LaLiga: Valencia emerge as contenders, Barcelona perfection and Real Madrid struggle

THE WINNERS

New challengers ready to take on the elite?

One of the most common criticisms aimed at LaLiga is that two sides are on a different planet compared to the other 18. Now no one is going to say that the financial disparity is a positive thing because it isn’t. When a side can spend nearly €200m on a couple of players and those five or six spots down are trying to form a new squad with a tenth of that budget, it’s clearly wrong. Steps are being taken to close the gap but a by-product of that is clubs investing heavily in youngsters and it’s working.

Valencia are a side steeped in tradition and one which values its academy. At the start of the Peter Lim era it appeared money was king, not the kids, and it caused serious damage. Toni Martinez left and Rafa Mir is still considering his options. But under Marcelino the faith in those who come through the ranks is being strengthened. Carlos Soler is the crown in the jewel but there are plenty of others to talk about as well.

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Nacho Vidal, Toni Lato and even Nacho Gil before his injury all have a taste of first team football six games into the season. Even those who have been around for the club for a year or two but haven’t established themselves are making their mark. Santi Mina and Rodrigo Moreno, to name but a couple. This togetherness coupled with an open door policy is giving everyone hope Valencia might just be back. They are unbeaten having already faced both Madrid sides.

Their opponents, defeated 3-2 at Anoeta, are another member of the new era in LaLiga. Real Sociedad, ravaged by injuries, played their part in a fantastic match.  Álvaro Odriozola is one of the many players to have come through the ranks in San Sebastian. In fact, eight out of the eleven starters have played for the club’s ‘B’ side. That connection, that love for the shirt, you can’t teach or train into someone. The loss shouldn’t do too much damage to what they are creating there.

Perfect start for Barcelona

Most of the talk going into Barcelona’s match against Girona was on politics instead of football. However the football team continues to defy their critics by picking up victory after victory. According to the record books, this is the best ever start to a season for a new coach at Barcelona. Ernesto Valverde, if under pressure, doesn’t look like he’s feeling it.

The fact Barcelona have beaten Real Betis, Alaves, Espanyol, Getafe, Eibar and Girona isn’t going to strike fear into the world’s elite. None of those sides were in the top eight when they faced off against Los Cules either. Yet, a brief glance across to reigning champions Real Madrid’s results shows there are no such things as guaranteed wins anymore. You can only beat what’s put in front of you and Barcelona have done that.

Girona gave Barcelona a helping hand with two own goals as Lionel Messi had a quiet game. A goal for Luis Suarez might do him a world of good after a poor start to the season. Las Palmas are the next team up for Valverde at the Camp Nou before they travel to the Wanda Metropolitano. The game against Atletico might be the true indication of where this Barcelona side is truly at. Until then, it’s a perfect start.

Atletico end Sevilla’s unbeaten run, extend their own

Diego Simeone secured the signing of Diego Costa earlier last week and followed it up with a fine victory over league rivals Sevilla. In fact, Diego was in the house to watch his new side maintain their unbeaten start to the season. He won’t have been disappointed as Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann scored the goals to make it two wins out of two at Wanda.

An opening half which saw both sides hit the woodwork sprang into life in the second. It all came after Steven N’Zonzi failed to deal with a long ball forward from Luciano Vietto. Carrasco anticipated this and stole the ball off the Frenchman’s foot, rounded Sergio Rico and put it into an empty net. Carrasco is still struggling to influence games this season but his finishing is certainly improving.

Griezmann’s goal came in typical fashion. After sliding to win the ball back in the opposition’s penalty area it fell to Filipe Luis, who gave it back to Griezmann and he smashed it across Rico to make it 2-0. A slow start could’ve cost Atletico but they found their rhythm after the break and Sevilla had no response.

THE LOSERS

Villarreal collapse, sack Escriba

Something just wasn’t quite right at Villarreal, even before this weekend’s game. The feeling amongst the fans was one of anger, frustration and general disappointment. The Yellow Submarines are true overachievers but they admire the style of football they play. Under Fran Escribe those expectations simply weren’t being met.

There were rumours in the summer that Villarreal had approached Eduardo Berizzo to take over the club before the end of last season. Escriba, despite a solid record, was viewed as a stop-gap solution. Berizzo went to Sevilla and Villarreal handed Escriba a new deal but the same problems remained. Maybe the hasty decision to sack Marcelino a year ago wasn’t a wise one after all.

Villarreal’s issues this season have been in defence. Losing Mateo Musacchio was a big blow but one they knew about for almost 12 months beforehand. Ruben Semedo, who is admittedly still young, looks a bag of nerves at the back. He’s only started two games this season but Villarreal lost them 3-0 and 4-0. Now it isn’t all down to one man, no, but when your centre back is having a horrible time you need someone alongside him to help. Those two losses also showed that Villarreal crumble when the going gets tough. They miss Bruno, they miss his leadership. Victor Ruiz, too, is a huge loss.

Whoever comes in will need time to address the defensive frailties and that won’t make for exciting football. Long term however, they need the fans on side or they’ll face the same uphill struggle Escriba did.

Real Madrid not clicking just yet

Now before you Madridistas go crazy in the comments section, hear me out. Yes, I know, you beat Alaves so being in the ‘losers’ section might seem harsh. However I don’t think anyone can disagree that the performance was deeply worrying as the same problems reared their heads.

Alaves were bottom of the table on zero points and with zero goals to their name. The ideal team, you’d imagine, for a team yet to really get going this season. However Real Madrid managed to make Alaves look like Europa League contenders and could’ve easily dropped points again.

Dani Ceballos got Madrid off to a fantastic start just 10 minutes in. Marco Asensio found Ceballos in the box, he shifted to his right before powering inside the near post. Floodgates opened? Not quite. Poor defending from Raphael Varane left Manu Garcia free to header home an equaliser. It was a bloody good header to be fair. Madrid responded well and Ceballos got his second of the game just before halftime to make it 2-1 to the visitors.

Yet those floodgates never did open.

Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post twice to cap a frustrating day for the Portuguese hitman. No doubt, on a personal level, he’s desperate to haul back the advantage a certain Argentine has over him in the goalscoring charts. Yet it wasn’t all one-way traffic. Alaves hit the woodwork twice themselves, the second of those saw Alfonso Pedraza go so, so close to grabbing a late equaliser.

Is Pepe Mel next out the door?

Deportivo de La Coruña look set for another season where they’ll be fighting against relegation. After a midweek victory over hapless Alaves, fans might have expected a better performance away at Espanyol. Instead they saw the same defensive vulnerabilities exposed and it condemned them to a heavy defeat.

The return of hometown hero Lucas Perez alongside Florin Andone was supposed to inspire confidence. But the problems for Depor aren’t in attack, although they could improve there too, but at the back. They have an array of attacking options but if you can’t keep a clean sheet you aren’t going to get very far.

They concede, on average, 2.5 goals per game. That simply isn’t good enough and Mel has a real challenge on his hands to turn his team’s fortunes around.

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