There was no rest for La Liga, which was back in action again on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Euan McTear breaks down the five main talking points of the weekend.
1. Neymar can lead in Messi’s absence, again
Any time Lionel Messi is injured, Barcelona should be worried, but with Neymar they have a reliable alternative in attack. When the Argentine was out injured in October last year, his Brazilian colleague played some of his best football since moving to Barca, scoring eight goals in the five matches La Blaugrana had to play without their star man. If Neymar’s performance in Gijon on Saturday is anything to go by, then Barca will be fine once more as they wait for Messi to return. The No11 scored two, hit the woodwork and was generally everywhere in attack. When called upon, he is ready to be Luis Enrique’s leader on the pitch.
2. BBC are hurting, and it’s hurting Real Madrid
It is clear that there is something wrong with Real Madrid’s star BBC front line of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. The trio are far from 100 percent fit after suffering various injuries in preseason and in the campaign’s opening weeks and this is hurting the team, not helping it. Zinedine Zidane needs to find the right balance between the undeniable talent of BBC and the unhampered energy and fitness of their potential replacements Alvaro Morata and Lucas Vazquez. Although the latter two are not quite as talented as the star trio, they may actually be able to help the Madrid cause more than an 80% fit Bale, Benzema or Ronaldo.
3. Athletic are flying, but Bilbao fans shouldn’t get carried away
That’s right, Athletic Club de Bilbao are in joint-third position. That’s despite starting the League season with two back-to-back defeats against Sporting Gijon and Barcelona. Since that narrow 1-0 loss to the champions last month, they have defeated Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia, Granada and Sevilla. Despite that good run of form, however, their fan base would be wise to remain grounded as the first three teams on that list are currently in the table’s bottom six, while Sevilla had the worst away record of the whole division last term and appear to be just as bad on the road this, having yet to win on their travels, as was the case at San Mames. The Basque side’s 3-0 loss to Sassuolo in the Europa League two weeks ago showed that there remain plenty of deficiencies in this team, so these four consecutive League victories are impressive but nothing to get carried away about.
4. Depor have almost zero attacking threat
It may not have been such a good idea for Deportivo La Coruna to have sold Lucas Perez to Arsenal. While they did get a €20m payday for letting last season’s top scorer go, the damage his departure has done to the team has been so huge that the deal may not prove to be worth it. Since he left Galicia, the team have scored just one goal in five matches, with their latest stalemate coming against Atletico Madrid on Sunday. While there is no shame in failing to score against a defence as impressive as Atleti’s, it should be noted that 20-year-old Lucas Hernandez was filling in at centre-back and was hardly tested by the side’s new attacking focal point Florin Andone. If the Romanian doesn’t get his first goal of the season soon, Depor fans will be sweating.
5. Atleti’s slow start is well behind them
While Deportivo La Coruna may never have looked like scoring against Atletico Madrid on Sunday, it also looked for a while as if Los Rojiblancos might not score against the Galicians. In a match that played out in a similar fashion to the draws against Alaves and Leganes that kicked off Atletico’s season, the capital-city team did find a breakthrough this time. Kevin Gameiro and Antoine Griezmann combined for a 70th-minute winner, proving that Atleti are finally in form and finally able to unlock the tough defensive puzzles thrown at them. They are very much in this title race and look as determined as ever.