FourFourTwo.com's man in Madrid Tim Stannardruns the rule over the first half of the 2011/12 season in the Primera Liga...
Athletic Bilbao - current position: 7th
Within the space of a couple of weeks, LLL saw the worst and the best of Athletic Bilbao under the every-so-slightly strange Marcelo Bielsa. In a goalless draw against Getafe, the side looked toothless and a little lost, with Javi MartÃÂnez appearing as fed up as a caged hedgehog with being stuck in central defence, the rampaging midfielderÃ¢ÂÂs new position.
For the first half in SundayÃ¢ÂÂs 4-1 defeat in the Santiago Bernabeu, the Basque side were quite magnificent, the movement of the two lines of three causing no end of defensive confusion for Madrid. This tactical upgrade had been whacked on to the strength, power and downright direct dirtiness of JoaquÃÂn CaparrÃÂ³s, who had done wonders to develop a team of outstanding young talent such as Iker Muniain. There is still much work to be done but so far Athletic are rolling along nicely with a solid chance at grabbing fourth in la Liga, still in the Copa del Rey (at time of writing) and through to the next round of the Europa League.
LLL Rating: B+
AtlÃÂ©tico Madrid - 8th
Blimey. Where to start? The short version - and the one LLL is going with - is a half season of institutional indecision from Enrique Cerezo and the Gil clan over whether they wanted Gregorio Manzano or not. By December, the answer was no - that was certainly the vote from the supporters, who failed to back the incoming coach from the beginning. While AtlÃÂ©tico had a decent record at home, their away form was appalling, with the Rojiblancos only picking up their first win on the road in January.
The incoming Diego Simeone appears to have given the players the mental toughness that had been lacking, but it is too late now for a side that is out of the Copa del Rey, out of the Europa League and still has some catching up to if it wants Champions League football next season - something that the clubÃ¢ÂÂs bank account requires.
LLL Rating: C-
Barcelona - 2nd
LLL is going to be a little bit harsh here, as although Barcelona have beaten Real Madrid 14 times already this season, the Catalan side are still five points behind their league rivals. Although this could be closed during a wobbly spell, itÃ¢ÂÂs BarÃÂ§a that look the most flimsy this season with very silly points being dropped away from home - Getafe being the champion chump moment for the Catalan club.
These points have not been tossed aside because Barcelona have worsened this season - indeed the signings of Alexis SÃÂ¡nchez and Cesc Fabregas have strengthened the Catalans enormously, but because in la Liga, BarÃÂ§a really donÃ¢ÂÂt seem to be that bothered any more. Except when they rolled up at the Bernabeu to remind Real Madrid that although the Capital city club may win the league title, they are still inferior to BarÃÂ§a. However itÃ¢ÂÂs unlikely that fans of the Madrid club will give a jumping jot about that in May.
LLL Rating: C+
Betis - 12th
A barking mad season so far for Betis, who sit in 12th with 26 points, meaning that it would take a disastrous second half of the season for the Seville side to go down. But then again, Betis are more than capable of achieving that, having gone through a spell between September and December picking up just one point from 30, a horrific slide that nearly got coach Pepe Mel the sack. So while mid-table is just fine for the newly promoted club, it could have been a whole lot better for Betis.
Extra bonus points are awarded though for playing some purty football and really giving it a go in the Santiago Bernabeu and Camp Nou this season, although both matches did end up with defeat ultimately.
LLL Rating: B-
Espanyol - 5th
The Pericos have trundled along quite nicely in la Liga this season without making too much fuss and noise. But thatÃ¢ÂÂs been the trademark of coach, Mauricio Pochettino who is now in his third full season at the club and having to dig deep into the cantera - and get Sergio GarcÃÂa playing - after losing the goals of Javier CallejÃÂ³n and Osvaldo after the summer.
While Espanyol have hauled themselves into fifth partly by the fact that no-one else in that position is particularly consistent this year - LLLÃ¢ÂÂs polite way of saying Ã¢ÂÂany goodÃ¢ÂÂ - itÃ¢ÂÂs above the expectations of a side who would happily have settled for a late top ten spot come May, whilst the teamÃ¢ÂÂs youngsters gained another year of experience.
LLL Rating: B+
Getafe - 11th
LLL canÃ¢ÂÂt think of a single time itÃ¢ÂÂs seen Getafe this year and had its tiny mind blown, as used to happen from time to time in days of yore. Well, perhaps twice. Not even the BarÃÂ§a match was particularly impressive despite Getafe inflicting the only defeat on the Catalan club in la Liga this season.
Luis GarcÃÂa had a rocky start with the club since joining from Levante with the team struggling for goals - technically, Getafe still are, as Dani GÃÂ¼iza has been largely hopeless on his return - but in the past couple of months, GarcÃÂa has made the Madrid(ish) side tough to beat, if not unspectacular. The half-way point sees Getafe snuck in mid-table where they are likely to remain. But that would be just fine after the second half of the season.
LLL Rating: C+
Granada - 18th
Although Granada are in the relegation zone, having just sacked their manager, that's exactly where LLL expected the side to be, with back-to-back promotions perhaps seeing the club peeking too early in la Primera. But still, the blog thought the club would be in an even worse situation by now, cut adrift at the bottom-of-the-table so Granada are actually doing a little better than LLL originally anticipated.
LLL Rating: C-
Tomorrow: Part Two - Levante to Real Madrid
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