Real Madrid, Lionel Messi, Awards & the Best Starting XI: La Liga Weekly Review

Michael CernaCorrespondent ISeptember 17, 2012

Real Madrid, Lionel Messi, Awards & the Best Starting XI: La Liga Weekly Review

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    Real Madrid is in big trouble. After losing their second match of the season, Los Merengues have allowed their rivals to build an eight-point lead in La Liga.

    Speaking of Barcelona, their star forward scored two more goals against Getafe and is now outscoring 75 percent of Spanish clubs.

    Beyond the big two, we had a fantastic week of football.

    Atletico Madrid made a claim as a serious title challenger while Valencia finally got its season back on track.

    Malaga continued to surprise while Espanyol were done in yet again.

    Let's take a look at a few lessons we learned in Spain this week and the 11 best players of the weekend's matches.

    Apologies to Real Betis and Valladolid as their Monday evening match was not taken into account here.

    Now, enjoy Bleacher Report's weekly La Liga review for round four of the new season in Spain.

Credit to Sevilla, Not Blame on Madrid

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    Sevilla boss Michel was right when he said that the media is looking at the wrong side of this battle.

    Too often when Real Madrid or Barcelona lose, people make excuses for the loss. They try to reason how the Spanish giants failed.

    Sometimes, these two teams just get outplayed. Instead of trying to figure out what Madrid did wrong in Andalusia, people should study what Sevilla did right.

    Sure, the reigning champs weren't at their elite best, but that is not why they lost. They lost because Jesus Navas & Co. outplayed Los Merengues.

    No excuses, no great mystery. Madrid just weren't good enough to beat a good team.


    Solving the wrong mystery

    The more shocking question than how Real lost is this: how did this match only have one goal scored?

    Sergio Ramos had a clear shot on goal, but missed. Alvaro Negredo missed two chances. It is a wonder that this wasn't a shootout.

    While the finishing was sloppy from both clubs, Sevilla was still the better team and deserved three points.


    How they won

    From the first whistle, Sevilla controlled the match. They scored the opener in less than three minutes and never gave up the lead.

    Michel's addition of Hedwiges Maduro in midfield was brilliant. It allowed them to pressure Real every time they touched the ball and did a fantastic job of cutting off Real's passing lanes.

    Maduro was the major reason the Sevillistas were so successful on defense. He shielded the defense and neutralized Mezut Ozil the entire first half.

    Piotr Trochowski was the other key to victory as he marked Xabi Alonso all night and prevented the Spaniard from starting attacks the way the champs are used to.

    Alonso was never allowed much time on the ball and was almost always forced to make short, close passes rather then sending the ball down to his attackers.


    Best winger in Spain

    A few Madridistas were critical of me when I ranked Jesus Navas above Angel di Maria and labeled him the best winger in La Liga.

    Now that we have seen them square off against each other, I doubt anyone would argue against that point. Despite having a far superior team, di Maria proved to inferior to the Sevillan legend.

    Navas was a menace all night and just abused Marcelo up and down the pitch. The Brazilian had no answer on his flank, and even Sergio Ramos was not enough help to slow the winger down.

    For anyone who already prematurely ranks Angel di Maria as the best winger in Spain, Jesus Navas just took the Argentinian to school. I hope he took notes.

Real Madrid: A Team Divided?

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    Petulance, lack of unity, a seemingly divided locker room—that is the Real Madrid of old, not the one that broke so many records last season.

    So what is happening in the capital? This is basically the same team that was almost unbeatable last year.

    Did Cristiano Ronaldo divide the team? Are the players underestimating their opponents? Are they complacent, even arrogant?

    Jose Mourinho said he has no team right now. This is not a slow start due to poor form or fitness. There is legitimate cause for concern here.

    Not only did Los Blancos get ripped apart by Jesus Navas and neutralized by Sevilla's midfield, they showed that they are starting to lose character.


    Deserving champions or entitled babies?

    Real reverted back to acting like a bunch of bratty children instead champions. Every players' face showed frustration, and the team demonstrated little discipline. That goes to the top, all the way to the coach.

    Gonzalo Higuain was kicking people—Mourinho would have gone crazy if David Villa had avoided a red card for that.

    Angel di Maria pulled another classic dive and appeared to take a swing at Ivan Rakitic, but as with the Higuain foul, it was the Sevilla man who earned a yellow card despite both players committing fouls.

    Even Ronaldo got in on the act. In the last 10 minutes, the No. 7 took a dive in the box, but was not given a penalty. In a scene reminiscent of the 'old' Ronaldo, CR7 threw his hands up in frustration and looked very upset with the ref.


    Find the solution and quick

    Rather than whining about non-calls and losing their cool at the opposition for playing tough football, the Madrid players need to look in the mirror and try to get back on track.

    Eight points is not insurmountable, but going down 11 points after a Clasico is right on the cusp.

    Let's see if Jose Mourinho can right the ship in time to beat Manchester City when the English champs roll in to the Bernabeu this week.

Refs Continue to Cost Espanyol

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    I'm not one to blame referees for losses, but it is getting hard not to make excuses for Espanyol.

    For the second time this season, Los Blanquiblaus were undone by some terrible decisions from the referee, which resulted in the team finishing the match with 10 men.

    After scoring Los Periquitos' third goal to put his team back out in front of Athletic Bilbao, Samuele Longo ran into the stands to embrace the fans.

    When he came back to restart the match, he received a second yellow that forced him out of the match. It of course swung the momentum back in the favor of Los Leones.

    This comes just two weeks after a dubious red card forced Jordi Albin out of Espanyol's match against Zaragoza.

    That decision sent Los Periquitos down to ten men and, more importantly, again swung momentum away from them after they had been in control of the match.


    No excuses?

    When discussing why Espanyol are currently in the relegation zone with just one point in four matches, there are more reasons than red cards and poor decisions.

    But there is no avoiding the fact that the Catalan club is much better than its record shows right now. If not for those highly contentious calls, El Magico could be in the middle of the table rather than in the bottom three of La Liga.

Is Malaga for Real?

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    Talk about unexpected! I don't think many expected Malaga to be doing so well, even this early in the season.

    This summer Los Boquerones lost their best player, number one striker, a couple of other players and, most importantly, their pride.

    All signs pointed to not only a finish outside of the top six, but maybe even a repeat of Villarreal's huge drop from the first division last season.

    Yet, one month into the new season, it is Malaga who currently occupy second place, just two points behind undefeated Barcelona.


    How long will it last?

    Now, as Levante showed last season and countless other clubs have proven in recent years, it is highly unexpected that the Anchovies can keep this up all year.

    At some point, Manuel Pellegrini's men will begin dropping points and falling back down into the Europa League hunt.

    But just as Levante showed how impossible it is to compete with Spain's big two for an entire season, they also showed how inspiring a start like this can be.

    Overcoming so much adversity this summer has united the players and has them playing incredible football.

    The fans in Andalusia have been as excited and rabid as any in the country, and it is an absolute joy to see the relationship between them and the players grow.

    There is no knowing when this will all end, but most neutrals are getting behind Malaga at this point.

Big Win for Valencia, but Team Still Struggling

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    First off, it must be said that Valencia's 2-1 victory over Celta Vigo at la Mestalla was a big one.

    Los Che started their league campaign with two disappointing draws before getting beaten by Barcelona before the international break.

    Even though they had not gotten results, the team was upbeat because they had played better than the results had shown. This match showed that the mentality was justified.

    However, Mauricio Pellegrini's men still have not played 90 minutes of good football.

    For most of the first half, Los Che were unable to break down an inferior Celta team. They could not get time on the ball and when they had it, the counterattack was cut off swiftly.

    The midfield worked much harder in the second half, but Valencia would have liked a much better result going into Wednesday's Champions League match with Bayern Munich.

    If Roberto Soldado & Co. are going to have any chance of beating the German giants, the defense will need to play better, the midfield has to be much more aggressive and the Spanish striker has to be much more clinical in front of goal.

Atletico Are Going to Be Very Hard to Beat

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    Right now, the best team in Madrid is not the one currently holding the league trophy, it's the one that just capture the UEFA Super Cup by trouncing Chelsea.

    Atletico Madrid have looked fantastic so far this season, and their performance in the second half of the Madrid derby showed just how dangerous they can be.

    After being kept comparatively quiet by Rayo in the first 45 minutes of this week's most entertaining match, Los Colchoneros went off in the second half.

    In a span of barely 10 minutes after the break, Atletico scored three goals and built an insurmountable 4-1 lead over Los Vallecanos.

    Madrid have now scored 12 goals in their last three games and have looked as complete as any team in Spain.


    Still cause for concern

    Despite thoroughly dominating Los Franjirrojos, the team fell asleep in the second half of that match and allowed the visitors to get back into the game.

    Before that, Los Rojiblancos had allowed just one goal in their previous 265+ minutes.

    Not only have they been winning every match since the late-night opener against Levante, they've been thoroughly dominating every opponent they've faced.

    Chelsea fans can make excuses all they want, but the Blues were just another casualty in the path of Falcao & Co.

    They may not have the depth to challenge for a title, but this current Atletico Madrid team is as dangerous as any club outside of the big two that La Liga has seen in a long time.

Messi Breaking Away

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    Lionel Messi—6. Real Madrid—5. Cristiano Ronaldo—2.

    It is obviously far too early to start engraving the Pichichi trophy, but right now, Barcelona's No. 10 is outclassing every forward player in Spain.

    In his last match against Getafe, the Argentinian came on at the hour mark and proceeded to score two goals in four minutes. He and David Villa completely changed the outcome of the match, as I discussed in my match review.

    He currently has as many goals as 15 La Liga teams. He is on pace to break his own scoring record set just last season.

    It is unlikely that he will reach those numbers again this term, but the rate at which Messi is scoring can only be seen as a good thing for La Blaugrana.

    He is currently leading Radamel Falcao and Tomer Hemed by two goals despite not really playing a full match at top form yet.

    If Cristiano Ronaldo is going to have any chance at catching Messi, he will need to start scoring quickly, and even then he will need the South American to slow down.

    If not, Messi will win his second-straight Pichichi trophy and could also be dominant enough to retain his Ballon d'Or.

Goal of the Week—Portillo

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    Now that's the way to close out a match!

    Malaga had been in control of their battle against Levante for much of the match, but Los Granotes kept threatening and looked like they were going to give Malaga a last-minute heartbreaker.

    Instead, with only minutes remaining in the match, Portillo stepped up to be the hero.

    Joaquin had broken free down the left flank and managed to send a cross deep into the box. Portillo latched onto the ball and the midfielder somehow volleyed the ball between two defenders and past the keeper into the top corner of the net.

    As you can see in the video, the clincher sent La Rosadela into a frenzy as the volley sent Los Boquerones into second place in the league.


    Honorable Mentions

    Aduriz 82nd minute against Espanyol

    Javier Saviola's first Malaga goal

    David Villa's left-footed finish against Getafe

Player of the Week—Joan Verdu

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    Last month Verdu voiced his desire to stay in Catalunya for a long time. If he continues to play like he did against Athletic Bilbao, it will be impossible for any Espanyol fan to disagree.

    The midfielder was the best player on the pitch and La Liga's best player of the week, and further showed that he is one of the best at his position.

    He played an almost perfect match for 90 minutes and was the main reason his team earned their first point of the season.

    When the final whistle blew, Verdu had managed to score one goal and assist on another. He was the director of Los Periquitos attack.


    Honorable Mentions

    Aritz Aduriz—scored a brace against Verdu's Espanyol and almost earned the victory for his team.

    Andres Palop—was incredible against Real Madrid and had six saves on the night.

    Javier Saviola—scored his first goal for the club and assisted on the game-winner.

Flop of the Week—Mezut Ozil

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    I don't know what it is keeping Real Madrid's No. 10 from playing his best football, but Jose Mourinho needs to figure it out quickly or his team will struggle to win trophies this season.

    The German continued his poor season with another disappointing match against Sevilla.

    He was almost useless in midfield and was almost completely silenced by Hedwiges Maduro. Ozil was so ineffective in Andalusia that the Portuguese boss pulled him after just 45 minutes.

    If he keeps this up, Los Merengues will be in big trouble.


    Honorable Mentions

    Angel di Maria—was virtually just as bad as Ozil, but even more selfish.

    Joan Capdevila—was overworked and outclassed against Bilbao, almost cost his team.

    Adil Rami—followed up a fantastic showing against Barcelona with an inconsistent one against Celta.

Starting XI of the Week

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    K—Andres Palop (Sevilla)
    Managed six saves against Real Madrid and kept a clean sheet against one of the best attacks in Europe.

    RB—Cicinho (Sevilla)
    Did a phenomenal job of neutralizing Cristiano Ronaldo. Managed seven tackles and four interceptions.

    CB—Miguel Flaño (Osasuna)
    Was immense at the back against Mallorca, working hard all night. Deserved more than the result.

    CB—Iñigo Martínez (Real Sociedad)
    The best player on the pitch for most of the match and helped keep a clean sheet against Zaragoza.

    LB—Adriano (Barcelona)
    Gave a man of the match performance and won back a few fans.

    DMF—Tino Costa (Valencia)
    Was the hardest-working player on the pitch for Valencia. Had the clinching assist and killed off countless chances from Celta Vigo.

    CM—Koke (Atletico Madrid)
    Continued his fabulous season and proved capable of controlling the midfield for the first time.

    CAM—Jesus Navas (Sevilla)
    The winger was almost unstoppable against Real Madrid.

    CAM—Portillo (Malaga)
    Had the highest pass completion rate in the league and scored the clinching goal.

    CAM—Joan Verdu (Espanyol)
    Was the player of the week. Enough said.

    S—Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao)
    Scored two goals, had a third hit off the post against Espanyol.


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    Now I'd love to hear from the readers. What did you learn from this week's La Liga features?

    How worried are you about Real Madrid? Is Atletico a legitimate title contender or will they fizzle out soon?

    Feel free to leave your comments below.


    Please also check out my Weekly La Liga Power Rankings.