Atletico Madrid's 4-0 hammering of Real Sociedad propelled Diego Simeone's side to the top of La Liga, a fitting tribute to former star Luis Aragones, who sadly passed away prior to the match.
This is the first time Atletico have hit the domestic summit since 1996, reported by The Independent. With Barcelona and Real Madrid failing to rack up three points against Valencia and Athletic Bilbao, respectively, the Spanish table suddenly appears rather open, as noted below:
Atletico's ascension to first place is undoubtedly deserved. Simeone has drilled his side into playing fast-paced passing football that emphasises attack—but there's also plenty of thoughtfulness installed into his lineup.
The return of Vicente Calderon favourite Diego sums this up. While Diego Costa continues to outline himself as Atletico's main source of goals—having racked up 20 in 22 La Liga appearances this campaign, per WhoScored.com—it's the business of those behind him that makes such an output possible.
Koke, Mario Suarez, Gabi and Jose Sosa played with real energy against a Sociedad side that isn't lacking confidence or flair. Simeone's side flaunted an overwhelming busyness. They compete for every ball, return to position quickly and support Costa with haste.
Diego's return, capped with goal, is the testimony of a coach who knows exactly what his team need in order to maintain their place at the top.
The same cannot be said for Gerardo Martino at Barcelona, who watched on as his side lost 3-2 against Valencia. Any stumble at the Camp Nou is big news, as noted by OptaJose:
620 - Barcelona have lost his first home game in La Liga since April 2012 against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid (2-1). Stumble.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 1, 2014
Despite dominating most of the match, Tata's side found no answer to Paco Alcacer's winning goal in the 59th minute—a failure that is most unlike La Blaugrana.
Usually, Lionel Messi or one of the squad's other goalscoring maestros would provide the antidote, but a feeling of lethargy hampered Barca's overall play.
Dani Parejo's goal highlighted a side that just didn't seem interested. His pacey link with Sofiane Feghouli, which began from a Barca mistake, levelled the game up. It wasn't long before Feghouli danced his way through a sleepy defence to set up Alcacer, who whacked the ball home for all three points.
Whether it was Martino's high-line, individual lapses on the pitch or the red card to Jordi Alba, Barcelona need to quickly improve—especially with Manchester City on the horizon in the Champions League. For Valencia, the surprise win puts them in contention for a Europa League spot.
Real Madrid followed Barcelona's influence and also served up a showing of real disappointment against Bilbao.
Carlo Ancelotti will have been pleased to escape the San Mames Stadium with a 1-1 draw in the end, especially when looking back on a game that saw Iker Muniain miss a glorious opportunity during the opening 45 minutes.
Bilbao dominated possession with 58 percent of play, per WhoScored.com. Real, for all of their huff and puff, rarely settled into the rhythm we have come to expect. The opener from Jese Rodriguez provided some sort of joy, but by the final whistle, Cristiano Ronaldo's red card was destined to dominate the headlines, reported by Sky Sports.
Although Los Blancos could have made it a Madrid one-two at the top, Ancelotti's stars will be hugely disappointed by their failure to capitalise on leeway given from Catalonia. Such generosity doesn't happen often and must be taken advantage of.
Bilbao remain the best of a tightly packed bunch below the top three.
Which team will win La Liga this year?
Villarreal are six points behind with a game to spare and continue to impress with three wins from their last six. Sociedad will be disappointed to have suffered a whooping against Marcelino's high-flying men back on Jan. 13, a result that could be telling come the end of the season.
Just eight points separate eighth from 18th right now, with three the difference between 11th and 17th. This is the perfect time to put together a run of form, as achieved by Celta Vigo.
The club's second straight win has thrust them away from the bottom and aided Granada's slide, relieving a great deal of pressure from Luis Enrique and his staff.
At the bottom, Real Betis' win over Espanyol gives the strugglers hope of escaping relegation. Both Rayo Vallecano and Valladolid mustered draws, so it was important for the Verdiblancos to maintain pace.