La Liga wrap: Barca struggle without Messi as Bale nets treble

La Liga wrap: Tom Wellman reflects on Barcelona's 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao as Gareth Bale bags a hat-trick at Bernabeu

lionel messi
Lionel Messi suffered the hamstring strain on Sunday Photo: Back Page Images

Life without Messi tough as Barca lose second consecutive game

Barcelona followed up their defeat by Ajax in midweek with another loss, this time to Athletic Bilbao. Iker Muniain scored the only goal of the game as the reigning champions struggled without Lionel Messi spearheading their attack. Bilbao were unbeaten at their new ground going into the game and managed to complete the ultimate test of their resolve and move into the Champions League places. As for Barca, they are struggling to replace Messi and need their stars to help in the goal-scoring department. Neymar and Cesc Fabregas have so far failed to take on Messi’s responsibility but will have to find a way of coping without the Argentinian striker in big matches, especially as they cannot afford to rush him back from injury again.

Bale treble lifts burden from Ronaldo

Real Madrid were able to brush aside Real Valladolid without their main man Ronaldo at the Bernabeu on Saturday thanks to a wonderful hat-trick from Gareth Bale. He became just the second Brit to score a La Liga treble with his perfect threesome, first with his head, then with his right foot and finally struck late on with his trusty left peg. Bale also teed up Karim Benzema perfectly with a driven cross straight onto the Frenchman’s head. It now means that Bale has scored nine times in his 13 games for Los Blancos so far, assisting 6 goals. Bale has started to fire at just the right time for Madrid as he helps shoulder the responsibility for scoring goals in Ronaldo’s absence.

Atleti make up ground on Barcelona with Elche win

Atletico Madrid were able to field their star man at the weekend and Diego Costa duly returned another goal, his 15th of the season, in a 2-0 win over Elche. The three points took Atleti joint top with Barcelona following their defeat and just goal difference separates the two sides on 40 points. Whilst Costa’s strike wasn’t as impressive as his overhead kick last week, the 25-year-old finished well after Arda Turan had set him free with a fantastic lobbed pass. Koke, likely to join up with Costa in the Spanish national team, scored the other goal, tapping in after a scramble in the penalty area. Perhaps now Diego Simeone believes his team can go all the way?

Pressure mounting on Mel as Rayo fan enjoys late equaliser

With Betis sitting bottom of the table, the pressure is beginning to increase on boss Pepe Mel. Despite the Andalucian side doing well in the Europa League, their domestic form is a worry as Rayo Vallecano’s late equaliser made it eight games without a win. Alberto Bueno grabbed a 90th-minute leveller as Betis came within touching distance of that elusive win after Amaya and Verdu had twice given Betis the lead. One person who enjoyed it more than Mel was Rayo Vallecano’s sole fan who had made the journey to the Estadio Benito Villamarin by himself. Despite being behind twice, the supporter saw his side clinch what could be a vital point in the La Liga relegation race.

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