La Liga Wrap Up: Suarez makes the difference and three of the top five drop points

Luis Suarez made the difference after coming on at half-time, hitting the woodwork with this acrobatic effort and laying on two assists to snatch victory.

In a weekend that few surprises were expected, all the top five struggled at times. Real Madrid won comfortably 5-1, though not without a scare at 2-1 up.  Barcelona played terribly but rallied late to come back from 1-0 behind to win 2-1 against Almeria.  Sevilla, Valencia and Atletico all dropped points, with the first two conceding draws, and Atletico falling to a managerless Real Sociedad.

Barcelona rested Suarez, Neymar and Alves, and Pique failed to make the starting XI, but the plan backfired as Almeria dominated the first half, leading 1-0 at the break as Barca stared down the barrel of a third successive defeat in La Liga. Luis Enrique had to respond by bringing on Neymar and Suarez at the break, with Munir and the ineffectual Pedro sacrificed.  Barcelona picked up their play somewhat, but were still lacking urgency in the pass.  Xavi was brought on for Busquets, who was the main perpetrator of the slow tempo.  Xavi upped the tempo, but at the cost of defensive solidity in losing Busquets. Regardless, Barcelona needed two goals, and had to fashion some genuine chances, and their gamble paid off, after two assists by Suarez for Neymar and Alba were enough to take the spoils.

By no means a convincing result by the Catalans, and there still seem to be some internal issues as Luis Enrique forced Pique to continue warming up on the sidelines even after using his last substitute in Xavi. A tough time for the Blaugrana, but if they can get out of this tough period and keep up with Real Madrid, anything can happen.

Luis Suarez made the difference after coming on at half-time, hitting the woodwork with this acrobatic effort and laying on two assists to snatch victory.
Luis Suarez made the difference after coming on at half-time, hitting the woodwork with this acrobatic effort and laying on two assists to snatch victory.

Real Madrid continue on their whirlwind scoring tour, beating Rayo Vallecano 5-1. Isco was dropped for the now-fit Bale, who took up his position on the right of midfield which resulted in more vertical play from Los Blancos in exchange for slightly less midfield control, but ultimately the same result. The end result was perhaps a bit harsh on Rayo who failed to get the rub of the green, with a disallowed goal that would’ve brought it level at 2-2 and a clearly offside goal by Benzema flattering the Merengues. Nonetheless, the better team won. If Real can keep up this form, it’s going to be very hard to displace them this season. Toni Kroos was the standout man for Real, somewhat overshadowed since signing by Modric’s impressive form and James scoring some excellent goals, the German upped his performance and capped it with a fine goal from 25 yards, curling it along the ground and into the bottom corner. Ronaldo, of course, scored again, despite having a poor game by his standards, making it 18 in 10 in the league for the 29-year-old.

Noticeably there hasn’t been a lot of rotation this season, so a key injury or two could prove costly for Carlo Ancelotti, with Khedira, Illara, etc. not getting much game time, and could be very rusty if they get thrust into the starting XI suddenly. Benzema, Ronaldo, Kroos and Modric are playing a lot of games without rest. Jese Rodriguez is very close to a return however, and if he can recapture his form from last season there may well be significantly more rotation up front.

Rayo will take heart in the performance, if not the result, though. They dominated play in passages, with Jemez’s slick passing game at times almost showing up their more glamorous opponents. If they can match these levels of performance against the rest of the league – and it’s their inconsistency which costs them – they could even be a dark horse to challenge for a Europa League berth.

Kroos' lovely curled strike.
Kroos’ lovely curled strike.

A managerless Real Sociedad managed to beat Atletico 2-1, dropping the champions to 4th place.  A Mandzukic goal after only 10 minutes gave Atletico the early lead, but La Real took the initiative, and after a Carlos Vela goal, never looked back.  Atletico lost defender Siqueira after a second yellow just after the restart, and Real Sociedad punished them with a late goal, though they could have had two more after legitimate penalty claims were turned down (or even booked for simulation).  They’re still in touch with the leaders, but overall they haven’t convinced this season. Still work to do for Atletico.

Sociedad will take confidence of that result into the international break, where new manager David Moyes joins the squad. He did a decent job at Everton pushing an unfancied side seemingly beyond their ceiling in the hunt for European football, and La Real are set up to offer him similar circumstances with an underperforming, but promising squad of players. Even if it doesn’t work out, there are far worse places to live and work than San Sebastian.

Valencia lost ground on league leaders Real Madrid, failing to score in a 0-0 draw with Athletic Bilbao who are now unbeaten in their last four – with four points from their last two matches against two of the early title contenders. Valencia struggled from some profligacy up front – although they found it difficult to fashion quality chances thanks to a resolute Athletic defence – but were also lucky not to lose in the final moments. Bilbao are working themselves out of a tricky patch at the bottom of the table and might have turned it around in time to make their way back up and contest the European places. A few easier fixtures await Ernesto Valverde’s side before a Basque derby in mid-December against Real Sociedad.

For Valencia, the result meant that they now fall to third, but are still only three points off the leaders, very much in striking distance. It was the first home match of the season where they failed to score three goals (let alone even one), and although the pitch played a part, Nuno Espirito Santo seemed to struggle tactically, shifting formations throughout the match to no avail. Despite Rodrigo’s recent Spain call-up (though he missed out on the squad for this international break), the on-loan striker hasn’t scored with the regularity expected (one goal so far this season in nine appearances, and that was from the penalty spot). The fitness of captain Dani Parejo is also an issue, with the midfielder currently on the sidelines with a hamstring injury and the side struggling in his absence. An expected return later this month will be just what Los Che need to bounce back from a disappointing result and performance.

Sevilla succumbed to a late 1-1 draw with Levante, after Bebo’s error cost them the lead in the 85th minute. A costly seven days for Sevilla, who could’ve been top of the table but now see themselves outside of the Champions League spots behind 4th placed Atletico.

Elsewhere, Espanyol left it very, very late to earn a deserved 1-1 draw with Villarreal, with Colotto slotting home in the 91st minute from an Asenjo fumble to cancel out Mario’s opener.

Getafe and Elche played out a scoreless draw, as did Deportivo – Cordoba and CeltaGranada.  Malaga accounted for Eibar 2-1 and continue their impressive start to the season, comfortably sitting in the top half after going ahead of Celta.

Results in full:

Cordoba 0-0 Deportivo La Coruña; Almeria 1-2 Barcelona; Getafe 0-0 Elche; Real Madrid 5-1 Rayo Vallecano; Celta Vigo 0-0 Granada; Malaga 2-1 Eibar; Sevilla 1-1 Levante; Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal; Valencia 0-0 Athletic Bilbao; Real Sociedad 2-1 Atletico Madrid.

About Nick Chernih 22 Articles
An avid football fan, Nick fell in love with the European game long ago and never looked back. One of our dedicated Spanish writers, Nick has been a Barcelona and Chelsea supporter since primary school, and can be recognised by the rings under his eyes on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings after the grueling European time zone takes its toll on his sleeping patterns.