La Liga Weekend: Post Clasico Business

BILBAO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 10: Philippe Coutinho of FC Barcelona (L) duels for the ball with Oscar De Marcos of Athletic Club (R) during the La Liga match between Athletic Club and FC Barcelona at San Mames Stadium on February 10, 2019 in Bilbao, Spain. (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

In their return to La Liga action after playing an outstanding Clasico, both Real Madrid and Barcelona had tough games. First Madrid travelled to the Wanda to take on their local rivals Atletico Madrid. But Barcelona had an even tougher test as they travelled to Bilbao and cauldron of San Mames.

La Liga Weekend: Post Clasico Business

Atletico Madrid 1-3 Real Madrid

Real Madrid knew this would be their toughest stretch of the season. After winning last week at home to Alaves, Madrid knew they would face Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Ajax in their next three games, all on the road. After a strong performance midweek in El Clasico, they had another strong performance on Saturday.

This is certainly no longer the Madrid that fell to ninth place in the table earlier this season. They’ve now won five straight La Liga games since that awful loss to Real Sociedad, and look great doing it. Its been top class performances from all the important players. Sergio Ramos has once again picked up his form, Luka Modric is back to the player that won the Ballon d’Or, and Karim Benzema is playing his best football.

But there were two performances in particular that stood out against Atletico, Toni Kroos and Vinicius Junior. Let’s start with the German, who like his midfield partner has returned to the great form expected of him. He did another great job of circulating possession and getting the ball out to Madrid’s 18-year-old phenom.

And his name is Vinicius Junior. The ex-Flamengo man backed a great performance in El Clasico on Wednesday with another excellent showing in the Madrid derby. His quickness and willingness to run at his opponent is simply unmatched. His combination of that pace with excellent skill and close control will make him a force for many years to come.

For now, he still has to improve his decision making, when to pass or shoot or hold the ball etc. But when he gets it right its something to see. Atletico found out the hard way on Saturday. Vinicius created the first goal with a lovely chip over the back of the defence, and then ghosted past Jose Gimenez and earned the penalty.

Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Barcelona

Barcelona has hit a bit of a rough patch after another draw, this time against Athletic Bilbao, their third straight in all competitions. But the game against Bilbao will be the one that worries most Barcelona fans. They were lack-lustre, ineffective and strangely incoherent on their trip to the Basque country.

Credit to the Athletic defence, they had plenty of men behind the ball, making it tough for Barca. But going forward they created more clear cut chances than Barcelona. Marc-Andre ter Stegen made some incredible saves, one on Inaki Williams, Raul Garcia and Markel Susaeta each.

It takes a heroic performance to keep a clean sheet against Barcelona and Graika Garitano’s men did just that on Sunday. And his decision to bring Iker Muniain off the bench worked fantastically as he created two or three chances in the 20 minutes he was on. But this game will always be more about Barcelona’s ineffectiveness.

Luis Suarez said after the game they didn’t know where each other was and that they needed to communicate on the pitch more. The argument could be made that with Jordi Alba and Arthur, it’s hard to imagine them playing like ‘Barcelona’. But the disturbing issue from this game was the person who seemed most out of touch.

Philippe Coutinho

It’s no secret that Philippe Coutinho has struggled at Barcelona, especially over the last three or four months. He was once again ineffective on Sunday, getting the third-least touches and only attempting one ‘key pass’ all game. And he only attempted one shot too, which of course came cutting in on his right foot.

Safe to say that Barcelona is beginning to question whether their money was well spent on Coutinho. The Brazilian has been dazzling when on form, but it’s hard to remember him being on form since the October Clasico. His performances have been getting worse, which each passing week he continues to make the wrong decisions.

It’s almost unprecedented for a player to regress this much, but maybe its a product of the system. Because Coutinho is a creative-with-the-ball player, it’s hard for him to be confident around Lionel Messi. It is a fairly large shadow and Coutinho should take no shame in being eclipsed by it. But knowing there is always someone better to take the shot might have infiltrated Coutinho’s confidence.

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