Welcome to La Liga Hangover, a weekly column running throughout the season in which we take a light-hearted, though in-depth, look at the key stories and talking points from the most recent weekend of action in Spanish football's top flight. With a focus on the biggest teams, such as Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and a worthwhile nod toward the rest, we examine how the league is shaping up each week and what to look out for going forward.
New Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had barely settled himself into his comfy, plush seat before his first selected XI took control against Deportivo La Coruna.
In real-life terms, the away side as guests in Casa Bernabeu would probably have still been pondering whether it was too early to ask for the Wi-Fi password by the time, back in sporting terms, we already dismissed the match as game over. Depor played well enough in the first 20 minutes to suggest they'd trouble a re-rebuilt Real Madrid back line, but without keeping their own back door closed, it was clear by the break Zidane's housewarming party would not be interrupted.
Getting the most out of a vaunted attack is one thing, but Zidane has made it clear he wants work rate and togetherness too; the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo tracking back and completing a tackle in the second half was both jaw-dropping and enlightening, then, even if normality was restored five seconds later as the Portuguese forward immediately lashed in one of the 10 shots he took in the game.
Like a marriage counsellor putting a broken home back together, Zidane isn't just helping those inside the house but also the outside perception too. Thus, it's not just on the pitch where the result perked up but in the media headlines afterward. Already, Marca has gone with positive features about Zidane not barking instructions at the wide players all game long, for subbing Gareth Bale so the Welshman could receive a standing ovation and for making the best start as Real Madrid manager since 1959.
Yes—after one game.
Everything is rosy again at Real Madrid for the time being, and it's even being overlooked that despite everything—the win, the goals, the appointment, possibly even the saviour of the human race—Real didn't actually make up any ground on the top two and remain third at the midway point, four points off the lead.
Jornada 19 Results
Barcelona 4-0 Granada
Getafe 1-0 Real Betis
Sevilla 2-0 Athletic Club
Real Madrid 5-0 Deportivo La Coruna
Levante 2-1 Rayo Vallecano
Villarreal 2-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 2-0 Valencia
Eibar 2-1 Espanyol
Las Palmas 1-1 Malaga
Celta Vigo 0-2 Atletico Madrid
Enough of the work rate and the excitement—in the penalty box is where it really happens. Earlier on Saturday, the Barcelona trident of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez had already torn Granada apart on numerous occasions, with Messi hitting a hat-trick and Neymar adding a late fourth in the 4-0 win.
Some of the exchanges and interplay between the three were verging on the obscene as they swarmed through the five-man back line of Granada. Suarez should have netted at least one, if not more, but the three-man move to notch Messi his second goal was out of this world.
Next up, BBC, and they went within a whisker of bettering MSN's act with a passage of play that ended in the ball thumping against the woodwork rather than the back of the net.
Ronaldo laid the ball to Benzema, he teed up Bale and made a decoy run, with the Welshman chipping beautifully for Ronaldo to head past the goalkeeper—but not in, only onto the post. It was a moment of quality, ingenuity and, crucially, understanding.
That latter point, MSN already have and plenty of it. BBC have shown signs recently—against Valencia with Benzema's outstanding goal—they can get near that level in some instances. It would be fantastic for La Liga if they managed to do so with more regularity, both for the battle in the goalscoring stakes and in terms of discussing the overall contributed quality.
The Ballon d'Or ceremony might be coming up for the best individual, but football has always been about the team.
It's not too far-fetched to suggest that whichever triumvirate performs best together over the second half of the season could fire its team to the title.
Points of Authority
- Athletic Club can count themselves a little unfortunate in their 2-0 reversal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan, having been the better side until the opening goal. That said, miss the chances the normally clinical Aritz Aduriz did on the day, and the team will always struggle to score—and therefore cannot argue they deserved to take points.
- Three wins on the spin for Eibar against bottom-half teams proves there is to be no second-half collapse to this season like there was last term. They're up into sixth, and although Sevilla will likely surpass them at some stage, this has been a fantastic campaign for the Basque minnows.
- Poor form can still bring someone else into the equation, but the relegation battle looks set to be fought out between the current bottom five: Levante, Rayo Vallecano, Sporting Gijon, Granada and Las Palmas. Four points separate them all, highlighting the importance of bottom club Levante's win over Rayo on Saturday night.
- Diego Simeone was quick to press home his team's advantage after taking the lead at Celta Vigo. Just a few minutes after the opening goal, early in the second half, he took off holding midfielder Augusto Fernandez for pacy wide man Yannick Carrasco, moving from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 to exploit Celta on the counter. It worked; Atleti cut open the home side numerous times in the rain and Carrasco scored the killer second.
- What did Zidane change from Benitez's starting tactics? Not much. The layout and the emphasis on moving the ball into the channels quickly was largely the same, and the positional rotation between the front three has been seen all season.
- Granada continued with their 5-3-2 variation against Barcelona, but it didn't pay off this time. The gap between the defence and midfield was too big, and manager Jose Ramon Sandoval never really looked to change that.
- Of all the 4-4-2s in La Liga, Villarreal's is the most beautiful. The midfield is constructed with guile to match aggression and energy to match pace. While the front two combine as neatly as Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu do, the Yellow Submarine have a great season ahead of them. They now have an eight-point buffer between themselves and fifth place.
Good Week, Bad Week
Valencia lost and Gary Neville is still waiting for his first win in La Liga, but great news arrived in the shape of the return to fitness for goalkeeper Diego Alves, who tore his ACL at the end of last season. Marca reported the Brazilian as back in training; Alves was our top-ranked goalkeeper and seventh-ranked player in Spain's top flight in our end-of-season Top 50 list.
This was the first Jornada in a month in which there wasn't a single goalless fixture in La Liga. La Real left it late to make sure their game wasn't the only 0-0, but strikes from Jonathas in the 79th and 82nd minutes ensured all 10 games had goals.
Ten players have now netted 10 or more goals in La Liga this term. Barca and Real players make up half that number, while Imanol Agirretxe of Real Sociedad and Lucas Perez of Depor are the highest-scoring players, with a dozen each, who play elsewhere.
Pepe Mel has been sacked as manager of Real Betis, for a second time. A fourth defeat in five games leaves the promoted club 15th in La Liga. That's hardly disastrous, but clearly the Andalusian side were hoping for more.
Sevilla's second goal against Athletic came from the penalty spot. Except it was a penalty in the same way water is dry, England will win the Euros and Ronaldo doesn't like to shoot. In other words, it wasn't. Officiating in Spain has been under a lot of criticism from fans recently and decisions such as this one will hit the headlines.
Only five goals were scored by away teams this weekend and only four points were taken (one for Malaga and three for Atletico).
Valencia are down to 11th, and it is now 65 days since they won in La Liga and 72 days since they kept a clean sheet in the Primera Division.