Spanish Inquisition: Barcelona Stumble, Sevilla Crumble - La Liga's Back With A Bang

Goal.com’s Cyrus C. Malek recaps an exciting return to La Liga football…

After a week of international matches that, for many players, solidified passage for their respective national teams to the World Cup in South Africa next summer, La Liga resumed in the 7th matchweek of the season.

For Spain’s larger teams, namely Real Madrid and Barcelona, the challenge was to sustain favourable results whilst coping with the exceedingly large number of players who were absent from much of the week’s training due to their obligations to country. For the rest of La Liga, the objective remained to take advantage of the relatively longer period of full training in order to make off with a few extra points and close the gap with the top.

In the first match on Saturday, a talented Deportivo team, quietly lurking in the Europa zone, hosted a Sevilla side that had just firmly established themselves as a legitimate contender in La Liga after taking down Real Madrid two weeks ago at the Sanchez Pizjuan.

However, Los Sevillanos would not have such a jovial time against their Galician opponents. From 30 metres away, Depor midfielder Juan Rodríguez fired a missile into the Sevilla net and with some stingy defence thereafter, Miguel Angel Lotina's men would defeat their Andalusian opponents by a solitary goal and equal them on points in the table. Impressively, the Blanquiazules have now climbed up to fourth place in the table and look to be a force this season that could challenge for a Champions League berth by the end of the campaign.

The second noteworthy encounter on Saturday featured a Madrid side that have been plagued by injuries, most notably the month-long loss of Cristiano Ronaldo to a recurrence of the ankle injury he picked up in Madrid’s last Champion’s League encounter against Olympique de Marseille. While Los Blancos did beat their opponents, lowly Real Valladolid, by a 4-2 scoreline, the match itself was a lukewarm affair by the Spanish giants who have yet to put together a solid and dominant 90 minutes of football - instead tending to score through a flash of brilliance rather than through consistently incisive play.

There were, however, a few positives to take from the match as those flashes of brilliance came players not named Cristiano Ronaldo. In his 711th match with Madrid and having received an award for achieving 700 matches with Los Blancos moments before kick-off, Raul found the back of the net twice, converting himself into even more of a legend than he already is. Also of note in the match is the fact that Rafael Van Der Vaart made a rare start as injuries to Guti and Ronaldo along with Kaka’s from fatigue having flown halfway across the world after playing for Brazil, afforded the Dutchman some valuable playing time.

All but discarded both by Manuel Pellegrini and Madrid management in the summer and in spite of the controversial sales of Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben, Rafa remained at the Bernabeu and looked sprightly on the pitch on Saturday. Should he continue to perform and build in confidence, the Dutchman could find himself playing a more central role in Pellegrini’s lineup, especially during the time that Cristiano Ronaldo takes to recover his health.


Raul: The Legend Continues

 The highlight of the weekend most certainly came in the form of the late match on Saturday as a David Villa-less Valencia hosted Zlatan Ibrahimovic-less Barcelona in what was the most thrilling 0-0 draw that has been seen on Spanish soil in quite some time. The match was a fast-paced, end-to-end affair and Valencia probably deserved to take more from the match than a solitary point as Pablo Hernandez blew a clear one-on-one opportunity against Victor Valdes in the opening minutes and David Silva placed a point-blank shot right into Valdes’ body in the final minutes.

However, despite the inability to beat the Liga champions and current leaders, Los Che will be happy to have been able to provide sufficient discomfort for a Barcelona side that, for many, is the best team in all of Europe (albeit one that featured a jet-lagged Messi and included neither Thierry Henry nor Ibra). The two dropped Blaugrana points after the international break makes the Liga table more compact as Barca hold just a one point advantage over second-place Madrid while both Sevilla and Deportivo finish out the top four with 15 points.


Mata does his best David Villa impression

Valencia continue to cover ground as they now hold 6th place in the table. Had Villa been fit enough to play the match and Valencia had been able to pick up all three points at the Mestalla, the table could very well have been even more tightly packed.

The weekend finished out with some surprising results as Mallorca, who are playing phenomenal football at home (having scored 12 times while only conceding once in four matches at the ONO Estadi) beat a resurgent Getafe side. The problem for the Islanders, however, is in matches on the road as theyhave been contrastingly atrocious, losing two out of three matches, both of which were embarrassing drubbings.

Nonetheless, Gregorio Manzano’s outfit find themselves sitting comfortably in 5th place and very much on the cusp of being one of La Liga’s contenders. The same cannot be said for two sides that were very much in the elite last season and have inexplicably fallen into the basement in the first seven matches of the year.

Villarreal were once again woeful, this time gifting newly-promoted Xerez their first win of the season. Having failed to secure more than three points from seven matches, the Yellow Submarine now sit in 20th place, leaving Ernesto Valverde’s job very much in jeopardy and the coach could very well end up being the season’s first managerial casualty. With just six points out of seven matches, Atletico Madrid, a side who are currently (perhaps undeservedly) competing in the Champions League, were badly defeated 3-0 at Osasuna.

In what has become a season very much in danger of spiralling out of control, coach Abel Resino’s days at the Vicente Calderon may not last past the Champions League post-match conference, especially if Los Rojiblancos fail to give a convincing performance against English giants Chelsea.

After a week-long hiatus, La Liga returns in top form. And if this past weekend was any indication as what the rest of the season may hold, it could very well be one of the best seasons we have had in Spain for quite some time and one that is not solely dominated by two very well-bred horses of the highest quality. Who said La Liga was predictable?

Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com