La Liga wrap: Vilanova’s Barça produce five-star display to stay top
Tom Wellman takes a look at an eventful weekend in La Liga which saw Barcelona, Atletico and Real Madrid all win in style
Barça’s five-star performance maintains lead over Atletico
Identical records of eight wins and one draw means that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are separated only by goal difference at the top of the table, so the importance of the Catalan side’s 5-0 rout over Rayo Vallecano is understated. After struggling to kill off a stubborn Celtic side in midweek, Rayo intended to provide similar treatment to Barcelona by making them work for the points. Instead of defending resolutely, they attacked their Catalan opponents and looked impressive in the early stages – only just edged out in the possession stakes (46 per cent to 54 per cent). David Villa did ensure Barça led at half-time but with possession almost even it came down to clinical finishing – and that is exactly what Tito Vilanova’s men specialise in – four goals in the second half made sure of another three points but the five goals keep Atletico at an arm’s length.
Madrid give Mallorca a morale boosting thumping
Away from home, Real Madrid have had difficulties this season. Defeats by Getafe, Sevilla and more recently Borussia Dortmund has damaged the reputation of Madrid in the past weeks so an immediate recovery away to Mallorca was desperately required, especially as Barça had thumped Rayo spectacularly a day earlier. A high number of goals and an easy victory, reminiscent to last season when they effortlessly swatted teams aside, would have been perfect for Madrid, and that is exactly what happened. In fairness, Mallorca’s first-half performance was akin to an average pub team, as they gifted Madrid a two-goal lead. Gonzalo Higuaín and Ronaldo helped themselves to doubles and Jose María Callejón finished the scoring in the dying moments to boost the confidence of Jose Mourinho’s Madrid army.
Betis’ Sevilla scores as Valencia struggle away from Europe
Salva Sevilla scored an eigth-minute winner for Betis as they downed a Valencia side currently struggling to adapt to life under Mauricio Pellegrino. Despite the resounding Champions League win over BATE Borisov in Belarus, a game in which misfiring striker Roberto Soldado scored a hat-trick, Valencia’s woeful league form means Pellegrino again faces the anger of Valencia fans. It appears that the effects of the morale boosting Bilbao win have all but simmered out as the team looked blunt and unable to trouble the Betis defence. Pellegrino has been working on his own side’s defence a lot since the beginning of the season but for him to remain employed, his focus may have to switch.
Exciting Galician derby rivals El Clásico
For the first time in five years, La Liga played host to the Galician derby. Since the meeting between Celta and Deportivo in 2007, both have suffered relegation from the top tier and financial woes on top, but now they are both back following promotion last season and we were treated to a stunning game. The atmosphere was red-hot and the challenges were fierce but in the end a 1-1 draw proved a fair result. Despite Celta having a man sent off, their attacking intent shone through cautious Deportivo play and ensured the two battled out a brilliant contest for 90 minutes. El Clásico may trump the Galician derby in terms of viewing figures and star players but based on Saturday’s game, the level of excitement varied little.
European hangover differs for Malaga and Levante
As impressive as Malaga have been in their debut Champions League campaign, especially as they humbled the mighty AC Milan in midweek, their immediate form following their European adventures have been below the expected standard. Currently in third, the club has yet to win a game following a Champions League group game, and the turgid draw away to bottom dwellers Espanyol raises questions about the fatigue likely to come further on in the season. Overtly Levante, who are in the Europa League, have won every game following a midweek tie in Europe! Wins over Sociedad, Valencia and Granada means that the minnows continue to surprise and occupy a place in the top six once again this year.