Iker’s Arsenal link, Betis think big and a Mestalla mess (again)

FRIDAY

Betis (7th) v Sevilla (10th) - 22.00 (CEST)Readers with mid- to long-term memory will recall that Sevilla pummeled Betis 5-1 in the derby earlier this season. But while the side now lead by Unai Emery went on to do absolutely nothing of note this season except be ludicrously limp and lifeless, a brilliant Betis charged on to put themselves in the hunt for a Champions League place.

That golden goal seems to be the big picture for Betis ahead of Friday’s match, with coach Pepe Mel reminding fans that “our objective is to end up in Europe, not beat Sevilla.” “We would all sign off on a 1-0,” says Mel, “we don’t have to win by five.” Defender Antonio Amaya agrees, chuckling that “I’d take a 1-0 last-minute win with a dodgy penalty.”LLL Prediction - Home win

SATURDAY

Valladolid (14th ) v Getafe (8th) - 16.00 Valladolid president Carlos Suárez said that appealing wouldn’t really get anywhere and he was right. The team were unhappy that a throw-in awarded to them in the final seconds of last weekend’s game at Valencia was taken by the home side, without the referee’s intervention, in a move that lead to a late winning goal. The Competition Committee’s response was that there was no way to retroactively deal with the decision or replay the game with the scores at 1-1. However, in a tiny victory, it did admit that the referee made a mistake in the action.

Unsurprisingly, fiery Valladolid coach Miroslav Djukic didn't take the news at all well, advising that he would never support an FA ‘Fair Play’ campaign or sport a T-shirt with the logo. “There’s no Fair Play,” ranted the Serbian, “everything looks ‘bleeping’ great on the shirt but you have to apply it.”LLL Prediction - Home win

Levante (11th) v Deportivo (18th) - 18.00 The Mighty Depor have given themselves a chance of survival by beating three relegation rivals in a row: Celta Vigo, Mallorca and Zaragoza. But now the Galicians are facing a grown-up, grizzled opponent in Levante, who are looking for one more triumph to reach 43 points and the mythical ‘virtual’ safety point. But even getting into this position with eight matches left has been quite the achievement for Deportivo and the side’s coach Fernando Vázquez, a figure praised to the heavens by midfielder Juan Carlos Valerón.

“He’s like a mad man. He’s been years away from coaching, what’s more he always wanted to manage Deportivo, and you can tell,” enthused Valerón about the former English teacher who hopes to stay on for more years at the club “whether they are in la Primera or la Segunda.”LLL Prediction - Draw

Espanyol (12th) v Valencia (5th) - 20.00 What a huge mess. That’s pretty much the state of Valencia’s baffling institutional affairs these days. Technically speaking (LLL thinks but can’t be entirely sure, not being a lawyer) the club is in the hands of the local council and the ‘Foundation’, which represents the shareholders of this most messed-up of institutions. Late last week, after four years in charge, Manuel Llorente resigned as president of the club feeling that everything was getting a bit too much for him and that a new leader was needed for the Mestalla mad-house.

“After listening to the new president of the Foundation, I understood a new era was beginning,” said Llorente. That new president, Federico Varona, says that getting Ernesto Valverde to stay on for next season is the immediate priority along with working out who’s actually in charge, what to do with the €400m or so debt, the half-built stadium, the unpopular choice of biscuits in the staff canteen... LLL Prediction - Home win

Málaga (6th) v Osasuna (15th) - 22.00LLL would need to be Norris McWhirter to know what the biggest book in the world was. However, Geoff Capes – whom the blog assumes is still the world’s strongest man – will be needed by UEFA to hurl it at Málaga, after a titanic tantrum from owner, manager and players after Tuesday’s Champions League exit.

Dortmund’s winning goal came after an ungiven offside that was put down to racism, corruption, conspiracy and prejudice, with Málaga's Director General promising to send a complaint to UEFA. “We're not going against UEFA, we're moving in favour of football,” commented Vicente Casado.

But on Wednesday, UEFA released a small dove of peace through a window of opportunity for Málaga to holler an apology. “If a team loses in 93 minutes, clearly they are going to be a bit disappointed and say things they don’t really think,” said UEFA's General Secretary, the shine-headed draw host Gianni Infantino. LLL doubts that Málaga will take heed and will end up joining the long list of Spanish clubs that think UEFA have got it in for them. LLL Prediction - Home win

SUNDAY

Rayo Vallecano (9th) v Real Sociedad (4th) - 12.00At last, the word ‘Europe’ is allowed in the Rayo dressing room. With the Madrid side having pretty much assured safety in the division through last week’s win at Celta, Rayo are dreaming the biggest of dreams, and Europe is a formal topic of conversation in the Republic of Vallekas.

“We talk about Europe every day. We’ll do everything we can to get there,” promised forward Piti. Indeed, the club have been busy scribbling and have sent their documentation off to UEFA to register for next year’s competitions just in case.

The other topic of conversation for Piti was his immediate future, with the striker’s contract expiring at the end of the season and no indication on what happens next: “I’ve said many times that this is the club where I want to stay, so now it has to be the president who makes the next step.” LLL Prediction - Away win

Atlético Madrid (3rd) v Granada (16th) - 17.00There’s something troubling LLL regarding Atlético Madrid at the moment. They're shattering the belief that the fewer games a side plays, the better their results due to stuff like rest and all that. But the Rojiblancos are busting that myth – in the wrong way. Ever since the club’s departure from the Europa League towards the end of February, Atlético have won just two league games from six, a poor comparison with the 70% win rate when they were playing two matches a week.

Diego Simeone says that there’s nothing to worry about, and that Atlético Madrid are trooping along just fine in third. “We did a really big first round of matches but it’s harder in the second,” said the Argentinian coach. "Now, everyone has something to play for in nearly every ground. The Spanish league is very competitive." LLL Prediction - Home win

Real Zaragoza (17th) v Barcelona (1st) - 19.00Zaragoza goalkeeper Roberto remains the club's busiest employee, called into action more often than the emergency services during the Valencia ‘Fires’ festival. Roberto is keen to keep busy off the field too by suggesting a mental approach from his players for the final eight games of the season.

“We need to be able to think that we are at the bottom of the table without actually touching it,” mused the former Atlético Madrid man ahead of the visit of Barcelona. “I’d like to think that this reaction is possible without going into relegation zone.” It may be an academic point, and it may be the only point they get: results this weekend may well send the Aragonese outfit into the drop zone for what would be the first time in the current campaign. LLL Prediction - Away win

Athletic Bilbao (13th) v Real Madrid (2nd) - 21.00There's always something to get everyone in the Real Madrid media world into a tizzy while annoying the pants out of either José Mourinho and Aitor Karanka at press conferences. Currently, that topic is Iker Casillas, who remains on the bench watching Diego López between the Madrid sticks and doing reasonably well. Well enough in fact to keep the Real Madrid goalkeeper on the sidelines for the rest of the season.

During the week, Mourinho said that Casillas was training “very well” –in contrast to Madrid's former Sporting Director Arrigo Sacchi, who opined that “Iker trains badly, he always trains badly. There’s a reason Mourinho leaves him out.” However, Iker’s outcast has caused transfer stirrings in the press, with AS claiming that Liverpool and Arsenal are sniffing about, meaning that both Big Two goalies in la Liga could be putting on their gloves in England next season.LLL Prediction - Away win

MONDAY

Mallorca (20th) v Celta Vigo (19th) - 21.00Blimey, there'll be some nervous tum-tums in the Balearics and Galicia this weekend with fans of both clubs having to wait until Monday night for this crucial relegation clash.

Mallorca are rather concerned that the temporary truce with disgruntled fans has been broken after three straight defeats and 13 goals shipped.  Five of those were against Barcelona after a hopeless display in the Camp Nou, irrespective of the quality of the opposition. Heck, even Mallorca’s Pedro Bigas admits that last weekend’s match was a shambles.

“We have to change our dynamic and attitude,” fumed the defender. “The players didn’t go out (against Barça) planning this attitude. I don’t know how to explain it.” The squad had better find a reason quickly over what will be a very long weekend of waiting indeed. LLL Prediction - Home win

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