Football Features

La Liga Roundup as Real Madrid and Barcelona win big to extend their lead atop the league

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:26, 9 November 2019

In an exciting day of action in La Liga, Spain’s big two battered their opponents.

After last week’s surprises we got a return to form as both Real Madrid and Barcelona picked up big wins. Los Blancos won away at Eibar and Barça got the three points at home against Celta to maintain their lead atop La Liga. How did the games go? Read on and find out!

Zidane is finding his groove

Eibar 0-4 Real Madrid

For the first couple months of the season, Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid didn’t look particularly good. They were disjointed, Eden Hazard was unfit, the midfield was a joke. They didn’t lose too much (PSG took them to the woodshed, however), but it looked as though things were not going to go well for Los Blancos this season.

Then they caught a break. Or rather they caught several in a short space of time. Firstly the international break allowed star signing Eden Hazard to find his fitness, secondly El Clásico was postponed for the most ridiculous of political decisions. At that point in time, Barcelona would surely have beaten a disjointed Madrid and heaped more pressure on Zinedine Zidane.

But without the Clásico, Madrid got a week’s rest after their away win against Galatasaray in Europe and they built on that most sensibly. Zinedine Zidane inserted Fede Valverde into his midfield, making sure that the hard-working Uruguayan was always there to balance out the more offensive Toni Kroos; Luka Modric was rested. The result was a 5-0 home win over Leganés and a 6-0 against Galatasaray.

Inbetween those wins, as if to crystallize the lesson, was a 0-0 with Real Betis. This was a game where Valverde didn’t start, and thus Madrid did not have the same energy and thrust. By the time Valverde came on it was too late. Still, the Galatasaray game reaffirmed Valverde’s importance in balancing out the midfield for Toni Kroos, but it also let yet another piece of the puzzle slide into place.

Real Madrid’s right-wing has been an issue for Zidane, who obviously dislikes Bale (were the Welshman even fit) and whilst he clearly adores Lucas Vázquez, the Spaniard is a limited worker. Against Galatasaraty Rodrygo showed that his debut goal was no fluke as he tore the Turks to pieces, scoring a perfect hat-trick and netting an assist.

The 18-year-old Brazilian shows that he has a biting end product to go with all his skill, something that last season’s hotshot Vinicius Jr. has never really showed. With him around, Vázquez can be used more sparingly and thus more effectively, much as he was at Eibar.

So we finally come to Ipurua, where Madrid won comfortably. It was a truly routine win, with Karim Benzema scoring twice to go top of the Pichichi standings and producing a wonderful performance as well; but most positively for Los Blancos was that it was a crystallisation of everything that has been building over the last few weeks.

Eden Hazard was electric; he won a penalty and just terrorised Eibar in general. No one could get anywhere near him. Lucas Vázquez came in for Rodrygo and put in a ferocious shift on the right, winning a penalty. Fede Valverde played and was just an absolute monster all over the pitch for Madrid, scoring the fourth goal with a delightful finish. The man who set him up? Luka Modric.

In perhaps the most significant move of the night, Zinedine Zidane rested Toni Kroos and brought Modric in to play alongside the energy of Valverde and Casemiro. If Zidane has realised that he cannot play Kroos and Modric together and will instead rotate them in concert with the two South American workers, then Real Madrid’s midfield, and thus Zidane’s whole team, will find their groove and dance by plenty of opponents in Spain and Europe.

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Busquets and Messi leading the way again

Barcelona 4-1 Celta Vigo

If you just looked at the result, then the result wouldn’t come as a surprise to you. Barcelona beat Celta 4-1? Yeah, checks out. Of course if you watched the game then the comfort of both the scoreline and second half performance would come as a surprise given the way the night began with Celta playing supremely on the front foot. Barcelona took the lead via a penalty and got a bit more confidence, but Celta still looked easily their equal until two Leo Messi free-kicks put the game to bed by the 48 minute mark.

It was such a familiar song for Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona; a stodgy performance given life by goals from Leo Messi and a midfield masterclass from Sergio Busquets. The Basque coach initially rested Busquets and instead started Sergi Roberto in midfield, but an injury to Nelson Semedo meant that Busquets was on the field before the half hour mark.

And just as well, too, because Celta had looked much the better side for the opening 20 minutes. They were cohesive, calm and confident. Barcelona meanwhile looked slow to move, slow to pass and slow to think. And whilst Busquets had nothing to do with Messi’s penalty it seemed fitting that the Blaugrana only scored after he came onto the pitch.

Busquets took a bit of time to warm up, but by the start of the second half he was fully at it and this was when the Blaugrana took full control of the game. Celta were still working hard but with Busquets running the show alongside the superb Frenkie de Jong and Arthur, it was too much for the Galicians.

There’s just not a midfielder anything like Busquets anywhere in the world. He’s no athlete, for sure, ask him to chase full-backs down the wing and he’s going to struggle. But when he has to be the pivot in a team that’s looking to press and squeeze in the middle of the pitch?

The way Busquets reads the game, the way he instinctively knows when to press, where to press, and how to move the ball on rapidly once he’s won it back; he is on a different level to everyone else and has been for a decade. It was so fitting that he was there to score the final goal, the only open play goal of the game, with such a superb strike.

The midfield dominance supplied by Busquets was only possible, however, because Barcelona actually carried with them some level of threat in attack. That came from the pace and imagination of Ousmane Dembélé but also the mighty Leo Messi. The best player in the world had scored his side’s penalty calmly, but after Lucas Olaza had equalised through an amazing free-kick (after Messi had made the foul) the Argentine donned his cape and went full superhero once again. Two free-kicks either side of half-time, both of them utterly spectacular, to seal a hat-trick and gift Barcelona yet another victory.

Messi’s consistency is baffling. How can a player be this good for this long? The reason why Barcelona keep on winning La Liga (they’ve won 7 of the last 10 titles) is mostly because of the consistent genius of Leo Messi. Whether scoring like his free-kicks, or skipping by opponents with the ball at his feet or even creating gilt-edged chances (he put it on a plate for Antoine Griezmann tonight) for team-mates… there’s seemingly nothing he can’t do.

Messi’s set-piece genius was severely needed as the Blaugrana struggled to create chances from open play. Messi and Griezmann each missed a great chance second half, but that was honestly it from open play until Busquets’ goal. As much as Messi’s magnificence was obvious and Busquets’ brilliance was crucial, Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona still have a creativity problem.

Of course when you have Messi and Busquets, you can do almost anything. So don’t rule Barcelona out of both the title race and even the Champions League; but at the same time when you’re so reliant on two players to drag you to glory, don’t be surprised if things crash and burn in disastrous fashion as they have done in the last two years.