Bielsa's Athletic finally pull a rabbit from the hat, as Atlético left humbled

FourFourTwo.com's Spanish correspondent, Tim Stannard, sums up the latest round of La Liga action...

Good Day

BarcelonaThe 5-1 demolition of the ten men of Osasuna was the fifth time Barça had scored five in la Liga this season. Not bad going, really.

Leo MessiIn the aforementioned rout, Lionel Messi netted four more goals, taking his tally for the season to 33. It’s a total that by LLL’s simple calculations will see the Argentinean scoring 58 league goals if this hit-rate continues, smashing the rather paltry looking record of 50 notched by...er...Leo Messi last season.

Cristiano Ronaldo His weekend hat-trick against Getafe was the quickest of Portuguese player’s career - nine minutes and 31 seconds. Seeing as both sides are going to suck up a fair amount of publicity in the next few days due to their cup clash, that’s all LLL will say on Real Madrid and Barcelona for the time being...

MálagaLike Valencia, Málaga are chasing a Champions League spot but were distracted a little by the Copa del Rey in recent weeks. Málaga’s 3-2 victory at Mallorca - one which saw some tasty goals along the way - was the southern side’s first in four in la Liga and plonks them back into fourth spot.

PitiThe Rayo Vallecano forward had a fairly eventful day on Sunday. Before his team's clash with Betis, he received a plaque for reaching the total of 200 games for the club since his debut in the third tier of Spanish football in 2006/07. Piti then opened the scoring for Rayo from the spot for his tenth league goal of the season, helping Rayo in another impressive home performance and a 3-0 victory. Rayo are now in sixth - sixth! - one point from the Champions League places, but more importantly for the side’s fundamental ambitions, about three more wins from safety for the season.

ValenciaIt had been an immensely trying and enormously distracting week for Valencia, with three successive games with Real Madrid that saw referee-inspired sulks, a 5-0 league tonking, a disaster from Jonas and the eventual departure from the Copa del Rey. The ding-dong 3-2 victory against Deportivo gave the Mestalla men a footballing enema, with Valencia picking up all three points in injury time, thanks to a Ricardo Costa effort.

LevanteIt was an own goal in injury time for Antonio Rukavina that gave Levante a 2-1 win over Valladolid, but it was enough to halt what was something of a mini-slump by the Valencia side's imperious standards; one which consisted of two league defeats. “Anyone could have won the game. The victory was at a good time after the last two bad matches, and now we have 33 big points,” noted Levante boss, Juan Ignacio Martínez. Just three more victories before his eighth-placed team can relax properly with the 42 barrier broken.

Unai EmeryA comprehensive 3-0 win over Granada on Monday night sees Unai Emery working his magic over the Andalusian club, although the new manager was keen to keep things on the lowdown. “We have taken a step forward but we were not so bad before but neither were we so good in this game.”

Athletic BilbaoSo all that was needed in the end was a bit of card-trickery. That was the idea that popped into the mad head of Marcelo Bielsa on the day before Sunday’s clash at Atlético Madrid, with the Argentinean noting that his players were looking a little tense. To be fair, the Athletic boss is probably the root cause of an awful lot of those feelings. However, Bielsa arranged for a magician, no less, to come to the training ground to give the footballers something to smile about, perhaps involving rabbits, and it worked with a 3-0 win over visiting Atlético to put a temporary halt to a New Year slump for the club.

Bad Day

Atlético MadridA team without Falcao, Gabi and Miranda, the spine of the Rojiblancos, came a-crashing in San Mamés against Athletic Bilbao for only the side’s fourth league defeat of the season. Once again, onlookers searching for the possible end to Atlético’s superb league season need to see that it’s the constant winning that’s the unsettling, unusual aspect to the club rather than the occasional losses.

BetisA cup run and an ultimately unsuccessful double-header against Atlético Madrid took a bit of the steam out of Betis, with the side picking up just one point from six. However, the fully focussed Seville side is still tied with points with fourth-placed Málaga in what is turning out to be a fascinating battle for the Champions League places.

Sergio BallesterosThe 37-year-old quietly leaving the pitch after 30 minutes may not have been that surprising a sight considering the Levante defender’s not so tender years, but it was the first time in the footballer’s career of 19 seasons and 381 games that Ballesteros had been forced to depart a game early through injury. The Levante legend’s beanstalk of brilliance grows yet higher.

GetafeWith Abdelaziz Barrada, Pedro León, and Angel Lafita all missing, Getafe were left without much creativity in the side against Real Madrid. All that was left was a firm rear-guard action, which did last for a while, until Getafe began to be stretched in the second half and Madrid popped up with four goals. “Every coach can see how they come out on the counter attack and we worked to stop them, but no-one has managed it. If you don’t finish off your moves with Real Madrid, they are going to run at you and kill you off,” admitted Getafe boss, Luis García.

Zaragoza, EspanyolLots of talk in Sunday’s papers of oblivion, zero, nothing and yet more nothing as these too Scrappy Doo clubs fought out a goalless draw. “An ugly game with few chances,” admitted Espanyol coach, Javier Aguirre, after a clash that AS described as being between two teams arguing, rather than playing football.

Paco HerreraAs per every game, the Celta coach had lost his voice by the time he spoke to the media after another 90 minutes. As usual, passionate Paco was shouting away on the touchlines, although it eventually got him into trouble and sent to the stands. It was easy to see why Herrera was feeling so chippy, as the 1-1 draw with Real Sociedad saw another example of a referee sending off a player due to a yellow card for a handball, irrespective of whether it was ball-to-hand or vice versa. The footballer in question was Augusto Fernández who was sent to the dressing rooms with Celta Vigo 1-0 up at the time. “The ref can blow for a handball if he wants, but it was involuntary as he had no intention of blocking the ball.” The point for Celta against an inform la Real was a handy one but still leaves the Galicians with just the single Primera win in eight.

MallorcaThe problem with insisting before an upcoming games that it’s a ‘final’ and a crucial part of a survival bid is that when it’s lost, everything looks a little bleak. Mallorca are suffering from that blowback on Monday after a 3-2 defeat to Málaga in the Balearics. “I’m strong, but we all know the law of football,” admitted manager, Joaquín Caparrós, whose team have now picked up just the single league win from the past 16 games. And that’s not good.

RikiThe Deportivo striker scored two brilliant goals for his side, but the Galicians still came away as losers after the 3-2 home defeat to Valencia. Deportivo continue to be stuck to the bottom of the table after just two wins in the past 20 league games. Not looking too good for the destitute Galicia side at all.

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