Barcelona over VALLADOLID
Credit where it's due to la Pucela who have managed to pick up positive results in 5 of their last 6 matches, though albeit win-less in their last five. Valladolid have crept to within 3 points of Almería and Málaga, who sit just outside the drop zone on 26 points. JIM lamented his side's inability to claim more than a point at La Rosaleda last week, and for good reason, as the Castilla y León outfit have only managed 1 win in the last 10 match-rounds. It is imperative for Valladolid to pick up some three-pointers against beatable opposition, as 7 of their remaining 12 opponents are top-10 on the Primera table.
As noted in a previous write-up, Stefan Mitrović's arrival in defense has helped la Pucela immensely, as they've only conceded 8 goals in the 6 matches since his arrival, compared to 18 in the previous six. The Benfica loan-out is leading Valladolid in clearances and interceptions, and is developing an excellent partnership with Jesús Rueda, who himself benefits from a stronger back-line presence. Against the Blaugrana, it's hard to envision JIM getting anything from this, although with questions surrounding the Catalan's effort of late, that improved defense might pose problems.
Valladolid 0 Barcelona 2
REAL BETIS over Getafe
The superstitious part of me is reluctant to predict a Real Betis win here, but after an encouraging 1-1 draw at El Madrigal last week, I feel slightly optimistic, especially against a struggling Getafe side. In truth, los Béticos were hard-done once again by a questionable red-card issued to Chica, of which further affirms conspiracies around Seville that the RFEF does not want Real Betis in the Primera División. I am not one for conspiracies, but this is the RFEF after all, and the evidence is stacking up quite high, now. Ultimately, I think Calderón's side have just been rather unlucky, and as stated last week, the team has no one to blame for their demise but themselves.
Interestingly, though, despite being dead-bottom in La Liga, Real Betis have advanced into the round of 16 of Europa League, setting up an enthralling, two-legged El Derbi sevillano. Despite all of their domestic problems, Real Betis have an opportunity to oust Sevilla in a major European competition, of which would be a slight consolation, in what has otherwise been a nightmare of a season.
Real Betis 1 Getafe 0
Atlético Madrid over CELTA VIGO
Coming off an enigmatic 2-2 draw in El Derbi madrileño, Simeone's side look to maintain ground in their chase for the Primera league title. I say "enigmatic," of course, because one can't help but feel like an opportunity was lost, as Atlético more or less controlled the first 60 minutes, before an inevitable lapse in intensity. Simeone's refusal to make a substitution until the 80th minute (ensuing from Ronaldo's equalizer), may have been Atlético's downfall, here. Not that such stubbornness is unjustifiable. With David Villa not quite in peak physical form, and Diego Ribas still readjusting, that left Simeone with some rather undesirable options (Cristian Rodriguez, José Sosa, Adrian, etc.). Ancelotti's subs, conversely, were game-changing. But as Filipe Luis said afterwards, Atlético don't have the luxury Real Madrid do when it comes to squad depth.
Whatever the case, with 12 match-rounds remaining, we still have a three-horse race for the Liga title. Going into Los Balaídos, Atlético should not underestimate a Celta side on the ascendancy, as the Galician outfit have only lost once in their last six. I like a rojiblanco win here, but this is potentially tricky.
Celta Vigo 0 Atlético Madrid 2
GRANADA draw with Villarreal
Granada is not a team that beats top opposition. Against teams 1-10 on the Liga table, el Graná are 1-0-13. Against teams 11-20 on the table, Alcaraz' side is 7-3-2. But with only 2 wins in their last 10 matches, the Andaluz side should be keen on a positive result here, as to not further drift into relegation contention. Villarreal won handily back in Jornada 8, with excellent performances from Cani, Gio Dos Santos, and Bruno Soriano. This was before Alcaraz' tactical switch into a 4-3-3, of which has paid dividends. Against Athletic last week, el Graná were without Piti, Fran Rico, Tiago Llori, and Igahlo, who were all out due to injury, as well as Jeison Murillo, who was on a card suspension. Villarreal, likewise, have been hit hard by injuries, with Gio, Musacchio, and Cani still questionable, and Aquino out entirely. I like a draw here.
Granada 1 Villarreal 1
ESPANYOL over Elche
I said last week that Elche-Celta would come down to the performances of Rafinha and Carles Gil. Though the Celta play-maker performed relatively well, it was Carles Gil who scored in the 84th minute to lift Super Fran into 13th place on 29 points. When recalled, I expect Gil to contribute greatly to Pizzi's project at Valencia, of which is dependent on effective wide play. But for now, he's a franjiverde, and how well he plays going forward, will determine where Elche play football next season. It's been 36 years since Elche played consecutive seasons in the Primera División. An away win at Cornellà-El Prat would be massive for Escribá's side. But with los Periquitos in Europa League contention, I like Espanyol here.
Espnanyol 1 Elche 0
Sevilla over ALMERIA
Reputable sources in Croatia suggest that a pre-agreement has been struck with Atlético Madrid for the sale of Ivan Rakitic. Transfer fee worth about €15-17m. These aren't really new reports, but it's the first to come out of Croatia, and of which is based near Rakitic's hometown. It would make sense on a number of levels, really. Sevilla has a tendency to succumb to pre-agreements. This would not be dissimilar to Jesus Navas's transfer to Manchester City, in which Navas later revealed he had signed a pre-contract six months in advance. There is speculation that the same thing occurred with Alvaro Negredo, though it was never confirmed. With Rakitic's contract expiring at the end of the 2014-2015 season, Monchi would do well to profit now, as to not lose the Croatian play-maker on a free transfer. Whatever happens, one thing is for certain -- Ivan Rakitic needs Champion's League football. Unfortunately for Sevillistas, that is likely to occur elsewhere.
Almería 1 Sevilla 2
REAL MADRID over Levante
Someone commented last week that I predict too many Real Madrid wins. But as one of the most in-form teams in Europe, it's difficult for me to not do so. I provided the table results going back to El Clásico of which Real Madrid leads both Atlético and Barcelona by double-digit points. If we're honest, Atlético had no business picking up points in the derby, if based on form. Ancelotti's side have been playing impeccable football, and I can't just overlook that.
As already stated, los Blancos looked the weaker side for about 60 minutes, before taking advantage of Atlético's fatigue, as well as some game-changing substitutions from Ancelotti. Generally, two full-back changes aren't that impactful, but once Carvajal and Marcelo were inserted into the match, the complexion changed, as Real were able to break Atlético's press, and push harder into the final-third. Isco, additionally, had an excellent game, which should be a good omen for Madridistas going forward.
If this was at the Ciutat de Valencia, I'd consider a draw here. Real-Madrid-Levante fixtures tend to be close. Back in Jornada 8, it took two injury-time goals from Ronaldo and Morata, to escape with a 2-3 win. That result, along with Elche in Jornada 6, could ultimately decide the La Liga title. Matches in which Real Madrid did not deserve to win, but did anyway, thanks to some late-game heroics, and erroneous officiating.
Real Madrid 2 Levante 0
VALENCIA draw with Athletic Bilbao
#ParejoDependencia. With the departures of Banega and Canales, Dani Parejo exists as the sole creative midfielder for Juan Antonio Pizzi, an issue that has been brought up repeatedly since Valencia's fire-sale in January. While I've defended the club for these decisions, selling BOTH Banega and Canales is somewhat problematic, as it leaves los Che remarkably thin at a very important position. Without Parejo's master-passing, Valencia struggled mightily in Vallecas last week, losing 1-0, as the other Europa League contenders (Sevilla, Levante, and Espanyol) all picked up positive results. Pizzi's deployed something resembling a "trivote" in midfield, with Michel, Keita, and 21 year-old cantera, Portu, in what was his Liga debut. But without anyone to effectively control tempo, and target attacks, Valencia failed to create chances, finishing with only 1 shot on target.
Athletic, contrarily, thrashed Granada 4-0, thanks to an Aritz Aduriz hat-trick. It was the first time an Athletic player scored a hat-trick at the San Mamés since 1997. I was discussing with someone that Athletic are a top-class striker away from being an Atlético-level team. Quite a shout, I know. But Valverde has instilled a sense of self-belief that is not dissimilar to that of Simeone. Athletic's depth is superior to Atlético's. It is just that they lack a proper finisher.
Anyway, I like a draw here. Valencia need a bounce-back result. Plus, Athletic have only won once at the Mestalla in the last 23 years. They may be a superior side, but this should be a battle.
Valencia 2 Athletic Bilbao 2
OSASUNA over Málag
Here's an interesting video of Bernd Schuster's reaction to fans chanting, "Schuster, vete ya." during Málaga's 1-1 draw with Valladolid last week. Schuster's experience in Costa del Sol has been frustrating, to say the least. But it was never going to be an easy task, considering Málaga sold virtually every quality player on it's roster last summer. Now, Pedro Morales, who many including myself, tipped to have a breakout season, has been sold to the Vancouver Whitecaps for €350,000. Morales has been woeful this season, but has often been improperly utilized in Schuster's system. But going into El Sadar, I expect a difficult match. No more than a goal or two, here.
Osasuna 1 Málaga 0
REAL SOCIEDAD over Rayo Vallecano
Despite la Real's injuries, this is a difficult match-up for Jémez' side. Los Rayitos are highly susceptible to counter-attacks, of which Real Sociedad thrive on. Not to mention, the Anoeta is one of the toughest grounds in the Primera, as Real Sociedad have only lost there once all season. With their midfield maestro, Roberto Trashorras, Rayo may find it difficult to control tempo, meaning Jémez is likely to scale back his attacks, of which he's done numerous times this season. The Vallecas-based side are coming off a massive 1-0 win over Valencia, and should be keen to ride that momentum into San Sebastian. But it is imperative Arrasate's side pick up 3 points here to maintain ground on Athletic for the final Champion's League position.
Real Sociedad 3 Rayo Vallecano 0