/2, 16:15
EA: X. This weekend the Andalusian derby, usually heated as very few in the world, adds an extra level of tension as both sides are in the top three for the first time in eons. Sevillistas and Beticos played on Thursday and made the next round after extremely stressful matches, but this derby is such an important contest that neither team should feel tired. I expect the Beticos to try exceptionally hard, as with a win they would make Sevilla’s title challenge almost impossible, but even though the visitors look as intimidating as ever.
PB: 1. It’s a brilliant time for this game, and it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen. There’s certainly some bad blood dripping after the last encounter, but this could be Joaquin’s last derby, and he won’t want any silliness. I could spend hours analysing this one, but what are the differences? Sevilla had to travel in midweek and might be ok with a draw, but any remaining desire to catch Madrid obliges them to win this one. It might get a bit tetchy but I think it’s a home win.
- Real Sociedad (7th) vs Osasuna (10th). 27/2, 18:30
EA: 2. After the beating the hosts took on Thursday at the hands of RB Leipzig and with Villarreal and Athletic growing every match, one has the feeling that this season is going to finish ugly for Real Sociedad after such a promising start. Bad luck with injuries and a short squad despite the impressive production of homegrown talent have made Real Sociedad look weak in recent matches, and I’m not sure that’s the best situation to face the physical Osasuna…
PB: X. I unfortunately concur with Ed on his withering analysis of La Real, battered by the physical and tactical strength of Leipzig last Thursday (I was there). It’s very simple – RS can neither defend nor score at the moment, and Osasuna are good travelers. I’d settle for a point.
- Barcelona (4th) vs Athletic de Bilbao (8th). 27/2, 21:00
EA: 1. Barcelona are finally playing the way Xavi Hernandez wants, and it’s hard not to be impressed with how he’s recovered a few players who seemed lost for the cause just a couple of months ago. Barcelona’s monster performance in Napoli owes a lot to Frenkie de Jong, Jordi Alba and Busquets, as well as to the handful of offensive signings in the winter transfer window. The good thing for most barcelonistas: it does not look like that’s the ceiling. Even if Athletic have finally found the net in the last month, this should be another chance for Barcelona to increase their morale even further.
PB: 1. Absolutely. This one’s the easiest of the crop to predict, particularly given Athletic’s return cup game at Valencia on Wednesday. Barça were awesome in Italy, against a very good side. I see no reason for them not continuing this new run of form, although Athletic do defend well. Home win, but not a thrashing.
- Granada (17th) vs Cádiz (18th). 28/2, 21:00
EA: 2. The other Andalusian derby of the weekend is not as interesting in terms of football, but will indeed become a nailbiter because of both team’s positions. Granada are four points clear of Cadiz and will deal a fatal blow to the visitors if they prevail here. They do have the talent and the depth when compared to Cadiz, but something tells me that the drama will last at least a few more weekends. Cadiz have a flair for the impossible, so let’s finish this Quiniela with a “2” and see if that risky bet works to recover my advantage over Mr Ball.
PB: X. Ah, my adversary throwing caution to the wind eh? Well it is indeed a game that could go either way, and although Granada (despite the 1-4 last week at home to Villarreal) look in general the better of the two sides, Cádiz are not easy to break down, despite their league position. If they lose this one, however, they’ll be 6 or 7 points from safety. Ed could be right, but I don’t see them having the firepower to win it. I’ll sit on the fence and hope to overtake Ed this weekend…
Phil Ball: 20/50
Eduardo Alvarez: 20/50