La Liga Weekend: The Crazy Season Continues
This weekend’s La Liga action was open to plenty of unpredictability. Barcelona faced a tough Villarreal side, Atletico Madrid travelled to Girona and league leaders Sevilla travelled to Alaves. Both sides have been outstanding and are both massive surprises this season. Alaves, who were bottom at this point last season, came into this game somehow sitting in fourth.
Even crazier than that was that when the weekend started, Sevilla were top, but a 1-1 draw between La Liga’s wildcards saw order restored at the top of the table. After 14 rounds Barca are top, Atletico are third and Real Madrid, despite all the awful performances, are only five points back in fifth.
Barcelona v Villarreal
Villareal came to the Camp Nou this La Liga weekend with one objective in mind: to frustrate the Catalans while hoping their playmakers could find the net. They certainly did one of those things quite well but they were unable to find the back of the net as they lost to 2-0 to Barcelona.
This game continued one of Barcelona’s biggest trends this season; when they play badly, Ousmane Dembele is at his best. He was simply outstanding against Villareal, running at players, linking up with Lionel Messi and other players around him and his cross was the assist that allowed Gerard Pique to head home Barcelona’s opening goal.
But before and after that goal, Villarreal’s tactics were working great. This game will be more memorable for clashes like Pique v Gerard Moreno or Sergio Busquets against Pablo Fornals and that’s how Villarreal wanted the game to go. Barcelona have too much brilliance, though. If Dembele doesn’t provide the assist, then Messi will slip a ball through that Carles Alena can chip home for the second goal. Quality like that just cannot be contained.
Real Madrid v Valencia
Real Madrid went into their home game against Valencia hoping to build off of their win in Rome on Tuesday. They got the result they wanted, but the performance wasn’t exactly something to remember. A 2-0 win at home shines a bright light on a Madrid team that got a gifted own goal from Daniel Wass, struggled to score their second until the 83rd minute.
Defensively, Madrid were strong. They held Valencia, last seasons fourth-place side, to only two shots on target. They were not able to string together much threat going forward, though. Gareth Bale was better than he’s been recently but was still relatively absent. Karim Benzema popped up to provide the assist for the second goal but wasn’t visible for much else and their first goal came courtesy of good work from Dani Carvajal.
That is not enough for Real Madrid but they will take wins compared to last week’s loss to Eibar. Still, the win, coupled with a loss by Espanyol, means they moved up to fifth place, only two points behind Atletico Madrid, who had a much worse weekend.
Girona v Atletico Madrid
Atletico Madrid knew going away to Girona would be a tougher test than it looked. They’ve gone away to Barcelona and drew, as well as winning their trip to the Mestalla against Valencia. At half-time on Sunday, they were leading 1-0 thanks to their talisman, Cristhian Stuani. He corralled a lovely ball and forced Jan Oblak into a diving challenge that earned him a penalty, which Stuani dispatched.
From there, Girona had a very Atletico-like performance. They dug in, they were strong defensively and they frustrated Atletico, who are never great in that position. They could not hold out, however, as a ball over the top to Diego Costa was slapped into his own net by Girona defender Jonas Ramalho.
The result shines a bright light on a pretty terrible Atletico Madrid side. They do have plenty of injuries; Saul Niguez played at left-back and had their best chance, hitting the crossbar. They created almost nothing going forward in this game. This draw gives them seven for the season and only one win away all campaign. With Barcelona and Real Madrid not at their best, this is a missed chance that Atletico will rue at the end of the season.