In an interesting day of action in La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid scored big wins whilst Atlético were held.
The Blaugrana opened the afternoon with a gritty come-from-behind win away to Leganés. Atlético Madrid stumbled big time in the evening, drawing 1-1 against out-of-form Granada. Then Real Madrid also came from behind to batter Real Sociedad and draw level with the Blaugrana atop the table. How did the games go? Read on and find out!
Result vs. Performance sums up Valverde’s Barça
Leganes 1-2 Barcelona
Barcelona beat Leganes away from from. This was a match they lost last season (where Gerard Piqué, quite incredibly, passed the ball to an attacker for one of Leganes’ goals) and yet they won it this season. The victory ensured that the Blaugrana, barring Real Madrid demolishing Real Sociedad by four goals or more, would finish the gameweek top of the league.
It was also a match in which Barcelona came from behind, too. Leganes took the lead through a Youssef En-Nesyri wondergoal and the Blaugrana looked all over the place. Yet they gathered themselves, rallied, and gritted their way to an important away win. These are all good things, so what’s the problem?
The problem is Leganes have won just once all season. They are bottom of La Liga with just six points. They are not a good side, and yet they gave Barcelona no end of problems. After the match Ernesto Valverde spoke positively of the result, but the performance was shockingly poor. Both goals came from set-pieces (and one of those wasn’t even intentional) and the open play creativity was shocking.
This was a game where Valverde started all four of his forwards mere days before a must-win clash in the Champions League. That 4-2-3-1 shape didn’t work as the Blaugrana were swamped in midfield, but once Messi dropped deep and it began to function, Valverde changed o a 4-3-3. Then when that began to work, Valverde bizarrely changed back to a 4-2-3-1.
It all spoke to a manager who was trying things just to try them. Post-match Valverde spoke of each game being different (and blamed the wind and the pitch), but his team selection was to throw all his best attackers at lowly Leganes rather than rotate and rest some of his veterans for midweek against Borussia Dortmund. It was baffling and backfired immensely, leading his mighty Blaugrana side to be totally inert against a poor side as all of the key attackers must have had midweek in the back of their mind.
Yes, Barcelona won against Leganes. The result was on Valverde’s side. However the performance was utterly hideous and betrayed the true nature of Valverde’s team, a slow and uncreative side where talented players are put in the worst possible position to succeed. A side that relies enormously on the individual genius of its star players to get even the most basic of results. A team destined to fail in the biggest moments. That is Valverde’s Barcelona in a nutshell.
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Atleti get Atleti’d
Granada 1-1 Atlético Madrid
Everyone wanted Atlético Madrid to do well this season. Hell, everyone expected Atlético Madrid to do well this season. Yes, they lost Antoine Griezmann but they signed the incredible Joao Felix as well as several other promising talents. However they’ve struggled to find their best rhythm this season, and this afternoon at Granada was no exception.
Diego Simeone’s men dominated Granada, out-shooting their opponent 17-9. Yet they scored just once, a lovely finish from Renan Lodi. Ordinarily that would be enough for Atleti who have made a habit of sitting on 1-0 leads and seeing them out. But they are not themselves this season, whether that’s Simeone running out of ideas or a lack of quality in his new recruits, they are definitely worse than they were.
This was most clearly seen in the Granada equaliser. A header. From a corner. Granada absorbed loads of Atleti pressure, got a bit lucky with Simeone’s men missing some good chances, made things very argumentative and ugly to disrupt their hosts attacking rhythm and then struck when they had their chance.
That’s exactly what Atlético Madrid made a habit of doing to other sides only to now have it done to them. They missed the chance to leapfrog rivals Real Madrid and rise into second place and were in fact lucky to escape with a point as Granada missed a sitter at the death.
Zidane shows the power of rotation
Real Madrid 3-1 Real Sociedad
In many ways, Real Madrid rode their luck against Real Sociedad. La Real started the game much brighter and for 37 minutes were comfortably the better side. They should have been ahead by more than a single goal when Madrid equalised late in the first-half, but that rocked their confidence. Even then, when Los Blancos took the lead it was a heavily deflected potshot.
From there, Real Madrid were incredible. The goal rallied them and they began closing down on the Sociedad attacks with greater assurance and driving forward in attack with absurd ease. They began creating chances and half-chances every time they attacked their plucky visitors. They only scored three goals but it could have been so much more had they been a bit more clinical.
Zidane calls for Madrid fans to support Bale
Zinedine Zidane’s rotation has Real Madrid in an ideal rhythm right now. They have a couple of clearly essential and standout individuals in Karim Benzema and Fede Valverde; the Frenchman is a colossus up-top, holding the ball up, linking play and scoring goals with glorious control. His assist for Madrid’s third goal was sumptuous.
Meanwhile Valverde is the lungs of Madrid’s machine. He moves up and down the field, covering team-mates in defence and supporting the forwards in attack. He gave Madrid the lead with a heavily deflected effort, but the fact that he was in place to take the shot on speaks to his attitude. He was always pushing forward, always trying to make something happen.
And he was able to do that because Zinedine Zidane has mastered the art of rotation. No longer is he trying to cram all three of his big name midfielders into the side. He knows that Valverde’s energy is essential, as is Casemiro’s tackling, so he’s started to rotate the pass masters Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. By making sure that they are always playing alongside two workers, he ensures that 34-year-old Luka Modric and Kroos (who plays with the energy of a 34-year-old) will never be found wanting for effort.
Modric rewarded Zidane by helping Los Blancos dominate La Real. He ended the match with a spectacular assist and an even more incredible goal. This comes after previous gamewinning displays from Toni Kroos, who will probably start midweek against PSG. There’s also the way Zidane is handling Marcelo, again rotating him with the younger, more dynamic Ferland Mendy.
There are weaknesses in the side, yes; even with Fede Valverde in the side they were playing wide-open and perhaps a more clinical side than La Real would have put them to the sword. But beyond midfield they have a good squad that is being well-used to help them get wins.
Comparing Real Madrid to Barcelona right now makes the French coach look like an absolute wizard. Whilst Barcelona barely rotate their core veterans (even when they need it) or when they do it’s with almost no plan, Los Blancos are doing their best to make sure that their veterans don’t exhaust themselves by playing too much. It’s a simple thing, but it’s got Los Blancos looking better than their rivals.