La Liga: it’s just got interesting. Very interesting...

Just a point separates the top three after yet another defeat for Barcelona, writes Tim Stannard...

The league is now dividing itself into three major spheres of interest: Europe, relegation and zombie clubs like Malaga and Deportivo that gave up about two months ago.

Eagle-eyed La Liga viewers may already know that there was quite the kerfuffle at the top of the table this weekend. But there was also intrigue aplenty at the bottom after a bad weekend for pretty much everyone except the mighty Rayo, who pulled off the result of the round with a win over Villarreal.

That said, Valencia did pretty well for themselves too...

Barcelona’s cushion reduced to mere feathers

The conspiracy-loving La Liga Loca is now imagining some kind of shady board meeting among Spanish football’s movers and shakers about three weeks ago. “Have you seen this whole Leicester City business? We need to do better. Give Barcelona a call. They need to take one for the team.”

La Liga really is back in play with just a point separating the top three, something no Primera purveyor might ever have imagined before the Clásico. And for good reason: Barcelona throwing away the title would take a collapse of genuinely historic proportions, along with the chasers showing iron-like consistency.

Luis Enrique was right that the loss to Valencia on Sunday was different to previous slip-ups against Real Sociedad, Real Madrid and Atleti. Barcelona were the zippy side of old for large chunks of the game, but a combination of an inspired Diego Alves in the Valencia goal and a ball that simply wouldn’t go in, could not prevent a third league loss in a row for the first time since 2003.

To be fair, the Barça boss was in a sticky situation last year and came away with the Treble, so Enrique has earned some credit when he said: “I think it will be necessary to win all five games left, but if anyone is capable of doing that, it is Barcelona.”

Luis Suarez, Neymar

Suarez and Neymar feel the strain against Valencia

Atletico become unbeatable Bond villain  

The reason why Atlético are just so plain efficient in dealing with what could cruelly be described as La Liga’s riff-raff, is that they are akin to a particularly effective James Bond villain. The kind that would simply throw 007 into the shark tank without bothering to explain the masterplan first, then go about executing it with brutal efficiency. Granada never stood a chance.

Real Madrid give cannon-fodder festival in the Coliseum

Debuting Getafe manager Juan Eduardo Esnáider claimed that he was pleased with the attitude and effort of his players after a 5-1 defeat at home to Real Madrid.

LLL is going to ask the Argentine to manage its own annual performance reviews in the future. For the second week in a row, all Real Madrid had to do to win the game was turn up and pass the ball about a bit.

Athletic recover quickly from Europa League expulsion

The Europa League double header wasn’t the only duel that Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao have been involved in of late – the pair have been duking it out for the remaining Europa League places in La Liga, alongside Celta Vigo.

Athletic’s elimination meant that the league was their last chance of hot-footing into Europe next season, with Sevilla still having footholds on this year’s competition and the Copa del Rey.

Raul Garcia

The reliable Raul Garcia grabbed a goal for Athletic

However, Sunday’s clash at Málaga had to be tackled with both Iñaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz missing from the line-up, but that’s no problem when Rául García – one of La Liga’s unsung heroes – is about. The former Atlético man headed home from a corner in a 1-0 win that moved Athletic into 5th, five points ahead of Sevilla who fell to a late equaliser at home to Deportivo.

Eibar find Primera peace at last

For the first time in the team’s Primera odyssey, Eibar came from behind against Real Sociedad to win 2-1 and ease any lingering fears

At last, La Liga Loca can sleep properly again after several months of waking up in sweats screaming “Eibaaaaar! No!” (Incidentally, has anyone ever actually sat bolt upright  when waking up from a nightmare as in the films? Thought not.)

The mighty Basque minnows were stuck on a still-precarious 38 points and wary of the lessons from last season, when they were (initially) relegated on the last day after an impressive first half of the campaign was followed by a disastrous second.

History was repeating a tad, this year, with the northerners having only won one game from 12 attempts.

Eibar

Eibar have made the most of last season's reprieve

But for the first time in the team’s Primera odyssey, Eibar came from behind against Real Sociedad to win 2-1 and ease any lingering fears of the drop. They won’t need an Elche debacle to save the day this time.

“The suffering is over,” admitted Eibar boss José Luis Mendilibar, “from now on, we can start enjoying ourselves.”

Levante find tough love works best in relegation rumble

Obviously things didn’t quite go to plan for Getafe despite Pablo Sarabia’s most amusing pre-match boast that 'the Coliseum isn’t a ground to simply turn up and win easily'

The three clubs in the relegation zone before the weekend tried three separate methods to get their booties into gear. Getafe fired a manager, Sporting fans hung up towels around the training ground, and Levante supporters sent a fan group leader to berate the manager and captains.

The final method seemed to work best, with only Levante picking up three points. Obviously things didn’t quite go to plan for Getafe despite Pablo Sarabia’s most amusing pre-match boast that “the Coliseum isn’t a ground to simply turn up and win easily”. Clearly, it is.

Sporting picked up a point in Las Palmas, which may seem like an annoyingly small tally now but could be useful considering the Canary Islanders have been fairly strong of late.

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