FourFourTwo.com's Spanish correspondent, Tim Stannard, lists his learnings from another busy weekend of Primera Liga action...
Messi-dependency has been laid to rest
As soon as poor Leo limped off with a hamstring knack, Barça suddenly began to click, with Andrés Iniesta coming off the bench and Pedro reminding everyone he still existed. The papers had reported that the Spanish World Cup winner wanted a move away from the Camp Nou, having recently fallen behind Alexis Sánchez and Neymar in the pecking order. But Pedro scored perhaps La Liga Loca's favourite goal of the weekend, when passing to himself before finishing beautifully in a comprehensive 4-1 beating of Betis.
While an injury-troubled Messi would have been an enormous problem for Barcelona last season, the impact has been lessoned with the goal-scoring and goal-creating burden spread around a talent-stuffed forward line, as shown in Seville on Sunday night.
Tata Martino may just be a managerial genius
Alex Song playing Xavi-esque through balls? Case closed.
The Weekend's Results
- Osasuna 0-1 Almeria
- Granada 3-1 Malaga
- Real Madrid 5-1 Real Sociedad
- Getafe 1-1 Elche
- Atletic 2-1 Levante
- Celta Vigo 0-2 Rayo Vallecano
- Espanyol 1-3 Sevilla
- Valencia 2-2 Real Valladolid
- Villarreal 1-1 Atletico Madrid
- Real Betis 1-4 Barcelona
Atlético Madrid are human!
The Rojiblancos looked sleepy dog-tired throughout in the 1-1 draw against Villarreal, so it was a testament to 90 minutes of trench-squatting, dogged defending that Atlético managed to pick up a point in El Madrigal.
The Yellow Submarine was in full torpedoes-blazing mode, but needed a Juanfran-assisted effort to cancel out another own goal strike at the other end, early doors. Diego Costa was suffering from a bout of the flu, which showed during the game, with the Brazilian only slightly cantankerous and belligerent throughout the match.
The downside for the current success of the mighty Atlético is that the international break which would normally be a help to the team, may be a hindrance now with more and more of the team’s squad being called up for their countries. Or brand new countries in Diego Costa’s case...
Real Madrid are starting to strike a balance
Predicting a whole bunch of goals in Saturday's clash between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad wasn’t that bold, considering 13 were produced between the pair in just two games last year. However, some shady Madrid defending in recent weeks aroused suspicion that an awful lot more would have been conceded by the home team than the single effort from Antoine Griezmann.Instead, La Real barely troubled the Madrid goal, thanks in part to a huge wedge of work done by Luka Modric in scampering around in the midfield picking up loose balls and starting off attacks. It now appears that a 4-3-3 is the way forward for Madrid, with the Croatian, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso in midfield along with Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema up front. And that is a bit of a shame from the sidelined Isco and the soon to be bench-squatting Angel di Maria. “They brought a good balance to the team,” said a chuffed Carlo Ancelotti on his eleven after the 4-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu.
New stadium but same tactics from Athletic Bilbao
'If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it' is the mantra from Athletic Bilbao. Drawing 1-1 at home to Levante with eight minutes to go, the Basque battlers used a familiar ploy to get the win – a huge cross and a big header from Ariz Aduriz. Very satisfying. “It’s very difficult defending these types of plays,” admitted Levante boss, Joaquín Caparrós. Athletic Bilbao still aren’t pulling up any sensational daisies in La Liga in LLL’s books but remaining a steady fixture in the top six.
Valencia’s problems remain at the back
Until Miroslav Djukic can shore up Valencia’s back four, there will continue to be dissent in the supporting ranks in Mestalla. A 2-2 home draw with Valladolid was not what the doctor ordered for the under pressure Serbian boss, but that is what happened after Valencia went behind twice to the visitors. Valencia have now conceded 21 goals in 13 league games, two worse than the team’s opponents on Sunday, who went into the game in the relegation zone. “It’s very difficult to win when you make life so easy for your rivals defensively,” noted Djukic.
Patience is a virtue in La Liga
Osasuna fired Jose Luis Mendilibar at the beginning of the season after a poor start to the year. The coach chosen to replace the chopped Pamplona man was Javi Gracia, who took Almeria up last season but was unable to agree a new deal with the promoted club. One win in five and three defeats in that spell suggest that Osasuna have not improved much, however it is a different story at Almeria.
This particular club also had a bit of a stinky start to the year but stuck by former youth team coach, Francisco Rodríguez, who has now won the last three games for his club. In a pleasing twist, the most recent victory was against Osasuna, after a clanger from Andrés in goal let Rodri pounce. “We are not going to start thinking we are safe having won three, we have to keep fighting,” vowed the Almería boss.
Rayo Vallecano got their just rewards
Rayo Vallecano are also a side keeping the faith, Bon Jovi style. Passing, attacking and shooting-at-will has been the ethos of the club all season. It almost worked against Real Madrid last week, but there was greater reward against Celta Vigo on Saturday, with a 2-0 victory giving the visitors a victory after three straight defeats. “We don’t have to lose our sense of identity,” urged Paco Jémez after the match, “the first thing I ask my players to do is play good football. This is the path and we are not going to change.”
Málaga are still a work in progress
A hefty amount of patience and understanding is required by Málaga fans this season. Not only is the starting eleven some 80% different to last year’s due to another fire sale, but the southern side is also bedding in a new coach in the form of the happy-go-lucky Bernd Schuster. Whilst there is certainly talent and promise in the team, results like the 3-1 defeat at Granada are going to be common ones for a side that is a project that needs nurturing and a bit of compost.
Sevilla finally end long-suffering run on the road
Of all the venues for Sevilla to finally get a La Liga away win after some 14 months, LLL didn’t expect it to be Cornella, normally be a testing place to pull out a result. But Unai Emery finally did it, to shake a hippo-sized monkey off his back. “We need more wins to keep this going,” boomed the Sevilla boss on the side’s current winning streak of one. That will probably end in the upcoming Seville city derby.