La Liga Wrap Up: Super sub Messi and Ronaldo becomes Real’s Liga greatest

Matchday Three was headlined by Barcelona traveling to Atletico Madrid in a face off between the last two La Liga champions, but Cristiano Ronaldo made sure he was a major talking point after scoring five goals in Real’s 6-0 win to overtake Alfredo di Stefano and Raul Gonzalez to become their record league scorer. Mark Houston brings you the La Liga Wrap Up for the third week of La Liga.

For the first time since they were both suiting up in Spain, two matchdays passed with neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Leo Messi finding the back of the net. It was unlikely to continue, and both got off the mark this season as Ronaldo put five past Espanyol and Messi scored a late winner in Barcelona’s mouthwatering tie with Atletico Madrid.

Barca were facing their toughest test of the first-half of the season outside of their November 22 visit to the Bernabeu, and it was generally accepted that this match would go a long way to determining whether their thin squad would be able to manage until January 4 (when the registration ban is lifted) and keep pace with the title challengers. Leo Messi, who had just welcomed the birth of his second child after arriving back from international duty in the United States and hadn’t trained with the side in the lead up to the match, started on the bench as Rafinha took his place in the front three alongside Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Atleti’s defence and goalkeeper Jan Oblak held firm as Barca created a flurry of chances early on, with Andres Iniesta pulling the strings and continuing his form reversal from last season, playing in Ivan Rakitic after a jinking run from the left. Fernando Torres missed a decent chance after Antoine Griezmann won the ball on the halfway line, and Luis Suarez hit the bar from close range as both sides struggled to break the deadlock. Neymar then wasted the best opportunity of the match when he elected to go for goal himself rather than teeing up either of Suarez or Rakitic who had flanked him, and a shout for handball in amongst the penalty box richochets was waved away by the referee as the teams went into the break scoreless.

On 52 minutes, despite Barca having the better of the match, Fernando Torres rolled back the clock to give Los Colchoneros the lead. While he’s been little more than a squad player since his return to his boyhood club, he has made a habit of scoring important goals, and the opener against Barcelona can be added to his brace against Real Madrid earlier in the year to knock them out of the Copa Del Rey, as well as a first-minute strike against the Catalans in the following round of the cup.

Atleti won the ball in the Barcelona half and following a quick exchange of passes Tiago split the Barca centre-back pairing and put Torres through on goal. Eerily similar to his Euro 2008 winner where he held off Philipp Lahm to dink over Jens Lehmann, Torres beat a flying Jordi Alba to the ball before squeezing it past another German ‘keeper (in the on-rushing Marc-Andre ter Stegen) and into the back of the net via the inside of the far post.

Even the celebration was vintage Torres, as the Spaniard slid on his knees to the corner flag as the Calderon erupted and his teammates mobbed him, ecstatic with a flash of lethality from the Torres of old. El Niño was well and truly home.

Such is the quality in the Barcelona XI though – even without Messi on the pitch – that even the staunch defence of Diego Simeone’s side struggle to hold them out, and three minutes after Torres’ opener Neymar restored parity with a gorgeous, unstoppable free-kick from almost 30 yards.

The match needed a catalyst though, as like so many times before Atleti’s defence was able to withstand whatever Barcelona threw at them in open play and neither side had much in the way of any other genuine scoring opportunities in the second half. And who better to enter the fray than Messi?

It was a cool, nonchalant entrance for the Argentine maestro. “No impatient hopping up and down on the spot or heading imaginary balls, no self-conscious sprint into the action or determined look, no instructions for team-mates, fingers signalling a new formation… he took a few slow, almost bored steps forward and stopped again, standing a couple of metres from where he had been standing before. As if it didn’t matter, as if it was no big deal,” wrote Sid Lowe in his Guardian column.

And the demeanour from the touchline was matched on the pitch as he almost had an immediate impact. Receiving the ball outside the box, looking like he had all the time in the world, Messi coolly, calmly played the ball through a crowded penalty area into the path of Neymar’s diagonal run, whose close range shot hit the hand of Diego Godin (though it didn’t look intentional and his hand was in a natural position beside his body) before the Uruguayan cleared the ball off the line.

Shortly after, as the script was written, Messi did provide the vital contribution. Atletico Madrid failed to clear the ball on multiple occasions and the ball fell to Alba on the edge of the area, who found Suarez in the box who then played a one-touch pass into the path of Messi who poked home first-time into the far corner to give Barcelona a 2-1 lead, 17 minutes after he entered the pitch. He peeled away celebrating with Luis Suarez – who had a late chance to make it 3-1 – before turning to the camera and paying tribute to his newly-born son, Mateo.

And that was how it finished. 2-1 to Barcelona, who remain perfect at the top of the table. It was an impressive performance from Barca, who, on the balance of play, deserved the three points. But, despite the positives, Thomas Vermaelen limped off injured in the first half, adding further problems to Barcelona’s depth for the first half of the campaign, and they again showed that, however talented the rest of the team are, Messi is still crucial when games are decided by the finest of margins.

Messi came off the bench and, as usual, made the difference.
Messi came off the bench and, as usual, made the difference.

Moving from the capital to Barcelona, Espanyol faced an already tough prospect of a Real Madrid outfit keen to prove a point under new manager Rafa Benitez, but with Cristiano Ronaldo determined to respond to critics of his “goal drought” – and with another record in sight – they stood little chance.

Inside the first 20 minutes he had a hat-trick. By the end of the match he had five. “Boring Benitez’s” side had scored 11 in their last two games.

Ronaldo had his first on seven minutes, when a delightful pass from Luka Modric picked out the run of the Portuguese in behind the Espanyol defence. His second came from the penalty spot when Gareth Bale was brought down. And he completed the hat-trick when the Welshman picked him out with a perfect cross that he volleyed home with his left foot.

Ronaldo then turned provider as he teed up Benzema to make it 4-0 on 28 minutes after Gareth Bale broke through the middle, feeding Ronaldo on the left and his first-time cross left the Frenchman with a tap in.

Benzema was unfortunate to not have another before the break when his low, hard shot hit the inside of the post before rebounding back into the hands of goalkeeper Pau.

On the hour mark Ronaldo scored his fourth thanks to another assist from Bale, popping up on the right this time to meet Isco’s through-ball before squaring for the Portuguese.

While he’d had a quiet first-half, Keylor Navas did his bit to keep Espanyol out, making a superb diving save to keep out Gerard Moreno’s close-range header before Lucas Vazquez put the ball on a platter for Ronaldo to net his fifth of the match and make it 6-0 in the 81st minute.

Ronaldo now has 230 goals in 203 Real Madrid Liga matches, and has scored more league goals for the club than anyone ever. In just his seventh season at the club he has overtaken the likes of Raul, Di Stefano and Puskas, with his five goals in this match taking him past Raul’s record of 228 in 550 matches. Words, and even the numbers, simply don’t do him justice.

Cristiano's five goals saw him equal and overtake Raul's Real Madrid record.
Cristiano’s five goals saw him equal and overtake Raul’s Real Madrid league goals record.

Celta Vigo and 10-man Las Palmas played out a surprising 3-3 draw in Galicia, with the Canaries coming back from 3-1 down. Goalkeeper Javi Varis received his marching orders (perhaps rather harshly) on 11 minutes for a professional foul and Fabian Orellana made no mistake from the spot, before Daniel Wass doubled the lead five minutes later. Sergio Araujo kept the away side in the game with an unlikely goal just before the half, but Nolito appeared to have put the result beyond doubt three minutes after the interval and restored Celta’s two-goal lead.

A bizarre final half an hour saw Pablo Hernandez put one into his own net, and right-back David Simon secure an unlikely point with 16 minutes to go. Celta finished the match with 16 more shots than their opponents (25 to nine), while Las Palmas only mustered four shots on target but managed three goals. It wasn’t about the numbers for the visitors though, the determination and cojones of the performance will give them a major confidence boost before their encounter with Rayo next weekend where, as we know, anything could happen.

Athletic Bilbao scored their first win of the season and soared up to 10th place in the table with a 3-1 victory over Getafe at the San Mames. Aritz Aduriz book-ended the match with a brace, but new signing Raul Garcia stole the show, scoring his first for his new club on debut with a sensational backwards header into the top corner.

After a slow start in the league following their Spanish Super Cup win over Barcelona, it was a welcome return to form for the Basque side. Beñat in particular bossed the game and was showing some of his best form in a long time. Meanwhile, Aduriz moved to the top of the much-talked-about “most headed goals of active La Liga players” ladder with his 40th headed effort taking him one ahead of Fernando Llorente and five ahead of Cristiano.

Sevilla scored their first goal of the season, but are still searching for their first win as a determined Levante side held their more fancied guests to a 1-1 draw in the Friday night match. Steven N’Zonzi gave the visitors the lead early on with a 25-yard rocket but they struggled to take control of the match – perhaps with an eye on their midweek Champions League encounter with Borussia Mönchengladbach at the Sanchez Pizjuan – and surrendered the lead just before the hour mark as Victor Camarasa tapped in from close range.

Unai Emery’s team sit in the relegation zone with two points from the first nine available. While the loss to Atleti is acceptable, if they’re going to maintain their status as a top five club then draws against the likes of Levante and Malaga simply won’t cut it. Fortunately for El Grande de Andalucia, the gap to bridge isn’t as big as it could’ve been, with the likes of Valencia and Athletic only picking up their first wins of the season this weekend. And with several key ins and outs, the best from this Sevilla incarnation is certainly still to come, but they can’t continue dropping points.

Eibar maintained their unbeaten start to the season with a gutsy but dull 0-0 draw away at Malaga. The match only saw four attempts on target in the entire 90 minutes, with all four coming from the home side. Jose Luis Mendilibar and his troops won’t mind though, after only surviving relegation thanks to an administrative penalty to Elche last season, every point is precious for the Basque minnows and they’ll be delighted with seven points from their first three matches.

Elsewhere, Real Betis notched their first win back in the top flight with a surprise 1-0 victory over David Moyes’ Real Sociedad thanks to an assist from old hero Joaquin, Villarreal scored three second-half goals to defeat Granada 3-1, Paco Alcacer’s stoppage-time winner gave Valencia the three points in Gijon, and Rayo Vallecano lost 3-1 at home to an impressive Deportivo La Coruña.

Results in full: Levante 1-1 Sevilla; Espanyol 0-6 Real Madrid; Sporting Gijon 0-1 Valencia; Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona; Real Betis 1-0 Real Sociedad; Granada 1-3 Villarreal; Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Getafe; Celta Vigo 3-3 Las Palmas; Malaga 0-0 Eibar; Rayo Vallecano 1-3 Deportivo La Coruña.

About Mark Houston 86 Articles
Mark is an editor of The Blog FC and has also contributed to other sport and music sites. He predominantly writes about La Liga but also follows Europe's other top leagues and the local A-League. There's a special place in his heart for bearded deep-lying playmakers and he's a proud member of the Goalkeepers Union.