The European champions face their city rivals in the Champions League this week but must do it without a clutch of stars, writes Tim Stannard...
So much happened on the pitch and yet so little jiggling occured among the top three, who all managed to win. But Barcelona rode their luck, like it was the last horse out of a tumbleweed town.
Real Madrid paid a hefty price for a win over Málaga, while Atlético did what they do best – grab a couple of early goals and then sit on the lead like a squawking, footballing hen with a beak made of dynamite.
Here are some more rantings and ramblings from the weekend...
Valencia come up just short as Barca surge for line
A result that's going to look very solid and perfunctory – a 2-0 victory against an impressive and dangerous Valencia side to keep Barcelona at the top of the table. However, the reality is a match that Barca won only by the hair on its league-leading chinny-chin-chin.
The first goal from Luis Suárez came after 55 seconds, and the last with about 55 seconds left of the match through Leo Messi. In between it was a case of Valencia fluffing lines by missing a penalty, striking the woodwork and being generally exasperating. At the same time it was plucky for watching Real Madrid fans, desperately wanting Nuno’s men from Mestalla to do the capital club a truly enormous favour.
“Proud, but not satisfied,” was the verdict from Nuno. “The win was fair, but it took an awful lot to get,” said a no-doubt-exhausted Luis Enrique, who must be able to see the finishing line in the far distance, and maybe even get a whiff of it if the Barca boss happens to have canine-sensitive smell.
Barcelona 2-0 Valencia
Mixed feelings for Madrid against Málaga
A difficult victory to process for Real Madrid supporters. First off, there was a topsy-turvy affair against a Málaga side that brought their big-kid trousers to the Santiago Bernabéu.
Every match is a nervy one, now that the margin for error is rather slim and Barcelona seem to have the fighting spirit to keep their lead at the top.
However, the 3-1 win came at a cost. The first was a calf twang for Gareth Bale after five minutes that means the winger will miss the Atlético game on Wednesday. Not a major problem, was the murmur from the crowd. But then Luka Modric knocked his knee, potentially ruling the midfielder out for the season.
“Now we’re screwed,” was the vibe from the crowd according to Marca’s Roberto Palomar, seeing as Karim Benzema is also out through injury and Marcelo through suspension.
The week really could be a truly fantastic one for Madrid, with victory over the accursed Rojiblancos in the Champions League at the eighth attempt, followed by an away win against Celta Vigo, and Barcelona slipping up in Cornella against Espanyol. Or it could be quite dreadful. LLL isn't entirely sure.
Real Madrid 3-1 Malaga
Griezmann continues to be brilliant
There is a definite Cristiano Ronaldo vibe around Atlético Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann. It's not just in his swashbuckling approach to football, and the confident (decidedly Gallic) way he carries himself.
But there’s the Ronaldo-esque way that the Frenchman seems to be in the right place at the right time to predict where any loose balls might bounce. It's this knack that produced a brace for the Rojiblancos at Deportivo, and now puts him on 20 in La Liga after five goals in the last four rounds.
There is one dark cloud for Diego Simeone, though – hey, LLL doesn’t like to be too positive about things. When Griezmann went off and Fernando Torres and Raul Jimenez came on, the threat up front tailed away. The Argentine still needs to find a way to win if Griezmann isn't channelling his inner Portuguese poacher.
Deportivo La Coruna 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Villarreal are actually doing quite badly
There are such good vibrations around Villarreal that the team everyone would like to invite round for tea and scones have managed to be quite bad of late without anyone really realising it. That is, everyone except Villarreal fans, the manager, players and those who are actually paying attention properly.
The goalless draw in El Madrigal against Córdoba – yes, Córdoba – continues a frustrating run of form in front of goal that has produced just the single goal in six games and one victory in eight.
“We shot 28 times but still couldn’t get a goal,” said an exasperated Marcelino, whose team need to find some form sharpish in the case the previously water-tight sixth-placed spot starts to look decidedly leaky.
Villarreal 0-0 Cordoba
Eeezer Goode. And not so goode.
Uppies for Elche who beat Real Sociedad thanks to a defensive howler, but big downies to Eibar, a team that lost at home to Celta Vigo and are still desperately clinging onto the bath tub sides to avoid slipping down the Primera plughole. And that seems a little bit mean, considering Elche are an institutional basket case that cannot pay its own players or debts to rival clubs, and Eibar is a tremendously well-run, tight ship. One would be a loss to the Spanish top flight; the other, less so. Incidentally, LLL went on a Shamen revival. It was not good. Rather like watching Highlander again. Best left to the memories.
Eibar 0-1 Celta Vigo
Paco Jémez is still King of the Grumps
A 2-0 victory over visiting Almería that sees Rayo pretty much safe for the season on 41 points should have been enough to see Jémez cartwheeling into the cosy confines of Rayo’s press room after the game.
Instead, the Rayo boss continued his huge downward funk by pulling his players apart. “We made technical errors that were more appropriate to the third division,” fumed Jémez, who had another blast lined up.
“If I see anyone relaxing now, they won’t wear the shirt of Rayo again.” LLL is no expert, but that’s the kind of talk that would have the blog bursting about the Madrid side’s midfield until it barfed its lunch up. Which would probably take about 90 seconds, judging by the state of LLL when it has to go up a flight of stairs.
Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Almeria