A sideways look at Spanish football
Valladolid (10th) v Athletic Bilbao (13th) – 21.30 On Monday, LLL attributed Athletic’s 3-0 win over Atlético Madrid – a victory Óscar de Marcos muses might have been the best performance of the season – to the previous day's training-ground visit of a magician the previous day to show his illusional stuff. Defender Mikel San José, kicked off the scoring, spoke about the special session given by ‘Oliver’ and opined that “these things either help or not,” perhaps recalling the great clown disaster that dogged Espanyol’s 1982 campaign.
“However, it made us better and if we have to do it again, we will.” After a bit of digging, Marca have discovered that the magician was already known to a few members of the Athletic squad, and that Javi Martínez was quite the fan, having learned a few tricks himself. Like how to escape from Athletic, a move that Fernando Llorente clearly struggled with. LLL Prediction – Away win
Osasuna (18th) v Celta Vigo (16th) – 16.00 As any right-minded football fan will know, Sevilla’s goalkeeping galavanting is always a thrilling affair. So it was quite the treat when Angry Andrés Palop saw off another contender to his No.1 shirt with this week's return of Diego López to Real Madrid after just half a season in Andalusia.
You might ask what this has to do with Celta Vigo. Well, early last summer, the 39-year-old hater of young-punk challengers chased away young Sevilla rival Javi Varas, who was lent to Celta Vigo despite being 11 years younger and playing in 25 league games last season. Asked yesterday whether any of these moves would make a difference to his long-term plans, Sevilla-born Varas dutifully claimed that his “focus is 100% with Celta.”LLL Prediction – Home win
Getafe (12th) v Deportivo (20th) – 18.00When Deportivo boss Domingos Paciencia said that Saturday’s opponents Getafe are “don’t have difficult processes, but easy, good ones,” LLL hoped for a rare instance of someone in football predicting that the opposition are about to get one hell of a beating.
But apparently not, with Depor’s Portuguese boss reckoning Getafe’s apparent simplicity means the match “is not going to be easy.” Deportivo only have the single functioning centre-back – and that’s Zé Castro – so even Getafe’s less-than-prolific strike force will find the target on Saturday. LLL Prediction – Home win
Espanyol (15th) v Levante (8th) – 20.00Time for a good-news story. Espanyol midfielder Felipe Mattioni might well feature in a starting XI for the first time in two years and eight months after suffering cruciate ligament injuries to both knees (shudder). The Brazilian is set to be drafted in at full-back by Javier Aguirre, what with no one else about due to suspension and injury, but Mattioni is unsurprisingly unfussed over what happens to him on Saturday evening. “If I end up on the bench in the end that doesn’t matter because it’s been so long now.”LLL Prediction – Draw
Granada (17th) v Real Madrid (3rd) – 22.00In many ways, Juan Antonio Anquela’s firing on Wednesday morning might have been the best thing for the mental and physical wellbeing of the now ex-Granada boss, as the 55-year-old didn’t seem to be enjoying his first spell of coaching in top-flight football.
“I lost a job, but at least I got a life back,” said the ex-Alcorcón gaffer, flicking through holiday brochures. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to enjoy this team, this level and above all, this city. Football didn’t want me to be happy. It was the chance I was waiting for all my life.”
His replacement Lucas Alcaraz, returning to the club he coached 18 years ago, has been given brand new attacking players Nolito and Diego Buonanotte, although it remains to be seen how much of the ball they get against the champions. LLL Prediction – Away win
Málaga (4th) v Zaragoza (14th) – 12.00What Málaga giveth with one hand, the club’s owners doth forthwith taketh away with the other. At the beginning of the week they improved the contract of the wonderful Isco, which increases his buy-out clause – due to be triggered in June, no doubt – from €21m to €35m.
But then a bit of deadline-day selling saw midfielder Diego Buonanotte moving to Granada (no great loss) and the whopping surprise of the sale of Nacho Monreal to Arsenal. Málaga have now sold €41.6m in players since the end of last season, spending nothing in return. Maybe some money will be available now to buy a new pitch. LLL Prediction – Home
Sevilla (11th) v Rayo Vallecano (6th) – 17.00 Raúl Tamudo, the striker who kept Rayo up last season with a ludicrously late goal in the final seconds of the season, has returned to the club after a short spell in Mexico with Pachuca. The 35-year-old is the club's third January signing, joining centre-backs Jordi (another returning Rayo old boy) and Anaitz Arbilla.
There was a bit of a to-do though over Brazilian striker Gabriel Machado, whom Rayo had brought in from Steaua Bucharest and then loaned out to Hércules – briefly. Machado only lasted two days in Alicante after the receiving club claimed that the footballer wouldn't be ready to play for at least two months due to injury. “Rayo told us that he would be ready in 15 to 20 days,” complained Hércules coach Quique Hernández, staring furiously at the terms and conditions on the footballer’s label. LLL Prediction – Home win
Valencia (7th) v Barcelona (1st) – 19.00 Valencia president Manuel Llorente isn't especially liked at the moment by the fans – to be fair, no-one at the club ever is – but in an interview with local TV, Llorente says that he can handle the haters: “I prefer that they boo me rather than the team.” However, this tolerance has its limits, says the big Mestalla boss: if someone comes to the club “with a loaf of bread under one arm” then he’ll be out the door never to return.
Speaking of Mestalla-style madness, Leo Messi was reportedly all with the fury after the Real Madrid cup clash, with reports in the Spanish media claiming that the wee Barça man heckled Alvaro Arbeloa in the Santiago Bernabéu car park before being led off by a member of the Barcelona party. Fight! Fight! Fight!LLL Prediction – Away win
Atlético Madrid (2nd) v Betis (5th) – 21.00 Rather like a see-saw featuring Maniche and a couple of sacks of flour, the Copa del Rey tie between Atlético Madrid and Sevilla is finely balanced after the Rojiblancos beat the Andalusians 2-1 in Thursday's stupidly late 10pm kick-off. It was a made affair at the Vicente Calderón featuring three penalties and three sendings off – two for Sevilla, one for Atlético – with pretty much every one of these incidents involving handballs, either accidental or not. LLL Prediction – Home win
Real Sociedad (9th) v Mallorca (19th) – 21.00 At this moment, LLL would like to put on its dinner suit and formally welcome Alan Hutton to la Liga after the right-back joined struggling Mallorca on loan. “I hope to give everything that’s expected of me here until the end of the season,” said the former Nottingham Forest man.
“It’s exciting to be able to come to play in Spain. For me, this is a new project, a new league and a new country. What’s more there’s there a player here that I get along with and speaks really well of this club,” said Hutton, discussing the legend that is Giovani dos Santos, the footballer that LLL claimed many moons ago was the new Ronaldinho. LLL Prediction – Home win
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