“I didn’t stomp to try and break his leg” – Juan Rodriguez
This weekend held a few key changes for those jostling for top position in the La Liga table. At this point, the title is very much up for grabs.
El Clásico – Real Madrid v Barcelona
Most eyes were on the first Clásico of the season on Saturday, and it didn’t disappoint. Barcelona did everything they could to assume the dominant role, but handed a 3-1 win to a Real Madrid side that was ready, lively, and easily the better team in the meeting.
It was a tense match filled with interesting side stories — Luis Suarez started in his first league match following his ban, and even managed to look well-behaved after Lionel Messi and Neymar were each booked, following by cards for Gerard Piqué and Andres Iniesta, in what was 30-year-old prodigy Gil Manzano’s first ever Clásico.
Even if you’re not a supporter of either side, this match was a deliciously tense display of fantastic football talent and a great one to see. Ultimately, and especially for fans of any other La Liga team, Real’s victory provided a much-needed stumbling block in Barca’s table reign.
Valencia v Elche
Valencia also enjoyed a 3-1 triumph on Saturday, winning over Elche, which was a nice way to welcome new owner Peter Lim. This match started off beautifully at the Mestalla Stadium, with both Shkodran Mustafi and Daniel Parejo swooping in to score goals within the first 20 minutes. Elche proved inept throughout, crumpling under the early Valencia goals, and completing their poor showing with an own goal in the second-half. They managed to claw one back in added time, but the damage was already done.
Los Che deserved this win, and their efforts were rewarded: they now trail Real Madrid by just a point. I expect to see interesting things from Valencia this season.
Sevilla v Villarreal
Sevilla obtained a stunning 2-1 victory over Villarreal to move up into second place, tying with Barca on 22 points. Late in the second half, after nearly 80 minutes without a goal, Villarreal grabbed the lead with a goal from substitute Luciano Vietto. But Sevilla provided a dramatic comeback, with Denis Suarez equalizing in the 88th minute and Carlos Bacca scoring from the penalty spot in added time. It was a shocking end to the game and a great display from the Andalusian side.
Atlético Madrid v Getafe CF
Meanwhile, and most important if you’re me, Los Rojiblancos traveled to Coliseum Alfonso Pérez to earn a 1-0 win over a desperate-looking Getafe side. Atleti arrived fresh from their 5-0 drubbing of Malmo in the Champions League on Wednesday evening, but so did Getafe—they secured a 2-1 victory over Real Sociedad.
By all appearances, Getafe boss Cosmin Contra directed his men to do whatever it took today to score against Atleti; Getafe played hard and dirty, clearly going in with a rough agenda. This only served to highlight the superior play of Atleti, who dominated the match in everything, except, of course, fouls (Getafe can claim that honor).
Mario Mandžukić scored the only goal in the 40th minute. This was closely followed by a sending off for Getafe’s Alexis in the 56th mnute, for slamming his arm into Mandžukić’s face. Then, in a thuggish little display, Juan Rodriguez stomped on the Atleti striker’s leg. This was unnoticed by the referee, but not Mandžukić teammate Miranda, who shoved Rodriguez and was rewarded with a yellow card.
After the match, Rodriguez announced, presumably with a straight face, “I didn’t stomp to try and break his leg.”
Then, sounding even more like a petulant eight-year-old, he added that Mandzukic’s goal should have been disallowed because Miranda pushed him.
As usual, fine Atleti teamwork was on display, with Koke, Arda Turan, Antoine Griezmann and Juanfran all turning in solid performances. Guilherme Siqueira shone in particular. The line-up, however, missed the calming force of Gabi and allowed the disgruntled home side to look a little too lively in the final minutes of the match.
Atleti are now within two points of their city rivals, and I get the sense that Simeone and his men are patiently – but assuredly – climbing. This is a different squad to last season, but even so, those on higher rungs had better look out.
And the rest
Elsewhere in La Liga on Saturday, Real Sociedad tied with Córdoba 1-1, which wasn’t a bad result for the Andalusian side considering Sociedad’s superior play. Eibar also tied 1-1 with Granada and finally, Athletic Bilbao scratched out a much-needed 1-0 victory over Almería.
On Sunday, Malaga gored Rayo Vallecano 4-0, scoring the opening goal just six minutes in, while Espanyol had a 0-0 snore fest with Deportivo La Coruna.
All in all, an excellent weekend in Spanish football.