What a wild time it is in La Liga. After eleven rounds of action, Real Madrid have fired their coach and sit seventh and Barcelona are top with a four-point lead. They lead over a three-way tie between Atletico Madrid, Sevilla, and Alaves, with the possibility of Espanyol overtaking them all Monday night. But, remember, it’s only a two-team league…
La Liga Weekend: Barca Top a Tight Table
Real Madrid v Real Valladolid
Real Madrid began their game against Valladolid needing more than just three points. Most of the first team did not play midweek in the Copa Del Rey. Many of those first team players needed to put in a performance as a team. They needed to play well as a team; players like Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Marcos Asensio needed to play well.
But when the game started, most of the players missed the whistle. For the first 70 minutes against Real Valladolid, Real Madrid were held to a standstill. By that time, Bale, Asensio and Casemiro had been taken off, replaced by Isco, Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius Jr. And that is when Real Madrid came to life.
Immediately, the impact of Vinicius and Vazquez was felt for Madrid. They are two players who like to get at defenders with their dribbling ability. That dribbling ability was key for Vinicius to create chances that Bale and Asensio weren’t creating. His first big chance was a shot/cross that smashed off of Valladolid defender Fernando Calero and redirected into the near corner for Real Madrid’s first goal.
Having the weight lifted off their shoulders by the 18-year-old Brazilian wizard, Real Madrid began to play a bit better. They began to get more opportunities, but again it was Vinicius doing the heavy lifting. His run, followed by a lovely ball into Karim Benzema, allowed the Frenchman to turn and force the Valladolid defender into committing a penalty. Then Sergio Ramos cooly performed a panenka to put the ball into the back of the net.
Those two goals papered over the cracks of what was largely a poor performance. The players who needed to play well to keep their spot largely did nothing. But one thing is clear coming out of this game; Vinicius has to start. He was the only Madrid player willing and able to dribble past people, something they have missed without Ronaldo.
He will have to given an opportunity against Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League. His performance in that game would likely determine whether or not he would start next Sunday away to Celta Vigo.
Barcelona v Rayo Vallecano
The league leaders travelled to the south of Madrid to take on 19th place Rayo Vallecano thinking they would have an easy trip. Valverde even played his strongest available eleven to warm them up for Inter Milan on Tuesday. But after 70 minutes of this game, Rayo were 2-1 up and Barcelona were on the ropes.
Rayo had beaten Barcelona as many small sides had in the past; sitting deep and hitting on the counter. When playing that style you have to be organized and hope Barcelona don’t have it all together. And at even the 85th minute, their strategy had worked to perfection; if only the game had ended there.
In the next five minutes, Barcelona scored two goals on the backs of individual skill. First, Ousmane Dembele rifled home a snapshot on the half-volley after a lovely chest down from Gerard Pique. Then Sergi Roberto floated a left foot cross deep to the back post where an unmarked Luis Suarez stabbed it home.
Barcelona stole a deserved three points from Rayo Vallecano. Those three points will prove vital, as they currently have a four point lead over quite the group. As previously mentioned, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Alaves are all tied at 20 points and that is after Alaves lost away to Eibar 2-1 on Sunday morning.
The Europa League spots are currently occupied by Espanyol and Levante, something nobody expected. Levante almost went away to Villareal in a local derby and got the three points but were nipped at the end. Espanyol have a home game against an abysmal Athletic Bilbao side which, if they win, would see them go second all by themselves after 11 games.