Real Mallorca v Sevilla
(Primera vuelta: 2-3)
It feels like a long time ago that Real Mallorca were starting the campaign off strongly, occupying a place in the European spots and carrying out Joaquin Caparros’ muscular instructions effectively. Their rigid 4-4-2 was working, Tomer Hemed was thriving off the service he got from the flanks and things seemed to be clicking. But then they started cracking.
Every coach is allowed a bad run, and Caparros will hopefully come back from his ultimate failure at Mallorca. However, the failure to jettison him earlier might have cost the club their top flight position. Caparros is well thought of in the game, and clearly that sentiment carried as far as the corridors of power in the Iberostar. The horrible run of results which followed Real’s bright start would have seen off most coaches much earlier but Mallorca stuck to their guns, showed faith in the coach, and were rewarded by a collapse into the relegation spots.
Still, victory at Granada in the last round gave hope that perhaps there’s some life left in Mallorca yet. Hemed hit the net for the first time since November and a first league win in nine was achieved. Still, the win meant they’d only got four points from the previous twenty four available. Too little too late?
Sevilla have shown signs of improvement under Unai Emery. There seems to be a little more structure to their play and the likes of Jesus Navas have begun to look more prominent. There’s a sense of purpose and players will be aware that they need to perform now in order to convince the coach that they can form part of his plans for next season: as a result Sevilla aren’t the sort of side drifting to the end of the season with nothing to play for that Real might have hoped they were.
Giovani Dos Santos v Gary Medel
We’re starting to see awakenings of the Giovani we all knew was in there: the question is whether he can be fully reanimated in time to rescue the islanders.
His ability to create is well known, his talent at finishing undoubted, his record of underachievement unquestioned. In some senses he’s exactly the sort of player Mallorca don’t need in a backs-to-the-wall situation like this, but football matches turn on small things and he’s capable of coming up with a moment of flair which could turn a game.
Giovani made his debut against Sevilla, and it was a terrific start to his spell at Mallorca. Despite only being on the pitch for an hour he managed two assists, twice helping Real take the lead, but they still lost 3-2 and his performances declined immediately. His next nine appearances yielded one assist and no goals. However, he’s found form again: he scored in three of his next six matches and followed that run with his match winning performance at Granada where he set up both goals.
To flourish in this game he’ll have to overcome a player whose combative nature is as unquestioned as Giovani’s talent. Medel is capable of snuffing out players like Giovani, one way or another, and whether the Mexican is drifting around in the hole or coming in from the flanks, he’s bound to wander into The Pitbull’s territory and feel his hot breath on his back at some point.
Forget his recent burst of three goals (did anyone check his passport to see if it was really him?) Medel is a destroyer, not a creator, and if he contains Giovani Mallorca’s hopes of a crucial win will be diminished.
Athletic Bilbao v Valencia
(Primera vuelta: 2-3)
A fixture which has favoured the visitors of late, often in dramatic circumstances, and been dominated by one particular striker.
Roberto Soldado enjoys playing against Athletic. He’s scored in each of the last three games between them, most memorably when the sides met at San Mames last season. Soldado, a fortnight after his hat trick on his return to the Spanish national team, scored three once more, and superb finishes they were too, perhaps fuelled by a poor decision to disallow a goal when the score was 0-0.
Soldado’s goals clinched a 3-0 win and continued his domination of the fixture last season, as when the sides met earlier in the campaign it looked like Athletic were going to emerge with an away win thanks to an Iker Muniain goal, only for Soldado to turn up with a last minute equaliser.
There were decisive late goals in Valencia’s favour when the sides met earlier this season, and again Soldado hit the net, but his goal wasn’t dramatic or decisive, for once. His first half penalty levelled the game after Aritz Aduriz had put Athletic ahead, but Aduriz restored the lead before half time.
Valencia 3 – 2 Athletic Bilbao by anythingtoday
Despite Ander Herrera’s dismissal half way through the second half it looked like 2-1 would be the final score, but Bilbao eventually caved in under the pressure and suffered a 3-2 defeat as TIno Costa equalised in the 88th minute and hit the winner two minutes later.
Valencia’s command over Athletic far outdates Soldado’s arrival on the Costa Blanca though. They’ve won seven of their last eight clashes with Athletic, and their last three games at San Mames to boot! You have to go all the way back to January 2009 for the last Bilbao victory, a 3-2 win at home.
Levante v Getafe
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
Levante hinted at a return to that fabled fighting spirit in the Valencian derby last weekend, fighting back to claim a late point on foreign turf. The problem for them, though, is a matter of priorities. In pursuing their European run, which undoubtedly is thrilling and exotic for such a small club, they are in danger of cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
Their squad isn’t deep and it certainly isn’t youthful. As their progress in the Europa League has continued, their form in La Liga has waned. Essentially, in trying to pull off an unlikely victory in a European tournament, they are making it highly unlikely that they’ll get to have another go at it next season. But then maybe there’s something beautiful and pure about that: in an era when finishing in a Champions League place is seen as a greater victory than winning the cup, it’s nice to see a team having a go and seeing where it gets them rather than cynically prioritise the league in the hope of essentially creating the same situation again next season!
Getafe, meanwhile, have suddenly hit a patch of decent form, just when it looked like their season was petering out. Three wins in a row have improved their prospects and given them confidence. Nobody embodies this lift in fortunes better than Adrián Colunga: indeed, perhaps his sudden burst of goals have been the main reason behind their improvement. Midway through January he was still looking for his first goal of the season: now he’s got six, spread across seven games, and looks sharp. He’ll have to do without the creative support of Pedro León, who was sent off in the 2-0 win over Zaragoza, but newly confident Getafe look capable of keeping the supply line open at the moment.
The midfielder has enjoyed a breakthrough season in many senses, drawing the attention of bigger clubs and attracting covetous glances from abroad – Liverpool were strongly rumoured to be interested earlier in the season. Certainly he seems to have added an extra dimension to his game, going from being a sound midfielder, solid positionally and economical with his distribution, to something more confident, particularly in the opposing box.
Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad
(Primera vuelta: 1-0)
The fixture list almost feels like a rite of passage for Atletico at the moment as it throws up a succession of strong, in-form opponents for Diego Simeone’s side to overcome. It’s almost as if the Gods of football are setting a task: “If you’re going to fulfil your quest to finish above Real Madrid, you must survive this ordeal!” Real will test Atletico’s famous home form with enough creativity to ask questions of Simeone’s well-drilled defence.
Barcelona v Deportivo La Coruna
(Primera vuelta: 5-4)
Irrespective of any worries Barsa might have about their recent form, this surely isn’t going to be a game to cause them any trouble. If it does, they might have to come to terms with the fact that they’ve a real crisis on their hands!
Celta de Vigo v Real Madrid
(Primera vuelta: 0-2)
A match which depends to a great extent on the mindset of Jose Mourinho. He might well see this as an opportunity to rotate, and his side might agree after their exertions of the last couple of weeks. Celta, on the other hand, are hungry for points, and we saw how even north-western relegation fodder can trouble Real’s second string a fortnight ago.
Rayo Vallecano v Espanyol
(Primera vuelta: 2-3)
Time for Rayo to kick on and have a strong finish if they’re to achieve the unlikely and get into Europe. The same might be said for Espanyol, who must fear what happens when the momentum finally peters out.
Real Betis v Osasuna
(Primera vuelta: 0-0)
This is exactly the sort of game which has been haunted Real this season: a home match you’d fancy them to win. Osasuna will bring their trademark stubbornness to the party and fancy their chances of eking something out as they continue their laborious crawl from danger.
Real Zaragoza v Granada
(Primera vuelta: 2-1)
Frankly, in recent weeks Granada have shown signs that they’ve got a great deal more about them than Real. Both sides might well scrape along and survive this season: this match might illustrate that, while Granada have dug themselves out of a mess, it’s fair to say that Real are prospering from three other sides having a worse time than they are.
Real Valladolid v Malaga
(Primera vuelta: 1-2)
Can Valladolid take advantage of Malaga’s European distraction? I don’t see why not: Malaga have had a run of tough tests of late and will surely have an eye on a return with Porto which could take this campaign even further into the unknown.