El Derbi is the second biggest fixture in La Liga nowadays, and though it failed to provide the same kind of fireworks as last season’s 4-0 drubbing by Atletico, there was still plenty of drama in the 1-1 draw. Elsewhere, a depleted Barcelona fell to struggling Sevilla, Athletic scored a big win over Valencia, and Villarreal stayed top despite losing 1-0 to Levante. Mark Houston has the La Liga Wrap Up for Matchday Seven, in which none of the top six recorded a win.
Teams in 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th all won. Teams one through six didn’t. But these sorts of results are only possible in the Premier League, aren’t they? La Liga is showing, once again, that it’s reputation isn’t quite the reality.
Naturally, despite some unexpected results across the board, there’s nowhere else to start but in the capital. Last season it was one of the most stunning results in the history of Spanish football, as Atletico Madrid thumped Real Madrid 4-0 at the Vicente Calderon. What was even more poignant was not the result in isolation, but that it was the fourth league match in a row that the two sides had met and Real had failed to win.
And in their first fixture of the 2015-16 season, Real failed to win again as the sides drew 1-1, with Luciano Vietto snatching a late equaliser for the Rojiblancos.
It wasn’t quite like last season though, and Real took the lead through Karim Benzema in the opening nine minutes to keep him atop the Pichichi standings with his sixth goal of the season.
Dani Carvajal skipped past Filipe Luis on the right flank and played a perfect ball into Benzema, with Ronaldo’s run to the near post pulling away Jose Maria Gimenez and leaving the Frenchman to nod home unmarked.
Angel Correa was lively again for Atleti and was the closest to equalising in the ensuing 10 minutes, until some clumsy work from Sergio Ramos saw Tiago brought down in the area and a penalty awarded to the home side.
Ramos is one of those players who, despite being world class on his day, can still find a way to concede a penalty when his team is in possession on the halfway line.
Fortunately for the Real Madrid captain, though, Keylor Navas was equal to Antoine Griezmann’s effort – who continues to struggle to make an impact in the big games – and saved well to his left to keep Real’s advantage.
The match ebbed and flowed from there, with both sides creating opportunities but not quite the clear cut chance they required to either extend or eliminate the deficit.
With the 1-0 lead Rafa Benitez looked to shore things up after the introduction of Gareth Bale – who made his return after four weeks out through injury – and replaced Karim Benzema with midfielder Mateo Kovacic to hang onto the advantage.
However, it were other substitutes who proved crucial in the end. Dani Carvajal, who put in a very impressive showing, was stretchered off late in the first-half and was replaced by Alvaro Arbeloa who, in the 83rd minute, was beaten on the outside by Atleti substitute Jackson Martinez. Martinez fizzed a ball into the six-yard box and the slightest touch by Griezmann was enough to keep it out of reach of Navas as fellow substitute Luciano Vietto was there to poke home from close range and secure a point for Atleti, and another gutsy performance against their more-fancied rivals.
Keylor Navas was the unexpected hero for Real with his penalty save – and a sensational stop in stoppage time to keep out a curling Jackson Martinez effort – but perhaps the biggest story to come out of the game was that, once again, it was an El Derbi encounter in which Cristiano Ronaldo failed to deliver.
It’s been a strange start to the season for Cristiano. While he has five goals seven La Liga matches, all five of them came in the thrashing of Espanyol and he’s now gone four league matches without hitting the back of the net – equaling his longest drought since moving to Spain. He’s also had 55 shots in seven matches per ESPN stats, and the average of a goal every 11 shots is also a record low during his time at Real Madrid.
He isn’t making an impact in other ways, either, notching only one assist in all competitions so far this campaign, and reports are emerging that his decision-making is being criticised by his teammates.
“For better or worse, Ronaldo remains the hub of the team. Yet some of the Portuguese player’s teammates have noticeably called some of his choices into question lately. No one doubts the former United star’s ability, but some no longer believe he can go the extra mile,” reported Jose Felix Diaz in Marca.
The pressure is on Rafa Benitez after yet another draw, but if Ronaldo fails to find form soon, those whispers about whether he’s past his best may become louder.
While Real struggled with Ronaldo on the pitch, Barcelona remembered how crucial Lionel Messi is to their side as they fell 2-1 to Sevilla.
Two goals in six minutes gave Sevilla a surprise two-goal lead early in the second half.
Kevin Gameiro burst past Jeremy Mathieu on the right wing during a Sevilla counter-attack before pulling the ball back to an on-rushing Michael Krohn-Dehli at the far post who made no mistake with his left foot.
And five minutes later Krohn-Dehli turned provider as Sevilla doubled the lead. Starting in the same right-hand channel near the halfway line as the first goal, Sevilla broke with pace, but this time switched play to the left where Krohn-Dehli then floated a ball in which was finished by the head of Vicente Iborra.
Barca were a little unfortunate to go behind, after a Neymar free-kick in the first-half somehow failed to cross the line after hitting both posts and goalkeeper Sergio Rico before being hooked away.
Neymar did get his goal eventually from the penalty spot with 16 minutes to play, but it was just one of those days for Barcelona, hitting the woodwork on five occasions, and coming up against Sergio Rico in imperious form, making nine saves in the match to give Sevilla a hard-fought win and lift them out of the relegation zone.
In a Valencian derby, Levante pulled off an upset over leaders Villarreal, though thanks to the poor weekend for the top sides the Submarino Amarillo stay top of the league.
Bojan Jokic collected his second yellow card in the 36th minute, which left Villarreal with 10 men for the best part of an hour, and the advantage eventually told as Deyverson popped up with the winner seven minutes from time.
In the Basque Country, Athletic Bilbao pulled off an impressive 3-1 victory over Valencia, as Australian Mathew Ryan missed the match through injury, leaving Nuno with another problem as third-choice goalkeeper Jaume started.
Dani Parejo opened the scoring with a trademark free-kick, but 14 minutes later Aymeric Laporte headed in from a corner in the 34th minute.
Markel Susaeta and Aritz Aduriz both scored in a nine-minute spell to give Athletic the lead and then put the result beyond doubt in a match they deserved to win.
Malaga scored their first goals of the season, and with that notched their first win, as they beat a struggling Real Sociedad 3-1 on the south coast to rise up to 16th, level on points with La Real.
Elsewhere, Las Palmas lost 2-0 to Eibar who continue their impressive start to the season, Alen Halilovic scored the goal of the weekend in Sporting Gijon‘s 2-1 win over Espanyol, Rayo fell at home to Real Betis, Celta and Getafe played out a 0-0 draw, and Granada and Deportivo La Coruña drew 1-1.
Results in full: Celta Vigo 0-0 Getafe; Sevilla 2-1 Barcelona; Granada 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña; Espanyol 1-2 Sporting Gijon; Las Palmas 0-2 Eibar; Malaga 3-1 Real Sociedad; Rayo Vallecano 0-2 Real Betis; Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Valencia; Levante 1-0 Villarreal; Atletico Madrid 1-1 Real Madrid.