Granada over GETAFE
Monday morning it was announced that Luis García would no longer be manager of Getafe CF. At 2.5 years, García was the longest-serving manager in Liga BBVA (that honor now belongs to Diego Simeone, who was appointed at Atléti five months after García at Getafe). Not long after García's press conference, it was announced that former Getafe player and reserve team manager, Cosmin Contra, would take over the azulone reins. Contra was very popular among Getafe fans during his four-year spell at the club, leading the Madrid-based side to a 2007-2008 UEFA Cup quarter-final bout with Bayern Munich, netting twice, but ultimately losing 4-4 on penalty-kicks.
Though Romanian, Contra is a naturalized Spanish citizen, and has maintained close ties to Getafe president, Ángel Torres, of which I alluded to several weeks ago. Contra has long been Torres' first-choice to replace García, but overtakes a team that has only won once in their last 15 matches, and are in serious contention to be relegated. I am a fan of this move, due to Contra's personal affection for the club, but make no mistake, there isn't a team in the Primera División that is playing worse football -- not even Real Betis.
Getafe 0 Granada 1
LEVANTE draw with Celta Vigo
This is a difficult match-up for Celta. Enrique's side like to control the ball, which Levante won't mind one bit, as los Granotes are dead-last in La Liga with 36% possession, preferring instead to remain compact at the back, and to strike on counter-attacks. I expect Rafinha to be utilized in an attacking position, but how the remainder of Celta's front-line players fair against Levante's back-line, I am uncertain of. Celta really need a positive result to further distance themselves from relegation, especially as bottom-table sides start to pick up. At the Ciutat de Valencia, it's difficult to see the Galicians achieving anything more than a draw. I like a stale-mate, here.
Levante 0 Celta Vigo 0
RAYO VALLECANO draw with Almería
After two consecutive wins, Rayo have an excellent opportunity to escape the relegation zone for the first time since Jornada 1. Yes, that is correct. Los Rayitos have been bottom-three in Liga BBVA for nearly the entire season. What makes these remaining 10 matches so compelling, from Rayo's standpoint, is that there is no other team better suited for a dog-fight. We've jested at their defensive naivety and tendency to over-complicate, but at the very core of Jémez' tactics is a natural dog-eat-dog, attack-at-all-costs mentality, of which could suit a team desperate for results. I'm going for a draw here, as Almería are equally desperate for a result. Not to mention the improbability of Rayo picking up their 4th win in 6 matches. But if anyone deserves immunity from the hell-pit that is Liga Adelante, it's Paco Jémez.
Rayo Vallecano 1 Almería 1
Real Madrid over MALAGA
As Schuster said in his press-conference following Málaga's 0-2 win in Pamplona, "...it changes nothing." The win moves the Andaluz side into 14th place on 29 points, but remain only 3 points above the relegation zone. Because of the plethora of mid/bottom-table matches this week (Elche-Real Betis, Rayo-Almería, Getafe-Granada), any negative result could see Málaga slip into the bottom three.
Against Osasuna, Nordin Amrabat put it an excellent performance, finishing with one goal and one assist, and provided most of Málaga's creativity in the final-third. Since arriving on loan from Galatasaray, Amrabat has fit in quite nicely as left attacking-midfielder in Schuster's 4-2-3-1. How influential the Moroccan play-maker is the rest of the way could largely determine Málaga's fate this season.
Málaga 0 Real Madrid 2
ATLETICO MADRID 2 Espanyol 1
Generally I keep these write-ups exclusive to happenings in La Liga, but how can I not mention Atlético's immense 4-1 win over AC Milan on Tuesday? This will be Atlético's first Champion's League quarter-final appearance in 17 years. All the credit to Simeone here who demonstrated his tactical aptitude by switching into a 4-1-4-1 after Kaka's equalizer. AC Milan were beginning to impose themselves, and so Simeone reacted by dropping Raúl deep to reassert control. Much is made of Simeone's intangibles. But his abilities as a tactician should not be overlooked. He understands the ebb-and-flow of a match better than most. It helps, of course, to have a versatile player like Raúl, who can be utilized in a number of different zones. And no player better reflects Simeone's achievements at Atléti better than the former Osasuna man, who's transformed into one of Simeone's most instrumental attackers. Raúl "score a goal" García. What a year he's having.
Atlético Madrid 2 Espanyol 1
ELCHE draw with Real Betis
Can this Betis team do the improbable, and escape relegation, after being dead-bottom for nearly the entire season? I said that when Gaby Calderón was appointed that his passion for Real Betis would be valuable on a team seemingly so dispirited. While I doubted his experience as a manger in a top-level league, the Argentine has done a half-decent job with a 2-1-4 record in La Liga, while also remarkably advancing into Europa League's round-of-16. Still 8 points from safety, it's difficult to envision the kind of miracle Betis need to avoid a descent into Liga Adelante, but you have to admire this Calderón-inspired competitiveness. I'm probably being overly optimistic here (as I have all season with Real Betis), but I like a draw at the Martinez Valero. Not sure that Elche have enough in attack to break Betis' five-man defense.
Elche 1 Real Betis 1
BARCELONA over Osasuna
There seems to be an overwhelming amount of the off-the-pitch issues to talk about when it comes to Barcelona these days. A lot of these issues, however, are fans speculating on certain possibilities; that is, a managerial change, roster overhaul, new presidential elections, etc. For all we know, Barcelona could go into next season with Tata Martino as a manager, Javier Bartomeu as president, and, for the most part, the same squad (save Ter Stegen and a center-back purchase -- likely, David Luiz). The chances of that happening are less than 50%, yet at the same time, such inactivity wouldn't come as a surprise. If I had to make a bet, it would be this: the Bartomeu administration resigns in "the best interest of the club," ushering in a new era of Joan Laporta, and with him, a new manager -- likely someone with ties to Johan Cruyff. Frank de Boer, for instance, is a real possibility. New elections could drag out in a way that prevents the "overhaul" that certain culés want, meaning 3-4 acquisitions, instead of 5-6, is perhaps more likely.
Whatever the case, a new era is on the horizon. Coming off a disastrous 0-1 loss to Valladolid, Martino's side would do well to bounce back against an Osasuna team who've only won 4 times in 40 matches at the Camp Nou. The Pamplonan side are notorious for their overachievements against La Liga's top opposition, just not away from El Sadar. I like Barcelona in a comfortable home victory.
Now watch me eat my words.
Barcelona 3 Osasuna 0
SEVILLA over Valladolid
Well that didn't go as planned. I had Betis' write-up completed before el derbi Sevilliano in Europa League, but let me just touch on that here. As much as fond as we are of Seville derbies, it's not always evenly contested. Betis' win on Thursday was only their 4th win at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán in 18 years. Sevillstas were denied by UEFA from unveiling their tifo last-minute, which merely referenced Sevilla's 5-0 and 4-1 victories over Betis. Kind of strange, really. Sevilla fans will likely want compensation as the tifo costed them roughly €2,500. Poor timing, UEFA.
Anyway, Emery's side were completely dominated in this tie. That 5-man defense seemed impossible to break down. Sevilla are far superior in regard to individual talent. But this team is so dependent on Rakitic it's disgusting. If the Croatian has an off-game, Sevilla don't stand a chance, really. Marko Marin was supposed to be Emery's alternative creative player, but the Chelsea loan-out has failed to assert himself, thanks in large part to perpetual injuries.
Whatever the case, I like Sevilla here. They really need a bounce-back performance. Losing against Real Betis in a competition like Europa League can have immense after-effects, of which I'm not sure Emery is equipped to deal with. Three points is a must this week.
Sevilla 2 Valladolid 1
REAL SOCIEDAD over Valencia
Colossal game here. Both teams need wins to stay in contention for a European place. La Real are a safe bet for Europa League, but can't afford another loss if they are to challenge Athletic for La Liga's final Champion's League position. Valencia, likewise, need a positive result to maintain ground on Sevilla for 7th place. Arrasate's side should be keen to replicate their result against Valencia back in Jornada 9, in which the Basque side left the Mestalla with a 1-2 victory, thanks to goals from Rubén Pardo and Antoine Griezmann.
But after two consecutive defeats, it is imperative Real Sociedad get a positive result, here. I find Arrasate's tactics peculiar at times, especially his possession-based template (as seen against Rayo and Sevilla). La Real are set up to play quick-tempo, vertical football. In their last 4 matches, only twice have they out-possessed their opponent (Rayo and Sevilla), resulting both times in losses. In the other 2 matches, Real Sociedad sat back, and played on the counter, allowing Griezmann and Vela more space in the final-third. Both of these matches (Málaga, Barcelona) resulted in wins, but with substantial less possession.
Point is, la Real don't need to complicate things with extra possession. If Arrasate's loosens up, and allows his vertically-inclined forwards to do what they do best, I like the home side in what could potentially be the match of the week.
Real Sociedad 2 Valencia 1
VILLARREAL over Athletic Bilbao
Los Submarinos are pretty much back at full-strength. Cani is expected to make his first start since early December, dropping Oliver Torres to the bench, of which comes as no surprise based on the Atlético loan-out's performance last week. Villarreal lost this tie back in Jornada 9 in what was one of their most error-prone performances of this season. Athletic's midfield completely dismantled Villarreal in the middle-third, neutralizing Bruno and Cani, thus not allowing any freedom for Gio in attack. Valverde is an intelligent manager. I expect a similar approach, here.
Overall, there's a lot of quality between these sides. For a neutral, I couldn't recommend this match-up more. Villarreal are coming off a disappointing defeat to Granada, and should be motivated to ascend back up into Champion's League contention. Ultimately, 4th-place is Athletic's to lose, but I like Villarreal at El Madrigal, just to keep things interesting.
Villarreal 3 Athletic 2