Celta steamroll Barca, while Benzema leads Real Madrid to tough win
Week five of La Liga saw Celta deal champions Barcelona a heavy defeat, while Real Madrid gutted out a tough win over Athletic Bilbao at San Mames.
1. Barca totally outplayed by Celta
Iago Aspas scoring twice as Celta Vigo beat Barcelona 4-1 will take some beating as the result of the season in La Liga. And the way Aspas and attacking partner Nolito ran riot against a sorry Barca defence must be very worrying for Blaugrana coach Luis Enrique.
Ex-La Masia attacker Nolito started the scoring at Balaidos by curling in his fifth of the season. Aspas then took over by twice racing behind a flat-footed defence to coolly score. Neymar's late strike counted for little then when Celta sub John Guidetti slammed in his first La Liga goal after another breakdown by the Barca back line, which was not at all stiffened by Gerard Pique and Dani Alves returning to the starting XI.
Barca had not been beaten by three clear goals in any La Liga game since May 2008. But this was not a fluke result. Celta are always competitive against the top teams -- and the way Barca were taken apart was also pretty reminiscent of their 4-0 defeat in the Spanish Super Copa at San Mames back in August. Plus there had also been defensive holes when Sevilla were barely seen off 5-4 in that month's European Super Cup. Those results were written off as preseason blips -- but this loss cannot be.
Luis Enrique preferred to concentrate on praising Celta after the game, but the always honest Javier Mascherano fronted up in the Balaidos mixed zone. "When you feel totally outplayed in the game, it's an ugly feeling," Mascherano said. "It is an ugly feeling."
Barca's Treble win last year was built on a solid defence and intensity through the team. They need to work out what has gone wrong -- and quickly.
2. Benzema double as Madrid tough out big win
As Barca were shambling to defeat in Galicia, Real Madrid were toughing things out in the Basque Country for a 2-1 win at Athletic Bilbao, which sent Rafa Benitez's side top of the early season table [on goal difference with Celta and Villarreal].
Madrid were handed a present when Mikel San Jose's short back pass let in Karim Benzema to open the scoring. But Benitez's side showed character by bouncing straight back from conceding an equaliser to Sabin Merino -- they went right up the other end and Benzema knocked in the winner from Isco's precise cross.
The France international has now scored in each of his last five games -- and is currently the leading scorer in La Liga, alongside his teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and Celta's Nolito. Also impressive was Madrid's centre-backs Pepe and Raphael Varane standing firm to the late aerial onslaught from Athletic, while Luka Modric gave another display of control in the centre of the park.
Benitez's players keep talking about how much they are putting in on the training ground, and he himself took evident pride in the team's tactical intelligence when speaking after the game. Just one goal conceded in six games this season suggests this effort is paying off.
3. Griezmann scores and Atletico take a siesta
There was less excitement at the Estadio Vicente Calderon on Tuesday night, but Antoine Griezmann's double brought a routine 2-0 win over Getafe, which means Atletico Madrid sit just one point off the top of the table.
"Griezmann scores and Atletico take a siesta," was the headline off the AS match report. The France attacker opened the scoring on just four minutes, and then clinched the points in the 89th minute -- after Getafe had at times looked capable of getting something from the game by actually scoring against Atletico for the first time since November 2011.
Simeone keeps rotating his attacking players, with Fernando Torres, Jackson Martinez, Yannick Carrasco, Oliver Torres and Angel Correa all featuring for part of the game against Getafe. But Griezmann is a fixture -- leading to a discussion at the post-match news conference about whether the France international was Atletico's only "irreplaceable" player, just as Ronaldo is to Madrid and Lionel Messi to Barca.
Simeone did not at all reject the premise: "The answer to your question depends on what he does himself," the straight-talking coach said. Atletico are far from a one-man team, but as the games go by the feeling that their title chances seem to rest mostly on Griezmann stepping up to such superstar status is being confirmed.
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4. Pressure off Moyes -- for now
Ahead of Tuesday night's trip to Granada, Real Sociedad coach David Moyes had called for a change in the "bad luck" his team had been suffering, and there was a definite upswing in their fortunes with their 3-0 win at the Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes.
The result was about much more than luck though. Moyes went back to basics, preferring long-serving centre-forward Imanol Agirretxe to &euor;8 million summer signing Jonathas, and was rewarded with the 28-year-old Gipuzkoan's first ever La Liga hat trick. Midfielder David Zurutuza, another favourite of txuri-urdin fans and pundits, was given his first start of the season and also put in an impressive performance.
"I'm pleased -- we deserved to win, the same as in other games when we had deserved more," said a pretty low-key Moyes afterwards. "Today we scored the goals, so I am happy."
The Scot can now go into Sunday's Basque derby at home to Athletic with his critics in the local press having been quietened for now.
5. Not so good for Nuno
There was no such release of the pressure for Valencia coach Nuno, after his side played very poorly in their 1-0 defeat on Tuesday night at Espanyol.
Given Valencia's crowded fixture list, seven changes in the starting XI was no surprise, but it did seem strange for Nuno to completely leave out the club's best centre-back by far, Shkodran Mustafi, and put both senior centre-forwards Alvaro Negredo and Paco Alcacer to the bench.
A patched-up defence could easily have conceded three or four against an Espanyol side, in which on-loan Real Madrid teenager Marco Asensio made an outstanding home debut. Controversial summer signing Danilo Barbosa, another youngster represented by Jorge Mendes who comes with a &euor;15 million price-tag, looked totally out of his depth in the Valencia midfield. And another blank up front means Los Che have scored just twice in their first five La Liga games.
"Things did not go well," Nuno said afterwards. "I do not doubt my work, and I do not doubt the players. Only together and united will we get out of this situation."
Sevilla sitting bottom of the table after five games -- following a 2-0 win to Las Palmas -- shows how difficult balancing La Liga with the Champions League can be. But Valencia's always demanding fans and pundits are coming close to mutiny already, and Nuno is getting hit as the most visible element of the Peter Lim regime at Mestalla.
Lots of people are now asking if the coach, whose relationship with Mendes goes back two decades, is really a vital part of the "project", or if he is about to become an expendable fall-guy.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan