La Liga wrap: Lionel Messi helps Barcelona maintain unbeaten record
La Liga wrap: Barcelona beat Malaga to reach the halfway point of the league campaign unbeaten. Tom Wellman reports
Untroubled Barcelona reach halfway stage unbeaten
Barcelona make football look so easy at times, especially in Sunday night’s trip to Malaga where the irrevocable Catalan team dismantled their opponents’ impressive home and defensive record. La Rosaleda has seen more memorable games this season than in recent years due to Malaga’s Champions League commitments, but few rank as outstanding as the display from Barcelona in the 3-1 victory, orchestrated by many named in Fifa’s world team of the year last week. In fact it was the man who received Fifa’s most-esteemed award who opened the scoring. Lionel Messi – the recipient of his fourth Ballon d’Or – notched his 34th goal of the season after Ignacio Camacho gifted him possession. Messi masterfully grabbed two assists later on, teeing up Cesc Fàbregas and Thiago Alcântara, but his individual performance was overshadowed by an energetic, encapsulating team showing that at times had even the home fans applauding.
Atletico record a perfect 10 as Falcao returns to form
Atletico Madrid maintained their 100 per cent home record in La Liga with a comfortable win over Real Zaragoza at the Vicente Calderón Stadium on Sunday night. The result was their tenth successive home win from ten games this season as the result extended their lead over their Madrid rivals to seven points. Radamel Falcao was on the score-sheet again as he netted his 18th goal of the season from a dubious penalty after Arda Turan’s theatrical fall. The Colombian rifled home the spot-kick and made the score 2-0 after Tiago had put Atletico one up with a header moments beforehand. Zaragoza failed to threaten Thibault Courtois’ goal and Atletico saw out another home win and clean sheet in their already remarkable season so far.
Ronaldo missing as Madrid fire another blank
At the start of play, Osasuna were rock bottom of La Liga but by the climax of their 0-0 stalemate with Real Madrid, the boot was very much on the other foot. Probably at their lowest ebb, the disarray within the Madrid camp was evident as they barely troubled their struggling opponents. Even without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, Madrid were still fancied to put a couple past Osasuna but failed to create many chances at all. In fact, Osasuna finished the game frustrated that they’d only managed to take a point from Real! To make matters worse, Kaka received two quick yellow cards in a game that pretty much summed up their season thus far – dismal and difficult to watch.
Betis’ European charge continues
Real Betis are quietly making fourth place their own as they took advantage of Malaga’s date with Barcelona to go two points ahead of their Andalucian rivals after taking maximum points from their game with Levante. In fact Betis are just one win away from Real Madrid in third, and judging by the recent form of both teams, Betis would be silly not to target the flailing giants. Pepe Mel uses his players effectively, and in return they work hard and grind out results consistently, including in the Copa del Rey. One way or another, Betis could make this season a very memorable one, especially if they can hold off Malaga for another 19 games.
European wannabes Rayo Vallecano on course to make history
Few remember Rayo Vallecano’s first and only European stint, even though it only came 13 years ago. In that year, Vallecano made the quarter-finals of the Uefa Cup where they lost out to eventual finalists and compatriots, Alaves. Vallecano had finished ninth in La Liga the previous year, their best ever finish, and only by virtue of the Fair Play Rule did the club qualify for the tournament. In the 2012/13 campaign, Rayo have stormed up the league in the face of adversity, losing key players and finishing last season on the cusp of relegation, but sit in sixth at the league’s midpoint. Having won their last four games, Vallecano are in awesome form and on course for their highest ever finish. However, their chances will be severely dampened should star striker Leo Baptistão complete his €10m move to Atletico. Even so, Vallecano have come this far without Michu, perhaps another rapid replacement is waiting for their chance.