La Quiniela: El Clasico divides opinions as mature Madrid face off against vibrant Barca

What a set of midweek matches, hey? The Champions League brought LaLiga so much joy that one couldn’t quite believe the cruel eliminations of both Sevilla and Betis in the Europa League, precisely the year in which the final will be played in their hometown. In any case, it’s great to see that LaLiga, lagging behind in TV money and general management of their revenue, can still compete with the best teams. Let’s see for how long they can pull this off.

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

1. Athletic de Bilbao (8th) vs Getafe (15th). 18/3, 21:00

Eduardo Alvarez: 1. The visitors did enough to leave the relegation zone when coach Sanchez Flores took over, but now they’ve got away they’ve relaxed. It’s perhaps a bit early for that, but there are some things you can’t control. The hosts need three points to get to the seventh spot and they have improved in terms of offensive efficiency. Easy home win.

Phil Ball: X. I don’t think so. I’m losing a bit of faith in Athletic. The other problem is that I’m writing this at half-time and it’s 1-1. But I was going to say a draw anyway, so let’s say 2-2. If I get the result, it’s Ed’s fault for sending it late.

2. Alavés (19th) vs Granada (17th). 19/3, 14:00

EA: 1. This is a huge occasion for Alaves to get Granada in the relegation zone, as only three points separate both sides. They won’t waste it, as Mendizorroza can become really loud when it’s required and we’re seeing Granada trembling more and more as the bottom three get closer to them. In my humble opinion, the visitors will end up relegated, and they will remember this match at the end of the season.

PB: 1. Yes, it’s looking the way that Ed paints it. Watching Alavés last week in the flesh, I didn’t think them too bad, and they might have nicked a point had it not been for Remiro. Granada are in a right pickle after losing at home to Elche last week, and yes – at the moment you can see them going down. I don’t think Alavés will (go down). Home win.

3. Elche (14th) vs Valencia (9th). 19/3, 16:15

EA: 1. Valencian derby in which it’s hard to picture the visitors, far from the top six spots and qualified for the final of the Copa del Rey in April, really competing. The rest of the season will become a long training session for Valencia, and in this case a win would almost mean another year in the Primera Division for the more than decent Elche. Easy home win.

PB: X. There’s no pattern to Elche’s season at all. One week they win and look decent, the next they lose appallingly. But it looks like being enough to keep them in the elite. As for the visitors, there does seem (as Ed says) to be an end-of-season look to them, kind of stuck-in-the-middle-with-you, without much hope of getting into the European spots. I’d say that it’s another draw – Valencia have managed too many of those this season.

4. Osasuna (11th) vs Levante (20th). 19/3, 18:30

EA: X. The visitors have a much bigger incentive to win on Saturday, as their lives depend on it. However, they’re in such poor shape and look so lost that it’s hard to imagine them winning a match, let alone an away one at the best stadium in the world, according to a recent survey. The hosts will do enough to keep Levante at bay. This has “stalemate” written all over it.

PB: 1. Nah – Osasuna will bounce back from the Barcelona game last week. Their fans will expect no less at their Pamplona cauldron. I know what Ed means about Levante, but I think it’s time to write them off, despite some recent signs of life. Comfy home win.

5. Rayo Vallecano (13th) vs Atlético (4th). 19/3, 21:00

EA: 2. Diego Simeone has managed to turn around the season, that’s already a fact. Defeating Manchester United at Old Trafford when his team looked dead three weeks ago was another example of the level of competitiveness he’s instilled in his team, but especially of his ability to react and adjust the model when the results aren’t satisfactory. I now think that, with Felix inspired and Griezmann back in shape, they have become the team they were meant to be when the season started. Easy win at Rayo, who will end up flirting with relegation after a fantastic beginning of the tournament.

PB: 2. Agreed – although there is the tiredness factor. Loved Atlético’s win at Utd, and loved even more the righteous indignation of the English press, as though Simeone had single-handedly invented gamesmanship. Like it or loathe it, Atlético can play if they choose to. I’m not so sure that the same can be said of Man Utd. Atlético have always been smart, and that’s a legit part of the game. I can’t see Rayo winning this one, despite their more encouraging display against Sevilla last week. Away win.

6. Espanyol (12th) vs Mallorca (16th). 20/3, 14:00

EA: 2. Neither team will make you jump off your chair with their brilliance, and both seem headed for irrelevance this season. That said, the visitors need three points a lot more than the hosts do, and they can be as nasty as required, like we saw last Monday vs Real Madrid. Espanyol lack that “mala leche”, and honestly, at this point of the season they don’t care either.

PB: 1. It’s a tricky one to predict, that’s true. But apart from their capitulation at Villarreal three weeks ago, Espanyol have been turning in some half-decent performances and have the match–winners that Mallorca sorely lack. Mallorca are on their way down, in my view. They showed some signs of life at Celta last week but were still too fragile at the back, in the end. Home win.

7. Celta (10th) vs Betis (5th) vs. 20/3, 16:15

EA: 1. This will become another nail in Betis’ coffin, I’m sure. Their brutally cruel elimination from the Europa League won’t be forgotten easily, as tiredness mounts in the squad. Celta are fresh, free of concerns and teams in that situation are quite dangerous when they have the talent the hosts possess.

PB: 1. Yep. I would probably have written Ed’s text in very similar terms if I’d been the lead this week. Miranda is out for Betis too, and they have no left-back to replace him. They’re looking a bit knackered, which is quite normal, given their season so far. Celta will win this one although they’ve left it a bit late for a spurt up to the Euro places.

8. Cádiz (18th) vs Villarreal (7th). 20/3, 16:15

EA: 2. If Cádiz show their ugly face, they could make Villarreal’s life quite turbulent on Sunday, but the injection of energy that Emery’s side must be feeling after that huge win in Turin will overcome whatever the hosts can do. Villarreal look a lot more mature and able to leverage their skills, and that will be enough for them to win. Moreno is back in top shape and that in itself is a huge difference between both teams.

PB: X. As you’ll know I’m a firm disbeliever in Villarreal, and despite the enormity of their midweek win, I still think they got lucky. They were certainly efficient, and they do look more consistently dangerous when Moreno is around, but Cádiz won’t go gently into that good night, and were the better side at the Wanda last week. They’re not losing that many at the moment, but not winning enough either. Despite the obvious gulf in quality, I think Villarreal will find this a tricky one. Draw.

9. Sevilla (2nd) vs Real Sociedad (6th). 20/3, 18:30

EA: 1. Without Oyarzabal, tragically injured for both Real Sociedad and Spain, the visitors lose most of their offensive flair and especially scoring ability. I’m no fan of the Sevilla of the last few weeks, and they come from a painful extra-time defeat in East London, but they will prey on Real Sociedad, as they need a win to resist Barcelona’s challenge for the second spot.

PB: 2. Mikel’s loss is indeed a tragic one, and is yet another serious injury in the litany of set-backs that La Real have had this season, for which they should sack their entire medical team, in my humble view. But anyway, their players have a habit of stepping up when a hero disappears, and there are plenty of alternatives. Sevilla will be low on morale, tired and lacking motivation, with Madrid having almost disappeared over the horizon. Lopetegui is also coming in for some stick and there’s some internal jiggery-pokery going on. Sevilla haven’t lost at home yet, but they’re about to. Away win.

10. Real Madrid (1st) vs Barcelona (3rd). 20/3, 21:00

EA: 1. This derby appears a lot more interesting now than it did two months ago. Barcelona have reacted, the flair is somehow back and the positive results are there, while Real Madrid, also in a decent moment of the season themselves, will probably miss Benzema, their best offensive weapon and one especially suited to make this specific Barcelona side suffer. Still, I see the hosts as a more mature team, and Barcelona’s weaknesses at the back make me think this won’t be the match in which Xavi H. comes of age… yet.

PB: 2. Oh – I’d forgotten about this one. Look – I’m not trying to annoy Ed but Benzema is so crucial to the functioning of the team at the moment that they’re going to struggle on Sunday – flaky Catalan defence or not. Barça are going to go for it, and their Thursday trip to Turkey won’t affect their approach to this game, which will be wholly offensive. Pedri may come of age in this game, and there are various players who will want to immortalize themselves, basically the ones who are clásico virgins. It’s not going to change the destiny of the title, but it will crown the return of Xavi, so far at least. Away win folks. Barça are buzzin’.

Aggregate results:

Phil Ball: 39/70

Eduardo Alvarez: 36/70

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