La Preview: Barça 'down to the bare bones' as Cristiano finds yet another critic

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Zaragoza (20th) v Getafe (12th) - 18.00 (local time)
More institutional disharmony at bottom-of-the-table Zaragoza saw four members of a board only appointed on the 30th December quitting in a huff, on Tuesday. The complaining quartet, which included the club’s very short-lived Delegate Councillor, resigned their posts claiming that the autonomy over Zaragoza’s affairs, apparently promised by owner and president Agapito Iglesias, never came through. Amazing that.
The give-away to the group was Iglesias meeting Míchel, the first choice head of Manolo Jiménez for new manager after the sacking of Javier Aguirre, apparently behind the board’s back. LLL suspects that the free-and-single Guti’s Twitter confession that he had also been approached to join the s(t)inking ship, might have been the final straw.
LLL Prediction - Draw

Granada (15th) v Rayo Vallecano (13th) - 18.00
Curses! Both Christmas and Reyes are over, which means its too late for someone to buy LLL an intriguing sounding book that has just been released, but would probably take a lifetime to read. “Vallecas and Rayo, 1924-2011” by Rosa de la Vega weighs in at over a 1,000 pages and is “the bible of Rayoism, there’s been no such book that explains our history,” noted club president, Raúl Martín, on a epic volume that LLL would very much like a free copy of please having just plugged it.
LLL Prediction - Draw

Sevilla (7th) v Espanyol (8th) - 18.00
Another bad week for Sevilla president, José María del Nido. Defeat to Rayo Vallecano in la Primera, a cup knock-out to Valencia and the Spanish ‘Fiscalia’ (legal types) looking for immediate prison for del Nido after his recent conviction for fraud, despite the appeal process to come.
On Monday the Sevilla top dog went before the judge who has to ponder over whether to give in to the official request or allow bail with certain restraints such has the removal of Del Nido’s passport and a hefty amount of cash being handed over.
Meanwhile, on the pitch affairs have focussed on the future of manager, Marcelino, due to Sevilla’s current poor results - a future that is assured until June, opines AS. But that assurance been heard one or times before in la Liga with very different outcomes.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Mallorca (14th) v Real Madrid (1st) - 20.00
Now LLL really does enjoy a good old stir and Alfredo di Stefano is giving the blog good reason to have a huge, naughty poke over his utterances concerning Cristiano Ronaldo. After December’s Clásico defeat, the passport-swapping poacher wrote that “I recognise that Ronaldo was too ‘Cristiano’ for some to forgive,” when some locals booed the Portuguese forward for selfishness.
Di Stefano was at it again on Wednesday when questioned over whether it was the done thing for a footballer to be booed by his own fans. “The public have the right to do what they want as they are paying,” announced di Stefano, coming out in support of However, the Argentinean was back on message in his weekly column in Marca, writing that “Cristiano is the permanent Ballon d’Or of Real Madrid. Ronaldo is all gold.”
LLL Prediction - Away win

Valencia (3rd) v Real Sociedad (16th) - 22.00
Valencia’s away goals-inspired victory in the Copa del Rey meant Unai Emery didn’t have to eat his words, one tiny letter at a time, thanks to a goal from Roberto Soldado in Seville, in Wednesday’s second leg, last 16 clash. Before what was to become a 2-2 draw over the two legs, the Valencia boss had been asked who was the better striker, Soldado or Alvaro Negredo.
Naturally, Emery chose his own man claiming that “Soldado is better from here to Lima.” That faith was restored with his striker’s 66th minute effort to give Valencia a quarter-final clash against city neighbours, Levante.
LLL Prediction - Home win


Atlético Madrid (11th) v Villarreal (18th) - 12.00
It takes a lot to make a grumpy LLL laugh early on a Wednesday morning, but an interview published in Marca did the trick. And if Atlético fans already suspect some unwarranted cruelty and belly-poking is on the horizon, the blog would like to point out that, by coincidence, a disbelieving Rojiblanco fan approached LLL on the topic of the same article on the same day.
The interview in question was with the astonishingly average Juanfran, who joined from Osasuna a year ago to replace Simao (worth a chortle in itself) and has done naff all since. But it’s all the fault of the managers in charge, so says the Atlético player.
“I’ve not played as much as I hoped for different circumstances” - like being no good, thought LLL. “I came as one of the best five wingers in Spain and look where I am after a year. What’s true is that I’ve disappeared off the map and I want to get back to my status now,” If that ‘status’ means being a half-decent midfielder at Osasuna, then LLL is sure that Atlético’s bosses will be more than happy to oblige with a swift transfer.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Osasuna (5th) v Racing Santander (17th) - 16.00
An interesting philosophical debate was opened up by Osasuna boss, José Luis Mendilibar on Wednesday, when suggesting that “more than a miracle” was required to overturn Barça’s 4-0 lead in a Thursday’s cup game. Victor Valdés not once whining at the referee during a game perhaps?
LLL Prediction - Home win

Athletic Bilbao (9th) v Levante (4th) - 16.00
It was a no nonsense 4-0 win for Athletic Bilbao over Andrés Iniesta’s Albacete on Thursday night in the Copa del Rey to make sure that the Basque club did not go the same way as Albacete. The match which sets up a quarter-final tie with Mallorca (a heavy Joaquín Caparrós theme there) was brightened up though by an astonishing Messi-like strike from cult hero (i.e. not very good but tries), Gaizka Toquero, with a cracking back heel. “Toquero’s goal was great,” agreed Mad Marcelo Bielsa, “I’m very happy he scored it. He deserves it.”
Levante, meanwhile, came from 2-1 down against Alcorcón from the first leg to show the upstarts from la Segunda who’s the Mack Daddy by beating the Madrid(ish) side 4-0.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Sporting (19th) v Málaga (6th)
The day after Willy Caballero had spilled to give Karim Benzema a goal and Real Madrid the Copa del Rey tie with a 1-0 defeat, Málaga moved swiftly to add a bit of competition to the goalkeeping places. Not the best of timingw for Willy, although talks had been ongoing before the clash. The goalie who has joined the long list of newbies on the south coast is Carlos Kameni who has been an Espanyol outcast since the summer, despite a seven-and-half-year spell as a Perico.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Barcelona (2nd) v Betis (10th)
While Iker Casillas has described the huge number of Clásicos played in 2011 and to come in 2012 as making the games “decaffeinated” the Barça press are very excited indeed at the thought of two more games, after Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Osasuna.
“How exciting!” yelled the front cover of Friday’s Mundo Deportivo. The problem for Barcelona, though, it that Pep’s Dream Boys may not have enough players to field in the two games, as well as the match against Betis. Maxwell has been flogged to PSG, David Villa is crocked, as is Andreu Fontás - possibly until the end of the season after an injury picked up in Pamplona. Ibrahim Afellay is still MIA, Pedro has picked up a knock and Seydou Keita is away at the Africa Cup of Nations. Time to activate that Bojan buy-back clause perhaps...?
LLL Prediction - Home win