Barcelona Perfect, Valencia Reeling, Vandals and Best XI: La Liga Weekly Review

Michael CernaCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2012

Barcelona Perfect, Valencia Reeling, Vandals and Best XI: La Liga Weekly Review

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    Last-minute winners, big upsets, late comebacks, and vandals forcing delays—and that was just on Sunday!

    Matchday 5 in La Liga is officially over and it was not short on drama.

    We've seen Barcelona remain unbeaten, but just barely. We saw Valencia and Malaga fail to overcome tough challengers while Sevilla and Atletico Madrid stayed ahead of the pack.

    Real Madrid started their recovery while Mallorca is proving they are for real. We had a potential breakout performance from one Spanish midfielder while another great clinched three points for his side.

    There was lots of moving and shaking this week so let's just get right to it.

    Read on to see the biggest stories in Spain this week as well as the best starting XI for Round 5.

Barcelona Perfect?

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    Almost 90 minutes gone, still no goal. Barcelona were creating chances, but not scoring. Only Messi managing more than two shots on goal.

    Blaugrana's showing against Granada was just the same inept offense that has been criticized for weeks now, right? Wrong!

    Yes, Barça struggled in attack and yes, they needed another late winner to beat a lesser team, but this match was different.

    The close result was not because Barça's attack was weak or because the defense gave too many chances. It was not because no one was helping Messi.

    The game was so close because Granada played a great match. More specifically, Toño gave a superb performance.

    The Granada keeper was unbeatable for almost 90 minutes. In the end, it took a wonder goal from Xavi in the 87th minute to get one past the shot-stopper.

    If a lesser player had been in goal, Barecelona would have had five goals when Xavi broke the deadlock.

    Cristian Tello alone would have had three assists despite playing less than 20 minutes. The youngster was fantastic as a sub.

    All clear to the title?

    As it stands, Barcelona are eight points clear of Real Madrid after winning their fifth straight match.

    If they can beat Sevilla next weekend, they will match their best start in team history, earning all 18 points from their first six games.

    Cules will rightly still worry about the defense and other attacking options, but the dramatic win against Granada should give fans a bit of comfort.

    They came up against a great force in goal and still managed to win. The same frustrations were present in this one, but the cause was not internal. That is an important difference to note.

Mallorca Win Big, Lose Bigger

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    Oh how fickle and cruel football can be.

    In one match, Mallorca fans went from celebrating a huge victory over Valencia to feeling pain over losing a key player.

    The islanders came out strong against Los Che and managed an early goal when Victor beat Diego Alves, who had a rather poor match overall.

    There was a bit of concern when striker Temer Hemed came off before the hour mark, but those worries were laid to rest when substitute Javier Arizmendi doubled the score just 60 seconds later.

    Huge momentum shift

    Los Bermellones fans were jubilant when the final whistle blew as they tentatively moved into second place.

    However, those feelings of joy quickly turned to sadness as it was later learned that Javi Marquez was going to miss up to two months with a fractured ankle.

    This comes as a huge blow for Mallorca as their big summer signing had started every game this season and was a key reason the team is doing so well right now.

    There is a chance that Mallorca can stay hot until mid-October, but they will seriously struggle to keep momentum as they face Sevilla, Real Madrid and Barcelona in a span of just three weeks.

Valencia on the Verge of Failure

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    One team that knows very well how crippling injuries can be is Valencia.

    Los Che went to Mallorca to get back on track after managing just one win in their first four games. The team had generally felt confident and optimistic as the dropped points had all been close matches to good opponents.

    But now there is no more room for error. Valencia need to reel off a few wins and they need to do it quickly.

    Loss not surprising?

    Losing to Mallorca was not a huge surprise. The islanders have been in great form to start the season and Valencia were missing seven starters.

    This is not totally unlike Real Madrid who have started slower than expected.

    Of course, the big difference between those two teams is that Madrid's bench is good enough to beat most Spanish teams while the options for Mauricio Pellegrini are both few and less talented.

    No more time to delay

    With teams like Mallorca, Malaga, and Sevilla all looking to challenge for a top four spot, Los Che are on the verge of panic mode.

    That goes without mentioning Atletico Madrid who look like a far superior team to anyone outside of the big two right now.

    I recently explained just how important it is that Valencia finish in the top four if they are going to survive financially.

    If they are going to have a real shot of doing that, they better get back on track quickly or the gap will be too big to make up, even this early in the season.

Real Madrid Still Not Convincing

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    First things first. Real Madrid won a pivotal match against Rayo Vallecano that was really a must-win since a loss would have dropped them 11 points behind Barcelona in La Liga.

    Sergio Ramos and Pepe reformed their elite pairing and kept a clean sheet against a team that put three goals on Atletico Madrid last week.

    But while the champs were relentless in attack, there were still plenty of worrying signs from the win.

    Poor finishing, worse defending

    Angel di Maria was a menace down the left flank and Karim Benzema further showed that he has much stronger chemistry with Cristiano Ronaldo than Gonzalo Higuain does.

    But Los Merengues were a bit lucky to have gotten this result, even if they were the better side throughout the match.

    Karim Benzema's goal was a result of a keeping error that left a Di Maria cross in front of goal for Benzema to tap in. The second goal came from a penalty.

    At the other end, Alvaro Arbeloa should have cost his team a goal when he gave the ball up to Rayo right in front of goal, but Andrija Delibasic was unable to latch onto the poor pass.

    There were other moments where a more clinical side would have taken advantage of some terrible man-marking and poor set pieces defending from Los Blancos.

    The light is still yellow

    Again, this was a big win for Madrid. That is most important and has to be said. The consequence of a loss here would have been great.

    But Jose Mourinho would be wise not to get too comfortable after the victory. His team played a pretty poor match and won partially as a result of Rayo playing even worse.

    It was great for the team trying to get over a very slow start, but Madrid are not out of the woods just yet.

    The all-clear sign has not yet been given so Madridistas should proceed with caution.


    Check out my article reviewing the events leading up to this match and what it means for the league.

Atletico the Best Team in Madrid Right Now

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    While Real labored through their match against Rayo Vallecano, Atletico did no such thing.

    Los Rojiblancos blew up against Las Vallecas, scoring four goals and only allowing a response after they had fallen asleep.

    Allowing that comeback was still worrying—as was almost allowing Valladolid to do the same thing this weekend—Diego Simeone's men have been far more convincing than their cross-town rivals this season.

    Spreading the Wealth

    In their latest victory over La Pucela, we saw Atleti make even more progress as they showed less reliance on Radamel Falcao—a concern that has troubled them for the last year.

    He did score a penalty, but it was his partner Diego Costa who earned the foul and was really the more dangerous striker all night.

    In fact, the Colombian hitman has scored only two of Atleti's last nine goals. That is exactly what coach Simeone wanted following the UEFA Super Cup win.

    The attack is varied, the defense is solid, the midfield is improving. This team may not have the depth to challenge for an entire season, but right now, there may not be a stronger team in all of Spain than Los Colchoneros.

Player of the Week—Koke

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    I know we're still in September, but it looks like Koke could finally be having his breakout season. The Spanish midfielder was just lights out against Valladolid.

    It was his sublime through pass that set up Diego Godin for the opener at the Vicente Calderon and he didn't slow down for the rest of the match.

    Through the weekend, Koke put in more accurate crosses (9) and made more key passes (10) than any player in Europe.

    Not bad for a 20-year-old.

Goal of the Week

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    Three minutes from time, the keeper simply can't be beaten. Not even Lionel Messi can break the deadlock. All signs point to Barcelona dropping their first points of the season.

    In comes Catalan legend Xavi to save the day. With his 87th minute striker, Xavi kept La Blaugrana undefeated in La Liga this season.

    The midfield captain took the ball off a poor clearance, put just enough touch on it to take a shot and then sent the ball past the unbreakable Toño for the game-winning goal.

    This is the kind of match that Barcelona would have lost last season. These are the late-winners that were missing from the team that lost the league title to Real Madrid.

    Xavi Hernandez scores this round's Goal of the Week.

Starting XI for the Week

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    KeeperToño (Granada)
    As discussed on the Barcelona slide, he was the only thing stopping a rout.

    RB—Cicinho (Sevilla)
    At this point, the Brazilian looks to be a permanent fixture on this list. Had the key assist in Sevilla win over Deportivo and was almost flawless on both ends of the pitch.

    CB—Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid)
    Capped off a fabulous night with a beautiful chip shot after some nice one-two passing with Koke. Great night for the Uruguayan.

    CB—Geromel (Mallorca)
    Monster performance from the Brazilian. Eight interceptions, 15 clearances, and he thoroughly neutralized Roberto Soldado.

    LB—Nacho Monreal (Malaga)
    Ended up being Los Boguerones' most dangerous attacker. Was also a rock at the back and shut Markel Susaeta down.

    DM—Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid)
    Despite looking a bit reckless near the end, Alonso was as reliable as always and was the main reason Real had a clean sheet.

    DM—Javi Fuego (Rayo Vallecano)
    If Alonso had a good night, Fuego had a great one. Was absolutely immense against the champs, cutting off eight clinching passes and getting 12 tackles in the end. Deserved a point for his effort.

    CM—Koke (Atletico Madrid)
    Was the key to Atleti's win and was the best player of the week, maybe in all of Europe.

    CM—Michael Krohn-Delhi (Celta Vigo)
    Assisted both of his team's goals and laid the ball wherever he wanted to. His partnership with Aspas was the deadliest pairing all weekend.

    CF—Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo)
    If you haven't watched this guy play yet, you're missing the breakout performer of the year. Was employed as a striker against Getafe and was unmarkable at times.

    Striker—Victor (Mallorca)
    Scored the opener in the first 10 minutes against Sevila and later assisted Javier Arizmendi on the winner. Really stepped up when Hemed went off.


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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 Valencia? Do you think Mallorca can deal without Javi Marquez?

    What about Barcelona, was their victory due to luck or were they really the better team?

    Feel free to leave your comments below.


    Please read my latest piece looking at the delayed match between Rayo Vallecano and Real Madrid: Implications for La Liga.