Yesterday, in a series of mid-week La Liga clashes, Lionel Messi’s Barcelona lost to hosts Celta Vigo by the historic score of 1-4, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid defeated their hosts, Athletic Bilbao, 2-1. The games encapsulated the distinctive start to this Spanish Football season at week five.
This La Liga season has begun with both upstarts Celta Vigo, in second place in the standings, and normally mid-table Villarreal, today in third place, playing unbeatable football. Minnows Eibar, now in seventh place, count a single loss, while Sevilla, atop Group D in the Champions League, languishes in the 20th slot, without a win, with a 0-2 loss to lowly La Palmas, and with a -6 goal differential. Valencia, at the bottom of their Champions League’s Group H, thanks to a 3-2 home loss to Zenit St. Petersburg, are nevertheless eleven spots above Sevilla in the La Liga table.
At Balaidos Stadium, an inspired Celta Vigo so thoroughly dominated visiting Barcelona that the score was 2-0 inside the first thirty minutes. Barcelona’s lone response on the score line came at the 80th minute. Real Madrid had a very tough time at Bilbao’s San Mames Stadium where a seven-yellow-card match turned on Karim Benzema’s 9th and 70th minute scores. The Merengues were in for a typical Bilbao reception but were stymied further as the hosts played their famous visitors even.
It was the manner of Real’s win and Barca’s loss that seemed to signal this season would not settle just yet. Ronaldo’s team played well despite missing starters James Rodriguez, Sergio Ramos, and Gareth Bale. Benzema’s second goal, for instance, was a pretty piece of teamwork with a 15-pass build up to the score. But Madrid never seemed to be in control of the match, instead they seemed in it with a tough Bilbao. This edition of Rafa Benitez’s team was not confident or free flowing but workmanlike.
After the game, Raphael Varane said: “We were made to suffer but we did it together, as a team. We battled hard, it’s always difficult here in Bilbao as they play with a lot of intensity, but we responded well.”
At Vigo, Messi, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, and Luis Suarez simply were not clicking on all cylinders, while Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano chose the same game to play subpar football. But truth be told, Celta was so dominant that with the score at 2-0 and 3-0 one got the impression that the hosts were closer to scoring again than that Barca was about to net one. In fact, when the visitors did score, one still got the feeling the hosts had another in them, which in fact they did.
Luis Enrique gave his opponents their due after the game “Today you have seen how well Celta can play. That is why we have lost. They played a very good game, in all senses. Today, you can only congratulate them.”
This is not bad news. In fact it bodes well for Spanish Football as it shows the league is not made up of two Giants and eighteen dwarfs. It also bodes well for the Spanish teams in the Champions League as they will be looking to right domestic wrongs at the expense of European competition come the 29th and 30th of the month.
On the 29th, Barcelona play hosts to Bayer Leverkusen with an opportunity to pull ahead in Group E, while Valencia travel to Lyon in search of points to cut into Zenit’s lead in Group H. On the 30th, Atleti will be looking for a home win to pull ahead of Benifca in Group C, Real will be looking to vanquish Malmo in Sweden ahead of next month’s clash with PSG, and Sevilla have to travel to Turin to meet Juventus in a clash of Group D leaders.
Should the likes of the five Spanish teams in European competition find their way in continental play we might see an interesting series of domestic repercussions, as the mainstays of La Liga struggle to right an upside down season at home.