La Preview: Arsenal man goes AWOL, Pep’s replacement and Bielsa’s big day


Betis (12th) v Getafe (14th) - 18.00 (local time)A broken arm for central defender Lopo in last weekend’s Espanyol clash saw Getafe exploring the possibility of trying to bring in cover using the emergency, break glass procedures allowed by the league under such circumstances. In the end, former Getafe centre-back Alexis returned on loan from Sevilla to partner the snarling Cata Díaz in the centre of defence.  The attentions of coach Luis García now turn towards getting Dani Güiza to score on a regular basis - goals, that is - as the former Spanish international has only managed three in 18 league appearances. “His figures are much less than we were hoping for. We’ve been very patient with him and given him a lot of chances but it hasn’t happened,” said the increasingly impatient manager. LLL Prediction - Home win

Racing (18th) v Sporting (19th) - 18.00 Regular readers will be aware that one of LLL’s big issues - apart from the ones involving an irrational fear of jellyfish currently being ironed out with therapy - are managers and players claiming there are so many 'cup finals' left when describing a run of league games when their team is in a tight spot. Heck, even an Athletic Bilbao player did it recently, despite the fact his team look good for a Champions League-qualifying finish. Fortunately, hard-as-nails new Sporting manager Javier Clemente won’t stand for such crazy talk either. When asked whether Saturday’s clash against fellow relegation-zoners Racing was a definitive game, he snapped; “whatever happens, no-one is going to die. Every match is important, the only difference is that Racing are like Sporting.” For once in his live, Clemente is the voice of sanity and reason. LLL Prediction - Home win 

Málaga (9th) v Zaragoza (20th) - 20.00Two clubs having disappointing seasons and two clubs really needing a win on Saturday. Málaga have been ordered by Manuel Pellegrini to endure double training sessions as punishment for being hopelessly flimsy for much of the season, while the not-so-good-ship Zaragoza lost another crew member, with Antonio Tomás finishing his contract early and heading off to CSKA Sofia, despite only joining in September. In contrast, one player who wants tto hang around is Carlos Aranda, who joined Zaragoza in the winter transfer window and hopes to stay on for the long-term, despite being fully aware of where he is about to be playing his football. “I didn’t come here for five months. I would love to stay on with them in la Segunda,” claimed Aranda, this week. LLL Prediction - Home win 

Espanyol (4th) v Levante (7th) - 22.00Arsenal fans with good memories may remember a player called Pedro Botelho, who joined the North London club just over four years ago but has since spent most of his time on loan to sides in Spain. Until the winter window, the lanky left-winger was playing for Rayo and doing pretty well too, until getting drunk one night and getting into a shunt with a police car, whose occupants found the 22-year-old to be above the alcohol limit. Botelho was then moved on-loan to Levante in January but didn’t feature in the squad that lost to Rayo on Sunday, a strange move given he would have known his former team-mates only too well. It turns out that the midfielder was on the naughty step having disappeared from the team hotel after the recent away day at Real Madrid, then failing to make the train back to Levante the following morning. Marca report the player was unaware the players had been confined to quarters for the Sunday night and says that he had a dentist appointment in Madrid on the Monday, hence his railway station no-show. The club didn’t believe a word of it and fined Botelho €15,000. LLL suspects a return to Arsenal in the near future is unlikely, irrespective the London club’s current problems. LLL Prediction - Home win


Villarreal (17th) v Athletic Bilbao (5th) - 12.00Hip, hip hooray. It was a bit of a tight squeeze for both Athletic and Manchester United in their respective Europa League games against Lokomotiv Moscow and Ajax, but both got through to set up last 16 double-header that has the normally cool-as-a-cucumber LLL watering at the mouth and gurgling in the stomach. Although that’s normally a sign of having recently eaten some undercooked croquettas. Heck, even Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa is excited too. “Playing against Manchester United is not like any other game,” noted the weird one. LLL Prediction - Draw

Rayo Vallecano (8th) v Real Madrid (1st) - 16.00Vive La Revolution. The much-messed with Rayo supporters groups were not happy at all about their team’s bigwigs declaring Sunday’s visit of Real Madrid being a “Day of the Club” - a chance for the members who already have a season ticket to pay even more to see the game. Last week, LLL reported that this extra charge was set to be €25 and this is still the case to an extent. Where Rayo have relented, according to AS, is in allowing unemployed season ticket holders entry for just €5. Good news to a degree, but bad news in that those included in this discount will probably be a significant number with Spain’s unemployment rate being 22% and the working class barrio of Vallecas especially suffering during Spain’s never ending economic crisis. LLL Prediction - Away win

Valencia (3rd) v Sevilla (11th) - 18.00Valencia weren’t as spooked as Marca were with the hordes of Stoke City ‘hooligans’ and ‘ultras’ - terms used to describe normal, run-of-the-mill Midlands fans - descending on the city in lovely, sunny weather for a nice game of football. The speculation in Valencia that it was only the supporters with football on their minds during the Europa League clash, with Tony Pulis bringing a squad of just 15 to the Spanish east coast for the clash. “Are they coming here to go on the beach or play a game of football?” was the first question on local radio station, Punto Radio Valencia, to a traveling English journalist. The beach seems to be the answer, with Valencia picking up a 1-0 win. LLL Prediction - Home win

Osasuna (10th) v Granada (15th) - 18.00Although Osasuna are trundling along quite well this season on the pitch, off it there seems to be the whiff of economic problems in the air, with Marca reporting that the club would like to reschedule the payments of its debt with the local tax authority over a 75-year period. The sum of €27.9m is weighing heavy on Osasuna but club president, Patxi Izco, claims that the request for some repayment tinkering is “practically normal” in other companies and that a little bit of help would be appreciated. LLL Prediction - Home win

Real Sociedad (16th) v Mallorca (13th) - 18.00Even though it wasn’t Villarreal’s fault Mallorca were kicked out of last season’s Europa League competition for going into administration - with the Yellow Submarine taking their place - the Balearic club and supporters are still grumpy as heck about the whole matter which was due to Mallorca breaking UEFA’s rules and regulations and thus entirely their only fault. But there is a suggestion the club are ready to make nice to Villarreal sometime in the near future, according to club president, Juame Cladera. “Last season we were obliged to have relations because of the transfer of De Guzman, and in some way this softened things up. It’s not good to have such distance for such time.”LLL Prediction - Home win

Atlético Madrid (6th) v Barcelona (2nd) - 21.30All week, the talk in Barcelona and the rest of Spain is what Pep will do next concerning his rolling contract extension. But if the worst for the Catalan club were to happen and Guardiola was to head to pastures new - or sit on a beach for a year which would be a good plan - speculation has already started on who could take over. The names thrown up by Marca in what appear to be a mad brain-storming session are Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde, Oscar García (current cantera coach), Lluís Carreras (current Sabadell coach), Marcelo Bielsa, Marco Van Basten, Joachim Löw and Andrés Villas-Boas. Mundo Deportivo even throw some of these names into a poll with Luis Enrique coming out in top with 39% followed by Bielsa with 21%.LLL Prediction - Away win