Valencia and other giants fall in thrillingly unpredictable La Liga gameweek

It was an utterly bizarre weekend in La Liga, where all but one of the teams in the top four failed to win, the team with the league’s second worst attack were (equal) top scorers of the gameweek, and the two teams with the worst defences both kept clean sheets.

The record for most La Liga red cards of all time was broken this week, one of Europe’s last unbeaten and most impressive sides were finally beaten by a newly promoted team playing with ten men for 65 minutes, and Barcelona’s lead at the top of the table was actually expanded despite them failing to win in the Camp Nou for the first time this season.

And to top it all off, there was yet another decisive 95th minute goal.

Athletic Bilbao, having one of their worst seasons in recent years, rose above their form to deliver yet another blow to Real Madrid’s title hopes in one of the most historic fixtures La Liga has to offer.

Zizou’s woes continue, as they failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity to close the gap at the top of the table after Barca’s slip up earlier in the afternoon.

Madrid lacked imagination and a plan B, which has been a criticism of Zidane’s team a lot this season.

It’s been difficult at times to work out Madrid’s plan on how to play and win games this year, as largely it seems as though the overriding idea is to let players with a huge amount of quality figure it out for themselves, without much in terms of tactical preparation coming from Zidane.

The result of this has seen many Madrid games this campaign play out with a similar script – move the ball from midfield out to the wing, and put in a cross for the waiting Ronaldo and Benzema to score.

Against Bilbao in Sam Mamés this week, that could easily have worked, as Ronaldo had a couple of headers that were well stopped by the highly-rated Kepa in the Athletic net. It largely just hasn’t been working out for Madrid this year.

Sergio Ramos ensured that this game would go down in history by picking up his 19th La Liga red card, making him the most sent off player in La Liga history. He has 24 red cards in total in his career, all coming with Real Madrid, as he has never been sent off for Spain or Sevilla.

Barcelona kicked off Saturday’s action with an early afternoon kickoff against Celta Vigo, and the Catalans dropping two points against their former assistant manager gave the chasing pack a huge opportunity to take advantage and close the gap.

That’s four points dropped from their last six available, but curiously those points were dropped in games where they displayed arguably their best selves this season.

Barca’s philosophy and style of play is sacred, passed down from the teachings of Johan Cruyff four decades ago. But after a summer of crisis, Ernesto Valverde came to the Camp Nou with fires to put out and an overt calmness to spread unto everyone around him – including the players on the field.

Under his tutelage, the blaugrana have become a team with much more control on the pitch, largely coming from a varying 4-4-2 shape generally, often with four nominally central midfielders named.

In the past this may have been sacrilege, but considering how Barca entered this season and considering La Liga’s general shift towards the two banks of four once again, Valverde has been entrusted to work his magic.

Barca’s ethos on the pitch this season is now control, calmness, and rigidity. That rigidity may be put to the test as they will be without the services of Samuel Umtiti for around two months, after he pulled his hamstring in the move that led to Celta’s equalising goal.

Elsewhere in this game, Barca were for the second week in a row denied a clear goal that should have been given in a game they drew. Luis Suarez scored a legitimate goal but for it to be wrongly ruled offside.

Only Atletico Madrid were capable of taking full advantage of Valverde’s side slipping up thanks to a last-gasp Antoine Griezmann winner against his former side, Real Sociedad.

Griezmann has well and truly found his feet again now that he’s being accompanied by a true striker in the starting XI now, with Kevin Gameiro seemingly having earned a lot of Diego Simeone’s trust in recent weeks.

Griezmann now has four goals in his last three games, coinciding perfectly with Simeone’s decision to play a striker alongside the French superstar.

As for Eusebio Sacristán’s La Real, they continue to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in Spain this year.

With one of the best attacking records and one of the worst defensive records in the league, they provide guaranteed excitement, and combine excellently across their lines of attack and midfield.

They play football with only one mentality – to attack non stop. For long periods at the Wanda, they were much the better team, and are right to feel somewhat aggrieved by getting nothing from this game.

But it was Sunday afternoon’s games, both played in the south of Madrid, that brought about the two most surprising results of the season. La Liga now has one less unbeaten team after Valencia, possibly the most impressive outfit this year, fell to newly promoted Getafe, who played for over an hour with ten men following Arambarri’s red card.

Valencia players and media complained about Getafe’s “antifootball”. Captain Dani Parejo said “you can’t play football on a pitch like that, it is dry and neglected.”

Valencia were missing Goncalo Guedes, who has been a revelation this season, as well as Jeison Murillo and Ezequiel Garay in defence, and there had already been doubts about how well their thin squad would fare once a couple of injuries hit.

Getafe deserve an enormous amount of credit for the win. They brawled from the first minute to the last against a team that is also known for having a level of intensity difficult to match, and refused to let Arambarri’s red card in the 25th minute get them down. Jorge Molina is turning into one of the most exciting players in the league this season, and is certainly Getafe’s most prized asset.

El geta stayed firm in defence, but Molina was instrumental in holding the ball up around the other end of the pitch, giving the Valencia defence headache after headache.

A draw could be considered a fair result in this game, but a deflection saw Markel Vergara’s long range effort ricochet off Gabriel Paulista’s knee and into the top corner. Getafe had enough strength in defence to see out the win.

Six kilometres away, Leganés were three-goal comeback kids much to everybody’s surprise. Before this weekend, Lega had only scored eight goals all season, but have defended brilliantly all campaign to ensure points on the board.

After going 1-0 down in the second half to high-flying Villarreal, Diego Rico’s wonder goal from distance saw Leganés on their way.

While trying to re-establish the lead, Villarreal were caught out in numbers in defence and Nabil El Zhar put the home side in front before Gabriel Pires finished the job in stoppage time.

Eibar have accumulated more points in their last three games – right before this column pointed out they were facing trouble – that they had all season prior. The Basques have won their last three with a combined score of 10-2, and now sit comfortably mid table after their 3-1 put-down of Espanyol.

Player of the Week

Ibai Gomez, Deportivo Alavés. Alavés were managerless, bottom of the league, and 2-0 down away to a Girona side full of confidence. They had sacked Gianni Di Biasi earlier in the week after a dismal run of results.

A drab first half saw no goals in north Catalonia, but Stuani’s fancy footwork and Juanpe’s header had Alavés 2-0 down with less than half an hour to play.

Ibai Gomez wasn’t giving up though. After getting a bit of luck from a linesman’s insecurity regarding offside lines, he just about forced one goal in, before tucking away a penalty with just two minutes remaining. Bring on the 94th minute, and Munir and Maffeo scrap for possession.

Both seem to win it and win it back off the other twice in the same elongated motion. Eventually Maffeo falls, giving Munir space to run, find Gomez in space in the box to finish off his hat-trick first time, and give Alavés a famous 2-3 comeback victory.

Goal of the Week

Diego Rico’s long range pinpoint effort to launch Leganés into motion.

La Liga Week 14 results

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

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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