I don’t usually write mid-week articles, but thought it might be a good idea every now and then to talk about what’s going on around Europe in a little bit more detail – I know everyone isn’t necessarily interested solely in the Premier League, so if this goes down well, I will continue it and cover different Countries on different weeks. The first league I am going to take a deeper look in to is Spain’s La Liga.
There is no doubt about it that Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid challenging the usual heavyweights of Barcelona and Real Madrid in the title race every year is a welcome addition to the League and has in a way refreshed the whole setup over in Spain. An improved TV deal for the smaller clubs and other factors has meant that the opening few months of this year’s season have been more competitive than ever. Last weekend’s results proved that, with Real Madrid and Barca failing to pick up maximum points in games they were expected to win.
Real Madrid’s 1-1 draw with Eibar at the Bernabeu was their third successive league draw and fourth in four games if you include the draw away at Borussia Dortmund. A game in which they were expected to rack up the goals, Real huffed and puffed, but couldn’t knock down the Eibar door, even with Bale, Benzema and Cristiano all playing. For Eibar, it was a fantastic result for them. The first Basque team to get a point at the Bernabeu in a decade, they continue to defy the odds and built on their great start to the season, moving in to eighth place in the league.
For Real Madrid, however, criticism regarding manager Zinedine Zidane continues to grow. There appears to be several issues which need addressing quickly – it looks as if they are lacking a clear style of play and “BBC” up front are struggling for form – with Karim Benzema being taken off at half time during this game after touching the ball just 5 times in the first 45 minutes. Injuries to key players have also not helped, with Casemiro’s absence arguably being the biggest miss of the lot. The Brazillian ball winner in the middle of midfield is key to this team, allowing more creative players such as Toni Kroos and Luka Modric license to push forward and keep the play ticking over.
Talk of a crisis are premature, but Zizou’s job will certainly be under pressure if Atleti and Barca pull away from them this season.
It wasn’t much better for Barcelona, either, who succumbed to a shock 4-3 loss away to Celta Vigo – Luis Enrique’s old team. Interestingly enough, it was 67 games since Barcelona last conceded 4 goals in a game – that defeat also coming against Celta Vigo away from home! Coming off the back of an impressive, hard-fought win away to Gladbach in the Champions League last week, boss Enrique decided to rotate the squad around for this one, opting for what looked like a 4-4-2 formation, with Andre Gomes and Sergio Busquets in the midfield two behind Neymar and Suarez who formed the strike force (although it was center half Gerard Pique who scored a brace on the night and was by far their best player). This is the second time in the space of a month that Enrique has unsuccessfully rotated his squad which has led to a defeat, with the previous loss coming against Alaves at home.
On paper, Barca should’ve had enough to win this game, but Celta were brilliant with their relentless high pressing all over the pitch until the final whistle. Barca keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen came under the most criticism after the game, with his passes out from the back coming under scruitiny. There were times where Ter Stegen had the ball and had simple options to pass to either full back, but decided to go for a more complicated pass. Some of these passes were given away and put Celta on the front foot, but senior players in the team, including Gerard Pique, come out in defence of the keeper after the game, saying he should not change his style of play as it has got him where he is now.
Like Real, Barca have work to do. People will be quick to point to Leo Messi’s injury as a main reason as to why they are struggling, but with one of the most expensively assembled (and paid) squads in Europe, they should be expected to win games without him.
It turned out to be the perfect weekend for Atletico Madrid, who beat a lacklustre Valencia team 2-0 away at the Mestalla on Sunday morning. Atletico, high on confidence after an impressive victory against Bayern Munich at the Calderon in mid-week, dominated the game against Valencia, who appointed Italian coach Cesare Prandelli as their new manager after the game. A special mention must go to Valencia goalkeeper Diego Alves in this game though, who saved 2 penalties, from Griezmann and Gabi. The keeper’s penalty stats are crazy – he has saved 7 of the last 11 penalties he has faced and I have been reliably informed that he has saved 21 of his last 45 penalties faced whilst keeper of Valencia – amazing numbers. Simeone will now head in to winter with Atletico top of the table. With players such as Diego Godin, Koke and Antoine Griezmann now playing at a genuine world class level, there is every possibility they can go all the way this season, although SImeone will be desperate to finally win the Champions League after going desperately close in the last two campaigns. Can they balance the two competitions out and ensure fatigue does not kick in? time will tell.
Before I finish – a quick mention must go to Paco Jemez – a coach who’s teams play the most ridiculously attacking football ever seen in La Liga, sacked after just 6 games as boss of Granada. Also, another quick shout out to Ryan Babel – yes, THAT Ryan Babel – ex-liverpool winger – who scored a 92nd minute winner for Deportivo La Coruna! Amazing where players end up.
Thanks for reading. If you would like me to feature any other leagues or nations in articles such as this, please let me know through Twitter (@eastterrace00) or via e-mail, and I’ll be happy to consider them.