This was the weekend the world would find the answer to the question: “Hay Liga?” Loosely translated, it’s whether there’s a title race to be had in Spain or not. Barcelona, the unbeaten leaders but slightly more dull than previous incarnations, welcomed Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid to the Camp Nou. A victory for the visitors and the gap would close to just two points. A draw and maybe even Zinedine Zidane, sat in cloud cuckoo land, could argue Real Madrid were back in it.
Unfortunately for the neutrals the answer to the question was ‘no’. Barcelona, thanks to their Benjamin Button Argentine superstar, once again had their hand raised in victory. Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest Swiss army knife a team can have. His record from the penalty spot makes him look human but his ability to convert freekicks leaves you in no doubt his parents are green and fly around in spaceships. Atletico, like everyone else before them, couldn’t find a way to beat Barcelona.
Although I did enjoy Simeone’s comments after the game. “If you take off Messi’s shirt and put an Atletico one on him, we win the game. It’s like playing in the street and one team picks the best player.”
‘There isn’t league’ thanks to Messi
MARCA’s headline is that Barcelona’s victory over Atletico was ‘a direct hit’ when it comes to them winning LaLiga. With an eight-point margin it’s hard to envisage such a dramatic collapse from Ernesto Valverde’s team. And a key part of that is Valverde because he doesn’t take risks. It might come back to haunt him in other competitions but over the course of a season, Barcelona get the job done. It isn’t always exciting, that’s for sure, but maybe it doesn’t have to be?
Over in AS the main story is reserved for Real Madrid’s match against Paris Saint Germain. Obviously. However at the very top there’s a bit on Messi who is ‘hugging’ the league title. I suppose it’s a step up from having one hand on the trophy. And if anyone deserves a bit of alone time with the LaLiga crown it’s little Leo. His three consecutive freekick goals is yet another record to add to his overflowing room of achievements.
Iniesta out, Gomes whistled
It wasn’t all positive for Barcelona though. Andres Iniesta, the club captain, valiantly tried to continue on after pulling a muscle but had to give in after 36 minutes. While Iniesta isn’t quite at his peak any more, his influence and experience mean his absence is a significant blow to the squad. Early reports suggest he could be out for up to a month which would make him touch and go for the first leg of a potential Champions League quarter final. Of course, they need to see off Chelsea first.
Another negative was the reaction to his replacement, Andre Gomes, after joining the fray. It’s no secret that Gomes’ time at Barcelona hasn’t panned out quite as expected but jumping on his back is hardly going to make matters easier. The Portuguese international, struggling for confidence, lost a ball in the middle of the pitch and was loudly whistled. Valverde took exception to this and remonstrated with the support to do just that, support, rather than make matters worse.
¡Gracias, afición! ¡Vuestro apoyo nos hace invencibles! Paso a paso nos acercamos al objetivo. @leomessi ¡Ánimo, mago! @andresiniesta8 en nada con nosotros! Thank you culés. Your support makes us invencible! Step by step we get closer to what we want. #ForçaBarça #FCBarcelona
A post shared by Andre Gomes (@aftgomes21) on Mar 4, 2018 at 12:31pm PST
Last night Gomes took to social media to thank the fans for their support of the team and how that makes them invincible. If only those whistling fans in the stands had as much class as the midfielder.
With the title ‘in the bag’, it’s time to sign another new player
Up in Barcelona they are naturally feeling confident about landing another league title. ‘In the bag’ is Mundo Deportivo’s headline. Messi scores his 600th goal, the team remains unbeaten after 27 match days and the only downside is Iniesta’s injury. All is well.
In SPORT it’s a similar story: “God’s League.” You can probably guess who they are referring to as god.
Perhaps more interesting is the fact the major news from Mundo Deportivo is not of the victory over Atletico but instead about a new signing. Yes, that’s right, Barcelona are already on a mission to strengthen their squad even further for next season. The man in question is Arthur. What is it with Brazilian footballers and them having names more akin to characters from the Last of the Summer Wine?
Gremio’s general director and lawyer both landed in Barcelona to meet with the Catalan club’s hierarchy to discuss a move for the Brazilian starlet. Much like Real Madrid’s signing of Vinicius Junior, this is a deal with an eye more on the future than the present. Any move wouldn’t take place until January 2019 at the earliest. The fee is said to be around €30m with €10m in add-ons.
You decide, Zidane
As we touched upon briefly earlier, AS and MARCA are also focusing on the decisions facing Zidane ahead of the second leg against PSG. Toni Kroos and Luka Modric are both fit and available but Zidane must decide whether it’s worth risking his two star men. The results in their absence, Espanyol aside, have largely been impressive but PSG are a different animal altogether.
Zidane is cautious when it comes to rushing back unfit stars but might want to make an exception this time around. Mateo Kovacic is capable of doing a job in the middle of the park alongside Casemiro so there’s no need to risk both Modric AND Kroos. Having one of the two start, and the other come off the bench later on, would seem like the more logical choice to take. Although Zidane is an incredibly hard person to predict. Well, apart from his love of 4-4-2 of course.
Sticking with the Champions League, there’s also a lengthy section on the referee for Real Madrid’s match against PSG. Apparently the referee, Felix Brych, tends to give more red cards, yellow cards and penalties to the home side as opposed to the away one. Yeah, I don’t really see the point in all of this either. But Real Madrid have never lost with Brych as the referee. The last time he oversaw a Madrid match they beat Juventus 4-1 in Cardiff to lift their 12th European Cup.
Who was Zaza telling to be quiet?
Elsewhere Valencia vs Real Betis was full of controversy. After coming through a sticky patch Los Che are approaching their best again, winning four of their last five LaLiga matches. The injury to Santi Mina takes some of the shine off the 2-0 victory over Betis it but the fact Rodrigo Moreno and Simone Zaza both got back on the scoresheet essentially evens it out.
Zaza’s celebration caused a few people to question the motives behind it. After grabbing his first league goal since early December, Zaza made a gesture to suggest people were talking too much about him. Was it directed towards the fans, the coach or his teammates? No, it seems it was a joke with his dad who was reminding his son that he hadn’t scored for a while.
To VAR or not to VAR
Lo he visto 20 veces y me parece gol valido por todos lados. Con el VAR en Alemania estábamos todos más tranquilos porque ayuda mucho más a los árbitros. Son jugadas muy rápidas que cuesta mucho decidir correctamente. https://t.co/sy4YlQyd2W
— Marc Bartra (@MarcBartra) March 4, 2018
The other controversial moment was when Real Betis put the ball in the back of the net. The referee immediately ruled it out for, well, no one really knows. Marc Bartra, the unfortunate non-goalscorer, is familiar with VAR having seen it in action when he was at Dortmund and feels the introduction of the system will help in moments like these.
“With VAR in Germany we were all more relaxed because it helps the referees a lot.”
I’m guessing he didn’t see Tottenham Hotspur vs Rochdale.
Levante sack their manager but Lopez is thankfully okay
Levante sacked their manager, Juan Ramon Lopez Muñiz, after yet another poor performance at the weekend. The late draw at home to Espanyol was the last straw. I don’t think Muñiz can have any complaints seeing as he hasn’t won a league match since the 19th November. The question is rather: did this decision come too late to save Levante’s season?
And to close on a bright note, Diego Lopez is out of any danger after suffering a nasty clash of heads in the match against Levante. The Espanyol keeper took the full brunt of Armando Sadiku’s attempt to reach the ball first. After leaving the match on a stretcher Loepz immediately went to the hospital. He stayed overnight but hasn’t suffered any serious injuries.