After another busy round of fixtures in Spain, here is a round-up of the league that includes 13 of the shortlist of players to win the Ballon D’or.
The Big Two
No La Liga conversation is complete without reference to Real Madrid and Barcelona, and this is where our review starts. Despite surprise package Levante topping the table for the first few rounds of La Liga, their bubble has now been burst somewhat and all attention is back on the top two. Real, under the Special One are in scintillating form, scoring for fun and managing to keep clean sheets to boot. Both Higuain and Benzema are on fire, giving Mourinho the dilemma of his life when picking his starting striker. Add to this the form of Ronaldo and the resurgence of one Kaka, and the fact that Real can now offer solutions when Xabi Alonso is effectively man marked during games, they are looking more than a match for Barca.
Of course they went into the first Classico and mauling one point ahead of their fierce rivals, so Barca will not be unduly worried. However, one thing that Real have in their locker this season is the ability to grind out a 1 – 0 win – something that was lacking last season during games where teams effectively parked the bus in front of their goal and closed down Alonso. This was shown on the weekend where Sociedad literally played with a back five at the Anoeta, yet Madrid scored early courtesy of Higuain and held on for a hard fought win. Not a vintage Madrid performance but one that shows how far they have come under Mourinho.
Regardless of Los Blancos topping the table by as point, most people’s favourites for the La Liga crown is reigning champions Barcelona, who looked back to their best at the Camp Nou, with Messi making a clear signal to fans and the media with his goal celebration after his hat trick – the prolific striker had failed to score in 3 games yet after being played in his preferred position down the centre not the dreaded wing for the game, with Barca putting a grand total of 5 past a hapless Mallorca.
The Surprise of the season
Most people thought that the team wearing blue and red stripes would be the ones to top la liga throughout the season, and they have been for the past few rounds – yet it was Levante not Barcelona doing this. Levante have been everyone’s surprise of the season and have looked to be living some sort of footballing fairy tale thus far, before this weekend being unbeaten, even being able to claim a victory over Mourinho’s men at the Ciudad de Valencia.
In players such as Sergio Ballesteros, Valencia have a core of seasoned professionals who offer much more to the team than their average age would suggest, and new coach Martinez settling into life at Levante quicker than anyone could have expected.
However this weekend the bubble was somewhat burst with a 2 – 0 defeat at the hands of Osasuna. Several things were said after the game – Martinez praised his players for their unbeaten run, the media inevitably predicted a rapid slide down the table to mimic that of Espanyol last season and it was noted that due to their small squad who are mostly the wrong side of thirty, a couple of injuries and suspensions will have serious effects on the team from Valencia. Yet should they take the lead, especially at home, Levante are dogged in their defending and whilst they are probably not going to finish in the European places, they should manage to avoid the relegation fight they were involved in last tie round.
The best of the rest
Valencia – after a slightly slow start, Valencia are picking up pace, and have been fast climbing the table. They now occupy 4th place after the weekend’s victory and have their eye on the third place that is currently held by local rivals Levante. After losing their three best players – Villa, Silva and Mata over the last couple of seasons, huge amounts of credit has to be given to long-time coach – well for a league famous for waving white handkerchiefs at Managers, being at the helm since 2008 is a long time – Unai Emery, who has weathered all of this and still managed to keep Valencia widely viewed as the ‘best of the rest’.
Sevilla – Currently sitting in 5th place, there is now a gap opening up between the top four and the rest after a shock victory for Granada at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan. In a season full of surprises, this can be put down to a bad day at the office for Sevilla who next up face a flailing Mallorca side and will expect to bounce back and take all three points.
Atletico Madrid – one side who expect to e doing much better are the second best team in Madrid, Atletico, who fully expect to be sat in the top four. However, after a poor start to the season they sit 10th, with a sizeable gap between themselves and the champion’s league places. After a good victory against Zaragoza, Atletico will be looking to this as a kick-start to their season. With few goals scored this season and fan protests calling for Aragonez to return, the pressure on Gregorio Manzano has been alleviated slightly, yet improvements are vital.
Malaga – the Andalucians were the team that, after a huge influx of money then players, not to mention coach Manuel Pellagrini were everyone’s favourites to break into the top four this season. However this, so far, has not come to pass, and Malaga have been struggling, and were so lucky against Espanyol receiving a penalty for a very dubious handball and do not seem to be gelling quite in the way they should be.
The relegation Battle
Getafe sit rock bottom and after a heavy loss last weekend things look no brighter with local rivals Atletico up next. A shock victory for Granada gave them much needed points, yet the newly promoted Andalucians need to improve their form and fast if they don’t want to go straight back down. The final club to occupy a spot in the bottom 3 is Racing, and the victory by a single goal over Betis cannot be underestimated in importance. Hector Cuper and his team will be looking to now climb the table, starting with the away tie at Granada next round.
Whilst Betis and Rayo have made decent starts, only 4 points separate both these promoted sides from the relegation zones, and they are still in danger and will be looking over their shoulders until a real gap is formed.
Villarreal – after a vital 2 – 0 win over Rayo this weekend, despite the missed penalty from skipper Marcos Senna, the yellow submarines have shot up the table and out of the relegation zone to 13th. With an European campaign still to worry about, not to mention keeping their head above the relegation zone, Garrido has his work cut out for him.
The bottom half of the table is so tight, with only 5 points separating rock bottom Getafe and 11th placed Rayo, so anyone who has a poor run of form or can piece together a run of victories can drastically change their fortunes so early on in the season.
Game of Next round – Levante v Valencia
3rd play host to 4th in a real test of Levante’s credentials. A must see.