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La Review: Barça play rubbish and still win as title rivals stumble

Tim Stannard’s in cheery spirits after his pre-weekend prediction…

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Told you so. Now, La Liga Loca doesn’t like to toot its own horn and blow its own trumpet – actually that’s a flat out lie, as both activities are listed as hobbies on the blog’s C.V. – but a turbulent time predicted for the Primera’s top three was indeed delivered. Of the current top seven, only Barcelona managed to win in a weekend when some mighty minnows struck back...

Barcelona rely on more Messi magic to escape Málaga mangle

LLL is going to have to be a little brusque and matronly with cold showers and a five-mile cross-country run in the snow here. But if Barcelona repeat the same half-baked display against Málaga in the Camp Nou against Atlético Madrid next week, then things might not go so well for the culés.

It’s incredible how we were winning from the first minutes and then we changed so much

- Luis Enrique

One fundamental this season is that a bad day at the office for Diego Simeone’s side is considerably better than a bad day for the champions. Atleti tend to stay within a steady range on the grading scale, whereas Barça skip up and down like Gerard Pique being strapped to a heart monitor as Alvaro Arbeloa takes his car out for a spin in a quarry.

However, despite playing worst out of the top three this weekend, Luis Enrique’s side came out best with a 2-1 win to move themselves back to the top of the table above Atlético and four points clear of Real Madrid – a lead that could eventually extend to seven should they prevail in their game in hand against Sporting.  

A disgruntled Enrique is unlikely to find too much comfort from that outcome, though, with the perplexed Barça boss shaking his head that “it’s incredible how we were winning from the first minutes and then we changed so much”. As ever, it was a moment of genius from Leo Messi at one end and a sturdy performance from Claudio Bravo at the other that had Enrique trotting out the cliché that “big teams win, despite playing badly”.

Real Madrid derailed by ghost of Madrid’s Mourinho past

A team gushed over in the Spanish press last week as reaching ‘near perfection’ against Sporting was facing a battered Betis side in institutional turmoil

On the other hand, the blog is going to be contrary and suggest that it was Real Madrid who played best of the title-competing trio but picked up the most damaging result. A team gushed over in the Spanish press last week as reaching “near perfection” against Sporting was facing a battered Betis side in institutional turmoil (as always), with an interim manager and a record of failing to win at home since September.

So of course, the Betis players pulled out an untypical industrious display that would have infuriated former manager Pepe Mel, and a true work of genius opening goal from Alvaró Cejudo. The Spaniard wasn’t the only maestro on the pitch, with former Madrid man Adrián Adán – he of the Casillas vs Mourinho spat – pulling out a thunderous display in goal with seven big saves to keep out the visitors’ forward line that mainly consisted of Karim Benzema (what with Gareth Bale injured and Cristiano Ronaldo fairly subdued).

A great kerfuffle was due in the Madrid press when Benzema was denied a penalty in the first half for an ankle crush. Fortunately for the sake of peace and quiet, that wrong decision was balanced in the second when the Real Madrid equaliser was allowed, despite at least four opposition players being in an offside position.

A spirited display is the only straw of happiness to be grasped by Zizou, with Madrid having dropped 14 points in La Liga this season and now in danger of falling seven points behind Barça at the top.

Atlético shut out by a sturdy Sevilla

The most entertaining moment in a fairly intense match was Unai Emery’s continued afters with any match official within yelling distance

A goalless draw with Sevilla in the Vicente Calderón had Atlético Madrid playing within the team’s normal thin margins for error, but this time falling on the wrong side. While the Rojiblancos produced yet another clean sheet – mainly because Sevilla didn’t really mount too many attacks – the visitors’ own superb rearguard with one man down for half an hour meant Atleti were shut out to lose the leadership.

Perhaps the most entertaining moment in a fairly intense match was Unai Emery’s continued afters with any match official within yelling distance, after being sent off for protesting Vitolo’s red card in the second half. The Sevilla boss is probably still doing it today.

Mixed fortunes for Primera’s Basque battlers

A curious weekend for the Basque Country in the Primera. ‘Curious’ meaning ‘woeful’ in the case of Real Sociedad, who will be forced to grovel and bow to their fans for the next week or so after a disastrous 5-1 defeat on Friday night against Sporting.

It was considerably better for Athletic Bilbao, who defeated spirited opponents Eibar with a 5-2 victory that featured two stupendous goals from the ageless Aritz Aduriz.

Valencia still stuck in Primera car park under Neville

Valencia have yet to win in La Liga under Gary Neville and have now gone 10 games without a victory in La Primera

Still no sign of improvement from Valencia. No sign at all. The only highlight was Alvaró Negredo for once being able to save the side with an injury-time goal that earned a 1-1 draw at Deportivo, as opposed to blowing a chance – as had happened on previous days for the Mestalla club.

Valencia have yet to win in La Liga under Gary Neville and have now gone 10 games without a victory in La Primera, a run that leaves them 16 points off the Champions League places and edging towards the relegation zone.

Better news for Primera’s bottom-dwellers

‘Twas a fine weekend for some of the teams caught up in the relegation swirl, although Levante have yet to face their own test of mettle against another bottom-dweller, Las Palmas (coming up tonight).

Sporting had the chance to stand down and rest easy with the aforementioned demolition of Real Sociedad, while Rayo’s policy of attacking with all guns blazing from kick-off paid in style after they went 3-0 up against Celta Vigo in the first half and managed to hang onto the lead for once.

Less enjoyable for the manager but equally as important was Granada’s 3-2 win over Getafe that kept José Ramón Sandoval in his job for at least a couple more weeks, although that scenario was in jeopardy after a 2-0 lead was lost before Granada prevailed late on.

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