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:
“It was a goal. And it could decide the league,” said the local paper. “It was in by a meter,” said Barcelona’s Luis Suárez. His teammate Neymar, went a slightly more direct route with the social media posting “HAHAHAHAHAHA”, accompanying a screenshot of a goal that went well over the line.
It was the 77th minute, Barcelona were losing on the road to a rejuvenated Real Betis 1-0, and it’s true that the shot that should’ve been the equalizer was well over the line. The missed goal has thrust the debate about the use of video refereeing, or at least goal-line technology, back into the forefront of Spanish soccer. Every other major league uses it, after all.
La Liga president Javier Tebas once laughably said the implementation of goal-line technology would be too expensive, but a few million dollars – a fraction of a routine player transfer in this league – seems a drop in the bucket for a multi-billion dollar organization. Perhaps they want the controversy. Tebas admitted the league expects to be using video assistance for referees by 2018. That won’t do much good right now for a Barcelona team that dropped more crucial points in the La Liga title race.
The truth is video refereeing shouldn’t have been necessary here. An old-fashioned linesman should’ve seen that the ball had gone well over the line. But setting the tired debate about refereeing (and the crackpot conspiracy theories about Real Madrid bias) aside, Barcelona were once again not up to their standard.
Credit is due to Real Betis, who have been an entirely new prospect under manager Víctor Sánchez, especially at home in Seville. Nowhere is the comparison to the old guard more stark than in midfield. Young Spanish midfielder Dani Ceballos, who inexplicably could hardly get a game under old manager Gus Poyet, was sensational once again. Betis had both more shots and more shots on target, not including two that went off the woodwork. With a little more clinical finishing, they could’ve easily gotten more than just this 1-1 draw.
And it was another sluggish performance for Barcelona, who went into halftime 0-0 for the sixth time in their last nine road matches. Playing just 60 hours after their midweek Copa Del Rey game, Luis Enrique rotated six players for this match. The vaunted MSN worked hard but once again was perhaps too hesitant, waiting for each other to make the first killer move. And in another match missing his midfield mainstays Andrés Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, Luis Enrique’s team struggled to churn into life.
Nevertheless, the score should’ve been 2-1 to Barcelona. And in a world where goal-line technology is proving decisive in leagues all over the world, 2018 feels like a long ways away.
Coming off five straight wins coming into the weekend, Sevilla had the rare opportunity to go top of La Liga with a win over Espanyol on Sunday, at least for a few hours. But a red card and penalty (both harsh calls) just 90 seconds into the game proved a flat tire for Sampaoli’s racecar offense.
Despite the earliest red card in La Liga in over a decade, Sevilla played admirably with their one-man handicap. Samir Nasri combined well with new signing Stevan Jovetic to deservedly equalize. But it was a returning ex, José Antonio Reyes, that put his old squad to the sword, with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 Espanyol win. Special commendation has to go to Espanyol’s young fullback Marc Navarro, who got a goal and an assist in a man-of-the-match performance. The 21-year-old has two goals and an assist in just two games since being promoted to the senior team.
Sevilla can write off this game – in which they played a man down for 85 minutes – as a fluke, and will be encouraged that their mighty midfielder Steven N’Zonzi has re-signed with the club, ending doubts he could leave this month. But there are a crucial few weeks coming up, with must-win performances against Villarreal, Las Palmas, Eibar and away to Real Betis to determine whether they’re title contenders or pretenders.
With Barcelona and Sevilla both dropping disappointing points, everything was set up for a dream Sunday for Real Madrid. And that’s just what they got, as they capitalized on their title competitors’ misfortunes with a dominant win over Real Sociedad.
Faced with a long list of key injuries, Zinedine Zidane opted for an interesting (and effective) strategy. They sat a bit deeper and allowed Real Sociedad to have the majority of possession, a rarity at the Santiago Bernabeu. And it worked, as Real Madrid were permitted to stretch their legs and unleash their ruthless counterattack. Forever hyper-scrutinized, Cristiano Ronaldo had a great performance, with an inch-perfect assist and his 13th goal in 13 games. Even makeshift fullbacks Nacho and Danilo had more than capable performances. But the highlight came from the center of the park.
In the absence of the seemingly indispensable Luka Modric, fellow Croatian Mateo Kovacic had perhaps his best game in a Real Madrid shirt. He proved he was both a different and effective tool for Zinedine Zidane’s midfield, with his dribbling in particular breaking Real Sociedad’s effective press and springing counterattack goals. Despite his sporadic minutes, Kovacic has completed 57 dribbles this season, 17 more than anyone else on his team. No one else brings that dribbling, glued-to-the-toe style to Zidane’s midfield. Kovacic is turning into the player everyone thought he could be, and will prove a useful weapon for Zidane in the games to come.
On the other side of Madrid, things are only getting worse for Diego Simeone’s Atlético. Before this game, he admitted Atlético were on the outside of the title race looking in. This weekend’s performance only reinforced that sentiment, with his side struggling to a 0-0 draw against Alavés that they were fortunate not to lose.
Having recently reverted back to the defensive shape that made Atletico so successful, Simeone opted for his attacking lineup this match, with Carrasco, Gameiro and Gaitán joining Griezmann, Koke and Saúl Ñíguez. It backfired completely, with only wasteful finishing and great goalkeeping from Moyà saving a point against a rampant Alavés.
The Alavés midfield dominated the more lightweight Atlético, with Manu García winning 20 duels and Real Madrid loanee Marcos Llorente impressing again, still leading the league in recoveries at 22 years old. And young Theo Hernández was electric once again down the left wing, against his parent club and with his older brother on Simeone’s bench.
Almost as concerning as the performance was the reaction from Simeone’s players. Carrasco kicked a water bottle in the direction of his coach as he was subbed off, and even the reliable Diego Godín got into a spitting match with Alavés striker Deyverson after the whistle. The cracks of frustration are showing. Will Atlético crumble before our eyes?
Finally, some good news for La Liga fans in America. According to spanish paper Diario AS, an official confirmation is expected Tuesday that Barcelona will be the team that will face off against the MLS all stars this summer.
For those not familiar, the best players in MLS team up every year to play a European team on their summer holidays. Arsenal and most recently West Ham have come over the pond in the past, but there will be a new level of excitement this year with some of the best players in the world coming to Soldier Field in Chicago.
Barcelona fans worried about fixture congestion need not worry, as the match comes after the La Liga season has concluded. So, it should instead prove a nice way to have some fun and showcase their talents after a long season. But it’s great news for American fans of La Liga, with one of the top teams in Spain coming onto American shores for a rare chance to see the world’s best closer to home.
This week’s best goal came from a rampant Eibar, with Adrián González’s registering a beautiful first-time finish in their 3-1 win over Deportivo.