The Match Week Reviews get a decidedly Spanish flair this week, as we add a new league into the mix…
Welcome to the Match Week Review, where we talk about the football we just watched, but for this edition, we discuss the first match week of the resumed La Liga season. We will name our player of the match week, three winners and losers, and discuss what we learned from the first match week in the resumed Spanish First Division.
So, what happened in Match Week 28 in La Liga? Here are your results:
Sevilla 2-0 Real Betis
Granada 2-1 Getafe
Valencia 1-1 Levante
Espanyol 2-0 Alavés
Celta Vigo 0-1 Villarreal
Leganés 1-2 Real Valladolid
Real Mallorca 0-4 Barcelona
Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Atlético Madrid
Real Madrid 3-1 Eibar
Real Sociedad 1-1 Osasuna
Player of the Match Week
Lionel Messi, Barcelona (1 goal and 2 assists in Barcelona’s 4-0 win over Mallorca)
Lionel Messi officially emerged from quarantine looking better than the vast majority of people on this planet. The beard was shaven, the hair was much longer but still looked good on him, and he is still the best footballer in the world. He demonstrated to the footballing community that his insane talents stuck through the lockdown, putting on an attacking masterclass against poor Mallorca. Twitter seemed to be in awe of the Argentinian magician, as they usually are, but I think it was refreshing for all of us to experience this feeling after a long time away. His performance reinforced his already healthy lead as La Liga’s top scorer and top assister, which is absurd but seemingly expected at this point with Messi. He was sharp, the key cog in a fantastic Barcelona performance.
Honorable Mentions: Adri Embarba (Espanyol), Diego Carlos (Sevilla), Unai Simón (Athletic Bilbao)
Winners of the Match Week
I said in the “La Liga is back” piece that a quick start for every team is important in not only the title race, but also the Champions League race and relegation race. Sevilla seemingly took that idea to heart, dispatching of derby-rivals Betis in a comfortable 2-0 victory. Their lack of a goal-scoring striker, which has been their issue all season, did not hinder them, as the regularly-great Lucas Ocampos found a goal, as well as a contribution from defensive midfielder Fernando. The defense and midfield, where Sevilla are the strongest, were just as strong as they were before the hiatus, and the center back pairing of Diego Carlos and Jules Koundé seems to be developing into a formidable partnership. 11 points out of first might be too steep of a deficit to call them dark horse title contenders, and I think the lack of a solid number nine and goalscoring threat will hold them back from finishing any higher than third, but if they beat Barcelona next weekend I will be willing to reconsider.
One of these days, Espanyol will finally get themselves out of last place. They have genuinely been putting in some good performances since their spending spree in January, but never had the luck before the hiatus to change their overall fortunes. A 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Alavés might have changed that. Now, with a fast start to the restarted league season, they could find the form to overtake Leganés and Mallorca. Currently level on points with Leganés and two points behind Mallorca, Espanyol have a realistic chance at safety. If they continue this hot start, then their fortunes will only improve.
The theme for this review is seemingly how teams can take advantage of fast starts. Villarreal were on the outside looking in when it comes to the European discussion, but Manu Trigueros’ last minute winner against Celta Vigo gave the Yellow Submarine three points that they did not realize the significance of at the time. With Valencia, Getafe, Atlético Madrid, and Real Sociedad all dropping points, Villarreal now find themselves suddenly within reach of the top six, and even the top four. Five points separate them from the Europa League places, while six points separate them from the Champions League places. There is still quite a bit more football to be played, but the possibility is there.
Losers of the Match Week
1.) Atlético Madrid
Atléti resumed the league season almost the same way they ended it previously: struggling to win away from home in the league. While they had their chances, namely one each from Yannick Carrasco and Santiago Arias that should have been goals, it was another largely tepid, not good enough performance from an Atléti team that is struggling for identity. Inability to consistently get points off of lower table teams has seemingly been a problem that has plagued Diego Simeone’s entire tenure, as his Cholismo style struggles against teams that also sit back and force Atléti to break them down. They have a few of those matches coming up, before a trip to face league-leaders Barcelona, so this is a dilemma that Simeone needs to figure out. Not only does Atléti now need to keep an eye on the teams above them in the table, but they also need to start looking over their shoulder. Dropped points from Sociedad and Getafe means that it is only a one point gap between Atléti and fourth, but Villarreal’s win puts los Colchoneros only five points ahead of them. The nightmare scenario of not qualifying for the Champions League is still very real, but now encroaching is a doomsday scenario of not playing European football of any kind next season. Simeone needs to right the ship, and he needs to do it quickly.
2.) Celta Vigo
I said in the league returning piece, and still stand by, that Celta are too good of a team to be in a relegation race, but here we are. Celta were very poor against Villarreal, but they had seemingly defended hard enough and done enough to get a point out of the match. Trigueros’ late winner, especially in the manner in how it was conceded, broke their spirits, and they dropped a valuable point in what could be an incredibly close relegation fight. They were bailed out by Leganés, Mallorca, and Eibar all losing, but they still only sit three points clear of last-placed Espanyol. Still, with plenty of matches left to be played, nothing is set in stone, but Celta are in a very desperate situation at the moment.
Valencia, like Atléti, stayed true to their form from before the hiatus upon the league’s return. Valencia entered the hiatus unable to consistently scored goals, and they continued that form into their 1-1 draw against derby-rivals Levante. Yes, I will say that they were incredibly unlucky. Carlos Soler hit the crossbar in the first half, squandering a great chance to open the scoring. Rodrigo’s goal was seemingly the winner, and you would expect in most scenarios that a 90th minute goal would be a match-winner. However, unfortunate circumstances and a VAR delay led to a 98th minute penalty, which was converted by Gonzalo Melero to level the score. It was unlucky, but it was also more or less deserved. Levante deserved at least a draw, being the better team for large spells of that match, and the penalty was the correct decision. Valencia continue to struggle with an inability to create goalscoring chances. They had a man advantage for the final 15 minutes of the match, and while they did score their goal in this time, it was seemingly their only clear chance. Valencia were aided by teams around them dropping points, so they are still in the Champions League picture, but they are also now only two points ahead of Villarreal and Granada. Quick starts are important with this restarted league season, and Valencia need to move past this disappointment and kickstart a run of good form in order to keep themselves in the European picture.
What We Learned
1.) Yep, there’s a title race, alright…
Barcelona and Real Madrid both came out of the hiatus with sharp, professional, and convincing performances in their first match back. Yes, they were playing teams near the bottom of the table, but it was more about how they went about their victory rather than putting up a high scoreline against an average side. Messi was great for Barcelona, but I would be more reassured by great performances from the supporting cast around him, namely Jordi Alba and Arturo Vidal. In a situation where many thought this Barcelona team would look sluggish or struggle, they put out a complete team performance, almost as if the hiatus never happened. The same logic applies for Real Madrid. Yes, the players you expected to play well, like Benzema and Kroos and Ramos, played well, but I would be very reassured by the confident and dynamic performance of Eden Hazard. Hazard has largely struggled to find his feet in Madrid, with a mix of poor performances, injury issues, and lack of confidence holding him back. Against Eibar, Hazard was very good, combining well with Benzema and Marcelo in attack and looking like the Hazard we all remember from his days at Chelsea. It was not a maestro performance, or one that matches the price tag that Real Madrid paid for the Belgian, but it is one that gives me confidence and hope. Both teams came out of the hiatus strong, and if they are able to keep this form, we will have a thrilling title race.
2.) Maybe the relegation places are not completely decided…
Espanyol are showing that, eventually, they will find their way out of the bottom place in the league table. Now only three points away from safety, Espanyol has moved from a likely relegation candidate to a team that has all of the ability and coaching needed to stay up. Leganés, due to the unfortunate situation with Martin Braithwaite, seem destined for relegation, but while Mallorca did not show much against Barcelona, they still clearly have the ability to overtake the also-struggling Celta Vigo and Eibar. The Leganés situation is very unfortunate, and I still think they will go down, but I am no longer confident in saying we have relegation teams decided already, especially when talking about Espanyol.
3.) Man, Valencia and Atléti love shooting themselves in the foot…
Apart from Sevilla’s win, the rest of the teams clearly in the Champions League picture dropped points, and this is an especially massive blown chance for Atlético Madrid and Valencia given that their results came largely due to their own mistakes. Atléti have shown this season how much they are missing the consistent goalscoring striker that they seemed to always have. From Fernando Torres to Sergio Agüero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Forlan to Antoine Griezmann, Atléti seemingly always got away with generating so few goalscoring chances because they always had strikers who could put away any chance that they got. Diego Costa and Álvaro Morata are not getting it done. The big chances in their match against Athletic Bilbao, which fell to Arias and Carrasco, were not converted. This has been an issue that has plagued Simeone’s team all season, and it has not gotten better. Valencia face a similar inability to score, but they had done enough through 90 minutes to get the win over Levante, but a silly mistake from Mouctar Diakhaby cost them all three points. You could really pinpoint the moment from each of these matches where Valencia and Atléti shot themselves in the foot: Diakhaby’s foul conceding the penalty and Arias’ missed big chance late in the match, respectively. Both of these teams, especially Valencia, now have to proceed knowing Villarreal and Granada are hovering just over their shoulders, ready to overtake if they keep slipping up.