La Liga Weekend Predictions Part 1: Real Mallorca, Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao and Real Betis
Real Mallorca vs. Espanyol
TV: not available
This fixture pits two form teams against each other, with Mallorca surprising many people with the number of goals they are scoring and Espanyol showing a consistency unheard of at the Olympic Stadium in recent years. Mallorca, who have won their last two games, against Valladolid and Getafe respectively (overcoming a 2-0 deficit in the latter), have lost just one match at home, against high-flying Villareal. In counterpoint, Espanyol have notched up four straight victories, including a comprehensive dismantlement of Real Madrid in their last outing, in which Raúl Tamudo scored a sublime (Rooney-like) chip. Both teams will probably field unchanged line-ups (meaning that Espanyol’s Iván de la Peña will continue to chomp at the bit from the sidelines, whilst Mallorca’s Pereyra and Gutiérrez are ruled out through suspension and injury respectively), and former Islander Albert Riera will face off against the club in which he was groomed.
Form: Mallorca have won the last two (the last defeat coming against Real Betis away), whilst Espanyol, after losing away to Recreativo Huelva, have been victorious in four successive “high-profile” matches, against Sevilla and Valencia away and Deportivo and Real Madrid at home. However, Espanyol have not won at the ONO Estadi for seven years.
Probable line ups:
.- Mallorca: Moyá; Héctor, Nunes, Ballesteros, Fernando Navarro; Varela, Basinas, Borja Valero, Ibagaza; Arango y Güiza. Arbitro: Undiano Mallenco.
.- RCD Espanyol: Kameni; Zabaleta, Jarque, Torrejón, Clemente RodrÃguez, Moisés Hurtado, Lola, Valdo, Luis GarcÃa, Riera y Tamudo.
Prediction: Real Mallorca 1-1 Espanyol. These two squads are rather evenly matched, and both contain in-form attacking players (Arango, Guiza and Ibagaza for Mallorca; Luis GarcÃa, Riera and Tamudo for Espanyol). My bet is that neither club will go home too unhappy with a stalemate, and that ultimately neither will be able to offer enough to win the game.
Players to watch: Juan Arango (linked on numerous occasions with Tottenham Hotspur) and Raúl Tamudo (Espanyol’s greatest ever goalscorer seems to be having a second wind at present).
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Betis
TV: La Sexta and TV3, 9:30-10pm (depending on whether you want pre-match garbling or not).
In contrast to the optimism and forward-thinking which will be on display at the ONO Estadi, this match seems two giants-cum-strugglers of La Liga football battle it out in an attempt to put more distance between themselves and the relegation zone. Athletic Bilbao’s last outing saw them take three points away from Valladolid, and Joaquin Caparrós will be relying on top goalscorer Aritz Aduriz (who has scored four of the seven goals the club have scored so far this campaign) to fire the club to their first home victory of the season (drawn three, lost one). Liverpool target Fernando Amorebieta should recover from a knock received in Valladolid to take his place in the defensive line-up, but there will be no place for ex-Chelsea and Valencia defender Asier Del Horno. Real Betis have drawn their last two matches, against teams who can be considered genuine relegation rivals (away to Real Murcia and home to Real Santander). Betis seem to have a real problem scoring goals on their travels, with just one goal all season away from the Estadio Manuel Ruiz de Lopera. Manuel Ruiz de Lopera, club icon, visited the dressing rooms yesterday to attempt to inspire his team, although Juanito and Nano will not have been listening too attentively; the duo will not travel, as they remain injured.
Form: Athletic Bilbao have yet to win at home this season, although the club have not lost since being defeated by Villareal three weeks ago. Real Betis are undefeated in three games but search for their first away win of the 2007-8 campaign. Betis have a slight advantage in terms of past meetings; whilst the two clubs are fairly evenly matched over the last five years, Betis have twice won away to Athletic in recent times (once in the Copa del Rey and once in the league, in February 2007) whilst the Bilbao club have not won on their travels to Betis in 8 years.
Athletic: Iraizoz; Iraola, Ocio, Amorebieta, Koikili; Susaeta, Orbaiz, Javi MartÃnez, Gabilondo; Etxeberria y Aduriz.
Betis: Ricardo; Damiá, Melli, Rivas, Fernando Vega; Babic, Juande, Somoza, Xisco; Sobis y Edu.
Prediction: Athletic 1-0 Betis. In what could be a fairly dire affair, with bucketfuls of effort and a real paucity of quality, I expect Athletic to get the monkey off their back and push away from the relegation places, a result which could leave Betis in the relegation mire if either Valladolid or Getafe win on Sunday.
Players to watch: Susaeta (the 19 year old is an exciting winger with a penchant for scoring from set pieces), Aduriz (if Athletic score, there is a good chance it will come from this man) and Sobis (the Brazilian is brilliantly talented and frustratingly inconsistent).
PS: I have deliberately put up a picture in which some of the team shields do not correspond to this year’s Primera Liga participants. Which shields do not deserve to be there? Answers on a postcard.