FFT.com's Spanish expert Tim Stannard on the weekend in Spain, including vital Valdés, Ronaldo on the rampage (again) and why Manchester United should watch out this week...
1) Is this the beginning of the end for majestic Messi?
Of course not. But these are the kind of questions that are fun to ponder when the normally hyper-prolific Argentine only scores a single goal in five games and none in four league matches. They're also fun to ponder when trying to shift a few papers or fill the odd hour of TV or radio.
The latest evening of firing blanks for Messi came in Friday night's hard-fought 1-0 win over Espanyol in the Camp Nou Catalan derby. Fortunately for Barça, Neymar and Alexis Sánchez came up trumps again with the winner (the former nutmegging two players to set up his team-mate). However, despite Barcelona continuing a near-perfect league campaign, Messi is the hot topic in Spain with gossip over whether all is OK in the Argentine’s world. “I don’t see him as worried or upset,” said boss Tata Martino, on his goal-shy (well, a bit) forward.
2) Barcelona will miss Valdés when he's gone
LLL is going to miss the angriest goalkeeper in La Liga, with Valdés seemingly intent on heading to pastures new at the end of the campaign. Especially pastures that are paved in gold and the promise of all the ham he can chow down on, perhaps to be found at Monaco. As well as the sprightliness of Neymar and Alexis up front, Barça owed Sunday’s win to some fine stops from Valdés, who has to be No.1 for Spain for the World Cup or LLL will be stomping its feet and pouting all summer.
3) The best may be to come for Atlético Madrid
“It’s not easy to win and keep winning,” warned Diego Simeone ahead of the Athletic Bilbao clash. But it is when you're managing Atlético Madrid. The 2-0 victory was an immensely effective performance across the board. Diego Godín and Miranda were booked in the opening minutes as the defensive duo spread the message that no-one shall pass in the Vicente Calderón.
And that was the case, as Athletic failed to manage a proper shot on target in the whole game. Throw in the fact that David Villa is starting to warm up having scored in the past three games (like Diego Costa), and it could be that Atlético may have even more gears to go through this season.
4) Carlo Ancelotti has a half a great team
That is certainly the verdict of Marca. On Saturday, though, the paper blasted on its front cover that the Italian was building a great team from top to bottom. But a day after two goals were conceded against Rayo (which could easily have been more), on top of the three shipped against Sevilla, Marca has recanted a little, reporting a great team going forward and a pants one at the back.
Even the previously calm-as-a-cucumber Diego López looked spooked by the normally uninspiring Rayo attack which rattled Real Madrid so much that two penalties were given away. “We were defensively strong in the first half, and a disaster in the second,” admitted Ancelotti, who has to find a plug for his gaps by Tuesday's Champions League return clash against Juventus.
5) Cristiano Ronaldo is never, ever going to stop
Two more goals for a player who really is in the most astonishingly majestic form. Then again, it feels like Ronaldo has been like this for years now. His first goal for Real Madrid was made to look to easy, starting with the no-look nutmegging of a defender before the burst of pace on goal and millimetre-perfect shot which curled around the Rayo keeper. The Portuguese's brace against the fellow Madrid side puts him on 20 goals in La Primera and the Champions League already. It’s getting silly, really.
6) Valencia grab win just in time for Djukic
Respite is a rare concept in Mestalla-land, with supporters and local media always game and ready to launch into the next crisis. However, there's been a temporary lull in the current one after Valencia picked up a much-needed 1-0 victory in Getafe’s Coliseum, a beauty of a strike from Dorlan Pabón giving the visitors a win. “We weren’t so bad then and we’re not so hot now,” was the message from the club’s Serbian boss, who is probably regretting the day he left the peace and quiet of Valladolid.
7) Sociedad may be a match for Man United
Poor La Real have been so tense of late. The pressure of Champions League football and matching last season’s form in La Liga saw the Basque club tied up in all kinds of knots for the first weeks of the campaign. After three wins and a draw in the club’s last four games, it now feels like the San Sebastian side are feeling the benefits of a lovely massage with a happy ending.
The old swagger was back and then some in Saturday's 5-0 thrashing of Osasuna. To make matters even better ahead of the midweek Champions League clash, the game saw a pleasing variety of strikes from five different players. All La Real have to do now is take a chill pill and relax for the visit of David Moyes' men.
8) Emery’s troubles have followed him home
Sevilla are awful on the road - that’s a given. They haven't won an away clash in the league now for over a year. But losing at Celta Vigo's Sánchez Pizjuán, as the southern side did on Saturday, is very bad news indeed.
To be fair to Unai Emery, whose team were booed off at the end, Beto in goal was largely to blame for the 1-0 defeat, having passed the ball to a surprised-but-grateful Alex López, who had been minding his own business a good 30 yards from goal. That silly strike conceded now sees Sevilla with the second-worst defence in La Primera, with only Rayo leakier at the back. It seems they can’t find solace anywhere right now.
9) What a difference a week makes for Almería
Seven days ago, Almería boss Francisco Rodriguez was in a bullish mood despite a winless season so far in La Primera. The manager even spoke of becoming a ball boy if it would help the club. That commitment has begun to bear fruit, with Almería now sitting pretty with back-to-back wins.
The first came during the week against Valencia, the second with Saturday's 1-0 victory over Valladolid, owed almost entirely to a whopping Superman-esque, handball goal from Rodri. “Reflexes” was the explanation from the Almería man to radio station Cadena Ser, citing the importance of the team's work as a more important matter. Unsurprisingly.
10) Life gets even more cruel for Real Betis
Poor bunnies. LLL has a soft spot for Betis and Pepe Mel, so was a little dismayed to see them losing out in the last minutes in Sunday's 3-2 defeat to Málaga. “When a team does so much and doesn’t win...,” mused the under-pressure Mel before changing tack, “but I just want to focus on positive things.” That includes another draining European clash against Vitória Guimarães, before a fun tussle with Barcelona.