Ranking the 10 Biggest Surprises of La Liga Season So Far
Four matches in and the usual suspects have already found their way to the top of La Liga.
Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid occupy three of the top four spots—but there is one surprise nestled in between them in third position.
Elsewhere there are a couple of other, perhaps unexpectedly, unbeaten sides too.
It's not been as good for other teams, though, with one particularly big name in Spain making a fairly unimpressive start to the 2012/13 campaign.
Over the following 10 slides, B/R takes a look at some of the biggest surprises in La Liga so far this season.
10. Barcelona's Rotation
Barcelona have been one of Europe's most settled teams in recent years—why change a winning formula?
However, the arrival of Gerardo Martino this summer has seemed to signal a change to a policy that has leaned more toward rotation.
Other than Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano, not one player has started all four league matches.
Tata even substituted Lionel Messi off in the opening-day mauling of Levante.
With Barca notably tiring towards the end of last season, it could prove a welcome change in philosophy when we head into March and April.
9. Rayo Vallecano Hammered at Malaga
This coming weekend could prove interesting when Rayo Vallecano welcome Barcelona to Vallecas.
Following their 5-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid, Rayo then lost their next away game by the same scoreline—this time to Malaga.
The way Paco Jemez sets his teams out is admirable, but could these defeats prove costly to his players in the long run?
Losing so badly at the Vicente Calderon wasn't completely unexpected, but to lose to a new-look Malaga so heavily was a little bit surprising.
We don't want Rayo to change too much, they've been a breath of fresh air over the past two seasons; however, some damage limitation might help them in the future.
8. Luis Enrique's Celta Vigo
From last-day survival to three unbeaten matches at the beginning of the new campaign—Luis Enrique's Celta Vigo reign has very much started in the right fashion.
On Monday night they travel to Athletic Bilbao for the first match in the new San Mames, and even a defeat won't taint their start to the season.
In their draws with Espanyol and Granada, plus their win over Real Betis, there has been a clear and impressive switch in their style.
Enrique has them pressing higher up the pitch, playing with a faster tempo and generally playing as a more disciplined and exciting team to watch.
Long may it continue.
7. Luka Modric
Everyone knows about Luka Modric's difficult start to life in Spain.
Following a summer of drawn-out negotiations, Real Madrid eventually signed him from Tottenham Hotspur before the transfer window shut—sound familiar?
As a result, minus preseason with his new colleagues, his first few months at the Bernabeu were difficult.
He found his feet eventually, though, finishing the season as one of the club's better players.
That run of form has carried into the new campaign, and, in a deeper midfield role, Modric has arguably been one of Madrid's most impressive players this season—in the 3-1 win over Athletic Bilbao, he was the best player on the pitch.
6. Salva Sevilla
Before Real Betis's 3-1 win over Valencia, there were concerns over how they would cope without Ruben Castro and Joan Verdu—two experienced, talented players who are key to Pepe Mel's team.
By the time the half-time whistle went, those concerns had been smashed to pieces.
Perhaps Los Che rested on the laurels in the knowledge that Verdu wasn't there, because his replacement, Salva Sevilla, was allowed to steal the show.
The 29-year-old, in for his first appearance of the season, scored two and set up one as Los Beticos raced into a 3-0 half-time lead.
The ironically named Sevilla has been at Betis since 2010, but despite his sporadic talent, few would have expected that level of performance.
Rodri has been stuttering around the loan market for a while now.
One goal in 11 appearances in the English Championship with Sheffield Wednesday was hardly the return expected from a Barcelona B player.
The two goals that then followed in 12 appearances for Real Zaragoza, with whom he experienced relegation from La Liga, was hardly ground-breaking stuff either.
This summer, promoted Almeria became the third club to take a chance on the 23-year-old, and he has started the season on fire.
He's scored 50 percent of his team's eight goals—two in the opening-day defeat to Villarreal, one in the draw with Getafe and one this past weekend against Atletico Madrid.
If he can keep scoring, Almeria may have a chance of survival.
4. David Lopez and Thievy
It's a worn-out cliche, but Espanyol's best two signings this summer could prove to be two players they already owned.
Defensive midfielder David Lopez (23) and forward Thievy Bifouma (21) both returned from loan spells at Huesca and Las Palmas respectively.
Thievy emerged from the bench to steal a point against Celta Vigo, before coming on against Valencia to seal three points the following weekend.
Lopez was also on the scoresheet against Los Che, but it's his strong performances alongside Victor Sanchez that have been the most impressive.
Espanyol remain unbeaten in the first four games, and there are signs that Javier Aguirre's side could be this season's surprise package.
3. Excitement Levels
La Liga is jaded. It's boring. Barcelona and Real Madrid hammer everyone.
While there is, of course, some truth in that last sentence—Barca and Madrid have hit unheralded points totals recently and remain unbeaten this season—few could have predicted the excitement levels Real Madrid and Barcelona matches have hit this season.
Los Blancos had to rely on a late Isco header to trump Real Betis at the Bernabeu in a pulsating opening fixture, while they were held to a 2-2 draw against Villarreal this past weekend—and it could have been 5-5.
Meanwhile, after Barca's 7-0 hammering of Levante, Gerardo Martino has had some close scares since taking the Camp Nou hot seat.
He nearly saw his side throw away a 3-0 lead against Valencia, eventually holding on for a 3-2 win. He then did see his side throw away a 2-0 lead over Sevilla, only for Alexis Sanchez to somehow summon three points for La Blaugrana deep into stoppage time.
Plenty more of the same will be much appreciated.
We should have seen it coming.
Valencia's 1-0 win over Malaga was hardly impressive—they only managed one shot on target—so we shouldn't be surprised that they've since lost three on the spin.
They were shocking in their 3-1 defeat at Espanyol, matched only by their most recent defeat by the same scoreline at Real Betis.
In the middle they did manage to muster some spirit to compete against Barcelona, but the result was the same: zero points.
The fans at Mestalla are traditionally unforgiving and impatient, so we can only hope that they realise there is no quick fix, because, given time, there is no reason Miroslav Djukic can't steer them back toward the top four.
Three wins, 10 points, a draw with Real Madrid and third in La Liga—welcome back to the big time, Villarreal.
The Yellow Submarine paid the price for being one of Spain's better-run clubs when they were relegated to La Segunda in 2012.
They bounced back at the first time of trying, though, and have begun this season in impressive form.
Experienced heads Cani and Bruno Soriano are displaying talent that should never have been sent to Spain's second tier, while Mexican winger Javier Aquino has also been particularly impressive.
Marcelino will have been delighted with how he's seen his side start the season and, with belief seeping back into the club, there is no reason they can't push for a comfortable finish inside the top half.