FFT's Spanish expert Tim Stannard laments a beautiful goal that only could have been for little Lionel...
Drat and double drat. No major crises lined up for El Clásico this weekend, unless Manchester City get extremely dirty against Barcelona in the Champions League on Wednesday or find previously never-before-seen form in the Camp Nou to knock out the Catalan side's stuffing.
This leaves plenty of breathing space for some other talk this week. Valencia took hold of third, Córdoba continue to look like an already-relegated team and a gaggle of outfits like Rayo and Málaga jostle for a Europa League place.
Messi shows off close-hand magic
Grounds like Eibar's are the best place to catch Leo Messi in action. While Cristiano Ronaldo is the world's David Copperfield with his hair, tan and ability to make buildings disappear, Messi is the sleight-of-hand street magician, a reminder of how the Argentine can leave top-class footballers looking very ordinary.
The 2-0 win against Eibar – dogged and praiseworthy opponents – almost saw a classic effort from Messi who wheeled and nutmegged his way through the opposition defence, but failed at the last with a give-and-go that didn't quite connect. Instead, Messi’s brace came from a penalty – converted properly this time – and a strangely powerful header, which was a curiosity in itself.
Eibar 0-2 Barcelona
Bale channels Bieber as Madrid do enough
LLL was tickled pink. Seeing Gareth Bale all riled up with his “can’t hear you haters!” goal celebration was a little like watching Justin Bieber ‘spontaneously’ kick over a mic stand at the same point in a concert, night after night. The Welsh winger just seems too nice to be really bad. Bale should perhaps take a leaf out of King Zlatan’s playbook on how to be irked, after the Swede's post-Bordeaux anti-France rant.
Ronaldo looked just as grumpy having seen Bale grab the opening goal, and then his colleague’s shin doing enough to complete his brace in a 2-0 win over Levante.
It says a lot when the most cheerful player on the pitch is Karim Benzema, who seemed to be in his own happy-but-cheerful world, coming close to scoring the goal of the season with a reverse hook volley.
The Madrid media's reaction was tempered on Monday. The result was a good one, but it was against Levante. But at least Bale was on the scoresheet, something that would have made El Presidente happy.
“All that was missing was the the players going out onto the pitch flanked by two ACS diggers,” noted Roberto Palomar in Marca, referring to the construction company owned by Florentino Pérez.
Real Madrid 2-0 Levante
Mestalla men gain Atlético superpowers
Valencia are now the new Atlético Madrid. Not just because of the fact that the team are currently occupying third spot, but due to their ability to grind out the sort of wins that the Rojiblancos did last year.
In Friday night’s game, visiting Deportivo were obstinate, but the Mestalla men hung about long enough to pick up a penalty and a second a few minutes later from Paco Alcácer.
It’s a skill that's been temporarily lost by Atlético, with Diego Simeone’s side managing stalemate No.3 in a goalless draw against Espanyol. Atlético are really suffering away at the moment, having not netted on their last three road trips. Still, the ever-cheerful Simeone sees happier times ahead with Getafe and Córdoba coming next for the champions, after a big old night of Champions League action against Leverkusen. “I think the team is getting better, we created chances and had stability,” enthused the Atlético boss.
Valencia 2-0 Deportivo • Espanyol 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Athletic still over-dependent on Aritz
An up-and-down season for Athletic is currently in the ascendency, with a fourth win on the trot in both the Copa del Rey and La Liga. The improvement is down to the club’s strength and weakness: Aritz Aduriz.
When the player is off his game or injured, the Basque team slumps. When the forward is on form, then things tend to go well. It was Aduriz who took Athletic through the Copa semi against Espanyol, scored the winner against Real Madrid last weekend and got the opener against Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Aduriz's haul of 11 goals is clearly impressive, but the big worry for Ernesto Valverde is that the second-top scorer in the team is defender Mikel San José with four, one more than the rest of the strikers in the Athletic squad put together in La Liga this season.
Villarreal still floppy on the road
A very frustrating team. At times the Yellow Submarine can be a blast to watch, but all too often the team’s games can be a little plodding. That was certainly the case in the goalless draw against Almería that could have been defeat had Tomer Hemed not put a ball 50 feet over the bar from three feet out. The goalless draw was the sixth away match in La Liga without a victory. Mmm.
Almeria 0-0 Villarreal
A good weekend for Alberto Bueno
It says a lot for both Rayo’s largely lower-league history and tendency for decent players to leave that Alberto Bueno became the club’s top scorer in La Primera this weekend.
The former Real Madrid and Derby County man – who else has that on the CV? – scored a brace in the 3-1 win against Granada to make it 26 goals, and new history in the process. Pats on the back all round!
Rayo Vallecano 3-1 Granada