Five things we learned from La Liga
It’s as you were at the top of La Liga as all of Barcelona, Valencia, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid won this weekend.
Barca hold a four-point lead over Valencia with the Madrid clubs a further four points adrift ahead of the first ever capital derby at the Wanda Metropolitano in two weeks’ time.
However, not all is well for the top clubs with the flattering form of many of La Liga’s top striking talent features prominently in five things we learned from the La Liga weekend:
“If we have 23 points (from 33) and Griezmann isn’t scoring then that’s a good sign,” insisted Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone after hauling off the French international 10 minutes from time away at Deportivo la Coruna with the score at 0-0.
Simeone and another lacklustre performance from his side were bailed out by Thomas Partey’s 91st minute strike to snatch a 1-0 win.
Griezmann has scored 25, 32 and 26 goals in his first three seasons at Atletico, but just three in 13 appearances so far this campaign
“Antoine can’t create a chance if he doesn’t have the ball,” complained Griezmann’s brother on Twitter of Atletico’s style.
Griezmann rejected the advances of Manchester United to sign a new deal in June once Atletico’s appeal against a transfer ban failed.
However, a parting of the ways at the end of the season looks increasingly inevitable, presuming there are still suitors willing to meet his 100 million euro buyout clause.
Benzema proving Linekar right
Griezmann isn’t alone as a star La Liga striker short on goals this season. Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have one each and Luis Suarez just three.
Benzema’s struggles have attracted an ongoing Twitter row with former England great Gary Linekar who described the Frenchman as “overrated” for having survived at the Bernabeu for nine seasons.
Zinedine Zidane described Linekar’s views as “shameful”, whilst Benzema accused the TV presenter of “spreading hatred.”
However, once more it’s Real’s own fans who backed Linekar’s views as Benzema was jeered after missing a glaring early chance in Sunday’s 3-0 win over Las Palmas.
Barca back-ups do the business
What a difference a season makes. Last year it was Barca’s lack of depth and Real Madrid’s wealth of resources that swung a tight title race Real’s way.
So far this season, it is Barca’s squad players who have often played crucial roles, whilst Madrid are lamenting the decisions that saw Pepe, Alvaro Morata, James Rodriguez and Danilo leave.
Paco Alcacer was surprisingly thrown in for his first La Liga start since the opening day against Sevilla and proved the match winner with both Barca’s goals on a rare off night in front of goal for Lionel Messi.
Ernesto Valverde’s impact is being felt just as strongly in the Basque country as Barcelona.
Having lost their coach to the Catalans, Athletic Bilbao have won once in their last eight league games to slip to within five points of the relegation zone.
A squad boasting the talents of Spanish internationals Kepa Arrizabalaga, Inaki Williams and Aritz Aduriz is capable of much more, as they showed in qualifying for Europe in four straight seasons under Valverde.
Whilst, Athletic’s problems were at the top end of the pitch when they dominated for large spells without reward in losing to Barcelona last week, at Celta Vigo on Sunday their defending left them 3-0 down after just 26 minutes.
Jose Angel Ziganda’s promotion from the B team to fill the void left by Valverde hasn’t worked and he may be the next La Liga coach for the chopping block.
Calleja coming of age
By contrast, Villarreal’s bet on the inexperience of Javier Calleja has come up trumps.
The 39-year-old is the youngest coach in the Spanish top flight and has revitalised a talented, but under-performing squad under Fran Escriba.
Since a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Getafe that brought Escriba’s time in charge to an abrupt halt, Calleja has overseen four wins and a draw at Atletico Madrid in five games and steered the Yellow Submarine towards the last 32 of the Europa League.
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