FourFourTwo's Spanish expert Tim Stannard assesses the latest wacky weekend of La Liga action...
Drama! Yet another weekend of it, with Real Madrid continuing to fall off the wagon Sue Ellen-style, and Barça leaping into top spot. The Clásicometer is still wavering, two weeks out, between Big Game and Very Big Game, as both Barça and Real Madrid have proven themselves more than capable of dropping points at any number of given Primera ports this season.
Here’s a look at what else was shaking at the weekend...
Real Madrid need to Gareth Bale out of current freefall
Polls and press are calling for a change to Carlo Ancelotti’s tactical thinking, but this Italian is not for turning. It's not the personnel causing Real Madrid’s current problems of just two wins from five in all competitions, but what they are doing with the ball, says the boss. And more precisely, how it isn't being moved quickly enough.
Either way, Ancelotti is under a fair amount of pressure to make some changes ahead of the Schalke game in the Champions League on Tuesday, no matter how stubborn he may be. One change that will certainly help Real Madrid’s spin drier of circulation is the return of Luka Modric, who will get 30 minutes against the German visitors. If that experiment works and Ancelotti sticks with his promise to also play Isco when he is on form, Gareth Bale might be nervously looking towards a spell on the bench.
Either way, the sensation is that the title advantage is very much with Barcelona, especially with the Clásico just two matches away. “Real Madrid fans picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue,” noted Roberto Palomar in a welcome homage to Airplane.
Athletic Club 1-0 Real Madrid
History repeats in Barça battering for Rayo
When stuff happens as it should do, it can be a beautiful thing. In their last eight fixtures against Barcelona, Rayo Vallecano have conceded 38 goals and scored just two. And coach Paco Jémez won’t have it any other way due to his love to bring forth thunder upon opposition even if it is swiftly blown away.
“It doesn’t matter if we lose by one or seven,” promised the Rayo boss before Sunday’s midday meeting with Barça, “we are not going to be holding back.”
And so it came to pass once again that a rampant Rayo were blown away by six goals with the just the one in return – a penalty from Alberto Bueno – and the non-pragmatic, footballing idealist Jémez could not have been any happier. “I am very satisfied... we had a dignified rival and we played very well.”
LLL has to handclap this approach. If you can’t beat them, then hurl yourself against the patio door of fate like a shortsighted pigeon.
Barcelona 6-1 Rayo Vallecano
Valencia end up minor victors at Calderón
Although Diego Simeone would have preferred all three points against a Valencia side pushing for third, the Argentine manager would no doubt have purred inside like a lion (Wikipedia says they are capable of doing that a bit) on what he would have branded a game for “Men!”. One goal each, 13 bookings, a red card, bustling action and, as Marca described it, “a lot of fouls but not much football”.
In the cold light of day, though, the point would be just fine for both teams. It shows that the Rojiblancos, who are a little bit flaky these days, can still dig in when required, and it keeps Valencia’s oft-fragile pecker up for the final run-in.
In fact, it is the Mestalla side that perhaps just got that little bit more out of the clash – they now hold the upper hand with a better head-to-head record against an Atlético Madrid rival they may end up tied with come crunch time in May.
Atletico Madrid 1-1 Valencia
Casilla(s) almost gives game away for Pericos
When LLL heard on Sunday through the airwaves of another error from Casillas, the blog was ready to leap on its 'Time for Keylor!' bandwagon by smirking that the Madrid goalkeeper was bungling even on his day off. If the 1990s failed to be the time for Guru Josh, then there is no reason why the Costa Rican keeper cannot stop another LLL dream from being dashed.
Instead, it was the near-namesake of Iker Casillas, Kiko Casilla (you couldn’t make it up really), who passed the ball straight to Sergio Canales in a tight match against Real Sociedad to give the David Moyes outfit a rather crucial 1-0 win. All in all, the Pericos loss topped a rather bleak week for Espanyol, who missed out on the Copa del Rey final and now face the arduous task of getting through to the end of the season needing three or four wins to ensure mid-table security.
Real Sociedad 1-0 Espanyol
Villarreal may give Europe priority
A peculiar end of season awaits Villarreal, but one which might mean the Yellow Submarine can give the Europa League a solid go, starting with the all-Spanish affair against Sevilla. Marcelino’s men are probably out of the running for the top four, barring a dramatic slump from either Atlético or Valencia.
However, the team looks more than secure in the top six with a seven-point lead over seventh-placed Málaga. That gives a little bit of leeway in terms of putting out their strongest possible XI in Europe while gambling a little in La Liga.
Villarreal 4-1 Celta Vigo
Eibar facing swift Segunda return
A seventh loss in a row for Eibar now puts the Basque side firmly on relegation footing. The minnows are now just three points off the bottom three (or five if you are using Almería’s three-point deduction) and it is hard to know where the next win is going to come from.
Barça are the next opponents, followed by a trip to Granada, fellow strugglers but a team that look tough and experienced enough to scrap their way out of trouble. That is very different to an agitated Eibar at the moment, a team which could have looked upon the visitor of Barça with anticipation rather than anxiety.
Levante 2-1 Eibar
Some crumbs of comfort for Deportivo
The good news for Deportivo was that a team with too many blank days this season knocked in three in Riazor. The unfortunate downside was that opponents Sevilla whacked in four in a mad old game in Galicia.
Deportivo La Coruna 3-4 Sevilla