Missing midfielders, a Copa del Rey conundrum and Simeone stays on

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Our man in Madrid Tim Stannard previews the weekend in La Primera…


Real Betis (7th) v Osasuna (15th) – 21.30
There's been quite the saga with Betis midfielder Nosa Igiebor, who was lucky enough to form part of Nigeria’s Africa Cup of Nations-winning squad. Trouble is, he's yet to return to Seville, nearly a month after the tournament finished. Nosa blames paperwork snarl-ups and bureaucracy issues that have prevented the Spanish embassy in Lagos from issuing a visa.

Back in Andalusia, an increasingly perplexed and irate Betis have been trying to find out what the big hold-up is with Nosa. Club director Bosch Valero hinted this week that the issue might be with the footballer himself, claiming that “he had other priorities and now we are paying for it.”
LLL Prediction – Home win


Rayo Vallecano (9th) v Espanyol (13th) – 16.00
Expect this match to feature even bigger protests against the Rayo board and president – the type of activity that may well have got some of the club’s Bukanero ultras into trouble in the first place. At the end of February, 13 Rayo fans were arrested, reportedly in relation to the floodlight-cutting incident from the Real Madrid game earlier in the season.

Madrid regional government spokesperson Cristina Cifuentes tweeted that the arrests were made after an official complaint were made by Rayo’s board. But the Rayo bigwigs, understandably wanting a quiet life, quickly denied this with a statement “deeply regretting the misunderstanding.” LLL suspects that the Rayo massive doesn’t believe a word of this… and that the ongoing spat between the supporters and the Rayo bosses will go up a gear against Espanyol.
LLL Prediction – Draw

Real Valladolid (12th ) v Málaga (4th) – 18.00
This particular match screams goalless draw so loudly that it can be heard from Moscow, so it’s onto more interesting fare and the question of which Málaga footballer will be the next to be sold. Isco has always been LLL’s bet and it’s an opinion shared by Martín Demichelis: “Personally, I think that the one to leave in the short term is Isco.”

Indeed the Argentinian defender might join the playmaker in rushing for the door: “[River Plate] know that Javier Saviola and I are free at the end of the season, and they’ve let us know that they want us to go there," announced Demichelis chirpily, before hurriedly adding "I’ve never said that I would go to River and nor do I have a pre-contract or anything similar.”

Barcelona (1st) v Deportivo (20th) – 20.00
Despite Barça experiencing a Freaky Friday-style teen-movie body-swap moment with Mallorca, it’s still not going to impact the result of this particular match between the sides at the top and the bottom of the table. But in Galicia, the news is not footballing but financial. When Deportivo went into administration in January, president Augusto Lendoiro declared the debt to be around €93m, with €40m of that figure owed to the taxman.

It seems that Lendoiro’s accounting may be even worse than suspected, with Spain’s tax office declaring that they're owed €93m themselves and the club’s administrators reporting that the overall debt is in the region of €156m – a truly stunning amount, if it is indeed correct. To suggest that this is the last-ever visit of Deportivo in its current form to the Camp Nou is no exaggeration, such is the trouble the institution is in should it go down into la Segunda – as looks increasingly likely.
LLL Prediction – Home win

Mallorca (19th) v Sevilla (10th) – 22.00
Victory at Granada has given Mallorca some hope of survival being feasible, and it all starts with a home match against Sevilla. Now, filling the Iberostar is a tough ask at the best of times, but especially so late on a Saturday night – which is why the club have launched a number of initiatives to get bums on seats this weekend.

Season ticket holders will get one free ticket for the match, along with an offer to buy last season’s club shirt for €10 until stocks run out. “On Saturday against Sevilla, we're going to paint the stadium red!” yells Mallorca’s website, optimistically.
LLL Prediction – Away win


Athletic Bilbao (14th) v Valencia (5th) – 12.00
Valencia’s expulsion from the Champions League stages at the last 16 stages (again) gives the club and Ernesto Valverde a bit of time to work on that pesky contract renewal, though LLL suspects it’s the coach holding things up with Athletic Bilbao still sniffing about.

The club are going to need a new grumpy central midfielder too, with David Albelda off on his travels over the summer too. “It looks like that was my last Champions League game,” announced the Golden Oldie in Paris, dropping a hint on a free transfer to the Emirates perhaps.
LLL Prediction – Home win

Levante (11th) v Getafe (8th) – 17.00
Now LLL must admit that it hasn’t seen the video evidence to see if tongue was in cheek, but the mayor of Getafe has offered up the 17,000-capacity Coliseum as a possible venue for May’s Copa del Rey final between Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid. The town council reported to the Spanish FA that the venue is “apt” because it is a neutral ground for a Madrid derby. “The people of Getafe would be proud of celebrating a Copa del Rey final in our town, with two neighbouring sides,” said mayor Juan Soler. If only...
LLL Prediction – Home win

Celta Vigo (18th) v Real Madrid (3rd) – 19.00
Sorry. After two Clásicos and Manchester United, LLL can only bear to write the words ‘Real Madrid’ one more time. Oops. So, Celta Vigo: probably going down, hopefully staying up and all that, but the hot topic around the Galicians is whether Celta’s former Chelsea footnote Quique De Lucas was having a beer whilst sat on the bench in last week’s defeat to Sevilla.

LLL Prediction – Away win

Atlético Madrid (2nd) v Real Sociedad (6th) – 21.00
The Rojiblancos took advantage of their first free midweek in the league calendar since the second round to do some housekeeping. The main task in hand was to pin down Diego Simeone – not literally, that would be dangerous – to a new contract. It was job done on Wednesday with the Argentinian signing on at the Vicente Calderón, albeit with clauses allowing both parties to do away with each other at the appropriate moment.

At a press conference under the banner ‘Simeone 2017’, the Atlético boss was in philosophical, film-trailer mood promising that “we’ll keep building match by match, growing one step at a time and not getting lost in success, because it’s difficult to keep balance with success.” LLL expects a bit of table-thumping performance on Sunday night.
LLL Prediction – Home win 


Real Zaragoza (17th) v Granada (16th) – 20.30
Zaragoza have quietly caved in since the start of the year: they're the only team in la Primera without a victory in 2013. The loss at Getafe last weekend was Zaragoza’s sixth defeat since the winter break and had coach Manolo Jiménez ranting about wanting players in his side with big enough stones for the relegation battle side the club now faces.

Opponents Granada are also in iffy form, despite an initial revival under Lucas Alcaraz. The Andalusians have lost the past three league games 2-1 and are set to be without Carlos Aranda for the clash; picking the striker, who moved from Zaragoza over the winter window, would trigger an extra payment of €250,000 – an example of what is known in Spain as “the clause of fear”.
LLL Prediction – Home win (2-1)