Tim Stannard is back with the latest from an action-packed weekend in Spain...
Betis' bad news keeps coming
That really was painful to watch. Bottom-lip quiveringly painful. Like the trusted family gerbil too old and past it to chase the flung tennis ball. There were already warning signs from the Copa del Rey and Europe that this was a Betis team without confidence, swagger and, most importantly, goals.
At 1-1 against Real Sociedad, it did seem as though they were perhaps finding some of last season’s form. But then an onslaught came the Andalusians' way to leave the visitors on the end of a truly humbling 5-1 defeat. It wasn't a great start in La Liga for new boss Juan Carlos Garrido, who took some crumbs from the match that “we competed up to the 60th minute”.
Rayo take another step towards La Segunda
Doomed. The home loss to Granada on Saturday was Rayo’s sixth defeat of the season in Vallecas, a place that is supposed to be gritty, raw and intimidating despite only having three ends. Levante, Valladolid and Espanyol have all been to the Spanish capital and beaten Rayo in their own manor - and they were all games that Rayo needed to win to stand a chance of staying up. Poor Paco Jémez is not a happy bunny at all, blaming his players for their fate. “We have to pray that there are three other teams that miss more chances than we do,” fumed the Rayo boss.
Málaga's win is massive
Blimey. Málaga needed that one. The under-pressure-until -their-gills-explode southern side were merrily missing chances against a dutifully hopeless Getafe, but it took a Roque Santa Cruz header from a free-kick to break the deadlock and leave Bernd Schuster in a typically buoyant mood. “I wait for the critics every day” said the German boss, “it’s always going to be that way.”
Sevilla are a proper team again
Although a point at the Sánchez Pizjuán is not a perfect result, it's a decent scoreline compared to the kind of nonsense Sevilla turned out earlier this season. The 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao ends a run of three wins in La Liga, but it still sees Unai Emery’s men with 10 points from the past 12 available and hanging on in there in seventh spot. “The most important thing is that the team is competing,” announced Emery.
Sociedad can be a Champions League side again
Ever since La Real saw their chances of progressing in the Champions League slip away, the team's league form has improved immeasurably. The 5-1 battering of visiting Betis was their fourth win in five to leave the Basque outfit ready and waiting for what may turn out to be a fun scrap for fourth.
Osasuna could be world beaters
It must be quite maddening for Osasuna coaches. Each season the team is generally quite hopeless against Juan Average in La Liga, which explains why most campaigns are relegation battles for the Pamplona club. However, each year in El Sadar, they seem capable of turning it on against the Big Boys. Barcelona and Real Madrid have both struggled on Osasuna's patch in recent seasons, managing only goalless draws in their most recent trips before this weekend. True to form, Carlo Ancelotti's side fought out a bruising 2-2 on Saturday.
Valencia need to shrug off bad vibes
Valencia’s plan in the Vicente Calderón on Sunday was a valid one. Stick everyone behind the ball and hang on for 90 minutes. Indeed, it worked for half of their game against Atlético, the first 45 minutes being almost 2005 Serie A in its tedium. However, a lack of ideas going forward meant Valencia simply weren’t able to respond when the Rojiblancos moved up a gear before pushing to a 3-0 win.
Once again, the future of Miroslav Djukic is in doubt - it seems to be a fortnightly “loves me, loves me not” situation - but, as ever, the Serbian coach still feels he is the man to steer this sinking ship.
Referees really do have it in for Sergio Ramos
Poor Sergio. The look of “really?” on his face to Saturday’s referee, Clos Gómez, was priceless and completely justified. Sending off No.18 for the Madrid defender was for two wholly rubbish yellows. The first was for a reaction to a non-foul. The second popped up when an opposition player walked into the centre-back’s arm. “The referee made a mistake, as we all made a mistake,” said Dani Carvajal, avoiding ending up on an official naughty step as well.
Despite an unfortunate sending off for Ramos, Madrid really should have known better as Osasuna used familiar tactics to get the better of the visitors – tough tackling, huge crosses and power in the air. LLL had to have a chuckle when Ancelotti said his team “showed character and attitude” after the game. Too true. They also showed “an alarming inability to defend simple situations,” in the words of a blog colleague. Too true, as well.
Neymar has bought himself some time
The Brazilian was under a little bit of pressure for not scoring as many goals as Leo Messi, which is a little like having a pop at someone for not being as tall as Peter Crouch. LLL feels that the Barcelona player could certainly have scored more this season, but chose to be all about the generosity in his performances for the Catalan club. But five goals in Barcelona’s last two matches have seen the 21-year-old breathing a little easier, after his brace in an unspectacular win against Villarreal.
Atlético are genuine title contenders
LLL must confess that, for a 15-minute period in the first half, it was starting to doubt. It had the scenario in its head that two dropped points against Valencia would lead to a puncture of the team’s bubble of confidence, one of the key strengths motivating this magnificent side. But instead, Atlético came out fighting in the second half and ended up just one goal away from being top of the table.
But that moment may only be a few days away, with the Rojiblancos and Barca preparing for a scoring contest next weekend to see who will be league leaders going into the Christmas break.