La Quiniela: Unai Emery’s Villarreal in must-win ahead of Juventus tie

It’s a funny ol’ game isn’t it? For an hour you can be convinced that a team (Real Madrid) is being completely outclassed and that they should change their entire squad, only to feel 30 minutes later that they’re potential Champions League winners. And Barcelona, after a comparatively poor show in Europe, are suddenly under the spotlight again.  Such is the nature of post-modern football, where in many ways our perceptions are more shaped by the media than by the games themselves. Sorry to contribute to this. And as for the league you say?  Well…there is always a before-and-after effect, and Villarreal and Atlético are involved this coming week. But hey – La Liga is about more than the big boys.

As far as being competitive is concerned, Ed got 7 last week, but since I got 6 he’s still trailing. Can you feel the drama?

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

  1. Atlético (4th) vs Cádiz (18th). 11/3, 21:00

Phil Ball: 1. Well it looks a no-brainer, except for the fact that Atlético have Man Utd on their minds for next week. But that’s next Tuesday, so La Liga’s bosses organised this one kindly for them. Cádiz beat Rayo last week, but let’s not get carried away. Home win, although Cádiz will park the bus.

Eduardo Alvarez:  1. It is a no brainer indeed. Simeone has found the right mix in the last few weeks, which means he’s given João Félix and the handful of in-shape players the car keys. The results are there. Cadiz will fight, but they’re just too limited.

  1. Levante (20th) vs Espanyol (12th). 12/3, 14:00

PB: 1. Is there hope for Levante? There’s always hope for a team whose very name means ‘get up’. Besides, Espanyol travel badly, with only a single win this season. The hosts will give it their all and win. Believe me. They’re on a semi-roll, which for them is quite something.  They lost in San Mamés last week, but this is a must-win game for them.

EA: 1. Agreed, Phil. Levante will raise on Saturday morning vs the fourth worst traveller in LaLiga. If they want to have a chance of staying up, they need to start winning at home, where they’ve got 70% of their points so far. The only doubt: their captain and top player, José Luis Morales, won’t play as his injury is quite threatening and they can’t afford that he missed the rest of the season if he relapses. Still, they can pull this off.

  1. Granada (17th) vs Elche (14th). 12/3, 16:15

PB : 1. Tricky one this, and could go either way. Granada are on a lousy run, and haven’t won in nine games (losing seven of them) and their mini-revival has stalled. Robert Moreno has gone – and will probably not be missed, but the new manager = win syndrome might work here. And Elche are, Elche.  I can’t get a grip on them this season.  Not quite good enough to be interesting, not bad enough to go down. Elche gave Barça a scare last week but I think Granada will fancy this one, and should come out of their shells. If they don’t, Cádiz and Alavés are breathing down their necks.  Home win.

EA: 2. I’ve been favouring Elche all season with uneven luck, but I should not change now that the going gets tough. They tend to be too conservative when they travel and will miss a couple of starters, so it’s a gutsy call. Granada are going nowhere fast and caretaker coach Rubén Torrecilla, coming from the youth team, will have to deal with a complex dressing room. Not good when the season is on the line.

  1. Villarreal (7th) vs Celta (10th): 12/3, 18:30

PB: X. I’ve consistently expressed my doubts about Villarreal this season, and was more or less vindicated by their defeat at Osasuna last week. Now they’ve got to travel to Juve on Wednesday, and they have to win. I can’t see them being focused, sorry. And that’s been their problem all season, despite the talent on show.  Celta are even more inconsistent, but they’re travelling quite well this season. Scoring draw.

EA: 1. Villarreal will show up, I’m sure. I see Osasuna’s mistake as a slip up, but they are in shape, exuberant and they did well on the first leg vs Juve even though they started trailing after Vlahovic gave another proof that he’s destined to great things in the opening minutes. Celta are playing for nothing at this point, and that sometimes has a nice side, but I’d be surprised if they outplay a team fighting for a top six finish. Easy home win.

  1. Getafe (15th) vs Valencia (9th). 12/3, 21:00

PB: X. This one’s got a bit of ‘morbo’ of course, with Lord Sauron-Bordalás returning to Mordor  to visit some of his ex-Orcs. To be honest, he’s been letting slip some humanity lately, and letting Valencia play football.  But since he has no emotions, he won’t be bothered about winning, so it could be quite interesting. Getafe, please note, have won 6 games, and they were all at home. Conclusion? Probably a draw, and plenty of yellow cards.

EA: 1. The visitors have played their best football all season in the last two weeks, but the bad blood against Valencia in Getafe and the Quique Sanchez Flores effect should counter that. I’m afraid that Valencia’s rest of the season will become a preparation for the Copa del Rey final at the end of April, and that won’t work well in Getafe.

  1. Rayo (13th) vs Sevilla (2nd). 13/3, 14:00

PB: X. The editor of this fine web-page thinks I have it in for Sevilla, and he might have a point.  However, I thought they were solid against West Ham, but it might tire them for this trip, and they have a long injury-list.  Rayo are stumbling, but it’s always a bit intense at the home of the merry Marxists. Sevilla have drawn 3 similar games on their last three outings, to clubs in the middle-zone, and I see no reason to expect a change here. Rayo also need to get things back on-line, after a shocking six straight defeats. Scoring draw.

EA: 1. I’m no suspect of “having it in” for the visitors, as I tipped them to win LaLiga when the season started. That said, they have played terribly boring football for long stretches of the season, and I have to admit I’m slightly disappointed in them. On top of that, they visit Rayo, who badly need to react as they’ve lost steam in the last few matches. Sevilla played in midweek, Rayo are fresh and ready. Sorry, Alan, no offence meant.

  1. Betis (5th) vs Athletic (4th). 13/3, 16:15

PB: 2. Betis have lost the last two (and their Europa game on Thursday) and are simply unravelling. It’s no criticism, and they’ve been fantastic, but they seem to be playing every night and playing in epics. Canales is out too. Athletic’s energy and their high-press will not be welcome on Sunday. The boys from Bilbao have upped their game and the defeat at Barça was not representative of their general form. I can see them winning this.

EA: 2. What can I say? Unfortunately I have to agree with Mr Ball. Betis have finally imploded after a wonderful, even memorable 60% of the season. If they can react in the next few weeks they could still aspire to a top six finish, but we see a team that makes mistakes galore and a tired set of offensive players. Ripe terroir for Marcelino Garcia’s men, who play at their best vs less physical teams.

  1. Real Sociedad (6th) vs Alavés (19th). 13/3, 18:30

PB: 1. I’ll be there for this derby, and although Alavés need a result I’m afraid that the hosts, rested at last, will put on a show. They just ran out of fuel last weekend, but they’re not so poor. A Champs League place is still a big possibility, and Alavés have only won once away. Merino and Oyarzabal might not make it – they didn’t train on Friday, but I won’t change my mind. Home win. Alavés are inoffensive away from home, but will probably have to go for it, playing into Real’s hands.

EA: 1. Yes, at some point the hosts must recover their flair, and this week they finally rested. The depressing Alaves is just what the doctor ordered. This could finish 4 our 5 nil.

  1. Barcelona (3rd) vs Osasuna (11th). 13/3, 21:00

PB: X. It depends on how well Barça recover from Thursday’s huffing and puffing, and Osasuna are decent away from home.  Barça also have to travel to Turkey on Thursday, and although it’s hard to predict I’m going for a draw and a new Barcelona mini-crisis. Sorry about that.

EA: 1. I guess Xavi made a huge mistake with his rotations vs Galatasaray. Now he must rest some players because the trip to Istanbul is a lot more challenging than everyone thought. Let’s remember that Galatasaray occupy the 12th spot in the Turkish league, so Barça should have scored four or five had they taken the first leg seriously from the beginning. I believe they will prevail on Sunday, but they need the subs to step up. Let’s see.

  1. Mallorca (9th) vs Real Madrid (13th). 14/3, 21:00

PB: 2. So Real Madrid visit their second fan home-base (or 3rd, after Espanyol?)  on the Monday night. They should be over any tiredness from the PSG epic, and have enough troops and morale to win this one, against a timid Mallorca. I was severely impressed by the old guys on Wednesday particularly. Benzema and Modric must be eating some good porridge for breakfast. Away win.

EA: X. I only hope Carlo rotates, for the love of God. Three key players – Case, Mendy and Militão – will miss the Clasico next weekend if they see another yellow, so that’s three men who shouldn’t even travel to Mallorca. I’m temped to go for a “1” because this could very well become a classic letdown match after the huge adrenaline shot last Wednesday, but I guess if Carlo rotates we’ll see some motivated subs dying to make an impression and join the feelgood train. Mallorca will see this as a perfect chance to face a slightly out of focus Real Madrid, so a draw seems sensible.

Aggregate results:

Phil Ball: 34/60

Eduardo Alvarez: 31/60

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