FFT's Spanish expert Tim Stannard rounds up a successful two days for the champions...
If La Liga was some kind of DVD box set, Netflix-type affair, then the post-Christmas season premiere kicked off with a bit of a bang.
Both Real Madrid and Barcelona came a cropper – the latter will be really annoyed about that – while Atlético tried to erase the erased memory of an erased-from-time brilliant 2014 with a fine start to the New Year by getting 100,000 fans into a stadium over two days, using just a football match and a supposedly has-been striker as devices. Here’s a whip round the grounds...
Real Madrid fall to “inevitable” defeat in Mestalla
Talk about a New Year’s prediction running into trouble within days. The front cover of AS ran Carlo Ancelotti’s quotes to the Italian media that the club was not going to put limits on itself and that the squad could “win everything”. Except matches in Mestalla a couple of days later, with Real Madrid’s admittedly impressive winning streak coming to a merciful end at 22 matches to allow the Madrid press to change their collective tune for once.
It terms of drama, the loss for Madrid in a humdinger of a match could not have come at a better time, with a trip to Atlético Madrid and potential opposition in Fernando Torres due on Wednesday in a Copa del Rey clash that has LLL dribbling already. From pretty much every place. Just sayin’.
Valencia were as thrusting and bustling as we know they can be, but Madrid probably did enough to get a point. Indeed, the blog expected that was going to be the outcome late on before Diego Alves pulled off a stormer of a reflex safe. “It was a defeat that had to come sooner or later,” admitted Ancelotti.
Valencia 2-1 Real Madrid
A classic couple of days for the champions
A fine weekend to be a Rojiblanco indeed. Saturday saw a straightforward 3-1 win over Levante with two goals from Antoine Griezmann, who now has eight in La Liga, with the following Sunday seeing 45,000 turning up to watch the presentation of Fernando Torres. Oh, and both Real Madrid and Barcelona lost as well to put Atlético Madrid smack bang in the title race once again.
While some may cock a snook at the return of El Niño, with japes about being a bench-warming makeweight, Torres really is a hugely adored figure amongst the Rojiblanco faithful. Just to have the striker anywhere near the stadium is enough to give a buoyant club an even bigger boost whether he scores a bunch of goals or not.
Besides, LLL is offering a money-back guarantee that Diego Simeone is going to squeeze 15 goals out of the forward in all competitions between now and the end of the season. And how does the blog know this in the depths of its waters?
Because of what the Argentine coach declared about the performance of Griezmann in the Vicente Calderón on Saturday: “What I really liked more than the goals, was his hard work.” Simeone is set to work his magic once again, potentially starting midweek in the Copa del Rey against a certain Real Madrid and continuing in La Liga against Barça.
Atletico Madrid 3-1 Levante
A new crisis begins at Barcelona
That’s certainly one way of moving on the news agenda from Barcelona’s defeat to Real Sociedad – the sacking of sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta. It looks like the former goalkeeper is set to be the scapegoat at the Camp Nou as Josep Bartomeu looks to protect both himself and Luis Enrique, after Barça’s season limps on in 2015 as it ended in 2014 – by being a bit meh.
The ejector seat button was pushed after Zubi discussed the transfer ban with the media and suggested that his boss was the right person to talk to – after all, he was sporting vice-president during some of the alleged infractions in the academy’s recruitment.
Oh, and Carles Puyol has announced he will leave his role as assistant sports director at Barcelona with immediate effect. On Wednesday, Bartomeu will be giving a press conference to explain what on earth is going on at the club. It should be more entertaining than some of Barça’s displays these days.
Real Sociedad 1-0 Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao really are a one-man team
Hats off to Marca with the statistic that Athletic have failed to score a goal without Ariz Aduriz for seven hours now. Two of the culprits behind this rather sorry story are Iker Muniain and Borja Viguera, two forwards who have racked up just two La Liga goals in 30 appearances between them.
Deportivo 1-0 Athletic Club
Sevilla and Celta aid chore-achieving activities
Perfect. Sevilla's clash against Celta Vigo was one of those games that just go on and on and on in the background to enable you to get to grips with post-Christmas jobs and whatnot. Aside from Nico Pareja’s winning free-kick and a first-half sending off, it's a head-scratching chore to work out what else happened.
And that’s not too surprising from a Sevilla side that had three weeks off. “It was almost a pre-season match for us,” admitted Unai Emery. Celta's season, meanwhile, is spiralling into a pit of doom. The Galicians have now lost six matches in row and haven't scored in La Liga since beating Barcelona seven games ago.
Sevilla 1-0 Celta Vigo
Strugglers have prayers answered
There were three teams that really needed some New Year cheer, and Merciful Zeus, they all got it. Deportivo squeezed out a 1-0 win against Athletic Bilbao, in a job-saving performance for manager Víctor Fernández.
Almería made it two wins from two for new boss Juan Ignacio Martínez with a victory at Málaga. Meanwhile, Elche picked up their first point in six matches against Villarreal, in a clash where they were losing 2-0 and looking destined for another gripe-stuffed night.
Malaga 1-2 Almeria