It was as typical a weekend you will get in La Liga with some sublime football, a couple predictable results and even a sacking. Standard.
Barca was at home to Athletic Bilbao in a romping 5-1 victory which has secured their best ever start to La Liga. The football hipsters of yesteryear (or, last year in fact) have suddenly quietened as an abundance of rash decisions have left the Basque’s down to 14th place while Barca is now 6 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 11 points clear of their neighbours Real Madrid.
Messi’s 11th double-strike of the season leaves him one goal shy of Gerd Müller’s record of 85 for club and country in one calendar year, set in 1972. Pique, Fabregas and Adriano added the other three while Ibai Gómez netted the solitary goal for Bilbao. Barca boss Tito Villanova emphasised the need for a strong work ethic to continue their brilliant form. “Of course there are things to improve, but the important thing is that we want to win and we have the ability to work hard. It is clear that we can lose games, but (working hard makes it) much harder to lose.”
Meanwhile Bilbao manager Marcelo Bielsa rued Bilbao’s lack of ball retention and ability to win it back quick enough. “We did not recover the ball well enough, and were not able to build attacks quickly without losing possession,” he said. “But the big difference was that our attacks never thrived and every time we lost the ball led to a Barcelona attack.”
In the other top-of-the-table clash there was the little matter of a Madrid derby to settle. It promised to be a cracker, but sadly, a 2-0 result to Real never really excited. On the day the match Atletico boss Diego Simeone arranged for an open training session in Vicente Calderón attracting near 20,000 supporters, although less than 1,000 were able to go to the game considering the scandalous €70 tickets for the game in the Bernabeau.
While Simeone was rousing support from the fans Mourinho decided to face the many disgruntled Madristas! During his Friday press conference, Jose Mourinho issued a message to Real Madrid fans that have criticized his inability to keep pace with Barcelona this season. He said he would walk out onto the pitch exactly 40 minutes before kick-off of the Madrid derby and said: “those who want to whistle me they can do it.”
In a truly surreal moment, even by La Liga standards, exactly 40 minutes before third the game Mourinho came out of the tunnel, passed the swarm of photographers, and took a few steps onto the pitch. Some whistled, others cheered and still others chanted his name. Here’s a video.
You may notice I still haven’t mentioned the game, because frankly, it was dour. Although it featured a 1 in 50 (or so) stunning Ronaldo free-kick and the return of form for Mesut Özil it really wasn’t much of a spectacle. The best way to describe it is when two completely counter-attacking based teams and decide to forget about the midfield. The first half consisted of Diego Costa picking a fight with pretty much everyone while Falcao was anonymous throughout with no service at all coming his way. Ronaldo struck his sumptuous free-kick in the 16th minute while Özil killed the game off in the 66th following more brilliant work by Ronaldo down the left. Despite the non-event which ensued on the pitch, in the stands there seemed to be quite a bit happening; Madrid’s ultras got to enjoy themselves yet again, holding up an irony-filled banner on the final whistle which read:“Today, the incredible story of the Atletico fan who claims to have seen his team win.”
Barring the two standout La Liga games this weekend there was another talking point, Valencia manager Mauricio Pellegrino’s sacking. Pellegrino only took up the reins in May but the club decided to Saturday’s 5-2 defeat against Real Sociedad at the Mestalla. Los Che are currently 11th in the La Liga but just four points off a Champions League place and have qualified for last 16 of the Champions League. President Manuel Llorente commented on the sacking by saying: “We have been exchanging views, and we made the decision to dismiss Mauricio Pellegrino.”
Other results of note this weekend were Deportivo de La Coruña who was at home to Rayo Vallecano who secured a 2-1 away win which was their first victory in five games. Getafe ground out a 1-0 win over nine-man Real Zaragoza thanks to Diego Castro’s second-half penalty. Real Betis hit back from two successive league defeats by beating Real Sociedad 2-0, while Real Valladolid drew 1-1 with Espanyol.