MADRID (Reuters) - Talking points from the weekend's action in La Liga.
TER STEGEN CAN'T RETURN SOON ENOUGH FOR BARCA
Barcelona's frustrating 1-1 draw at Alaves underlined their reliance on goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who has missed the start of the season as he recovers from knee surgery.
Stand-in keeper Neto committed a horrendous error to give Alaves the lead, the fourth game in a row in which Barca have conceded the first goal.
The Catalans are not just missing the imposing presence of the towering German, who has bailed them out so often over the years and offers far more security between the posts than Neto.
Ter Stegen's ability with the ball at his feet is crucial to the team building moves from the back, something which has been sorely missed. Barca's number one is due back in late November and fans will be counting the days until his return.
ARE ATLETICO BETTER OFF WITHOUT A CENTRE FORWARD?
With Luis Suarez rested and Diego Costa injured, Atletico Madrid lined up without an orthodox striker against Osasuna but any fears they would be lightweight in attack were quickly proven wrong as they romped to a 3-1 win.
Joao Felix partnered winger Angel Correa in attack and Atletico played with far more freedom than usual, opening up Osasuna with speedy and fluid counterattacks involving the whole team and should have scored far more.
Suarez is almost certain to return to the line-up for Atletico's next two fixtures against Cadiz and Barcelona, but with his side playing such thrilling football without him, would coach Diego Simeone be better off leaving him out?
CAN HAZARD'S RETURN TAKE MADRID TO THE NEXT LEVEL?
Ever since Cristiano Ronaldo left in 2018, Real Madrid have been yearning for a talismanic forward to make the difference and Eden Hazard hinted he could be that man with an excellent display in his first start of the season against Huesca.
The Belgian burst open a tight game by scoring the crucial first goal out of almost nothing with a superb strike from distance and he also linked up well with Karim Benzema as Madrid went on to cruise to a 4-1 victory.
Hazard barely made a dent in his first season at Real due to two serious ankle injuries but has finally shown he is capable of propelling the team forward. Now he must ensure he stays fit so he can continue to do so.
HOMEGROWN TALENT FUELLING REAL SOCIEDAD'S RISE
Leaders Real Sociedad steam-rolled Celta Vigo 4-1 on Sunday to go back to the top of the standings but the sweetest thing of all for coach Imanol Alguacil was that they did it with seven academy players on the pitch.
Alguacil, who became first team coach in December 2018, had spent years working with Sociedad's youth and reserve sides and his deep knowledge of the academy has helped him assemble a squad with the club's spirit flowing through their veins.
"Perhaps the boys are tired of seeing my face after so many training sessions together but what we are living right now is incredible," he said.
"It's also remarkable that the players who have come here from elsewhere have managed to understand so quickly what it means to wear this shirt."
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)