Friday, December 4, 2015

La Liga Week in Review: 12/4

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Ed. Note- Our soccer correspondent Justin Sherman is doing double-duty today, with articles on Leicester City's underdog run, and his weekly La Liga recap. You can check out his story on Leicester here, and find out who is rising and who is falling in Spanish soccer below.

Stock Up      


Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao) 

At the age of 34 most strikers are slowly edging towards the twilight of their careers. Their experience, leadership, and positioning are characteristics that are most looked upon when determining the outcome of matches.

Just don’t tell that to Aritz Aduriz.

Turning 35 in February, the Basque forward is having the finest season of his career. With three more goals over the weekend, Aduriz has 10 goals in La Liga, and 20 across 20 games in all competitions -- more than any other La Liga-based player.

After the match, Athletic manager Ernesto Valverde sarcastically remarked “We’re extremely lucky to have him: he’s a jewel... I hope Barcelona don’t sign him.”

After a sluggish start to the season, Athletic now find themselves in 7th place, just four points out of the all important 4th spot. With Sevilla and Valencia struggling to find any consistency, Champions League football could very well be coming to San Mames next season.

Joan Oblak skies for the save preserving another shut out.
Atletico Madrid’s Defense

Easy on the eye? Not quite. Silently effective? You betcha.    

Atletico is currently on a tale of two streaks. The attack has been virtually non existent, as they have failed to score more than one goal in any La Liga game since Oct 25th.

The defense on the other hand, has been extraordinary. 

With their 1-0 win against Espanyol over the weekend, Atleti has achieved 4 straight clean sheets in league play, with a formula of dominating play, possession and territory.

The way the side is creating chances, you have to feel a breakout game in the scoring department is right around the corner.

Or maybe it just doesn’t really matter.

Sitting second in La Liga and first in their Champions League group, they must be doing something right.

Just don’t expect the cardiovascular system of their fans to be particularly happy.

Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi, and Neymar (Barcelona) 

With Leo Messi coming back after two months on the sidelines, there was some concern among pundits and Barcelona fans that the chemistry between Neymar and Suarez could suffer a bit, but boy were they wrong.

All Barca have done since his return is win all three games, including at Real Madrid and home against Roma, while outscoring their opponents 14-1.

On Saturday, both Suarez and Neymar opened up the scoring, before spending the rest of the match trying to set up Messi. It took until the 91st minute, but he finally got it, scoring his first La Liga goal since September 20th.

That’s the beauty of this big three.

All are ridiculously good individually, but perhaps even better together.

Barcelona are clearly the top side in the world at the moment, with Bayern a close second, but what separates them is the selflessness and chemistry that Barca’s best players possess.

Stock Down  

Nuno (Valencia)  

Evidently, if you're a coach and you make it on to this list, start sending out your resume.

First it was Moyes, now it is Nuno.

The Valencia manager “resigned” after Sunday’s horrific performance at Sevilla, in which his squad managed not a single shot on goal. He said he had spoken to the club’s owner, Peter Lim, that morning and had made the decision then – hours before the game.

Like Quique Sánchez Flores and Ernesto Valverde before him, Sevilla’s home ground has been a death wish for embattled Valencia Managers, with all three being sacked after tasting defeat at the Sánchez Pizjuán.

The fact that his players were unaware, and still played this poorly, tells you everything you need to know about the dysfunction at La Mestalla.

In the end, there were more questions than answers. Why has Alvaro Negredo been benched for more than a month? Why, knowing that he was leaving, did Nuno drop Jaume Domenech for his final game, when Jaume has probably been their best player this season?

Now, former Manchester United defender Gary Neville takes over, joining his brother Phil, who is already an assistant there. Naturally, there are doubts, as Neville is a first-time manager, in a foreign country, hallway through the season. On the bright side, Neville brings a trophy cabinet of experience, with 20 won as a player.

That's five more than Valencia have won in their 96 year history, by the way.

The jury is still out if this move was more about PR than actual coaching acumen, but for once, it appears Valencia made a sensible decision.

James Rodriguez (Real Madrid)

It seems like only yesterday that the Colombian was lighting up the Santiago Bernabeu, with two highlight worthy goals in a 5-0 win over Real Betis. The imaginative play maker was revered by supporters with promise of a career season ahead.

Fast forward three months later and it has all come crashing down.

Sunday in Eibar, James played probably his worst game in a Real Madrid jersey. Even though he hardly participated in the match -- only 30 passes -- the Colombian managed to lose possession 15 times and never appeared in an area of the field where he could make a difference.

Subbed off after 65 minutes, Rodriguez left the the field visibly angry. The rift between him and coach Rafa Benitez has taken a stranglehold of the tabloids, only furthering the dissension.

The initial signs show that James, not used to sitting on the bench, doesn't know how to deal with this type of challenge from his coach. This is a true test of his maturity, and one he needs to ace.

He is one of the few players on the team who possesses the ability to not only win a match with his shot, but also his pass. Recapturing his form will be vital to Madrid to compete for titles, not only this year, but well into the future.

Tiago (Atlético Madrid) 

Title hopes often rest on one's luck in the injury department, but it’s even more imperative when it comes to a team's most important players. For Atletico Madrid, Tiago falls into that category.

The Portuguese international broke his right leg in the 27th minute of his side's 1-0 win at home to Espanyol on Saturday. The injury is a devastating blow that will sideline him for at least four months.

He is one of the few players in their squad capable of holding onto the ball in central midfield, providing creativity and balance.

Where one door closes, another opens, and it now rests on Saul Niguez to walk through it. The 21-year old has struggled with consistency, but his performance coming on after the injury was encouraging. He will, at the most, have to hold the fort down until January, when the transfer window will open once again.

Goal of the Week

This week's top goal comes courtesy of Luis Suarez, again. Dani Alves gets half the credit here with a tremendous cross to find the Uruguayan, who scissor kicks it beautifully into the far corner. 

Luis Suarez (Barcelona)

Games to Watch / Matchday 14

1.  Valencia vs. Barcelona 12/5 2:30 PM
2.  Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo 12/5 4:05 PM
3.  Deportivo la Coruña vs. Sevilla 12/5 4:00 PM

La Liga Standings

Table: PTOS- points , PJ- games played , PG- games won, PE- games tied, PP- games lost

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