La Preview: Atlético’s summer signing, Espanyol’s apology & Mestalla manoeuvres

FRIDAY

Athletic Bilbao (14th) v Rayo Vallecano (7th) – 21.30 (all kick-offs Spain local time) If La Liga Loca had any kind of heart, it would have shed a tear on Monday night after freezing its toes witnessing the football-affirming experience of Rayo Vallecano winning three on the bounce by thrashing the suburban hides off a dismal Getafe.

The side pegged by the blog as relegation near-certainties after a summer in which they lost Diego Costa, Raúl Tamudo and Michu are now just three points from the Champions League places; with 20 games to play, five wins will see them safe – and they're halfway to the points total that got Levante into Europe.

It’s all very different up in Bilbao, with Athletic trundling through a rotten campaign, light years from the European places. Then again, the side are well away from the relegation spots which is some small relief. “We have the team to be doing really well, but I feel ashamed saying this,” admitted a glum Aritz Aduriz, who says that Saturday’s clash with Rayo is “a definitive one”. LLL Prediction – Home win

SATURDAY

Valladolid (11th) v Mallorca (16th) – 16.00Plucky Mallorca weren’t able to overturn the 5-0 first-leg deficit in their last-16 Copa del Rey clash at Sevilla, but by ginger the side gave it a go. They beat their hosts 2-1 in front of 15,000 souls, which was actually pretty good going given the pointlessness of the match.

Naturally, the ever-bubbly (except when he’s hopping mad) Joaquín Caparrós was delighted with the result – Mallorca's third undefeated game on the bounce. “We have to face each match like it’s a final,” announced the cliché-spouting Mallorca boss, “as if it’s the most important of the championship, and each action as if it was the last of the match.” LLL is looking forward to seeing keeper Dudu Aoaute going up for Mallorca's corners from the very first minute. LLL Prediction – Home win

Espanyol (18th) v Celta Vigo (15th) – 18.00Grr. Fighting talk and a bit of an apology at Espanyol this week, as is to be expected from a team lead by Javier Aguirre. The grovel came first from Joan Capdevila, who admitted that being 4-0 down to neighbours Barcelona within half an hour last weekend probably wasn’t a good thing.

“You can lose, but trying to give a bit more,” said the left-back. “We will have to sweat blood to win the next six points which wont’t be easy, as they are against direct rivals and every match there’s less time.” In actual fact, the next two games probably couldn’t be any easier for Espanyol considering they're both at home against Celta and Mallorca, who've managed one away league win each all season. LLL Prediction – Home win

Osasuna (20th) v Real Madrid (3rd) – 20.00A rousing home win for Real Madrid in the cup against Celta Vigo makes everything seem a little bit shinier for José Mourinho & Co. The same can’t be said for their hosts, bottom of la Liga and knocked out by Valencia in their own Copa del Rey tie. Still, there’s a sliver of hope with Madrid weakened by injuries to Pepe and potentially Xabi Alonso, along with the suspensions to Cristiano Ronaldo and the whopping five-match ban handed out to Sergio Ramos.

The debonair defender was sent off against Celta, but four matches of the suspension are for reportedly giving the referee some family-unfriendly opinions on his performance – and continuing to do so after the match. Although it sounds like a hefty ban, it’s not particularly out of context in this season's la Liga, where managers have been sent off for even looking at refs a bit funny. LLL Prediction – Away win

Valencia (8th) v Sevilla (12th) – 22.00What Valencia really need now, with the Mestalla supporters all agitated and a change of manager still fresh in their minds, is a bit of institutional uproar. That took place on Wednesday with the formal announcement of a challenger to the presidential crown of the under-pressure Manuel Llorente in the form of Fernando Gómez, who played 553 games for los Che (and then a few for Wolves) and was a vice-president in a former regime.

Under the slogan “Always Valencia. Dream again,” Gómez suggested that Llorente “stand down, as the vast majority of the fans are calling for.” The presidential wannabe did not go into details over how he would get the club out of its financial mess and deal with a half-built stadium, but promised that he wouldn't draw a salary until “economic viability has been secured.” LLL hopes Gómez has plenty of savings.LLL Prediction – Home win

SUNDAY

Betis (5th) v Levante (6th) – 12.00 As predicted on these pages, Levante got knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Zaragoza but probably won’t be that fussed, due to their small squad facing rather hefty league and European commitments. Sunday's opponents Betis sneaked through against Las Palmas with a 2-1 aggregate win, setting up a doable quarter-final double clash with Atlético Madrid.

First, though, coach Pepe Mel is fretting over the visit of Levante – a point and a place behind the Sevillan side, just below the Champions League places. “It’s the worst rival that can come to us, because they love to play without the ball, giving you space and waiting for you to make a mistake.”LLL Prediction – Home win

Real Sociedad (9th) v Deportivo (19th) – 17.00After leaving Atlético Madrid without anyone really noticing for a spin at Sao Paolo, Paolo Assunçao is back in la Liga. And what more tempting place to end up than Deportivo, a side second from bottom of the table, going into administration and fortunate to pay for club president Augusto Lendoiro’s lunch fund, never mind salaries for the footballers.

Assunçao admitted that he was surprised by Deportivo’s position in the league table, considering the club has “great players and a great manager,” but was keen to praise Domingos Paciencia for being “a great coach, a great person” and having had “a great campaign” when the Portuguese was in charge at Sporting Braga. LLL Prediction – Draw

Atlético Madrid (2nd) v Zaragoza (13th) – 19.00AS are taking a sneaky guess that Atlético Madrid have already made a signing for next season in the form of Rayo striker Leo Baptistao, having spotted the Vallecas president at the Vicente Calderon on Thursday.

However, there has been a fair amount of footballer-swapping between the two clubs over the past year so it may just be another bit of loan business. LLL wonders if the Rayo Vallecano office wi-fi had crashed, and Raúl Martin Presa was simply borrowing a bit of bandwidth.LLL Prediction – Home win

Málaga (4th) v Barcelona (1st) – 21.00Is Víctor Valdés going to be running halfway up the pitch to row with referees and opposition players somewhere other than Spain in the seasons to come? The Barça goalkeeper certainly hinted at the possibility last week when admitting during a press conference that “I don’t rule out looking for different football and knowing other cultures.”

Valdés has a contract until 2014 and Rosell says he has some sympathy with the plight of the Barça blocker. “It’s said that the three most difficult things in the world are to be the Pope, the President of the USA and Barcelona goalkeeper.” It's news to this blog’s sheltered ears. LLL Prediction – Away win

MONDAY

Getafe (10th) v Granada (17th) – 20.00La Liga is certainly saving the best for last on Monday night, the glamour slot of the weekly calendar, with this tasty feast between Getafe and Granada. Indeed, the clash was set up with a thriller on Thursday night in the Coliseum, which saw Getafe bravely chasing down a 3-0 deficit to Atlético Madrid in the Copa del Rey in an enthralling goalless draw.

Although it must have been very hard to hear, there were reportedly chants from the home crowd calling for the departure of Luis García – especially after Monday’s awful performance against Rayo. “They are paying and can do what they want. The team are tenth and that’s not a bad place,” noted the Getafe boss.LLL Prediction – Home win

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