La Preview: Good news for Piqué, Atletico look to avoid hangover, Málaga eye bonus prize

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Real Sociedad (14th) v Valencia (3rd) - 20.00 local time
Unai Emery has decided to get as far away as possible from Mestalla, by Russian off to take over Spartak Moscow on a two year deal. Meanwhile, the side he is leaving behind, third-placed Valencia, already have a brand new coach (and hate figure for their moaning fans in about six months time) lined up, with Mauricio Pellegrino preparing to take over.
This name might ring a bell to la Liga and Liverpool supporters, as he’s the same fella who played for Valencia for five seasons up to 2005, before moving onto Liverpool both as a footballer then a coach under Rafa Benítez, whom he followed to Inter Milan. The big advantage the Argentinean has ahead of beginning his work is that he already knows how fickle the fans can be in Mestalla.
“Mauricio knows the club very well and knows what’s expected at Valencia, he knows the objectives,” revealed David Albelda,  “and that it’s a team that first needs to be in the Champions League and from that point try to get as far as possible in all the other competitions.” Exactly what Unai Emery achieved in fact, during his spell at the club which still ended up in boos and jeers.
LLL Prediction - Away win

Real Betis (12th) v Barcelona (2nd) - 22.00
Was that the tiniest of whoops from Gerard Piqué on hearing news of Carles Puyol’s probable absence from Euro 2012, with the springy-haired stopper needing knee surgery and therefore facing a race against time to be ready for the championships? Of course it wasn’t.
But Puyol’s misfortune may be his teammate’s good luck, with Piqué not in the best of form this season and potentially watching Sergio Ramos and Puyol lining up in the centre of defence from the comfort of the substitutes bench. Still, Vicente Del Bosque is certainly gutted about the whole business. “Some of the worst news we could have had,” sighed the Spain manager.
Puyol said that the knee felt dicky on Sunday and the doctors recommended operating straight away. “I don’t know if it was my last European Championships. I know that I want to retire on the pitch and not on the operating table,” said the defender, who faces a six week recovery period.”
LLL Prediction - Away win


Getafe (11th) v Zaragoza (18th) - 20.00
The challenge for Getafe is to show that they aren’t being paid off by Zaragoza in the usual end of season bribery suspicions whilst that belonging to Zaragoza is to clear their name of any wrong doing being slandered around by certain figures at Granada, to name just one.  Getafe club captain, Javier Casquero, began the campaign on Sunday by claiming that although his team have nothing to play for “we are going to defend our honesty. We are serious club of honourable footballers who’ll be going out to win.”
“It’s all absurd,” snorts Zaragoza coach, Manolo Jiménez, on slurs from Granada’s direction on possible economic incentives being offered to opponents. “In the second round we’ve not stopped facing sides with a lot to play for in every game. The best thing is not to respond to these provocations, but the accusations are getting more serious every time.”
LLL Prediction - Away win (Zaragoza to stay up)

Levante (7th) v Athletic Bilbao (9th)
During his scoring streak, all the talk was about how Levante striker Arouna Koné would react to scoring 18 goals this season, the figure that would trigger a contract renewal with his parent club, Sevilla, something that the forward definitely didn’t want. However, Lady Luck appears to have sat beside the Ivorian - but not Levante, who could do with his goals right about now - by giving Koné a knee-knock a week or so ago, a strain that sees him missing the last match of the season for Levante just a goal from the dreaded target.
LLL Prediction - Home win (Levante to make Europa League)

Real Madrid (1st) v Mallorca (6th)
Although the Madrid players will be thinking of continuing their league title-winning celebrations with fireworks and fiestas at the end of Sunday’s match - festivities which appeared to continue through 80 minutes of the Granada match, last weekend - they are likely to have quite the fight on their hands against Mallorca, who are not so much dark horses, but stealth technology, Special Ops gee-gees sneaking up into the European places.
The master behind this impressive push is Joaquín Caparrós, a coach who is a bit of a Womble in the sense that he is able to make use of things that everyday folk leave behind. In an interview with Marca, the potential new Sevilla boss revealed that he doesn’t need fancy pants stars to achieve success but hungry young talent and committed oldies. “I want a collective team with talent but passion and professionalism 24 hours a day.”
LLL Prediction - Home win

Rayo Vallecano (17th) v Granada (15th) - 20.00
It’s probably fair to say that neither of these two teams are heading into a huge Sunday in Vallecas in the best of spirits. Granada are still licking the wounds of their implosion against Real Madrid last weekend, with the team heading into the Rayo game with three important players suspended - naughty Dani Benítez won’t be back until November.
Rayo, meanwhile, have had a ‘mare since their 5-2 defeat against Sevilla. Reportedly, the club was close to firing José Ramón Sandoval on Sunday, with some players supposedly behind the move. The plan was to put Sporting Director Felipe Miñambres in temporary charge, but he refused, telling the bosses to be patient. At a press conference attended by Rayo leaders and players - but not Sandoval himself - everyone claimed all the stories were stuff and nonsense, and that everyone was ready for a bit of a make-or-break game on Sunday. “We are all united an going in the same direction,” claimed club captain, Míchel.
LLL Prediction - Home win (Rayo stay up, Granada go down)

Espanyol (13th) v Sevilla (10th) - 20.00
While a new slimline Mauricio Pochettino is set to stay on a bit longer with Espanyol, Míchel’s future at Sevilla is not so certain, with the manager possibly being moved out at the end of the season after failing to deliver European football of any kind, something that’s going to weigh heavy on the club’s dwindling coffers.
After a huge turnover of coaches in recent years, the Andalusian outfit are reportedly looking at bringing back Joaquín Caparrós, the man who, between 2000 and 2005, aided the development of some of the side’s finest products, including Jesus Navas, Sergio Ramos and José Antonio Reyes. Looks like a smart move, for once.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Málaga (4th) v Sporting (19th)
Sporting’s chances of going down are said to be 96%, and not just because they need both Zaragoza and Rayo Vallecano to lose, but because Sporting must also win. Against a Málaga side who look like sneaking into the Champions League despite having lost 14 matches this season, that's a pretty big ask. As an extra incentive, Marca are also reporting that €4m will be handed out to the squad, should the team finish in fourth - a win will secure it - whilst another €1m will be doled out should the team win their qualifying match and enter the competition proper.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Villarreal (16th) v Atlético Madrid (5th)
LLL is not sure what was more surprising, a brilliantly executed offensive plan from Atlético Madrid, a water-tight defence, or the sight of the normally stern as nails Diego Simeone with a slight grin on his face and tears in his eyes as he watched his players celebrating Wednesday’s Europa League win. All in all, it touched the blog in parts it never knew it had.
But despite celebrations from the players that probably continued into Thursday and then Friday, there is serious business to be done on Sunday, with Atleti still in with a chance of Champions League football if they beat Villarreal and Málaga slip up in any way against Sporting. However, should Málaga get an early one, then you can expect Atleti’s energy levels to fall faster than a trophy in Sergio Ramos’ hands.
LLL Prediction - Home win

Racing Santander (20th) v Osasuna (8th)
Adieu Racing, and thanks for all those great memories you gave us...that seventh place a few years, thanks anyway. So it comes to pass that a club in a mess from top to bottom that may not have its ownership issue dealt with for another 28 years knowing how long these things take are bowing out of top flight football by hosting Osasuna, a properly run club of a similar size that by no coincidence has done rather well this season and are one win from the Europa League, should some other results go their way. Like Mallorca and Levante failing to win for example. It’s complex.
LLL Prediction - Away win