La Liga – Early season winners and losers

By Steve Mitchell
Photo: Alex Tremps

Photo: Alex Tremps

With a quarter of the season gone, La Liga has produced some of Europe’s most exhilarating football so far.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are again the early pacesetters but the chasing pack is in close attendance and looking to cash in on any slip-ups. There is also British interest at newly promoted Real Zaragoza, where a former Arsenal favourite has made a welcome return to top-flight football.

Last season’s main protagonists are once again occupying the first three positions in the table. Pep Guardiola’s all conquering Barcelona side are yet to really catch fire this season but find themselves in top spot just a point in front of their arch rivals Real Madrid.

The Catalan’s big summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimovich is slowly finding his feet at the Camp Nou and has claimed seven of his side’s 24 goals so far this campaign. Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andreas Iniesta have shown in patches why they are considered three of the world’s most gifted footballers whilst goalkeeper Victor Valdes, who has consistently been omitted from the Spanish national squad, has had his best start to a season at the Camp Nou.

After the glories of last season, it will be fascinating to see if the Catalan giants can repeat the same feat this time around, with the intelligent Guardiola at the helm, anything is possible. Florentino Perez’s new galactico era in the capital has started modestly to say the least.

New coach Manuel Pelligrini has a remarkable group of players at his disposal and Christiano Ronaldo’s much publicised move proved an instant success. But for the past month, the Portugese talisman has been sidelined with injury and in this time, Real Madrid have won only twice in all competitions and suffered a humiliating 4-0 first leg Spanish Cup defeat to third division side Alcorcon.

The noose seemed to be tightening around Pellegrini’s neck but a 2-0 derby victory last time out against Getafe has steadied the ship at the Santiago Bernabeau. Ronaldo is in a race against time to be fit for the first summit meeting of the season, on 29th of November at the Camp Nou against Barcelona.

Sevilla are once again looking like the main threat to the big two’s domination. Manolo Jimenez’s team are playing some wonderful football this season both domestically and in Europe, where they may be this season’s surprise package. Jesus Navas, their mercurial midfield dynamo has been the catalyst for their exceptional start.

Playing alongside Diego Perotti in the heart of the midfield, Navas has finally demonstrated his outstanding ability, and has been supplying the ammunition for strikers Luis Fabiano and Alvaro Negredo.

Their wonderful 2-1 victory at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan against Real Madrid has certainly been the highlight of the La Liga season so far. Athletico Madrid, last season’s most entertaining team, has had an awful start to the campaign.

They currently sit third from bottom of the table and have bowed out of the Champions League at the group stage. Quique Sanchez Flores has now replaced Abel Resino in Spanish Footballs hottest of hot seats in a bid to resurrect a season that looks to be spiralling out of control.

Debt ridden Valencia has surprised everyone by their tremendous start and a place in next season’s Champions League looks a distinct possibility. This all seemed a mere pipe dream during the summer when the club announced that it was over 500 million Euros in debt after failing to sell off their existing ground to cover costs of building a brand new stadium outside of the city.

Their prize assets, striker David Villa and midfielder David Silva have surprisingly stayed loyal to the club at it seems that their financial plight has been eased by the news that the Mestalla stadium has finally been sold. Whilst this will surely be Villa’s last season playing for his hometown club, his goals are once again the main factor behind his clubs excellent start to the campaign and he will hope to sign off next summer, safe in the knowledge that Valencia are once again about to become one of Europe’s footballing powerhouses.

Of the newly promoted sides, Xerez sit second bottom and look hopelessly out of their depth in the top-flight, whilst Tenerife are hovering just above the relegation places. Real Zaragoza are positioned half-way in the table and made an interesting addition to their ranks in the summer, taking former Liverpool man Jermaine Pennant when the man from Nottingham’s contract expired at Anfield.

So far it has been a baptism of fire for the Englishman, none more so than in his sides 6-1 capitulation at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, but as the season progresses Pennant will be hoping to establish himself in his new surroundings and as a player with undoubted talent, we wish him well.

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