La Preview: Levante under suspicion, Piqué talks out of turn and Atlético’s adventure

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Celta Vigo (18th) v Athletic Bilbao (14th) – 21.00
Valencia’s Ernesto Valverde is thought to be the first choice to replace Marcelo Bielsa at Athletic in the summer – should the Argentinian leave, that is. You’ll have to work with La Liga Loca a little bit here, as multiple strands of existence are quite the norm in la Liga. Valverde spent six years playing at the club and two years managing it from 2003, and was supposedly lined up for the gig next season, before a detour to Mestalla came along.

However, in recent months a challenger has burst forth in Cuco Ziganda, a manager many may remember for his starring role as coach at such teams as Osasuna. The former Athletic Bilbao centre forward is currently doing a fine job in charge of the club’s ‘B’ team and admits that he “hears and reads things” about the possibility of taking over Bielsa’s crouching/coaching duties over the summer. “I’m sure that everything that happens next year will be good,” said a confident Cuco.
LLL Prediction – Draw 


Valencia (6th) v Osasuna (15th) – 16.00
Valencia have a plan. If fact they so shocked themselves with such a bold, untried notion that they had to have a bit of sit-down to take it all in. The third president of the month, Aurelio Martínez, this week showed the local media a Powerpoint presentation to communicate how to get Valencia out of its current mess – an old stadium they can’t sell, a new(ish) one they can’t finish, and a debt north of €300m.

“It’s not a Utopia,” promised Martínez on a strategy which is based around completing the new ground and stuffing it to the rafters, Dortmund-style, with punters paying cheap prices. However, to complete the project, funding will have to be found and fast. “In two years, if we don’t finish it, there’s no next step,” warned the latest Mestalla messiah.
LLL Prediction – Home win

Granada (16th ) v Málaga (5th) – 18.00
If Granada were by chance to go down this season, then it would be a tad unfair if others such as Deportivo, Mallorca and Zaragoza were to survive. Granada have actually had a fairly consistent campaign and haven't been in the relegation zone for 18 rounds, when the southern side plopped into the poop at the beginning of Christmas. Still, matters have improved a little for the club with four points (which should probably have been six) from the last two games.

Málaga rumble into town on Saturday with the future just as unclear as in previous weeks, with the latest rumours claiming that Manuel Pellegrini is being chatted up by Manchester City. “It’s not going to be easy to get him to stay,” admitted sporting director Mario Husillos, “but the club is working with the idea that he does.”
LLL Prediction – Draw

Real Madrid (2nd) v Valladolid (12th) – 20.00
If there’s one member of the World of Real Madrid who can sit back and shrug that he had nothing to do with that Borussia Dortmund business, it’s Iker Casillas, who watched the match from the bench, as he has been doing since returning from injury to find a Diego López in fine form.

However, there a bright spot on the horizon for Casillas with the probable departure of José Mourinho, something that must have contributed to a promise made on Thursday that “the my future is with Real Madrid, because I have a contract, I’ve been here since I was nine, it’s the club for the whole of my life, it’s where I want to be.”

Casillas then went on to talk about the other benefits of the club, such as the promise that his dressing room locker will be moved further away from the toilets and the usefulness of the Fury of Pepe when the drinks machine refuses to give the goalkeeper his change.
LLL Prediction – Home win, awful match

Deportivo (17th ) v Atlético Madrid (3rd) – 22.00
What do you do if you want to escape a set of fans who've had it up to the armpits with you after losing yet another derby against your rivals' ‘B’ team? You leg it to Azerbaijan, that’s what you do. The Rojiblancos were in Baku for a few days, as part of the sponsorship deal with the nation that likes to call itself “the Land of Fire”. There was a tour of some of the local sites, a press conference, a coaching clinic and an exhibition game thrown in for good measure, won 3-0.

Probably better than three days on a wet training ground in the outskirts of Madrid. Arda Turan, whose wonderful hair gets bigger by the day, certainly seemed to enjoy himself under different skies. “We are full of excitement over the importance our visit has for the country,” beamed the playmaker.
LLL Prediction – Home win


Mallorca (20th) v Levante (13th) – 12.00
LLL knew something fishy was going on at Levante. Three weeks ago, they lost 4-0 at home to Deportivo. “Strangely subdued stuff from Levante,” wrote the blog at the time. Two weeks ago, the team nearly held Barça at the Camp Nou. Then it was another hopeless home performance and a defeat in Valencia to Celta Vigo, which had manager Juan Ignacio Martínez questioning the footballers’ professionalism.

Marca have whiffed a rat too and speak of a giant dressing room bust-up at the club, kicking off at half-time during the Deportivo debacle, with some (particularly José Barkero) questioning the commitment of others. This in turn has caused a rift with the manager – and left Mallorca rubbing their hands with glee at the chance of taking on a squabbling rabble in the side’s last, last, last chance to stay up.

Barkero has since apologised publicly to Sergio Ballesteros, Gustavo Munúa, Juanlu and Juanfran, the four players the midfielder reportedly suggested weren’t giving their all. However, on Friday morning the Spanish league announced an investigation into Levante 0-4 Deportivo, something that had caused Levante president Quico Catalan to face the media on Thursday. “We aren’t afraid of any investigation. Lies and truths have been told but it’s important that the affair is closed. Any player who has done something like this won’t wear the Levante shirt again,” added Catalan.
LLL Prediction – Home win

Real Zaragoza (19th ) v Rayo Vallecano (8th) – 17.00
After the unpleasant odours wafting from Levante's direction, here's something heart-warming: the story of how a pre-match talk from a special guest helped Zaragoza achieve their first win of 2013. Paralympian Javier Hernández was invited to speak to the players last Saturday morning. “I was sure it was a mental problem,” he said of Zaragoza’s sporting issues. “They are better than last year.”

Hernández, who also works as a journalist, was born without arms and one leg shorter than the other, told the players that “I was born at the bottom of the table – but not with zero points, but minus 15.” After the chat, Zaragoza player Víctor Rodriguez admitted that “he gave us goosebumps with his spirit of recovery.”
LLL Prediction – Home win

Sevilla (10th) v Espanyol (11th) – 19.00
Oh, this is going to be fun. Two sides who talk a good game about making a push for Europe – if Málaga’s ban is upheld to potentially free up a spot – but don’t really mean it. Unai Emery had claimed the side only needed two more wins, whilst Espanyol were going for gold until last week’s home defeat to Granada, another surprising result at the bottom of the table this season.

Worrying news for Sevilla though is the notion that Jesús Navas, a fine footballer who is seeing his career stall somewhat, isn’t ruling out a move away from the club he's been at for 13 years. “I don’t know if I will be here or not next season, I’m just focused on what’s left,” admitted the home-loving winger, who added who said that he would “quite like to develop as a footballer.”
LLL Prediction – Home win 

Barcelona (1st) v Betis (7th) – 21.00
Cheer up Barça fans! It’s not all bad in the Catalan capital. Your side is about to win the league with a whopping lead over Real Madrid. There's still one or two decent footballers in the squad. Barça aren't completely bankrupt, unlike most sides in la Primera (although that’s partly the fault of yourselves and Real Madrid due to the TV money carve-up) and there’s talk of a bit splurge to bring in the likes of Neymar and Mats Hummels. 

Mundo Deportivo are throwing David de Gea and Isco into the transfer mix. The paper’s director Santi Nolla also slaps Gerard Piqué on the botty for stating the obvious that signings need to be made. “A footballer should not dictate what needs to be done, especially when decisions can affect teammates you are with in the dressing room every day."
LLL Prediction – Home win


Getafe (9th) v Real Sociedad (4th) – 22.00
Wow! What a chance for la Real fans to have a day out in the Spanish capital, to fill the Coliseum, to rejoice in a fantastic season that sees the side edging closer to the Champions League. Nonsense of course, as the Spanish game is run by particularly slow baboons who have stuck this match at 10 o’clock on a Monday night with public transport out of Getafe being a touch sketchy at the end of the game.

This has prevented some 2,500 supporters travelling down from San Sebastian, something which is a bit of a downer all round for Xabi Prieto. “No-one likes playing on a Monday night, it makes the weekend long and it’s a shame thousands of fans who would travel, if it was a Saturday or Sunday, can’t do it.” A disgrace.
LLL Prediction – Away win