The last match against Malaga was vital. So is Sunday's game against Tenerife. But we should not sleep on the Copa de su Majestad el Rey (see Madrid, Real).
In case you don't remember last year, here is a reminder. We lost 5-0 away to Segunda B side Polideportivo Ejido, then drew 1-1 at El Madrigal (Ejido was not close to promotion, either). So that was a comprehensive loss to a team at least 50 spots below us in Spanish football. A minor embarrassment.
Valverde has a lot more on the line in this year's edition of the Copa, as Pellegrini was coming off a 2nd-place finish in La Liga and had the Champions League on his mind. As it stands right now, we would be relegated and would miss out on the glory (and money) of the Europa League's knockout stages. So the Copa del Rey takes on added importance, not least because it offers an automatic European berth.
I'm excited by the (small) 16-man squad called up by Valverde. Look at the youth:
GKs (2): Diego López and Oliva.
DFs (5): Kiko, Gonzalo, Marcano, Capdevila, and Ángel.
MFs (6): Marcos Gullón, Bruno, Senna, Pires, David Fuster, and Escudero.
Fs (3): Jonathan Pereira, Nilmar, and Rossi.
Here's my best bet on the lineup, from left to right:
Capdevila - Kiko - Gonzalo - Ángel
Escudero - Bruno - Senna - Pires
Pereira - Rossi
I don't see why Kiko and Marcos Gullon were called up unless they will play. Diego Lopez finally will get a rest, so I think the one other player who won't see action is Marcano. With the swine flu affecting Betis, this may be a way for the young guys to stay match fit.
We can't hold a clean sheet for our lives, so I'll say a final of 1:3. Goals from Pires, Kiko, and Nilmar. Endavant!
And the best news of all...today's captain is Robert Pires! Happy birthday, my friend.
UPDATE 2: Fulltime 1-1. I think we have to be happy with the result, to be honest. Gives us a small edge for the return leg in two weeks' time.