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.
Oh, the uproar.
Predictably, somebody doing something better than somebody else provokes ire, fury and outrage in the world of football, and so it was on Sunday in La Liga. That penalty, taken by Leo Messi and scored by Luis Suarez, has divided opinion over whether it was creative genius or a disrespectful and intentional humiliation of the Celta Vigo defence.
How ironic that some watchers of the sport—fans, media and onlookers—who claim pre-prepared press conference answers and parking-the-bus defences are now faux angry when players dare to shake things up a little.
It's not a new penalty routine, just an ambitious and different one. Why blame the Barcelona players for pulling it off rather than the Celta defence for not being aware enough to run into the area first, or the referee for not spotting that Suarez had encroached the area before the kick was taken? It's absurd on a monumental level and smells of nothing other than bitterness. The result wasn't affected. No individual was singled out for humiliation.
Indeed, compared to some of the in-game tricks and pieces of control produced by Andres Iniesta and the front three, the penalty itself was positively bog-standard.
Football is a game of finding solutions. Barcelona's penalty-taking hasn't exactly been stellar this season, so they found a solution to that particular problem. Ingenuity, creativity and thinking outside the box should be applauded and encouraged, not beaten down for coming off correctly.
Otherwise we'll end up with a world full of repeat performances of the 1994 World Cup final: careful and cautious with a don't-lose mentality first and foremost.
La Liga's attacking stars break the mould more than any other group in world football, not just Messi and co. but also Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez, Antoine Griezmann and even Aritz Aduriz. In their own ways, they have surprises, unexpected successes and moments of elevation above the norm that defences cannot cope with. In the attacking third, nonconformity is what leads to goals.
Don't shout it down one week unless you're also prepared to accept a blank scoreline the following one.
Jornada 24 Results
Sporting Gijon 2-2 Rayo Vallecano
Real Madrid 4-2 Athletic Club
Villarreal 1-0 Malaga
Valencia 2-1 Espanyol
Deportivo La Coruna 2-2 Real Betis
Real Sociedad 3-0 Granada
Sevilla 2-0 Las Palmas
Eibar 2-0 Levante
Getafe 0-1 Atletico Madrid
Barcelona 6-1 Celta Vigo
Plenty of temporary stars at Primera Division clubs managed to shine this weekend—not an isolated incident but a curious one.
Alen Halilovic has been at Sporting Gijon from Barcelona all season, impressing in spells and scoring on Friday to help his team to a draw. Charly Musonda's two games with Real Betis, on loan from Chelsea, have been explosive and saw involved in a goal and red card in Week 23 and scoring this time out.
Valencia's first league win under Gary Neville came courtesy of a Denis Cheryshev, on loan from Real Madrid, diving header, while a starlet from another side form the capital, Atletico, is making waves at Eibar—Borja Baston netted his 16th Liga goal of the season on Sunday. Fernando Torres is on loan at Atleti, and he netted after 62 seconds, which turned out to be the winner.
Not on the scoresheet but also impressive were Alphonse Areola (Villarreal from Paris Saint-Germain), Luis Alberto (Deportivo La Coruna from Liverpool) and Burgui (Espanyol from Real Madrid).
Points of Authority
- Depor's refusal to win or lose matches goes on. They drew their fifth Liga game in a row and have seen a level scoreline in 10 of their last 14 games.
- La Liga conforming to type: The top six all won, and the bottom eight all failed to win—the bottom four all losing.
- Barcelona are on a six-game winning streak in La Liga, the current best, but the next two are both on improved runs of performances as well as results—Real Madrid and Real Sociedad have three successive victories.
- James Rodriguez is quickly reminding everybody why he was one of the world's most appreciated players last season. A few games in succession have seen him rediscover his touch, confidence and ability to make things happen in the final third.
- The variations on playing a "simple" 4-4-2 were on full display in Villarreal vs. Malaga. Both teams used that system to start with, but where the home team had a narrow and hard-working midfield quartet, looking to get the wider players into the final third, Malaga tried using wingers who only cut inside high upfield to counter. Later, Villarreal went for a winger on one side and an extra midfielder in place of one striker.
- Getafe's odd insistence on playing only one up front perhaps cost them a chance to snatch a point at home to Atleti on Sunday. Crosses kept coming in but only one striker—Alvaro, then Stefan Scepovic—remained in the box, often isolated and beaten aerially. The changes were like-for-like instead of trying to alter the shape, which clearly didn't work.
- Atletico Madrid have a decision to make with reagrd to the injury to Yannick Carrasco. He's a vital outlet when they play deep, with his pace and dribbling, but the only alternative to him on the flank is Antoine Griezmann. If Griezmann moves wide, Atleti need a new goalscoring threat in attack—no one has yet proved reliable.
Good Week, Bad Week
Take note of Mikel Oyarzabal of Real Sociedad. The 18-year-old is making an impression. With three goals in his last two games, he's shown he could be the next home-grown star to break through at Anoeta.
Villarreal's free-flowing football largely went through Bruno Soriano in midfield, but Roberto Soldado in attack also deserves a mention. He was fantastic once again and scored the winner against Malaga on Saturday, albeit with help from some inept goalkeeping.
At the other end, Areola put in one of several excellent goalkeeping displays this weekend. So too did Real Madrid's Keylor Navas—despite conceding two, he was in good form—and the finally returned from injury Diego Alves of Valencia. Despite an error of judgement for the Espanyol goal, which was more down to bad marking, Alves was tremendous throughout.
Guilherme Siqueira was atrocious for Valencia, particularly with his marking on set pieces. He lost his man for Espanyol's goal and did exactly the same soon after, almost costing a second goal and Los Che their first win under Neville.
Espanyol haven't won since before Christmas, have failed to score in half of their last 10 games and have conceded 13 in their last three. They are one point above the relegation zone and were in 12th when they sacked former manager Sergio in mid-December.