Tim Stannard assesses another jam-packed weekend in Spain...
Betis still have some fight left
After 15 league games, an embattled, running-on-empty Betis finally popped up with a win to cheer everyone up. Except opponents Espanyol, and of course mean-spirited rival Sevilla fans, no doubt. Sunday’s 2-0 victory was against the ever-unpredictable Pericos from Barcelona, thanks to Rubén Castro's brace. “We had organisation and a balance which wasn’t there before,” explained manager Gabriel Calderón, on his side's improved performance.
So Rayo can keep a clean sheet
“I hope this can be a departure point from where we were,” was the wish of Rayo boss Paco Jémez, after Vallecano's goalless draw at Levante. With Sevilla, Barcelona and Valencia on the agenda in February, LLL feels that the weekend’s result probably won’t be the start of sunnier climes for the Madrid club.
Duda finally comes through for Málaga
A listless Málaga have needed some kind of direction on the pitch all year, and the Andalusians finally got it on Saturday night with a fine display from veteran midfielder Duda against his former club Sevilla. The local duel, which ended in a 3-2 win for Málaga, reached quite the finale with a tiff between Unai Emery and Bernd Schuster. The former apparently called the German a “clown” after Schuster pushed Ivan Rakitic, which resulted in a red card for the Málaga boss.
The pieces are coming together for Celta Vigo
After a sluggish first half of the season, where it seemed the vision of manager Luis Enrique wasn't matched by the ability of his players, the Galician club are finally starting to put some results together. The victory against Granada on Friday was their third in four, and moved the mini-Barcelona northerners snugly into mid-table. LLL suspects the team might become the new Betis in terms of footballing entertainment, but hopefully with a considerably better ending.
Dani Parejo could still be the new, new, new Alfredo Di Stefano, after all. Not really.
It was the Spanish legend himself who said the Valencia midfielder was one of the best talents of Madrid's youth academy he’d ever seen, and on Saturday Parejo looked the part against Barcelona.
The 24-year-old, who has been passed over and rejected by so many managers in the past for not working hard enough or not caring at all, has caught the eye of Juan Antonio Pizzi, who has chosen the player for his midfield engine room. There are doubts, though, that the flaky star can sustain the form required to save Valencia’s skins this season, despite their remarkable Camp Nou success on Saturday.
Villarreal continue Champions League chase
Praise be to Villarreal, a side keeping up with the Champions League pace. The fifth-placed Yellow Submarine were ploughing the depths of Monday night football, but still did a job over Osasuna in a 3-1 win - their fourth in five. Next up are midweek Copa del Rey semi-finalists Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. Woot, woot!
CR7 is no longer in campaign mode
With the Ballon d’Or done and dusted, there's no longer any need for Ronny to be on his best behaviour. Last week the Real Madrid man produced tuts after a tantrum inspired by a goalkeeper saving his overhead kick. This time the Portuguese star was sent off after a face-slapping tiff with both Carlos Gurpegui and the referee, which could earn him a two-match ban.
Sunday’s draw against Athletic Bilbao ended Real's run of eight victories without a single goal conceded. It was was also a game against a team who were actually any good, unlike last month’s cannon fodder. LLL thinks there may be some kind of connection there.
Pique appears to be getting worse and worse
Holy stinking mackerel, the Spain international is a big bag of mess these days. The abysmal form of the Barça stopper was demonstrated brilliantly in Valencia’s winner from Paco Alcácer, when the forward was allowed enough space for his own solar system. Even before the match Piqué had been AWOL for about a year-and-a-half at set-pieces and counter-attacks.
However, the centre-back was joined in a display of alarming uselessness by a midfield that was constantly outmuscled and a back-line oft outnumbered. Judging by Manchester City’s performance against Tottenham last week, which was certainly noted in Cataluyna, Barça fans should be very concerned indeed that another Bayern Munich-style drubbing is just around the corner in the Champions League.
The last team other than Real Madrid to beat Barcelona in a La Liga game at the Camp Nou was Hércules back in September 2010, such is the rarity of Valencia’s victory. However, the Catalan club is looking so fragile under pressure at the moment that a repeat performance may well be seen this season.
Atlético didn't miss their second chance to lead
Three weeks ago, Rojiblanco fans kicked themselves raw after missing the chance to go top after Barcelona dropped points against Levante. But Atlético Madrid didn't make the same mistake this weekend by crushing Real Sociedad 4-0 with the ruthless efficiency that has defined their campaign under Diego Simeone.
The game also saw Brazilian midfielder Diego, an inspirational force two years ago, back in the red-and-white after his return from Wolfsburg. A goal in the win at the Vicente Calderón suggests the 28-year-old playmaker may become a key player for the team once again.
Spanish football lost a father figure
Luis Aragonés was a complicated man. The former Spain coach was a kindly, avuncular figure, yet appeared permanently irate and irritable to the same degree. The latter part of his character wasn't so surprising considering reporters spent many decades making it their mission to provoke the veteran coach into releasing his legendary temper. During his spell with Spain, there seemed to be a competition to see who could set off Aragonés' ire.
However, the announcement of El Sabio de Hortaleza's ('The wise man of Hortaleza') death was a reminder to Spanish fans of how much affection they held for the coach, and just how much he will be missed. After all, this was the coach who transformed Spain from permanent under-achievers to world champions by invigorating the likes of Xavi, one of the many players who looked particularly moved during the tributes held ahead of games played in Spain this weekend.