FFT's La Liga expert Tim Stannard on the interesting stuff that kicked off in Spain over the weekend...
Three victories for La Liga’s brightest and best with three clean sheets to boot, in what was a fairly drama-free weekend of action in Spain. Still, aeroplane banners and troubles of a certain failing Frenchman did keep things fairly interesting on the domestic front ahead of a midweek Euro fest.
Barça are getting the best out of Neymar and Messi
Luis Enrique may have cracked the issue of how to get Neymar and Leo Messi to play together. The first is to have both players fit at the same time, something that caused poor Tata Martino no end of trouble last season. The second is to have both players chirpy and happy, something that caused Poor Tata Martino no end of trouble last season as well.
The third is having Messi become some sort of ethereal Buddhist monk that takes pleasures in his team-mates' successes by offering a plethora of assists. Saturday’s easy-peasy six-goal win over Granada saw Messi claim two assists and two goals to complement Neymar's hat-trick.
The Barça boss doesn’t even mind his Argentine charge playing the whole game, either. “The pleasure of watching him is so immense... I prefer to see him until the last minute of the match,” admitted Enrique, who said his head tells him to put Messi on the bench when the match is all tied up, but the heart wins out. Seventeen goals in six La Liga games so far this season, zero conceded: ominous stuff from Barça, considering Luis Suárez has yet to play.
SEE ALSO How Luis Enrique is unlocking Neymar’s true quality
Atlético relieved after Sevilla blow-out
LLL had the suspicion that all Atlético needed was a bit of a challenge to get their juices flowing properly, and that was what happened with the visit of Sevilla. Although they landed another clean sheet, the Rojiblancos still struggled to finish from open play, with only Koke’s effort fitting that bill.
The second from Saúl stemmed from a free-kick, the third was a penalty and the final strike a header from Raul Jiménez's free-kick. That relieved a bit of pressure on a player who was apparently being threatened with a loan spell to Getafe at Christmas unless he bucked his ideas up a tad. No one deserves that.
Ronaldo may be happy to retire in La Liga
It might take more than an aeroplane buzzing about El Madrigal to lure Cristiano Ronaldo away from La Liga and return to Old Trafford: “Ronaldo come home,” was the begging banner towed around the skies during the clash against Villarreal. The Real Madrid man quite enjoys scoring goals (and celebrating them) and he is getting a whole bunch of them this season.
Rather like Messi, Ronaldo is looking a much happier camper these days with the World Cup out the way. He's morphing into a full-on No.9, a position he has always rejected but may well embrace by the time his 30th birthday arrives. The 2-0 victory, which produced Real Madrid’s first clean sheet in six games, saw a perfectly placed strike into the bottom corner after an even lovelier lay-off from Karim Benzema. The strike is Ronaldo’s 10th in La Liga this season and 11th in the last six games. CR7 will never have it so good at Old Trafford.
Valencia’s train runs out of steam
It was a frenetic, ding-dong affair in Anoeta at times between Real Sociedad and Valencia, two teams who always put on a bit of a show. Efforts were cleared off the line, whizzed wide or spectacularly saved. The end result was a 1-1 draw, which sadly knocks Valencia off top spot, probably not to return for some time. Or maybe they will next week. This year’s La Liga looks like being so mad, results are anyone’s guess.
Athletic Bilbao are in all kinds of trouble
With all due respect to Eibar, a team that has thrown a few spanners in works this season, the Basque minnows should have been easily disposed of by some Basque giants. Instead, Athletic continued an awful run of form with a goalless draw. The result leaves the San Mamés side without a win in five and with only two goals to their name.
Defender Aymeric Laporte blames the Champions League, noting that “a match every three days is taking its toll”. Things are likely to get even worse with a clash in Belarus against BATE on Tuesday, followed by a visit to the Santiago Bernabéu. A relegation battle is still out of the question, but Athletic are far too far behind to contemplate a return to next year’s Champions League.
Celta maintain ‘surprise package’ tag
Still unbeaten, still immensely watchable and still doing great things in La Liga. That’s the current vibe with Celta Vigo, who disposed of Elche late on Friday night. The eventual winner which popped up in injury time was a doozy: a lovely through-ball from Michael Krohn-Dehli was met by a polished finish from Nolito for his fourth of the season.
Leo Baptistao should never have left Vallecas
Of course, a hefty transfer fee was a key part of the striker’s move to Atlético Madrid a year ago, but nothing ever really rubbed up for lanky Leo at the Vicente Calderón, or at Betis where he was subsequently plonked on loan. In fact, one goal in La Liga was all Baptistao had to show for that spell, three fewer than the forward has already racked up this season after netting four goals in two games against Athletic Bilbao and Levante.
Zizou is still in deep doo-doo
Real Madrid’s second team, Castilla, are plumped bottom of the Segunda ‘B’ group two division – very low in the food chain – after a home defeat to Amorebieta. Just one victory in six sees the Frenchman’s managerial career already going through a bit of a sticky patch.