This past weekend in La Liga gave further evidence to the depth and quality in the league beyond Barcelona and Real Madrid. The obvious talking point is that the race for the league title may be over following Real’s loss to Betis and Barcelona setting the standard for the best start to a La Liga season for any team.
Away from those two, only Radamel Falcao is earning royal praise and the demand for his signature at the biggest clubs across Europe, at least that is the view outside of Spain. Falcao and Atletico Madrid put Seville to the sword in emphatic fashion with a 4-0 win at the Vicente Calderon. Not only did it act as another match for the Colombian striker to add to his rapidly increasing tally of goals in La Liga, it also highlighted just how efficient Atletico are against good opposition.
The 4-1 win against Chelsea in the Uefa Super Cup was no fluke, and players of lesser profile to Falcao are rightly receiving praise. Diego Costa is becoming a source of inspiration at the club, filling in alongside Falcao when the option for another forward is needed. He’s a powerful battering ram who has always managed to swing the game in Atletico’s favour when they’ve looked below par. In midfield, captain Gabi is the glue that holds the whole show together. There is glamour and undoubted quality in Diego Simeone’s side, but Gabi is a no nonsense holding midfielder that provides plenty of stability and even more leadership. He’s brought the best out of Mario Suarez, who has come along way to feature as one of the regulars in the starting XI, and he brings a necessary balance and discipline to a very attack-minded team.
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Their opponents on Sunday are no pushovers, either. Sevilla have put another nail in the coffin of the idea that no one really challenges the might of Real Madrid or Barcelona, having picked up an impressive 1-0 win against Jose Mourinho’s team earlier in the season. That goal on that day came from Piotr Trochowski, an attacking midfielder who adds quality to an already classy midfield. Right-back Cicinho is picking up where Dani Alves left off when he swapped the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan for the Camp Nou, and Sevilla’s latest Brazilian full-back is arguably the best right-back in the league.
Everyone knows about Jesus Navas and Falcao, but there is so much quality between Sevilla and Atletico, notably Thibaut Courtois, who Chelsea would be beyond foolish to waste as simply a back-up to Petr Cech. Atletico’s Uruguayan centre-back Diego Godin has also been an incredible player for Simeone’s team. Another player who can legitimately claim the title as one of the best defenders in La Liga; so much of their defensive solidity is owed to him and the partnership he has formed with Miranda.
Stealing more headlines was Isco, a player who continues to grow into the leading light of Spanish youth football. It’s probably best to label him as a youth as he’s not yet managed to force his way into Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain squad, for obvious reasons. But his performance against Valencia on the weekend was another fine display, forcing Twitter to go weak at the knees for a particular phase of play. The midfielder was marked by two Valencia players at the by-line with another two hovering just behind. But he flicked the ball up, chested it away from one opponent before lofting it over the head of the other and he was away. He’s a quick dribbler and has an even quicker imagination for the game and it’s many passages to goal. As he grows, he’s looking more and more like Andres Iniesta. And as each performances continues to enhance his profile, many Premier League clubs should be cursing their lack of decisive action when he was reportedly available in the summer.
Real Madrid’s fall at the weekend was directly attributed to Real Betis’ Benat, who scored the only goal of the game with a shot from just outside the box. Benat’s profile is also rising in Spain, with initially the idea that he could replace Javi Martinez by heading back to Athletic Bilbao. However, there’s certainly a sense that he’ll feature for a much bigger club in the near future. He appears to be the complete package as a midfielder, able to play as an advanced playmaker or in a deep-lying role similar to Xabi Alonso. It is perhaps an interesting thought that Betis’ Basque midfielder could be the natural replacement for Real Madrid’s Basque player in the centre of the pitch; certainly more so than Nuri Sahin or Luka Modric.
Elsewhere, Leo Baptistao played a part in Rayo Vallecano’s win against Mallorca, scoring the first of two goals. The Brazilian is another youngster on the rise in Spanish football, and one who is certainly destined for the big time in Europe. He’s allowing the Madrid-based club to move on from the departure of Michu in the summer and already has six goals and four assists to his name.
The economic situation in Spain means clubs really can’t force a stranglehold on their most prized assets. Atletico will certainly do all they can to convince Falcao that his future lies at the Vicente Calderon, especially with the honours they can challenge for with him in the team. But they will have to find other means of generating funds. Sevilla are a team full of quality, with questions remaining as to why they’ve been unable to be consistent and genuine contenders for a top four spot. But away from the bigger clubs in Spain, smaller teams continue to unearth gems via their youth academies. The necessity to look to their own canteras is something that is hitting almost all of Spain, but La Liga may just act as a breeding ground for the wealth of Premier League clubs and their ability to cherry pick the most desired talents.