La Liga wrap: Barcelona finally lose unbeaten record at Real Sociedad
La Liga wrap: Barcelona finally slip up in the title race, suffering a 3-2 loss to Real Sociedad. Tom Wellman reports
Barça lose their unbeaten record at Sociedad
Barcelona were cruising to another victory away to Real Sociedad but Gerard Pique’s red card changed the whole complexion of the game. A late Imanol Agirretxe strike sealed the win for underdogs Sociedad after Chori Castro had earlier scored a brace to bring the hosts level, inflicting a first league defeat of the season on Barcelona. Lionel Messi and Pedro gave Barça a 2-0 lead going into half-time but the league leaders couldn’t hold on for even a point as Agirretxe slid home. It mimicked the Copa del Rey match with Malaga in midweek where Barcelona conceded at the death in a 2-2 draw. Despite the winter break at the start of the year, Barcelona’s infrequent squad rotation could be to blame for apparent fatigue within the squad.
Ronaldo brace sinks Valencia as Madrid return to imperious best
Real Madrid stormed into a five-goal half-time lead at the Mestalla, muting the Valencian crowd, as Cristiano Ronaldo and co showed glimpses of the side that won the league at a canter last season. Gonzalo Higuaín began the rout as Ángel Di María and Ronaldo scored twice within the first 45 minutes to send many supporters home before the interval. Mesut Özil and Xabi Alonso orchestrated play, finding space between Valencia’s midfield and torturing their defence. Ernesto Valverde’s side perked up after the break with Madrid keen to preserve their clean sheet and kept the visitors from adding to the embarrassment. Valencia face Madrid again this week in the Copa del Rey and will be desperate for instant revenge.
Chelsea stopper Courtois stars as Atletico win
Radamel Falcao has often been credited with leading Atletico to second in the league, but one person who deserves a greater share of the plaudits is on-loan Chelsea keeper Thibaut Cortois. The Belgium international has been sensational this season in his second stint with Atletico, making some superb reflex stops and vital saves to keep Madrid on Barcelona’s tails. The 2-0 win over Levante was Atletico’s tenth successive clean sheet at the Vicente Calderón in their 11th straight home win – a club record run. Falcao has been rumoured to be moving to Chelsea but we know for certain at least one of Atletico’s stars will be going to west London with a huge reputation this summer.
Espanyol move clear of relegation thanks to Aguirre’s impact
The club looked to be doomed after only two points from their first eight games but Espanyol have crept away from the drop zone in recent weeks thanks to the arrival of new coach Javier Aguirre. The former Zaragoza boss has stepped in and transformed the fortunes of a club seemingly destined for the Segunda with just one defeat (to Barcelona) in his seven games in charge, even managing to draw with Real Madrid in December. Their latest win, a last-gasp 3-2 victory over Mallorca, steers them away from the bottom three and towards the teams treading water in mid-table. Aguirre has already managed one more win than former boss and new Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino and, if they can sustain their run, should keep Espanyol in La Liga for another season at least.
Is González the new Michu?
It is hard to avoid labelling every promising Spanish player as “the new Michu” but following the success of Rayo Vallecano’s star man last season, you can’t help but keep a watchful eye over the unheralded La Liga stars. Valladolid’s Oscar González could be the next to star at a higher-profile team having scored nine goals this season, his latest coming against former team Zaragoza in Valladolid’s 2-0 win, with Los Blanquivioleta currently in tenth spot. He’s the club’s top scorer and the joint seventh highest in the league, which isn’t bad considering González is an attacking midfielder. However, at the age of 30, Oscar is unlikely to attract major attention from Europe’s bigger clubs but the former Olympiacos midfielder is enjoying his best Primera League season and is Valladolid’s key player having risen from relative obscurity to star this season.