As the world slowly realises that domestic football has to stop again to cater for international football, it was a key weekend in LaLiga. Paco Alcacer, the forgotten man at Barcelona, returned to the starting lineup and gave Ernesto Valverde food for thought. Elsewhere second-in-the-table Valencia flexed their title credentials with a tough match against in-form Leganes. And in Spain’s capital there was some much needed joy for both sides.
Pac’s the way to do it!
When a player finds himself out in the cold, it doesn’t take long for most to speak up and express their frustration. Some may do this via the press, others on social media and a few in front of the TV cameras. Yet Paco Alcacer didn’t do any of these things. Despite starting the first match of the season in an alien position, then providing an assist in the second game, he was banished to the sidelines. In more than a couple of game weeks, he didn’t even make the bench.
It would’ve been easy for him to put pressure on Barcelona’s new coach Ernesto Valverde. Luis Suarez’s well documented struggles have seen many fans want a different person to lead the line. The only real option, apart from demanding yet more from Lionel Messi, is Alcacer. But you can’t find a single interview or leak from the former Valencia striker during his exclusion from the side. He kept his head down, stayed quiet, and looked to earn his place in the team on merit.
READ MORE: Patience pays off for Alcacer
Valverde put Paco out wide again, not in place of Suarez, and he showed that he can play a vital role this season. In fact, Alcacer represents the complete opposite of what Suarez brings to the table. His workrate at least equals that of the Uruguayan but despite being left out in the cold, Alcacer is much more confident in his own abilities.
It was in fact Suarez who created the first goal for Alcacer, via en Escudero error. A long ball over the top bobbled through to Paco and he coolly slotted it past Sergio Rico in goal. There’s more than a little of the Roberto Soldado at Spurs about Suarez so far. Decent in the build up but offers absolutely no goal threat.
Alcacer’s second goal was an even better, more instinctive finish. Ivan Rakitic crossed in a beautiful ball and Alcacer beat the defender to it, firing in first time at the near post. In the post-match interview there was no rise to the bait of questions about whether he’s now proved himself. “The most important thing is the team and the three points.” Professional to the end.
Asensio fires Madrid to victory
If laughter is the best medicine in life, well facing Las Palmas at home is the equivalent in football. For Real Madrid, after back to back defeats, they needed not only a victory but a strong performance. Girona was a bad day at the office and against Tottenham they came up against a more structured side. Las Palmas, though, was a chance to set the record straight – and they did.
No one is going to claim that Real Madrid ‘are back’ but it was at least a step in the right direction. Zinedine Zidane cut young Achraf from the squad, moved Nacho to right back and brought in Jesus Vallejo for his debut. The system, unfortunately, wasn’t a switch to a 4-3-3 but it did look better with new personnel.
Marco Asensio will take the headlines for his latest wondergoal but it was his injection of pace to the attack which made the real difference. Ever since Gareth Bale returned to the injury table Madrid’s forward line has been pedestrian to say the least. Pace unnerves defenders and it forces them to double up on him. This in turn allows more space for Asensio’s teammates to exploit.
Cristiano Ronaldo looked better than he has in recent weeks but still couldn’t find his scoring touch in front of goal. He usually doesn’t have the same problem for Portugal so the break might do him some good.
Rodri-gol strikes again
Another week, another victory for Valencia. I don’t think even Marcelino could’ve dreamed for things to go this well so early on. The victory over a tough Leganes side meant this was Valencia’s best ever start to a league campaign. It was also their eighth consecutive victory, seven of those in LaLiga. Valencia remain unbeaten with 30 goals to their name, the joint-best in the division. Dreamland.
The focus in recent weeks has been mainly on the strikeforce of Rodrigo Moreno and Simone Zaza. The latter had a chance to make even more history at Valencia but couldn’t find the back of net. This led to Zaza marching down the tunnel when he was substituted as opposed to seeing the conclusion of the game.
For Rodrigo, now a regular squad member with Spain, it was a different story. He’s got on the scoresheet in eight of his team’s last nine matches. After a forgettable first half he slowly grew into the game. An inch-perfect cross from Manchester United loanee, Andreas Pereira, was duly headed home. After scoring just 10 goals in his first 78 matches, Valencia fans are finally beginning to see the Rodrigo who is worth the €30m it cost to sign him.
Cloud ‘Cucu’ land
It’s never easy to step into the shoes of someone who most feel took a club as far as it could realistically go. Valverde’s reign at Athletic was superb, culminating in them ending their trophy drought. Promoting from within is a method that works at Athletic. There’s a community feel, a common goal, a connection most teams won’t understand. Yet there also needs to be honesty and right now, José Ángel Ziganda is struggling – big time.
There’s a distinct lack of direction when it comes to their style of play. Where’s the creativity, where’s the vision, where’s the plan? The team looks as if its playing in concrete boots. If you want to see a side playing football the right way, you might as well turn around now. Something is terribly wrong.
In their last eight LaLiga matches they’ve won only once. Some of the fixtures haven’t been easy, that’s true, but there’s little evidence to suggest this team is about to break out of its self-imposed cocoon. In those same eight matches they’ve lost six. Relegation isn’t a genuine concern but if they want to qualify for European football next season, they need to quickly pick up the pace.
Las Palmas’ slump shows no sign of ending
In football, on an individual level, you want to break records and leave your mark. For Pako Ayestaran, after a successful career as an assistant coach, the leap into management hasn’t gone at all smoothly. After ‘saving’ Valencia from relegation he then wheeled off seven consecutive losses before leaving the club.
Las Palmas saw something in Ayestaran, be it in his interview or his time at Valencia, and gave him the manager job. If it was the latter of those two things then they can’t be surprised at how it’s going under his leadership.
Ayestaran’s methods simply aren’t working. They didn’t function at Valencia and the early signs are they won’t at Las Palmas either. Sometimes you have to accept that being an assistant, or just a coach in general, is a vastly different prospect than being the captain of the ship. Because it appears Pako only knows how to sink vessels, not guide them to the promised land.
In fairness the entire club looks on holiday. The players rarely move out of first gear, no one seems to care and the idea of relegation seems a foregone conclusion at this stage. They’ve lost nine out of eleven matches this season. You could see this was coming though as they’d drawn a blank in the last five games of the previous campaign.
No Thomas, no Partey for Atletico
The inquest as to what’s going wrong at Atletico Madrid will be put on hold fo a couple more weeks but only thanks to Thomas Partey’s last gasp heroics. Another tepid display against a side they should be easily beating was on the verge of a familiar outcome. Yet it was Partey time for the Atleti fans who did make the trip up to La Coruña as his shot cannoned in off the post in the 91st minute.
Antoine Griezmann escapes the criticism Cristiano and Suarez have faced but his performances are equally of concern. The Frenchman can – and must – do better if Atletico are to truly challenge at the top of the table and rescue their Champions League campaign.
Next up? Real Madrid.