Atlético bounce back again to put themselves in pole position (for second...)

FourFourTwo's man in Madrid, Tim Stannard, gives the lowdown on the weekend's Primera Liga action - it's Good Day, Bad Day...

Good Day

BarcelonaTito Vilanova was back on the bench after a quick trip to the States on medical leave saw him miss the midweek cup clash with Córdoba, but it was the same old low-key style from the Barça boss, as his team continued their near-perfect start to his first campaign in the top job with a 3-1 victory at Malaga. Once again, he shunned the limelight and reflected all the praise onto the players, but the Barça boss deserves some backslapping for managing to get the best out of Cesc Fabregas, continuing to keep Leo Messi at the top of his game, and turning around the form of players such as Pedro and Thiago. But keeping David Villa happy may prove his toughest challenge yet.

Leo MessiJust the single goal and assist from the Argentinean, so not a sterling match by the now four-times Ballon d’Or winner's standards, but his goal tally the first half of the campaign of 27 (using Marca’s stats) would have been enough to win, or at least tie 10 of the last 15 Pichichi top goalscorer awards. It certainly makes Diego Tristan’s 21 from 2001/02 look rather puny.

Atlético MadridOnce again, Atlético Madrid immediately bounced back from a set-back in la Liga, proving themselves to be a side made from girders under the guidance of Diego Soldado, instead of the marzipan of the Gregorio Manzano era. On the five occasions Atlético have dropped points in their 19 games, the side have responded immediately with a win in the next. Last week, an Atlético Madrid without Arda Turan and Falcao drew at Mallorca, but the pair returned against Zaragoza on Sunday for a perfectly professional performance from Atlético and a 2-0 victory. With a seven point lead over Real Madrid now in place, second place is for the Rojiblancos to lose.

Jorge MendesCristiano Ronaldo’s agent must have been taking enormous delight in seeing Real Madrid labouring like nobody’s business against Osasuna, in a game where the visitors managed just two shots on target and drew 0-0 against the side currently propping up the table. “Watching Real Madrid without the best player in the world is like drinking a zero alcohol beer,” AS scribe Tomás Roncero said of the performance from a misshapen team who seemed to be hacking up an awful lot of aimless balls for José Callejón to run on to. To the midfielder's credit, he did so manfully, and was perhaps the best and only performer for Madrid in Pamplona.

Rubén CastroBetis' truly brilliant finisher has now popped up with 11 goals this season, the same number from open play as Falcao has scored for Atlético Madrid. With half of the season gone and Málaga potentially out of the picture due to a European ban, Betis are now genuine contenders for the Champions League places. Indeed, Sunday's 2-0 win against Levante puts the Sevilla side just three points from the faltering Real Madrid.

Rayo VallecanoThe 2-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao was another truly remarkable win for Rayo, although they did get a little bit of luck. The referee awarded them a penalty for a challenge on Chori Domínguez, which replays showed actually took place outside the box - but only just, so a charitable LLL will give the official the benefit of the doubt. Rayo’s fourth league win in a row has given them 31 points, making this their best first half of a season in la Primera since 1990/00 and the Juande Ramos era. Wonderful stuff.

Roberto SoldadoWith all the brotherly love that exists in la Primera among the club presidents, LLL is sure there wasn’t a Tim Henman-style fist pump in sight in the Mestalla offices when the news of Málaga’s European ban for next season filtered through before Christmas. It has certainly given Valencia a bit of a boost, having also now won seven from the last eight in all competitions to move to just four points from fourth. The most recent win - and a timely one, ahead of three matches in a row against Real Madrid - came in the form over a 2-0 triumph against an insipid Sevilla, with a brace for Roberto Soldado.

Patrick EbertValladolid’s right-sided midfielder is having quite the debut campaign for the club since joining from Hertha Berlin. The former Germany under-21 international, who is very much part of the Mesut Özil generation, has now scored five in la Liga, the total he netted in the previous five seasons of club football combined. The latest two came in the 3-1 win over Mallorca, which stopped a bit of a wobble for Valladolid and gave them a very comforting 25 points from the first half of the season.

Javier AguirreIt may have only been a squeaky 1-0 win against Celta Vigo on Saturday, but it continues a run of just one defeat in six for Espanyol, and that loss was against Barcelona, so it was more than a little forgivable. Javier Aguirre is now picking up points at more than double the rate of the Mexican’s predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino.

Sundays PatienceA second match and another game without defeat for new Deportivo boss, Domingos Paciencia.

Bad Day

José Mourinho“It’s not worth talking about what happened in the first six matches,” was the mysterious message from José Mourinho when trying to explain what’s been going wrong at Real Madrid this season, with the team picking up 12 fewer points than they had at this stage of last season. Unless the Portuguese is discussing the drop in effort levels from much of his side, LLL feels it’s not worth listening to the Madrid manager on this particular issue.

KakáOh dear. When the Brazilian did finally get a kick-about, Kaká managed to get sent off for what were two soft yellows, 18 minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute.

MálagaThe southern side certainly put up a bit of a fight of it in the 3-1 home defeat to Barcelona, but the dominance and superiority of the opponents does not bode well for Málaga in the upcoming Copa del Rey double-header, which kicks off at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.

Ignacio Camacho An assist that Xavi himself would have been proud of from the Málaga midfielder put Leo Messi through to set Barça off on the side's 3-1 win.

MíchelLLL has no idea how long Míchel the Manager can keep on hanging on at Sevilla, seeing the club has gone nowhere very slowly in the year or so that the former Real Madrid footballer has been in charge. The side have won just two of the their last 11 league games, and have had one of their worst first halves of a seasons in recent memory, with just 22 points collected thus far. “We are being made to bleed but we haven’t covered where we are being wounded,” warned the manager rather graphically.

Athletic BilbaoAlthough Athletic boss Marcelo Bielsa often lives up to his reputation of being a bit of an odd ball, the Argentinean is a very logical Vulcan-like straight-shooter when it comes to analysing games. There’s no Mourinho-style smoke-and-mirrors nonsense to explain away defeats. “We had 12 chances, they had three,” was Bielsa’s comment on the 2-1 home loss to Rayo in a game that Athletic really should have won, or at least got a point from based on the chances spurned. Instead it’s now three league defeats in a row for the Basque side.

Celta VigoSaturday's 1-0 defeat at Espanyol leaves Celta Vigo with just the single away win from 10 in la Liga. LLL guesses that record will probably need to improve if Celta are going to stay up this season.

OsasunaAnother game without a goal for Osasuna, who remain bottom of la Primera. Even worse, the 0-0 against Real Madrid wasn’t even a match where they were forced to work that hard. An opportunity missed? Perhaps...