La Liga round-up – Barcelona win the Madrid derby as efficiency defines the difference

Barcelona travelled to the Spanish capital to play Leganés on Saturday just hours before the Madrid derby was due to kick off, and arrived back home in Catalonia seven points better off – three from their win over Lega, and an extra four from the accumulative points dropped by title rivals Real Madrid and Atlético.

The Catalans’ 3-0 win, coupled with the goalless derby stalemate opened a ten-point gap between Barca and the Madrids, a gap which never before in La Liga has been overcome by a team that would go on and win the title.

From this point, either Barcelona will win the league in extraordinary circumstances given the never-ending obituaries written for them in summer 2017, or else somebody else will win it in historic circumstances.

If Barcelona don’t end up with the title next May, either Madrid or Atleti will have recouped a gap never before recouped, or possibly even Valencia will shock us all, the way Atleti did in 2013/14.

Real Madrid visited the Wanda Metropolitano for the first time ever over the weekend, and this nature of the fixture meant that an already always spicy encounter would be historic no matter what, adding an extra bit of needle needle to the game. Fernando Torres said before the game that whatever the result, it would be a game that would always be remembered.

The needle promised by the game’s setting and build up proved to be true, as Real and Atleti battled out a rough derby. Errors from Marcelo and Varane put Angel Correa one-on-one with Kiko Casilla very early in the game, but the Argentine failed to make the most of a golden opportunity, providing his critics more evidence as to why he perhaps shouldn’t be in the Atleti team.

For Madrid, some beautiful link up play between Ronaldo and Toni Kroos sliced clean through the Atletico defence, but the German midfielder couldn’t make the most out of the great position he found himself in.

Ronaldo, Benzema, and Ramos all suffered blows to the head in different manners; Ronaldo was tripped at high speed and collided into Lucas Hernandez’s back, Benzema had the ball fired at his head from point-blank range from Correa (who showed fantastic accuracy this time, unlike earlier in front of goal), and Sergio Ramos received Hernandez’s boot to his nose for what might have been a penalty. Ramos had to be substituted at half time as a result.

Clear-cut chances were few, but not for lacking skill from either team. Both sides showed a lot of ability in their build-up play but in the end the hard work of both defences won out. Overall it was an extremely hard-fought game that left Real Madrid, at least, counting their bruises.

The 0-0 left Ronaldo, Benzema, and Griezmann still waiting another week to end their goal drought. Curiously enough, the Real Madrid stars are now the second worst striking partnership in all of Europe’s top leagues with only a couple of goals between them, beating only the strike force of pointless Benevento in Serie A. Both Ronaldo’s and Benzema’s goals this season came against newly-promoted Getafe.

Atletico Madrid’s formation isn’t working well for Griezmann this season. The team look very much like they’re set up to have Diego Costa in the team already, but he won’t be available to play until January. That leaves Atleti with a lack of presence up front, and a very lonely Griezmann in their front line looking ineffective too often. Griezmann was substituted to boos with 14 minutes remaining. Correa’s form with los colchoneros has always been patchy, and he came off with Griezmann, as Simeone looked to give a totally new feel to their attack.

Real Madrid’s and Atleti’s striker woes continue, but Barcelona’s were finally given a reprieve this weekend. Just hours earlier, Luis Suarez broke his bad streak with a double against Leganés, thanks to a little good luck going his way too. Paulinho added a third to take his tally for the season to double that of Ronaldo’s and Benzema’s combined – imagine reading that true sentence three months ago.

Efficiency is the trait that is coming to define the differences between Spain’s big three this season.

All three of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid are having striker problems. Los blancos and rojiblancos are stuck in ruts. Both Zidane’s and Simeone’s charges are making a lot of hard work out of beating teams (when they manage to) and seem to have anxiety in front of goal, especially from their most dependable finishers.

But while Atleti and Real are dropping points during this streak, Barcelona are winning games week in week out, without necessarily dazzling any spectators in the process. Luis Suarez said recently that once the first goes in after this streak, the goals will start to rain. He quickly followed up that first with a second.

Barca have had luck in winning their games and the other teams have lacked it, but to some extent they make their own luck by getting the ball into dangerous positions. Barca have at times forced the ball into the net, showing an efficiency the others have lacked and have paid for with the ten-point gap in the table they now trail the leader by.

Goal of the week

Geoffrey Kondogbia, Valencia. The Frenchman is showing himself to be a very viable candidate for player of the season, and this performance and goal showed why. Valencia lined out against Espanyol with three of their best players sitting on the bench: Carlos Soler, Gonçalo Guedes, and Simone Zaza. Espanyol thus dominated proceedings, but failed to break down the Valencia defence.

Under pressure for almost 70 minutes, Kondogbia picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area and unleashed an unstoppable shot to break Espanyol hearts.

The win was a hugely impressive one for Marcelino’s men, as before now there were still doubts over whether his team could pick up results while not playing well at all. This weekend, they proved they could, and proved they need to be taken seriously as a title challenger until things significantly change.

Player of the week

Málaga forward Diego Rolán gets the accolade this week, despite not scoring in his side’s hugely important 3-2 comeback win against Deportivo La Coruña. The Uruguayan led the line well for his side and ensured an ever forward-moving impetus in his teammates.

Rolán and Málaga haven’t been as bad as their league position has suggested all season, and their second win in three games will give them a huge amount of confidence going forward. The Andalusians also showed great strength of character to lose the lead and go 2-1 down, before coming back again to win all three points thanks to a beautifully finished effort from Borja Bastón.

La Liga week 12 results in full

Girona 1-1 Real Sociedad, Getafe 4-1 Alavés, Leganés 0-3 Barcelona, Sevilla 2-1 Celta Vigo, Atletico Madrid 0-0 Real Madrid, Málaga 3-2 Deportivo La Coruña, Espanyol 0-2 Valencia, Las Palmas 0-2 Levante, Athletic Bilbao 1-1 Villarreal, Eibar 5-0 Real Betis.

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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