La Preview: Rayo’s magic man, Barça's brilliant news and fined footballing fatties

Friday

Zaragoza (12th) v Betis (5th) - 21.30 (all kick-offs local time)Another transfer window means another attempt by Pepe Mel and his Betis bosses to hang on to the club’s more decent players. Once again, Beñat is the target for many a club, however Pepe Mel and Betis are playing hardball with the footballer and any potential suitors by copying the Manuel Pellegrini/Santi Cazorla/line-in-the-sand approach which wasn’t entirely successful in the end, to be fair. l“Beñat’s clause is €20m and he will only go for €20m,” rebel-yelled Pepe Mel. “To sell him for less than that would be a disaster. The club has to defend its position and Beñat knows this." Pepe has another battle over José Alberto Cañas who has been linked with Swansea due to his contract being over and done with at Betis in June, not that the boss has too many concerns about that. “I have the 100% security of knowing that he won’t be staying with us past 30th June. Knowing the commitment he has for the club and his teammates, he is going to give 100% while he’s here. Therefore, he’s going to play on Friday.”LLL Prediction - Away Win 

Saturday

Levante (6th) v Athletic Bilbao (13th) - 16.00Getting football types to sum up a calendar a year is a tricky business due to the August-to-May nature of the game in most countries, rather than January to December. It’s a bit like asking to offer New Year’s Resolutions in June. Anyway, the big man of Levante, Sergio Ballesteros, was probed on his thoughts on the year gone by and was game in discussing what was in actual fact a brilliant 12 months for himself and Levante. “Perhaps it’s been the most important season for the club. We played in Europe, got out of the group stages and were leaders at the start of last year.” 2012 will be remembered better “after the passing of time,” mused the stout defender. LLL Prediction - Draw

Granada (15th) v Valencia (9th) - 18.00It’s not exactly up to date news, but LLL spotted perhaps the longest sign on the smallest piece of paper ever in images from Mestalla during Valencia’s 4-2 win over Getafe. An ambitious supporter wanted to communicate good will to the Barça boss, his animosity to Valencia’s president and also reference the Mayan apocalypse prediction all in one message. “Today, the world ends; but no! What is ending is the leadership of  Señor Llorente. Support and love for Tito Vil and family from a Valencianista.” All on a piece of paper about 12 inches squared. LLL Prediction - Away win

Deportivo (20th) v Málaga (4th) - 20.00Happy financial times at both clubs. Deportivo went into administration and Málaga are still wondering why they have been banned from European competitions for at least a year from next season, and what they can do about it. When institutional punishments are handed out in Spain, the usual tactic is to issue a denial, complain that it’s not fair and hope the matter goes away. And, normally, that works. LLL feels sure that pretty much every club in la Liga has some kind of stadium ban yet to be imposed from the past 15 years. But Málaga are dealing with those pen pushers at UEFA rather than Spanish authorities, so have moved onto the ‘it’s not fair’ phase quite swiftly. The initial reaction to the punishment meted out for having outstanding debts of Director General, Vicente Casado, was to say that “we are totally convinced we are right.” Seeing that this is not the strongest of defences, Casado has since claimed that the ban was “a mistake, a misunderstanding,” and that the main debt the club has is a €10m one with the tax man but with an agreed repayment structure in place. Probably called Project Isco. LLL Prediction - Away win 

Sevilla (14th) v Osasuna (19th) - 22.00It was a bleak Christmas for these two clubs, who both went into the winter break with rather poor results, and it’s tough to decide which was worse. Sevilla lost 2-1 at Real Sociedad to drop the team into 14th, just four points off the relegation zone. Meanwhile Osasuna were dumped second-from-bottom of the table by fellow bottom-dwellers, Granada, losing 2-1 at home. Sevilla, though, have tried to cheer themselves up with a little pressie by purchasing Bosnian midfielder, Miroslav Stevanovic, who joins for the princely sum of €1m.LLL Prediction - Home win

Sunday

Celta Vigo (17th) v Valladolid (11th) - 12.00In a move that might have bankrupted the aforementioned Sergio Ballesteros were he playing for Valladolid, manager Miroslav Djukic set up a fining system at the club for any player who came back from their winter holidays carrying more than 1.5 kilos of ‘excess baggage’. Every 100 grammes over this limit saw a €100 fine for the footballers. “They are professionals, they know they have to take care of themselves,” retorted Valladolid’s optimistic Serbian coach. Meanwhile, Celta Vigo are a little concerned over a drop in form for striker, Iago Aspas, whose head may have been turned by talk of a move to less fishier surroundings than the Galician coast. That’s certainly the opinion of Paco Herrera who feels that the forward has “little birds in his head. It’s worrying as we need him at 100%.”LLL Prediction - Home win

Real Madrid (3rd) v Real Sociedad (7th) - 17.00Scoffs, chortles, sulks and sullen faces are the normal features of the Real Madrid press room at Valdebebas, as generally it’s just José Mourinho who speaks to the press, aside from the odd drone from Aitor Karanka - individual chats with players were banned some time ago. But that changed this week with the previous policy being overturned and some big dressing room hitters in the form of Iker Casillas, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos turning up to deny that the league title race is over, or that there’s disharmony in the ranks and in the Real Madrid captain’s case, to announce with a completely straight face that he was looking forward to winning back his place from Antonio Adán.LLL Prediction - Home win

Barcelona (1st) v Espanyol (18th) - 19.00Two fantastic stories from the Camp Nou this week and both concern amazing people bouncing back from very tough times. Some 13 days after an operation in his battle against cancer, Tito Vilanova was back both at his office at the Camp Nou and also leading a training session. At the same practice was Eric Abidal who is slowly getting back to fitness, with Mundo Deportivo reporting that the Frenchman may well be formally brought back into the Barça squad for the rest of the campaign. “They give us a lot of energy and desire to keep on achieving success every season,” beamed Víctor Valdés. LLL Prediction - Home win

Mallorca (16th) v Atlético Madrid (2nd) - 21.00A victory over Beris thanks to a penalty that shouldn’t have been in his side's last pre-break fixture saw Mallorca manager Joaquín Caparrós change from being inhumanely cheerful despite the conditions, to being very inhumanely cheerful despite the conditions. In summing up 2012, Caparrós said that it had been an “enriching year” and that “the balance on the whole has been positive and I’ve received the support of the fans and obviously I want to give it back.” There are plenty of new leaves to be turned over as well in the Balearics with the Mallorca boss proclaiming that “the aim of the team is to begin 2013 with our desire renewed.” LLL Prediction - Draw 

Monday

Rayo Vallecano (8th) v Getafe (10th) - 20.00 Because Rayo and particularly their supporters have been so vocal about Monday night matches, 'the Powers that Be' have punished the Madrid team even further by scheduling another match in that time slot, with a sexy side called Getafe as the visitors. But enough of such complaints. LLL has found out something even more brilliant about an already brilliant club. Manager, Paco Jémez, is the son of a Flamenco singer, has a golf handicap and a bit of a David Copperfield. “I like tricks, close-hand magic with cards,” revealed the Rayo boss to AS. “It used to pass some time when I was with friends when we were away, but not to put on a show.” LLL Prediction - Home win

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