With all the soccer to watch, you can be forgiven for missing some of it. Fortunately, we at Paste watch all the games just in case you can’t. Here’s what you missed in La Liga this weekend:
1. Barcelona Point Fingers at Everyone but Themselves
As the Barcelona players trudged off the field following their disappointing draw at Villarreal’s Estadio de la Ceramica, one player stopped short of the tunnel. “Did you see it?,” shouted Gerard Pique, pointing at the director’s box. “Yes you, did you see it?”
“You” in this instance was La Liga president Javier Tebas, and “it” was Bruno Soriano, Villarreal’s midfield lynchpin, diving in like a goalkeeper and deflecting away a Lionel Messi shot with his hand deep in the second half. It was a seemingly obvious penalty call that didn’t go Barcelona’s way, and it wasn’t the only one that could have. “We want to play football, not roulette,” Pique added later, exasperated at reffing inconsistencies that he believes are too consistently going against his team.
It was that kind of night for Barcelona, where an inch here or there could have sealed the game against a resilient Villarreal. Seven shots on target to one, including a league-leading eleventh off the woodwork, but just one point to show for it. Their 10 wins from 17 games is their fewest in nearly a decade, leaving them five points behind Real Madrid, who have a game in hand. The league isn’t over, but the margin for error continues to tighten.
The ref could have come to the Blaugrana’s rescue, but that’s not why they lost this game. In fact there was a penalty that could have gone the other way, but there were no conspiracy theories from Villarreal on the day. The truth is Messi’s stunning last-minute free kick saved deserved blushes. Sunday was another game without a goal from open play for Barcelona, another night when their midfield lurched and rumbled instead of roared. And their promising summer signings, from Gomes to Digne to Suarez late on, couldn’t make an impact.
Mascherano and Sergi Roberto continue to show vulnerabilities in defense. Andres Iniesta’s brilliance continues to be a lonely beacon in a midfield haze as Sergio Busquets remains a shadow of his former self. That has nothing to do with the officiating. When Villarreal started the goal-scoring counter, it was Andre Gomes that didn’t fall back to defend. His form made Luis Enrique’s eyebrow-raising decision to leave Ivan Rakitic out of the matchday roster even more puzzling. For a team not pressing as fiercely as they once did, surely the Croatian’s seemingly robotic stamina could bring a boost?
But that question is just another in a long list of what-ifs and frustrations for Barcelona in Vila-real. And if they don’t start piling up wins soon, that’s all a once-promising season will be. And there won’t be any referees or executives in the director’s box to blame.
2. Pato Shines in Camp Nou Return
Anyone who’s followed Alexandre Pato’s career will remember that goal he scored for AC Milan at the Camp Nou in the Champions League. After his return to Brazil, it seemed like it would be a rare high point in a disappointing career. But he was back in full force for Villarreal Sunday, putting in a sensational performance capped off by a full-field breakaway and perfect through ball to Nicola Sansone to take the lead.
Pato was just one of the highlights for Villarreal on the night, so to point only to Barcelona’s inadequacies would not tell the full story. The fearless Yellow Submarine is the only team unbeaten against Barcelona and Real Madrid this year. There are other obvious factors at play: Roberto Soriano and Nicola Sansone, statistically the most clinical striker in Spain this year, have been revelations in their first seasons with the club. Villarreal have the best defense, statistically, in La Liga. All that said, manager Fran Escribá’s secret may just be old-fashioned consistency: of the eight players who have played every minute in La Liga this year, three of them (Sergio Asenjo, Mario Gaspar and Víctor Ruiz) play for Villarreal.
3. Marcelo Celebrates Ten Years in Madrid
Real Madrid crushed lowly Granada at the Bernabeu in an impressively ruthless five-goal performance. A home win over a team second from bottom isn’t exactly newsworthy in itself, but that now marks 39 straight league games without a loss for Zinedine Zidane, equaling Luis Enrique for most all time in Spanish football.
But the record will be the story next week. This weekend marked ten years since Marcelo signed for Real Madrid, and he celebrated the occasion with a typically dominant performance from left back. Criticized by the home crowd in the early days, the Brazilian has become the premier left fullback in world football, and is moving toward the top of the historical list as well. He may be Real Madrid’s most creative player, and perhaps the most technically gifted too. And there’s decent competition for that title.
Here’s the most terrifying part for his competitors in La Liga: he’s still only 28. He’ll be terrifying right backs for many years to come.
4. Ben Yedder Launches Sevilla into Second Place
It’s almost a shame it’s taken this long to mention that Sevilla now sit in second place in La Liga. Sevilla accomplished that feat in style, dishing out a 4-0 thrashing at the Anoeta stadium, Real Sociedad’s fortress that has claimed points from some of the league’s best this year. This was supposed to be a close contest, with some speculating that it was Sociedad’s best chance to leapfrog Atletico Madrid and Villarreal into the top four. And while the scoreline may betray what was a more even performance, one man was the difference.
Wissam Ben Yedder turned in the performance of the round, scoring three and assisting on Sevilla’s other goal. It was the best performance in Sevilla colors yet for the former Toulouse man, another diamond unearthed from the Ligue 1 rough by Sevilla sporting director Monchi. If Ben Yedder can keep up that level of performance, he and Luciano Vietto could be forming a special 1-2 punch capable of keeping up with the very best in La Liga.
5. Valencia’s Woes Grow
It was an eventful holiday season for Valencia. Cesare Prandelli, the pragmatic Italian manager who had at least in part stopped their freefall stepped down, citing a lack of cooperation from sporting director Suso Pitarch. That’s the same sporting director who was soon after accused by a very candid former president of “buying f*ing s* players” and not deserving his job.
But Monday marked a chance for the Bats to start 2017 on the right foot, with a road match against the worst team in La Liga: Osasuna. Valencia scored once, and blew that lead. They scored again, and conceded again. And when Martin Montoya seemingly stole an undeserved win for Valencia, they wasted that lead again, this time in stoppage time.
It’s worth noting for newer fans that just over a decade ago, this was the dominant team in Spain, with back to back La Liga titles, consecutive Champions League semifinal finishes and a UEFA Cup title in the early 2000’s. Now, halfway through the season, they are just one point out of the relegation zone with a dismal three wins and thirteen points on the season.
There’s no doubt that blame for their current predicament goes to the very top, but as unpopular as Suso was, his job was to build the roster of this team. And it’s a lineup, at least on paper, that is good enough to be far higher in the standings than it is. So this move, just like the many coaching changes before, won’t change much. And if Valencia can’t win scoring three times against the worst team in the league, the future might be even darker than fans could have expected.
Goal of the Week
You’ve already seen this goal up in the Barcelona section, but something this picture perfect deserves to be seen again.