Diego Lopez overshadows Bale’s big night, as Valencia sense Groundhog Day

FFT.com's Spanish expert Tim Stannard reflects on the winners and losers from La Liga's weekend action...

Good Day

Atlético Madrid
 
And then there were two. The Rojiblancos' fourth win from four puts them top of the table on an alphabetical basis, having scored and conceded the same number of goals as Barcelona. Their latest crunching, crushing victory was a 4-2 win over Almería on Saturday afternoon at the Vicente Calderón. 
 
“The team was intense and aggressive,” purred a proud Diego Simeone, repeating the same observation made now for the past 18 months. 
 
Atlético’s next two matches are winnable games against Valladolid and Osasuna. Then it's the city derby against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu - a stadium Atleti no longer fear after May’s Copa del Rey final win. 
 
Barcelona
 
Barça's 3-2 victory over Sevilla was drizzled with controversy, thanks to Alexis Sánchez's injury-time-within-injury-time winner. “It was a robbery,” yelled Fernando Navarro after the game, “everyone saw it.” 
 
But what the Sevilla defender was particularly upset about was a disallowed Juan Cala goal, when Barcelona were 1-0 up. To be fair, Navarro had a point - the referee’s decision that Dani Alves had been held was a debatable one indeed. 
 
Less comprehensible was Sevilla’s rage at Barcelona’s winner, which came eight seconds after the supposed end of injury time. As the referee had not blown his whistle to finish the game, the goal was perfectly valid, so it's tough cookies for the Andalusian club where LLL is concerned. 
 
The big downside for Barça, however, is that the Catalan outfit's set-piece defending is still horrible.
 

Dani Alves quietly celebrates against his former club

Villarreal

Exhilarating stuff from the Yellow Submarine in their 2-2 draw with Real Madrid. 
 
LLL was unsure how good Villarreal were despite three wins from three (against easy opposition), but Marcelino has set up a hard-working team with bags of ability. 
 
Diego López, Gareth Bale
 
Both players shared the plaudits in the Madrid papers on Sunday, with López preventing a near-certain defeat with eight fine stops. 
 
Bale, meanwhile, bundled in a scrambled effort on his debut
 
Athletic Bilbao
 
A sigh of relief all round in Bilbao that their new stadium - three sides of it, anyway - is now up and running. Thankfully so is the team, despite an iffy goalkeeping performance from Iago Herrerín in their 3-2 victory over Celta Vigo. 
 
Manuel Lanzarote
 
A fine free-kick from the Espanyol forward was the difference in a flat 1-0 win for the Pericos at Granada. The well-travelled Catalan striker, snapped up from Sabadell over the summer, is already looking like a solid acquisition. Espanyol remain unbeaten at the start of the season in sixth place. 
 
Levante 
 
The Valencia club might be the new Deportivo of Two Seasons Ago, having picked up two goalless draws in their first four matches of the season. The second was Saturday’s dogged snore-fest against visiting Real Sociedad. “We drew against a Champions League team,” pointed out Levante boss Joaquín Caparrós. 
 

Caparros' side played out a goalless draw against Sociedad

Charles

The brilliantly named Celta striker had the pleasure of scoring the first goal in Athletic's new San Mamés stadium. Unfortunately he ended up on the losing side after their 3-2 defeat. 
 
Mounir El Hamdaoui
 
Fan-blooming-tastic. As Bernd Schuster said after the 5-0 win over Rayo: “We needed a victory like that at home.” 
 
Málaga were completely devastating all over the pitch, but no player more so than full debutant Mounir El Hamdaoui, the Dutch-Moroccan former Tottenham striker who bagged a hat-trick in la Rosaleda after his recent loan arrival from Fiorentina. 
 
Betis
 
There's nothing like Betis in full flow, and that’s what was on offer in Sunday night's first half as the Seville side jammed three goals past an utterly hopeless Valencia. 
 
That didn't prevent complaining from the demanding Pepe Mel, mind. “If we were more accurate with half our chances, we would have scored a lot more goals,” grumbled the hard-to-please Betis boss. 
 

Mel: Probably happier than he let on

Miku

Getafe's 2-1 win over Osasuna in the Coliseum was a typical result. When the team really, really,really need a win, they always manage to dig it out. 
 
Sunday’s victory came via a brace from the returning Miku, who should add bite to the Azulones' forward line this season. 

Bad Day

Real Madrid
 
Merciful Zeus, Carlo Ancelotti has some work to with Madrid’s defence. 
 
Although injuries forced changes in the full-back positions, the real problems lie with Sergio Ramos and Pepe. Villarreal adopted the same tactics as Betis in round one, attacking Madrid straight down the middle and exploiting the whopping space available.
 
The response from the two defenders, Ramos in particular, was to barge and batter their way through Villarreal like disgruntled bulls. The coolness and speed of Raphael Varane is needed sooner rather than later. 
 

Madrid players dejected at the final whistle

Elche, Valladolid

In the blog’s weekend preview, we admitted there was nothing we could offer for this particular clash. Well, it turns out that was a sign of things to come as the hapless duo played out a goalless draw. Don't say we didn't warn you. 
 
Valencia
 
Wow. It's Groundhog Day at Valencia after their awful start akin to last year, which eventually lead to the firing of Mauricio Pellegrino. Valencia were an enormous mess from top to bottom against Betis in their 3-1 defeat. “We lack initiative, love for ourselves and attitude,” lamented Ever Banega. “It was a disaster.” 
 
Los Che have now lost their last three games. And for fans as fickle as those of the Mestalla, that's a very bad thing indeed. 
 
Rayo Vallecano
 
LLL was expecting Rayo boss Paco Jémez to tear strips from his players after getting absolutely mauled by Málaga, but the response was a fairly supportive one. “We keep on having confidence in them,” said the Vallecas coach. “The performance was completely different to the one shown against Atlético Madrid,” Jémez added, referring to another 5-0 defeat for Rayo. 
 

Paco Jémez: Surprisingly accepting

Almería

The newly arrived Andalusians are already looking leaky, with the four conceded against Atlético Madrid now making it 11 from four games. “We need to be defensively stronger,” noted Almería boss Francisco Rodriguez. 
 
Osasuna
 
A new manager, but the same result. Osasuna are now the only team in La Primera without a point from four matches. 


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