Another weekend of LaLiga action and there’s plenty to talk about.
The first ever meeting between Real Madrid and Girona will be one they won’t forget for a long time. Barcelona start to face some of the better sides in the league while Valencia look to keep pace in the title race.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers from an unpredictable weekend in the Spanish top flight.
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My My My Girona
I wonder how many people screwed up their accumulators and threw them in the bin because of Girona’s heroics against the reigning European Champions, Real Madrid. Even if Zinedine Zidane’s men were struggling for form going into the game, it was seen as a straight forward victory. With Girona being one of the smallest sides in Spain’s top flight, what chance did they have?
It turns out, a pretty good one.
There’s been an inconsistency to Girona’s opening few matches in LaLiga. This is normal as they look to find their bearings and settle on a specific style of play. The one thing which is evident, even at this early stage, is that they step it up a notch against the bigger sides. Malaga apart, they’ve had a tough set of fixtures at Montilivi. Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Villarreal and now Real Madrid. Yet in all those games, even in defeat, they’ve shown enough to say they can compete at this level.
This was Girona’s first ever meeting with Real Madrid and it’s one their fans will likely never forget. There wasn’t a moment in the match where the home side were under the cosh. If anything, it was Girona who took the game to their more illustrious opponents. Playing without fear, they refused to ease the pressure and it was a tactic which Madrid failed to deal with.
For Girona, it was the complete performance. Even Isco’s opener failed to dent their confidence. The second half was much the same as the first but with more cutting edge. Cristhian Stuani’s quick feet were too much for Madrid’s defenders and he kept his cool to level the scoreline. But instead of falling back and looking to absorb a response, Girona poured forward in search of a winner.
It should be mentioned that the winning goal did come from a player in an offside position. The linesman got it wrong. However, not even the staunchest Madrid can could deny that Girona probably deserved a bit of good fortune. It was a Valencia academy star Portu, doing his old club a favour, who neatly flicked in the winner just four minutes after Stuani’s leveller.
And, in the dying embers of the game, it was Girona on the charge looking for even more goals. More on Madrid later.
Valencia’s power couple lead them to victory again
Another week and yet another victory for Valencia. Los Che are on a fine run of form which has seen them win their last seven matches in a row, six in LaLiga. Sitting in the lofty position of second they saw both Madrid sides lose ground on them this weekend. Maybe, just maybe, they are the only hope when it comes to challenging Barcelona for the LaLiga crown.
A trip up north to face Alaves is a game the ‘old Valencia’ would’ve lost. But there’s no question the mentality and belief has changed under Marcelino. This wasn’t a vintage performance either but it’s one of those you need if you’re to fight for honours, you can’t always be easy on the eye. Sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and win ugly – and they did just that. Thanks in large part to the best striking duo in Spain.
Simone Zaza and Rodrigo Moreno are proving all their critics wrong. It’s like two single stars being thrown into a tag team together in the WWE because creative has nothing for them. And now, through hard work and chemistry, they’re on the verge of headlining Wrestlemania. Zaza has nine goals, Rodrigo six. The understanding between the two is crucial and the other helps get the best out of his teammate.
Valencia’s next two fixtures are Leganes at home and Espanyol away. Neither will be easy but both are certainly winnable. After that they welcome Barcelona to Mestalla. Win all three and make no mistake about it, they’re in the race for the league title.
Fine margins are the order of the weekend
There’s a belief amongst casual fans that LaLiga isn’t competitive. Some blindly say this, others acknowledge it isn’t true but like how it riles up Spanish league fans. This weekend was another example of how tough it can be to get the three points as only one team won via a two-goal margin (Barcelona).
Sevilla edged past high-flying Leganes 2-1. Elsewhere, by the same scoreline, Getafe came from behind to defeat Real Sociedad. Eibar, 2-0 down at home to Levante, responded in the second half to claim a share of the points. And in the final game of the weekend we saw Malaga secure their first win of the season – at the tenth attempt – against Celta Vigo.
Are Real Madrid already out of the title race?
Out of all the matches Real Madrid have underperformed in this was arguably the most worrying. Did Madrid really want the win? Something is drastically wrong this year and they are already a whopping eight points behind Barcelona. In fact, Madrid have never made up an 8-point deficit to win the league in their entire history. Is everything already lost?
Maybe, maybe not. It’s of course extremely early in the season but there’s a lot which needs to improve if they are to catch Barcelona. They also need a bit of help from their rivals. Ever since Zidane switched to the 4-4-2 it hasn’t worked. The idea behind this was to make Isco shine. In that sense, it is working. However, that’s all that is working. No one else is blossoming in the change of system and the loss of Gareth Bale is huge.
Cristiano continues to fire blanks which doesn’t help but the problem isn’t just him. Sooner or later he’ll start scoring again, just like Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann will. But there needs to be a structural change to turn Madrid into a fearless juggernaut again. Right now, teams sense there’s something wrong and go on the attack. It’s also alarming how poor Madrid look in defence when Raphael Varane isn’t there. Going into November, Madrid have no margin for error.
Atletic-oh no! Another draw for Simeone
Diego Simeone is a passionate man but doesn’t tend to panic. I do wonder, if behind that mask of praising his team, he isn’t a little bit concerned. Atletico look a yard or two off the pace and aren’t excelling in either defence or attack right now and it’s causing them to pick up far too many draws.
At the weekend they drew again, this time against Villarreal, and as such have drawn 50% of their matches this season. People can say they’re still unbeaten, and they’re right, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. That ‘unbeaten’ tag can protect teams from criticism but when they do lose, it suddenly turns ugly. Instead of ‘unbeaten’ it’s ‘only one win in x matches’. If you want to win titles, those draws need to turn into wins.
Villarreal are no pushovers but you’d expect a team with the quality of Atletico to hold out for the three points. Instead they never looked comfortable after going ahead, dropped far too deep and Carlos Bacca popped up to grab the equaliser.
I bet January can’t come soon enough so they have Diego Costa to call upon. Out of the LaLiga title race already and on the verge of playing in the Europa League next year. Not good enough.
What’s going on at Athletic Club?
It wasn’t a bad weekend, per se, for Athletic Club. A loss against Barcelona isn’t anything to be ashamed of, nor was the performance. However the loss was their fifth in the last seven matches. The football in majority of those games was pretty dire too. Could there be another managerial change coming soon?
Cuco Ziganda is yet to find a system that works and is paying the price. Replacing Ernesto Valverde was never going to be easy but fans expected a little more than they’re currently getting. I’m sure Cuco did too. Next up is a trip to Celta Vigo and then Villarreal at home. If they don’t win either, it could get mighty uncomfortable for the new first team coach.