LaLiga: Messi is king as Barcelona's rivals drop points

Andrew Gaffney

THE WINNERS

Messi is the King of Catalunya

A lot of people suggested the true reason behind Neymar’s departure from Barcelona this summer was so he could win a Ballon d’Or. This is admittedly more speculation on the casual fan’s part than the words of Neymar himself but it makes sense. The problem is, even if you’re in Paris or London, you’re in Lionel Messi’s shadow. You compete to be second best as top spot already has an owner.

For all the talk of crisis off the pitch at Barcelona they continue to pick up wins on it. Real Betis, Alaves and Espanyol aren’t world beaters or anywhere near the level of Barcelona, that’s true. But their job isn’t to organise the fixture list, only beat whoever they come up against. In fact, this was the ideal run to the start the season as it helps sweep those negative headlines under the carpet. For a brief period at least.

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Messi was unplayable against Espanyol. Long-term, you worry about the strain this will put on Messi as he looks to once again carry Barcelona to the top. We all know his numbers, goals and assists, will stand out but like most icons of the sport he’ll be judged hardest in the big games. It’s important those new to the side pick up the pace quickly. We’ve all seen what Argentina does to Leo when all those around him go hiding.

Barcelona face Juventus tomorrow but in the league don’t meet anyone of note until 15th October when they travel to Atletico Madrid’s new Wanda Metropolitano. It isn’t inconceivable for them to win every LaLiga match until that point. This means the rest are already playing catch up to Ernesto Valverde’s men.

Sociedad are the Real deal

In amongst all the talk of El Clasicos and Champions League football, Real Sociedad’s fine start to the season has almost gone unnoticed. Whilst Barcelona might be four points ahead of the Madrid sides, they are joined on nine points by Real Soceidad. They’ve also managed to score one more goal (10) than Messi and company (9).

After a wonderful comeback on the opening weekend against Celta Vigo and crushing a poor Villarreal side at Anoeta, they travelled to A Coruña to face Deportivo. Without key defender Raul Navas and wonderkid Mikel Oyarzabal, it would prove to be a tough test but yet another one they passed with flying colours.

They rushed into a 2-0 lead but promptly threw it away after 50 minutes and were level at 2-2. However, La Real have a lot more character about them these days and found another gear to pull away from a top-heavy Deportivo.

Asier Illarramendi is the heart and soul of the team, everything runs through him. At the weekend he scored two cracking goals to rubber stamp his influence on proceedings. One was a drilled effort from just outside the penalty area and the second saw him finish off a mazy run and finish . His old team Real Madrid are the next ones to attempt to derail the progress being made under Eusebio. Right now they have nothing to fear.

Max-attack

This summer saw the transfer market spiral out of control and prices rise once again. This makes it difficult for the likes of Sevilla, Villarreal and Celta Vigo to find unpolished gems at affordable rates. Yet arguably the best value for money deal at the moment is Maximiliano Gomez. The Uruguayan striker cost a mere €4m and has already notched four goals in three games. Only one man has more – you can probably guess who that is.

Gomez scored 15 goals in 27 games in Uruguay but the step up to one of Europe’s major leagues can often take a bit of time. “We thought he’d score goals but not that he’d get off the mark so quickly,” is what Celta’s director of football said about him.

Maxi’s incredible start will begin to alert scouts from around Europe if he continues to impress. Strong, powerful and with the knack of getting into the right place he could turn out to be someone special to follow this season. The other Uruguayan striker in LaLiga isn’t too bad either.

THE LOSERS

Real Madrid falter again

The month of September to Zinedine Zidane appears to be what August is to Harry Kane. Last year, in the first fixture pileup of the season, Real Madrid drew to Villarreal and Las Palmas. Following the pre-international break draw at home to Valencia, they welcomed Levante to the Santiago Bernabeu this time around. It’s safe to say things didn’t quite go to plan.

Levante are a side most expect to see struggling near the bottom of the table come May but they’ve had a better start than anyone could’ve imagined. A victory over Villarreal was followed by a late draw against Deportivo. Real Madrid are a different beast though and few, if any, gave them hope of heading home with something to show for an afternoon’s work.

Zidane got the squad rotation wrong. Much like against Valencia, although an injury crisis in defence didn’t help in that game, the balance of the team was off. An injury to Benzema allowed him to rejig the XI but didn’t really have the desired effect.

Maybe realising they had a chance, Levante scored first. It wasn’t against the run of play either. Madrid equalised just before half-time and despite their overwhelming hold on proceedings can have very few complaints about drawing 1-1. Levante deserved something and Zidane needs to find a better balance to his ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams.

Valencia and Atletico cancel each other out

Sometimes matches between two big teams can result in a wonderful experience for the neutral. With so many quality players on show, there are all the ingredients for a must-see show. However, while that may be true, there’s also the chance two well matched sides can end up cancelling each other out. Step forward, Valencia and Atletico Madrid.

The rebuilding process continues for Marcelino at Valencia. He would’ve been pleased by his side’s desire to match and, for large parts control, a strong Atletico side. But we all know how tough that rearguard can be to break down and the one area Valencia are struggling in is attack.

The defence is fine now, even more so with the impressive Kondogbia shielding it, but they need to offer more going forward to win these types of games. Simeone Zaza was industrious as ever but Rodrigo Moreno can’t quite stamp his authority onto games. With competition for places, he looks the most vulnerable at losing his place in the team.

And I think Diego Simeone will be a happy man too. Mestalla is recuperating its aura and no one will get an easy ride there. Simeone left out some big names ahead of the Champions League this week but still claimed a point. Valencia were on the front foot but the best chances fell Atletico’s way. Plus, Simeone will soon have Antoine Griezmann to call upon again.

Adios Alaves?

Last season’s Copa del Rey finalists look a shell of their former selves after their opening three games. Without Marcos Llorente in midfield and Deyverson leading the attack, there’s very little for the fans to cheer about. Three games in, three losses and zero goals scored.

The fixture list isn’t much kinder in the upcoming weeks either. Villarreal, Real Madrid and Real Sociedad are the next three visitors to the Mendizorrotza. Perhaps more crucially they travel to Deportivo and Levante, two sides also expected to struggle near the bottom of the table. However, slip up again, and it might be the beginning of the end for plucky Alaves.

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