Saturday, January 16, 2016

La Liga Week in Review 01/16

Garreth shows love to the Bernabeu, and finally receives some back.

By Justin Sherman (@JShermOfficial)

Who's rising and who's falling in the world of Spanish soccer? Find out below.

Stock Up      

Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) 

Over the past week, rumors were aplenty that Rafa Benitez’s dismissal deeply angered the Welshman, to the point he was pondering a summertime exit from the Bernabeu.

Under Benitez, Bale was featured in his preferred central role on the pitch. With the change in manager, he was concerned it would result in him returning to the wing. In his first game as manager, Zidane kept the status quo, resulting in Bale possibly having his finest all-around display since joining the club.

Gareth scored three goals in a 5-0 victory over Deportivo de La Coruña, leaving the pitch to a standing ovation from the Real Madrid faithful (hell has frozen over) and departing the stadium with the match ball under his arm, signed by his teammates. It was his second hat-trick in four games and his 10th goal in seven. For good measure, his 7 assists are tops in La Liga as well.

If Bale can keep up this form and Cristiano can regain his shiny scoring boots, Madrid could pose a real (no pun intended) threat for La Liga title in the second half.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 

Just another walk in the park for lord Leo, as he matched Gareth Bale with three goals of his own. It only took him 14 minutes to put two shots in the back of the net, before adding his third in the second half. It was the Argentine's 25th La Liga hat-trick of his career (second only to Ronaldo’s 28), but surprisingly, his first hat-trick in more than 10 months (his longest drought in 6 years).

Messi’s week only got better from there as he was crowned with his fifth Ballon D’Or award (most all-time), with rival Cristiano Ronaldo seated nearby. Messi received 41.33% of the vote, followed by Cristiano Ronaldo's 27.76% and Neymar's 7.86%.

If their current collective form holds, next year’s award gala could feature three finalists who all apply their trade in Catalunya in Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid) 

The Slovenian brick wall continues to be Atletico's knight in shining armor, as he once again secured a clean sheet in their impressive 2-0 win away at Celta.

That now makes 12 clean sheets for the season, while conceding just eight times in total across the first 19 games. Since becoming the first choice keeper after the departure of the highly regarded Thibaut Courtois, Oblak has substantially grown his name, with his wallet soon following.

Desperately trying to keep him, Atletico have reportedly approached him regarding a contract extension, but Manchester United are lurking in the shadows. With the impending departure of David de Gea to Real Madrid (fax machine be damned) this upcoming summer, United will be looking for a replacement, and the allure of Old Trafford is hard to pass up.

Whatever happens, coach Diego Simeone will be on his knees praying his keeper's form continues, as Atletico’s title chances may depend on it.

Stock Down  



When Valencia fired the embattled Nuno and replaced him with Gary Neville, it was expected that the club would be the recipient of the initial boost usually seen with managerial changes. In a season that just feels cursed, it hasn’t been the case.

Sunday afternoon's lackadaisical 2-0 defeat at Real Sociedad means Los Che have gone eight La Liga games without a win, with three draws and two defeats since the change at the helm.

Valencia now sit closer to the relegation zone than Champions League qualification. Constant turmoil at the Mestalla -- including having six different coaches and three presidents in the past four years -- is surely a contributing factor.

Sensing he needed to do something, owner Peter Lim decided to reappoint Jesús García Pitarch as their sporting director. Pitarch, a former Valencia player who fulfilled the same role between 2002 and 2004 when Rafael Benítez was in charge, oversaw Valencia’s most prosperous period and will look to replicate that success.

Rayo Vallecano

Talk about a rough couple weeks.

Since their 10-2 shellacking at the hands of Real Madrid, Rayo have drawn one and lost two, including Saturday evenings 2-1 setback to bottom feeders Levante.

It was the Valencian side's first victory in nine outings, to put it in perspective.

The three points was enough to lift them off the bottom of the table, while pulling Rayo right back down into the relegation mix.

Rayo now have just two points from their last eight matches. With only 15 points from the first 19 games, this is the club's worst first half of a season since 1989-90. Their 43 goals conceded so far is the highest total at this stage since they conceded 45 two seasons back.

Pepe Mel (Real Betis) 

History has a funny way of repeating itself, but for Pepe Mel, this occasion once again ended in tears.

After being relegated the season before, Mel was appointed manager in 2010, taking over a side one player described as “dead.” The club hierarchy was a mess with a legal battle over shares which remains unresolved. That dispute has seen the club burn through six presidents in six years. Into that power vacuum stepped Pepe Mel.

Growing up a season ticket holder, Mel was cheap, and actually quite good. He took Betis to the title and back to the first division. The year after that, they qualified for Europe.

The good times wouldn't last, as Betis again reached the bottom of the table. With relegation inevitable, Mel was sacked 15 weeks into the 2013-14 season, replaced by Julio Vazquez.

By winter 2014, Betis were looking for another manager as Vazquez was sacked with the club wallowing in the Second Division. Again looking for a savior, Betis hired Mel to lead the resurrection. Under him, they won 15, drew six and lost one, capturing the Second Division title and subsequent promotion.

Unfortunately, this season has been poor. Betis have scored only 13 goals all season -- worst in La Liga -- while currently sitting in 15th place, five points off the relegation zone. The man who saved Betis twice and brought them back twice, has now been fired twice.

Maybe next time, he’ll think twice.

Goal of the Week

This week's goal of the week comes courtesy of a man whose hair is the envy of bald men everywhere. Carrasco’s expert control is the real highlight of this sequence, as he effortlessly leaves two Celta defenders in the dust, before slotting it home cooler than a polar bear's toenail.

Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Atletico Madrid)

Games to Watch: Matchday 20   

1.  Barcelona vs. Athletic Bilbao 01/17 2:30 PM
2.  Sevilla vs. Malaga 01/16  10:00 AM
3.  Las Palmas vs. Atletico Madrid 01/17 12:15 PM

La Liga Standings

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

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