This weekend we had the Basque derby and difficult away games for Real Madrid and Barcelona, while Atlético Madrid hosted Betis. Let’s see how the action panned out.
Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Real Sociedad
Previously this season we have called Asier Garitano the most unfortunate manager in La Liga after watching his team concede last minute goals and seeing star players pick up injuries and red cards; however, Friday night at San Mamés might be a sign that Garitano’s luck is changing.
The opening goal came from a penalty after Iñigo Martínez was penalised for a high foot on La Real youngster Luca Sangalli. Martínez had been in line to take over the captaincy at Real Sociedad upon the retirement of Xabi Prieto and was well on his way to becoming a club legend for the team from San Sebastián. However, in January of this year he did the unthinkable and moved to hated rivals Athletic Club in Bilbao to replace the outgoing Aymeric Laporte. The man who took the penalty, Mikel Oyarzabal, was courted all summer by Athletic Club but rather than follow Martínez from Guipuzkoa to Biscay he signed a new contract with Real Sociedad and took Prieto’s number 10 shirt. Making no mistake with his cheeky left-footed penalty Oyarzabal and teammates didn’t hold back in their celebrations.
La Real’s lead was short-lived after Athletic Club captain Markel Susaeta burst into space on the right wing and cut the ball back for a teammate. Aritz Elustondo tried desparately to clear but the ball ricocheted off Asier Illarramendi into the path of Iker Muniain who couldn’t miss from three yards and the teams went into the half-time break with the scores level.
The second half opened in the same way as the first, with the away team looking to find the breakthrough. It took only two minutes before Igor Zubeldia was free down the right flank, he whipped a ball into the box where Rubén Pardo dummied, allowing man of the match Sangalli to put the ball past Unai Simon. Athletic Club could find no way back and the match was put to bed after Simon fouled Jon Bautista in the box, allowing Oyarzabal to convert his second penalty of the match.
Real Sociedad will be delighted to get the away win against their big rivals, especially considering the Bilbainos fielded three former La Real players. Athletic Club are much famed for their academy but it was Real Sociedad who started with eight homegrown players. Athletic Club have a reputation for hoovering up the majority of talent from other clubs in the region but it appears that this talent is finding it difficult to find a route through to the first team. Real Sociedad are suffering a minor injury and suspension crisis but, even so, it seems that youngsters have a better chance at establishing themselves in the blue half of the Basque Country rather than the red.
Alavés 1-0 Real Madrid
This time last season Real Madrid were finding it difficult to score and consistently dropped points to teams they should have been beating. This season there is a new manager, a new plan, but worse results. Last year Cristiano Ronaldo did everything but score, he found the positions, found his teammates but the ball just wouldn’t find the back of the net. This year, without Cristiano, Madrid aren’t scoring but don’t even look like scoring in the process. A fourth goalless match in a row ramps up the pressure on Julen Lopetegui.
Bale and Benzema were given the attacking responsibility for the away team but without the injured Isco and with Marco Asensio on the bench there was a lack of creative dynamism. A drab first half saw one half chance fall to Dani Ceballos but the midfielder’s low shot didn’t trouble former Real Madrid youngster Fernando Pacheco in the Alavés goal. Benzema was substituted for Mariano at half time as Lopetegui looked for a breakthrough in the second half but it was the home team who looked the more dangerous.
Defender Rubén Duarte tried a speculative effort from long range which was parried back into danger by Thibaut Courtois but no Alavés player could follow up. The Belgian keeper has had an underwhelming start between the sticks for Madrid but perhaps this can be put down to a lack of faith in his defenders rather than a crisis of confidence. Alavés had another chance to open the scoring on the counter as on-loan winger Jony raced from the halfway line into the box but saw his left footed shot go past the far post after impressively holding off Raphaël Varane.
Gareth Bale lined up a free kick, which Pachecho easily claimed in his only chance before being injured and replaced by Vinícius Júnior. Another poor performance and another injury to Bale has left Madrid fans questioning whether the Welshman can really be relied upon to shoulder the attacking burden of the team after the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite scoring a number of crucial goals in important matches it seems as though Bale struggles to make his presence felt against the smaller teams in La Liga. Ronaldo would take these games by the scruff of the neck and carry his team to victory even if his teammates were under-performing but no one has stepped up to fill this role in the current Real Madrid squad.
As the game seemed to be winding down to a 0-0 draw Alavés won a late corner. Rubén Sobrino met it at the far post and saw his header saved by Courtois but club captain Manu García reacted quickest and nodded home from close range. The 95th minute goal sent the Mendizorroza crowd into raptures as Alavés secured a historic home win against La Liga’s biggest club. Real Madrid were poor but also underestimated their opponents who have been flying since Abelardo took over last season. The result sees the Basque team level on points with Madrid and the Babazorros will be hoping that they can continue their good form after the international break.
Valencia 1-1 Barcelona
With Real Madrid dropping points on Saturday the Catalan sports newspapers declared that Barcelona would have no trouble in regaining the lead over their rivals on Sunday night but as with most of their predictions this didn’t come to pass. Although Valencia have struggled so far this season Mestalla is always an unwelcoming place to Barcelona and it didn’t take long for the home team to scare the reigning champions.
Gerard Piqué ducked underneath a corner in the second minute and the ball bounced off his back into the path of Ezequiel Garay who turned the ball into the back of the net. The former Real Madrid centreback didn’t hold back with his celebration and his team immediately went back on the attack after Barcelona kicked off. Geoffrey Kondogbia saw a long range shot flash wide of the post before Guedes stormed down the left flank but his cut back was just behind Kevin Gameiro. The French forward managed to poke the ball to strike partner Michy Batshuayi but the Belgian dragged a left footed shot wide of the far post. Guedes looked very dangerous on the left against Nelson Semedo but his match was cut short after twelve minutes when he got his studs caught in the pitch. It looked like the Portuguese twisted his knee quite badly and Valencia will be hoping that the injury isn’t too serious.
Barcelona hit back in the 23rd minute, which seemed to curtail Valencia’s attacking instincts. Messi picked up the ball forty yards from goal with eight white shirts between him and Neto. Pushing the ball between Kondogbia’s legs, Messi played a telepathic one-two with Luis Suárez and the Argentine found himself with a yard of space on the edge of the box. A second later the ball was nestling in the back of the net. Another moment of perfection from Messi and the scores were all square. The final twenty minutes of the first half were cagey and Valencia defended well with a narrow midfield, while leaving the two forwards high up the pitch in order to stretch Barça on the counter.
Barcelona dominated possession in the second half but chances were hard to come by and a succession of substitutions disrupted the rhythm of the match. Coutinho had a chance on the edge of the box but he didn’t get the elevation to beat compatriot Neto in the Valencia goal. A 1-1 draw away at Mestalla is never a bad result but Ernesto Valverde will not be too happy with his team’s performance at either end. Nelson Semedo looks like he is still adapting to Barcelona’s style of play and is comfortably second choice to Sergi Roberto, while Piqué hasn’t had a great start to the season. Vermaelen was Piqué’s third defensive partner of the season so far and the lack of consistency seems to be hurting the team. Like last season Messi is digging his team out of trouble single-handed and Valverde knows that he cannot rely on his star man every week but no matter who plays Barcelona never seem entirely confident at the back or going forward.
Girona 2-3 Eibar
Getafe 0-1 Levante
Leganés 1-0 Rayo Vallecano
Real Valladolid 1-0 Huesca
Atlético Madrid 1-0 Real Betis
Espanyol 3-1 Villarreal
Sevilla 2-1 Celta Vigo
Performance of the week: Sevilla continued their goalscoring run as Sarabia and Ben Yedder scored against Celta. The win puts the Andalusians top of the league but can they juggle domestic and continental competitions for the rest of the season?
Disappointment of the week: Villarreal again. Another week, another loss for Javi Calleja’s team. The manager has been given a vote of confidence from his board but this usually foreshadows a change of personnel.