This article was originally published as Primera Preview Jornada 17 - January 7/8 2012 on Spain Football Community.
The New Year kicks off with Real Madrid currently 3 points clear at the top of the Liga BBVA, and the Blancos are likely to stay on top as they take on humble Granada at home in the Bernabéu.
Although also expected to bag the points, FC Barcelona have a much tougher game in the Barcelona Derby against their city rivals RCD Espanyol away at Cornellà-El Prat.
The two other interesting games this week are Málaga v Atlético Madrid and Villarreal v Valencia.
In normal circumstances Málaga ought to beat this season's Atlético but the Colchoneros have just replaced coach Gregorio Manzano with ex-player Diego Simeone, and I'm sure the Atlético players will visit La Rosaleda with a motivation boost.
Villarreal have also changed coach but the new man in charge - Jose Molina - hasn't caused quite as much excitement as Cholo Simeone at Atlético. However, the Valencian Derby is the Valencian Derby and although Villarreal are having a historically poor season, local pride is at stake.
Saturday's Games - January 7 2012
18:00 CET Levante UD v RCD Mallorca
Even though their boat has been rocked a little in December with defeats predictably against Barcelona and more surprisingly against Granada, Levante are still sailing along in fourth position in La Liga. Mallorca have picked up a little since Caparrós took over from Laudrup but are still only in an unconvincing 14th. I'd expect a home win for Levante but wouldn't discount a draw - Caparrós's sides always put up a fight and since he took over, Mallorca have scraped a lot of draws, including valuable ones against Valencia, Atlético and Sevilla.
Betfair Match Odds: Levante Mallorca Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Levante 3 Mallorca 3.75 Draw 3.3
Paddy Power Match Odds: Levante 10/11 Mallorca 13/5 Draw 23/10
18:00 CET Racing Santander v Real Zaragoza
This is quite a difficult one. It's a bottom of the table clash between the 19th and 20th positioned teams in La Liga. As Racing are at home and aren't quite as bad as the truly awful Zaragoza, I predict a home win for the Cantabrians - they've still got a chance of staying up and so have something to fight for.
Betfair Match Odds: Racing Zaragoza Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Racing 2.05 Zaragoza 3.6 Draw 3.3
Paddy Power Match Odds: Racing evens Zaragoza 12/5 Draw 9/4
18:00 CET Real Sociedad v CA Osasuna
Despite having been trounced by both Barça and Madrid this season - 8-0 and 7-1 respectively - Osasuna are one of the Liga BBVA 2011-12 dark horses and are currently placed fifth. They come out of the starting blocks to play football - and that's the reason why they were so convingly beaten by the Big Two. I like their style very much and am convinced they should have no problems against a struggling Real Sociedad, who are currently 15th.
Betfair Match Odds: Real Sociedad Osasuna Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Real Sociedad 2.3 Osasuna 3.1 Draw 3.25
Paddy Power Match Odds: Real Sociedad 6/5 Osasuna 2/1 Draw 9/4
20:00 CET Real Madrid v Granada CF
What can I say? It's almost impossible to imagine that lowly Granada - currently 13th can do anything to stop the mighty Madrid machine. Betting on this game is strictly reserved for the most nutty anti-madridistas!
Betfair Match Odds: Real Madrid Granada Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Real Madrid 1.06 Granada 29 Draw 11
Paddy Power Match Odds: Real Madrid 1/16 Granada 20/1 Draw 10/1
22:00 CET Málaga CF v Atlético Madrid
I must admit I fancy an Atlético Madrid away win for this match. They've been very disappointing so far this season under Gregorio Manzano's soft touch leadership style. However, he's just been replaced by club legend Diego Simeone - a natural-born winner if ever there was one. There's depth and talent in this Atlético squad and even if 'Cholo' Simeone isn't capable of making permanent changes to the Atlético dynamics, the side are going to come out with a lot to prove.
Málaga, on the other hand, are up there - currently 7th in La Liga - but given the amount of money invested they are also a little disappointing. Given the odds, I think it's definitely worth a flutter on Atlético.
Betfair Match Odds: Malaga Atlético Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Malaga 2.2 Atlético 3.3 Draw 3.25
Paddy Power Match Odds: Malaga 11/10 Atlético 11/5 Draw 9/4
Sunday's Games - 8 Jan 2012
12:00 CET Rayo Vallecano v Sevilla FC
On current form, Sevilla - 5th - ought to beat Rayo quite easily, but I'm not so sure. The Sevillanos are a little inconsistent and come from a 6-2 thrashing by Real Madrid. Rayo - 16th - have been a little unlucky so far in my opinion. They come out quite aggressively and then defend very well. If they score in the early stages of the game, Sevilla are really going to have their work cut out to come away from Vallecas with a point, never mind three!
Betfair Match Odds: Rayo Sevilla Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Rayo 3 Sevilla 2.37 Draw 3.25
Paddy Power Match Odds: Rayo 15/8 Sevilla 5/4 Draw 9/4
16:00 CET Getafe CF v Athletic Bilbao
This match between Getafe and Athletic - 12th and 9th respectively with only 4 points between them could go either way, particularly as it's being played in the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Both sides are very strong defensively and are extremely dangerous on the set pieces. With the likes of Llorente and Muniain in attack and Javi Martínez and Ander Herrera in midfield, Athletic are definitely the more talented of the two and so will approach the game with a winning mentality. But Getafe are a tough nut to crack - they managed to beat Barça 1-0 - so although I'd like to see a win for Athletic, it's deifficult to predict a result with confidence.
Betfair Match Odds: Getafe Athletic Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Getafe 2.62 Athletic 2.62 Draw 3.25
Paddy Power Match Odds: Getafe 6/4 Athletic 8/5 Draw 9/4
18:00 CET Villarreal CF v Valencia CF
Even though Jose Molina has just taken over the coaching responsibilities from Garrido, I'm doubtful whether much can be done about this very disappointing sinking Yellow Submarine side. Valencia look very strong to me and are comfortably positioned in the third spot. There's a great deal of talent in this Che side - I'm a particular fan of both Jordi Alba and Soldado. However, it's the Valencia Derby, and if Villarreal are going to want to beat anyone in front of their fans in El Madrigal, it's going to be Valencia. Having said that I'll be very surprised if they pull it off.
Betfair Match Odds: Villarreal Valencia Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Villarreal 3.1 Valencia 2.3 Draw 3.25
Paddy Power Match Odds: Villarrea 15/8l Valencia 13/10 Draw 9/4
19:45 CET Real Betis v Sporting Gijón
Sporting are in the relegation zone and Betis are 11th, but only 4 points separate the two sides. This should be a comfortable home win for Betis, but although it may not be common knowledge, Sporting are my second side in La Liga. They've always got their backs to the wall but they generally manage to pull through. Although my logical brain tells that this will be a home win for Betis, I'll probably be putting a few quid on Sporting just for the hell of it.
Betfair Match Odds: Betis Sporting Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Betis 1.95 Sporting 4 Draw 3.3
Paddy Power Match Odds: Betis 10/11 Sporting 13/5 Draw 23/10
21:30 CET RCD Espanyol v FC Barcelona
Ooooooh! This game gives me the willies. Fabulous Barcelona - best team in the world, best players in the history of football etc etc - against humble city rivals RCD Espanyol in Cornellà. Espanyol are currently 8th, Pochettino is a terrific coach, they've got some excellent players and despite being overshadowed historically by Barça, the Pericos are one of the most successful sides in the history of La Liga and ... they've screwed things up for us so many times in the past that I trust about as far as I can throw them.
Obviously, as a committed culer, I shouldn't be saying this but at these odds a few quid on Espanyol is probably worth the risk. I'm really looking forward to this game by the way and will be found drunk and in full song on the Rambla de Sant Andreu if Barça win - which, of course, is what we're going to do!
Betfair Match Odds: Espanyol Barcelona Draw
William Hill Match Odds: Espanyol 12 Barcelona 1.25 Draw 5.5
Paddy Power Match Odds: Espanyol 9/1 Barcelona 1/4 Draw 9/2
Anyway, those are my thoughts on Liga BBVA 2011-12 Jornada 17. Please feel free to make comments in agreement or disagreement (much more likely) below and registered Spain Football Community Members can join the Liga BBVA thread on the Forum.