La Quiniela: Athletic to send Atletico Madrid into freefall

Written by Eduardo Alvarez and Phil Ball.


Eduardo Alvarez: With only five matches left, a couple of dynamics condition the picks from this weekend until the final matchday. First, teams with something at stake tend to play a lot more intensely than those who are playing for nothing at this point. Secondly, even if the transfer market hasn’t officially opened yet, most teams are already making decisions about signings and firings, and most players and coaches with the possibility of moving homes are talking to their agents non-stop, even if they swear that they’re totally focused on finishing the season in the best possible form. Both factors generate rumours, noise and speculation, which ends up impacting how every team plays these last few matches. Be aware, this is fertile territory for upsets…

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

1. Sevilla (3rd) vs Cádiz (17th). 29/4, 21:00

Eduardo Alvarez: 1. Unless you want to go for a crazy entente between Andalusian teams so that Cadiz stays up one more year, this is a crystal clear “1”. Sevilla are tied on points with Barcelona, and they will want to play Geri’s Supercopa in Arabia, even if they are bound to make a meagre 20% of what the big two would make. The hosts are rested, Tecatito Corona finally looks close to his top form and it’s going to be a long match for Cádiz.

Phil Ball: X. What can I say? Ed’s introductory paragraph above is utterly on the mark, and this does look like a home win – the Andalusian aspect would ignore the fact that Cádiz are only one point above Granada and the relegation spots, and still in desperate trouble. Sevilla have some tough games to finish the season with after this one, which makes it even more imperative that they win, but I see Cádiz playing this with a sword between their teeth. The hosts still don’t convince me. I reckon it could be a draw – and probably goalless (but not soulless).

2. Alavés (20th) vs Villarreal (7th). 30/4, 14:00

EA: 1. With Liverpool looming next Tuesday, I can’t see Emery using a single starter on Saturday, while Alavés MUST win this one if they want to keep any hopes of staying up alive. The question is can Alaves’s best side defeat Villarreal’s B team? I guess they can, but you may very well disagree judging by what we’ve seen this season.

PB: 1. Villarreal still have to face Sevilla and Barça in the league (and Real Sociedad), so unless they’re thinking of getting into Europe next year via the Champions League, they’d better think of something other than beating Liverpool. Then again, miracles do happen. What is certain is that Ed’s analysis is correct and that Alavés could still dream if they win this one, indeed against Emery’s B team. It’s almost impossible to predict anything else. I agree. Home win.

3. Real Madrid (1st) vs Espanyol (13th). 30/4, 16:15

EA: X. Similarly to Villarreal, the hosts will field their B side even if that means having to postpone the title celebration for one more week. I don’t think that will be necessary, as Espanyol know how to behave in these cases. This could be one of the last Marcelo matches at the Bernabeu, and we could see players like Lunin and Vallejo get some flying time. RdT will try to make an impression in his old home. A polite draw and everyone happy.

PB: 1. This is the usual double-jinx trick that Ed tries every week, and despite the plausibility of the arguments I’m not sure that it’s Carlo’s way to field a B side, whatever that means in Bernabeu-parlance. Espanyol have a fairly comfy run-in after this one, against other sides who are thinking about summer. I don’t think they’ll be very arsed about this one. Ed could be right, but I think there are too many Madrid players moving to the shop window who will want to preserve their price tags. And they can also enjoy being a part of the title celebrations. Come on Ed! Home win.

4. Valencia (10th) vs Levante (19th). 30/4. 18:30

EA: 2. I’m leaning heavily on the visitors’ side as they desperately need three points, they have improved a lot in the last six weeks and the hosts couldn’t care less about what’s going to happen from now until the end of the season. They lost the Cup final, are in big financial trouble and really need to focus on who’ll stay and who’ll go in the summer. Jose Luis Morales should come to the rescue of Levante once again.

PB: 2. Yes – and this is the time in the season when desperation counts for a lot (see Alavés above). Levante can still finish on 40 points. How many of the sides just above them will achieve that? It’s going to be an interesting end to the season down in the nether regions. Away win.

5. Athletic de Bilbao (8th) vs Atlético de Madrid (4th). 30/4, 21:00

EA: 1. Don’t ask me why, but I believe that Atleti will freefall from now until the end of the season, even though they do need a top four finish and they would indeed love to end the tournament right behind Real Madrid. But I can’t see how Simeone is going to keep everyone motivated and involved after the tough Champions League elimination and the non-stop rumours about the future of 75% of his squad. The good thing the hosts have in their favour – at least in this context – is that they have so few places to look for new talent that most of the squad feels quite confident they’ll have a future in Bilbao next season. And defeating Atleti is an excellent way to improve their self-confidence.

PB: 1. I’m not sure about the freefall, but it’s true that not all is well at the Willy-Wanda and that the summer should be interesting, to use that over-employed English adjective. Six defeats away this season isn’t great either, and very un-Atlético. Athletic’s win at Cádiz last time out has revived their hopes of some European possibilities, be they Conference or Europa, but they’re always motivated against Atlético, perhaps more so than against Real Madrid. I agree with Ed – they’ll have too much fire in their bellies for the visitors. Home win.

6. Elche (14th) vs Osasuna (9th). 1/5, 14:00

EA: X. Both are pretty much free from relegation trouble and have done their homework at this point. I half expected the hosts to end up higher, but one shouldn’t be too harsh in their comeback season to LaLiga. The visitors are solid travellers – their 23 points so far is the competition’s sixth best tally – so I guess a non-committal draw is on the cards.

PB: 1. Elche have won their last two, the most recent one being their eyebrow-raising win at Betis. Osasuna are in absolute no-man’s land, prompting me to think that Elche have a little more at stake here. But don’t get too excited about this one. Home win.

7. Granada (18th) vs Celta (12th). 1/5, 16:15

EA: 1. I’m picking the hosts because they need the win and Celta are at this point just letting themselves go. That said, I can also see a scenario in which Granada’s nerves play them a dirty trick and the relaxed Celta ends up scoring three or four. Will go with the former scenario, but I’ll also put some cash on a Celta win by more than two goals.

PB: 1. Celta beat Athletic away and then lost at home to Getafe. ‘Unfocused’ would indeed be the word to apply. There’s no reason why they should break sweat in this one, and Granada obviously need the points – although of the teams in the danger zone, they have the most winnable final five matches. They could afford to blow this one, but I don’t think they will. Agree – home win.

8. Rayo Vallecano (11th) vs Real Sociedad (6th). 1/5, 18:30

EA: 2. Rayo are solid at home, but they’re safe at this point and will be considering their options for the upcoming season. That’s especially important on their bench, where Iraola’s outstanding work hasn’t yet been recognised with an extension, and that won’t help the squad to focus on what happens on the pitch. And the visitors need three points to keep their hopes of Champions League football alive. This should be fun to watch in any case.

PB: 2. It will indeed be fun to watch, and it’s a fixture I normally attend when I can – but this year it’s proven a bit tricky. I can do it next season, as Ed suggests correctly that they’re safe now – having been in the top four for a while early on this season. This one is unpredictable, because Rayo’s pitch and conditions don’t really suit Real’s style – but they obviously have the edge in quality. They need to win, and despite Silva being out for suspension, Januzaj, Rafinha and Merino might be a bit too much for Rayo’s mid. Away win.

9. Barcelona (2nd) vs Mallorca (16th). 1/5, 21:00

EA: 1. After suffering a record three home defeats in a row, Xavi can’t afford a fourth one at the Spotify. Not only because the critics would finally start firing against him, but also because Ronald Koeman would have another chance to have a go at Laporta, something he’s done every time he’s seen a mike nearby since he was fired. Of course, the hosts need all three points to consolidate their second place, but Mallorca are in the middle of the relegation battle and, as we saw with Rayo and Cadiz, those theoretically winnable teams become extremely tough in these circumstances. I see a hard, short win for the hosts. It won’t be pretty.

PB: 1. Yep. Mallorca have lost 12 away this season, and despite Barça’s recent flop in form, you can’t really see the visitors either stopping the hosts or scoring against them. Home win and Xavi to be hailed a genius again, just for a week.

10. Getafe (15th) vs Betis (5th). 2/5, 21:00

EA: 1. The visitors – Copa del Rey champions after a nail-biter penalty shootout win last weekend – will probably feel the weight of both the effort and the post-match celebrations. Visiting Getafe is similar to going to the dentist’s, so if you’re not in top shape, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. With their Europa League spot guaranteed, it’s going to be hard for Manuel Pellegrini to convince the players that a top-four finish is there for the taking. Home win.

PB: X. Dunno about you, but even when I’m in top shape, I hate the dentist’s. Whatever, I concur with the analysis, because Getafe are that kind of team, white-coated with a drill and happy to bring you down to Earth. Nevertheless, I can’t see them lying back fully in the dentist’s chair because Villarreal and Real Sociedad are outside in the waiting-rooom. They’ll get a scoring draw

Aggregate results:

Phil Ball: 54/110

Eduardo Alvarez: 52/110

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