Real Madrid lack killer instinct; Sergi Roberto steps up for Barcelona
Dermot Corrigan recaps what you need to know from the weekend's La Liga action, with Real Madrid lacking killer instinct against Las Palmas and Sergio Roberto coming up big in Barcelona's' visit to Getafe.
1. Madrid yet to play a full 90 minutes
Two goals in the first 14 minutes seemed to put Real Madrid in total control against Las Palmas on Saturday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
Both early goals came from Rafa Benitez's side pressing high up the pitch, which forced the visitors' overawed midfield to cough up the ball, and quick passes forward led to clinical finishes from Isco and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The early pattern was similar to Los Blancos' recent games at Atletico Madrid and Celta Vigo, and the rest of the game followed the same line. Las Palmas got one back from Hernan's free header from a corner. Although Jese Rodriguez quickly made it 3-1 before the break, Madrid's pace dropped in the second half, with Ronaldo especially strolling around at times and Las Palmas actually having some decent chances to get back into the game.
"We, again, played a good first half, made a sensational start," Benitez said postgame. "We relaxed a bit in the second half -- subconsciously, maybe. We created some chances but were not able to control the game. We lacked continuity in our play after the break."
Such inability to kill off the game could be down to Madrid's severe injury issues, and in fairness, they remain top of the table and unbeaten this season. But with their next two La Liga games away at Sevilla and at home to Barcelona, Benitez's team will need to start playing well for 90 minutes.
2. Sergi Roberto steps up for Barca
Barcelona won 2-0 at Getafe on Saturday night thanks to excellent finishes from Luis Suarez and Neymar after two sensational assists from increasingly impressive midfielder Sergi Roberto.
Barca played very well and were in control of the game throughout without ever needing to get out of third gear, with Getafe never looking a serious threat and Luis Enrique's team keeping a first clean sheet in La Liga since August.
Suarez and Neymar have now between them scored all of their team's 13 La Liga goals since talisman Lionel Messi got injured in late September. Youngsters Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez have yet to find the net, and nobody else is finding it for the Catalans.
Within this situation, it was especially pleasing for Barca fans to see Roberto emerge as the game's key figure. Starting in his preferred midfield slot, his first assist was a first-time, spinning, no-look flick that freed Suarez inside the box. The second was a 40-yard counterattacking run, and then cross-field ball gave Neymar a first-time finish at the back post. The versatile La Masia product also spent some time playing on the right wing before making way with 15 minutes remaining as a precaution, given he was returning from 10 days out with a muscle strain.
Sergi Roberto also managed to avoid getting caught up in the fancy dress antics of his teammates, which saw a group including Neymar and Gerard Pique eventually apologize for bursting into the press area after the game and interrupting comments from Getafe's Victor Rodriguez.
The 22-year-old's mature performance on the pitch was the kind of surprise intervention Barca need as they await Messi's return.
3. Callow Atletico caught cold
Ahead of Friday's trip to Deportivo La Coruna, Atletico Madrid fans and pundits were growing increasingly confident about their "new look" side's chances this season.
Atletico were up 1-0 at halftime through Tiago's fine volley and seemed set to go top of the table for the first time this season. But a mistake by 20-year-old centre-back Jose Maria Gimenez let in former Colchoneros youth teamer Lucas Perez to hit a deserved equalizer for Depor.
Seven of the 14 players Simeone used in the game were 24 or younger, and he admitted afterward that inexperience was a factor in the inability to push on and secure three points.
"Those of us in football know this can happen," the tough Argentine said. "We did not build on our first half. We sat back too much."
The "new look" Atletico now have 20 points from their first 10 games, their lowest total during Simeone's four seasons in charge. Instead of going top for 24 hours at least, the surprisingly callow-looking team ended the weekend in fourth place and three points behind leaders Madrid and Barcelona.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
4. Valencia mood still not good, despite derby win
Even a 3-0 win at home over city neighbours Levante has not lifted the mood around Valencia.
Before Saturday evening's derby at Mestalla, the ground rang with chants of "Nuno out" aimed at the increasingly unpopular Valencia coach, mixed with "Negredo, Negredo" in favour of the centre-forward who has been apparently ostracized after criticizing the team's tactics in media interviews.
Visitors Levante had plenty of chances at 0-0, but the deadlock was broken on 64 minutes, when Paco Alcacer converted a debatably awarded penalty. The scoreline was then garnished by late strikes from Sofiane Feghouli (when offside) and substitute Zakaria Bakkali (golazo), but the Los Che faithful again voiced their frustrations with whistles at full-time.
"It hurts me personally because nobody wants to hear that," Nuno said afterward. "But I am convinced this is going to change."
Maybe so ... but if even a 3-0 local derby win is not enough to lift Valencia's fans, then Nuno and his boss, club owner Peter Lim, could be in serious trouble.
5. Celta and Real Sociedad heading in different directions
Things seemed on the up for Real Sociedad at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday, with two Imanol Agirretxe goals bringing him to eight for the season and putting David Moyes' team ahead 2-1 at halftime and seemingly well in control.
But after the break, Iago Aspas equalised with his second of the game (and sixth of the campaign), and just as the weekend's most entertaining game appeared set for a draw, Chile midfielder Pablo Hernandez lashed in an 89th-minute screamer to win the game for Celta.
The result was in keeping with a season that has begun very differently for the two teams. Celta bounced back from last week's home defeat to Real Madrid to go back up into fourth spot, and after 10 outings, they have the same point tally (21) as they did after 20 games last season.
Meanwhile, last week's 4-0 win at Levante does not seem to have sparked a revival for Moyes' strugglers. La Real remain in 16th, two points above the relegation places, and have not won in front of their own fans this term.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan