Zidane corrects Real experiment, Barca win marred, Atletico fight back
Five things from the weekend's action in La Liga which saw Real Madrid stay ahead of Barcelona at the top and late wins for Sevilla and Atletico Madrid.
1. Zinedine Zidane has to correct his own mistake
Two injuries had a big impact on how the 90 minutes unfolded as Real Madrid remained one point clear at the top of the table with a 3-1 win at Osasuna on Saturday evening.
An unfortunate clash between Madrid playmaker Isco and Osasuna defender Tano Bonnin early in the game left the latter with a double fracture in his right leg. Players from both sides were clearly affected by the scene and the first half spluttered along with Cristiano Ronaldo putting the visitors ahead before Sergio Leon then deservedly equalised.
The second injury was suffered by Madrid right-back Danilo following a poor challenge from Osasuna substitute David Garcia. Danilo was lucky to get away with just a deep cut to his shin, although the enforced substitution allowed Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane to correct an early tactical experiment which had gone wrong.
Madrid began the game with three centre-backs, but once James Rodriguez replaced Danilo they looked much more comfortable in a 4-4-2, and quickly took control to run out easy winners thanks to goals from Isco and Lucas Vazquez.
Zidane has talked about his tweaks to the team's shape in recent weeks, but on Saturday evening he kept quiet when asked how it had taken an injury to get his team to click into gear against the league's bottom side. With two games in hand, Real remain firm favourites for the title, but most fans and pundits would still prefer the tactical experiments to be kept to a minimum.
2. Barca heavy win marred
An injury was also the main talking point after Barcelona's 6-0 win at Alaves on Saturday -- in a Copa del Rey final dress-rehearsal which was more or less decided before kick-off when the hosts rested seven first-choice players.
Having reached their first ever Copa final just a few days earlier, Alaves were understandably well below their usual levels of intensity and concentration, and Blaugrana attackers Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar all got on the scoresheet and enjoyed themselves immensely.
Those smiles were ended close to full-time when right-back Aleix Vidal, who had returned from a recent exile to start regularly, suffered a shocking ankle injury in a late challenge with Alaves' Lucas Hernandez. The video replays backed up Lucas' claims that the damage was accidental, but Vidal will not play again until next season.
3. Sevilla subs come good again
Sevilla remain in third spot with 46 points (just two behind Barca), after another deft touch from coach Jorge Sampaoli saw them win 1-0 at Las Palmas on Sunday afternoon.
What had been an eagerly anticipated meeting of La Liga's two most entertaining teams got bogged down in a dour tactical battle, with neither side really able to get their passing games going at all.
Returning Las Palmas local boy Jese Rodriguez missed his team's best chance early on, and with time running out it seemed a goalless draw was on the cards. Then on 80 minutes came a big kick down the pitch from Sevilla goalkeeper Sergio Rico, and substitute Vicente Iborra headed the ball on for fellow replacement Joaquin Correa to race clear and finish clinically. It was a different approach and it worked perfectly.
It was also the 12th goal scored by a Sevilla sub in the first 22 games this season, and brought about Las Palmas' first home defeat in 2016-17. Further confirmation that Jorge Sampaoli, and assistant Juanma Lillo, really know what they are doing.
4. Atletico still fighting
There was also late drama later on Sunday as Atletico Madrid came from behind to win 3-2 against Celta Vigo.
The first half was full of incident -- Celta took the lead after five minutes when Gustavo Cabral headed in following a mistake by Atletico goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya. Fernando Torres soon equalised with a superb bicycle-kick over Sergio Alvarez, but then whacked a penalty off the crossbar.
The second half was quieter as both teams looked tired from huge Copa semifinal efforts and disappointment midweek, and Celta seemed set for victory when John Guidetti finished off a swift counter to make it 2-1 with 12 minutes remaining. At that point Atletico were a full seven points adrift of Sevilla, and had fallen behind Real Sociedad to fifth in the table.
Diego Simeone's side never know when they are beaten though and, amid teeming rain, they came back to gain a huge three points. A cracking Yannick Carrasco volley and nicely worked team goal finished by Antoine Griezmann lifted them back to fourth and brought a huge roar from the Calderon.
With 22 games played in 2016-17 Atletico have conceded same number of goals (18) as over the entire campaign last year. They are clearly not the same solid unit as before -- with wear and tear and injuries taking their toll. But Simeone's side still have huge spirit and are in there fighting.
5. Sporting win six-pointer at bottom
The first 66 minutes of Leganes against Sporting on Sunday afternoon was as error-strewn and nervous as you would expect in a game between two sides with just one Liga win apiece since October.
The deadlock was then broken when Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin could only help Sporting midfielder Roberto Canella's bobbling 20 yarder to the net. The home side huffed and puffed to try and get back into the game, but left gaps at the back and Sporting substitute Burgui took advantage to run clear and finish calmly for 2-0 late on.
The result did not change the positions at the bottom -- Sporting remain inside the drop zone in 18th on 16 points; Leganes are still outside in 17th with 19 points. But things suddenly seem much more positive for the Asturians who host Atletico next, while the suburban Madrid side sunk further into the gloom ahead of Sunday's trip to Camp Nou.
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