The Hard Tackle analyzes the action from gameweek 17 in the La Liga. Another week which saw Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid register a win.
La Liga resumed after the mid-season break and there were no surprises in store for the viewers as the top 3 succeeded in gaining maximum points in their first game of the year. Atletico played the first La Liga game of the year away from home against Malaga. Malaga were resistant and managed to pose as tough opponents against Diego Simeone’s men who were not at their best. It took a 70th minute goal from Koke to secure the three points for Atletico. Barcelona were able to secure a comfortable win at home against Elche with Alexis Sanchez scoring three and Pedro finding the net once. After a tough first half, Real Madrid who were not looking comfortable at all against Celta Vigo managed to steal 3 points at home after Benzema and Ronaldo struck in the second half. Atletico and Barcelona are still fighting head to toe as they share the top spot with Barcelona ahead only on goal difference. Meanwhile, Real Madrid are making sure that they don’t lose momentum and are still trying to catch-up on their two biggest rivals. Real Madrid occupy the third spot 5 points behind league leaders Barcelona and Atletico. Real Sociedad closed in on 4th placed Atheletic Bilbao by beating the latter in the Basque derby. Villareal maintained their momentum with an away victory against Rayo and occupy the 6th place as they eye Europa League qualification ahead of Sevilla and Valencia.
Koke secures another three points for Atletico
Atletico Madrid who certainly weren’t tipped to win the La Liga title anytime soon are out there proving a point with each passing gameweek. Atletico are showing the world that maybe this time someone other than Real Madrid and Barcelona can be the La Liga champions. Atletico are the dark horse of the La Liga and they are probably the reason behind Gerardo Martino and Carlo Ancelotti’s future nightmares. Diego Simeone’s men have very much proved that this La Liga season is different and there is finally a third contender for the title after an agonisingly long wait. Atletico have entered the race and are determined to topple Barcelona and Real Madrid off their perch.
Atletico Madrid came into this game after ending the year at the top of the table, level on points and behind on goal difference with Barcelona. With Barcelona later hosting Elche, Atletico went into this game in a must win situation in order to remain in the title race. However, it wasn’t the easiest nights for the Rojiblancos. Malaga coach Bernd Schuster opted to field a 5-man defense in order to deny Atletico the three points they were chasing. It seemed like a favourable move as Atletico were not gaining momentum and were clearly the second best in the first half. Malaga looked threatening at times on the attack as defender Sergio Sanchez failed to hit the target after the ball had dropped invitingly for him in the area seven minutes into the game. Atletico managed to pose a threat only after 23 minutes when Juanfran drove a low shot which was dealt with easily by Willy Caballero. Malaga seemed to have an edge over Atletico as the not-so impressive first half came to an end. Adrian Lopez came in as a second half substitute to replace the ineffective Oliver Torres. It was a good move as Adrian almost opened the scoring for Atletico on 62 minutes after finding some space in the area only to be closed down by Antunes at the last second. Nevertheless, Atletico did manage to grab the breakthrough soon after as Koke pounced on a loose ball and calmly fired home to secure the three points for the visitors.
The win for Atletico will keep them in the title race as they host Barcelona next weekend.
Barcelona overpower Elche
Barcelona continued their sublime form with another convincing win over lowly Elche. Barcelona, who are still without Messi, went into this game determined to win the three points as Atletico had beaten Malaga to grab a temporary lead. Neymar did not start the game either as Martino chose to play Fabregas as the false 9 ahead of Iniesta, Song and Xavi. Meanwhile, Victor Valdes returned in goal for the hosts after being sidelined since November with a calf injury. Barcelona continue to dominate the La Liga despite the absence of important players.
Barcelona regained control of La Liga after Atletico had secured the top spot for a short period. The Catalans had come into the game knowing very well that they had to win it in order to remain on the top. And the Spanish giants had no difficulties in achieving their target. Barcelona started the game in style as Jordi Alba crossed the ball into the box for Alexis to finish it calmly to grab the lead early in the game. However, Elche threatened soon with a quick counter-attack which resulted in Boakye driving a left-foot effort off the post. Nevertheless, Barca were quick to reply with Pedro rounding off the keeper and slotting the ball into the open net after collecting a beautiful Fabregas through-ball. Pedro continued to trouble the opposition as he almost doubled his tally twice. Barcelona were in control even as the second half proceeded. In the 48th minute Fabregas won a penalty but Xavi failed to convert it as he put it wide of Tono’s right-hand post. However, the Spaniard’s miss wasn’t a cause of concern as Alexis scored his second when Pedro broke down the left and passed it for the Chilean to tap it home. Six minutes later, a sublime free-kick from 25 yards sealed the hat-trick for the forward. Barcelona managed to win the game in a convincing fashion, just as the 4-0 scoreline suggests.
Barcelona travel to the Calderon next, with a chance to keep them at the top by beating Atletico.
Real Madrid win at home
Real Madrid came into the year 5 points behind league leaders Atletico and Barcelona. Both the top teams having won their individual games, Real Madrid just had to win this one to still remain a part of the title race. Bale came back to the team after missing the Valencia game but started the match on the bench. Defender Pepe made his way back into the starting XI following a suspension. Real Madrid managed to win the game and stay within 5 points of the top.
Real Madrid hosting Celta Vigo at home were expected to dominate the game for the full 90 minutes. However, they were sluggish for the majority of the first half and made a few defensive errors. The visiting side were wasteful on the chances they received. Celta could have grabbed the lead five minutes into the game, but Charles’ effort found the side netting when he was clean through on goal. Celta Vigo’s backline managed to hold off all of Real Madrid’s attacks for the first hour. The hosts were also surprisingly unconvincing on the counter-attack. Carlo Ancelotti decided to bring in Jese just after the hour mark. The substitution was effective as the Spaniard set-up the first goal for Benzema as he crossed the ball in for the winger to pierce it into the back of the net. In the 82nd minute it was Ronaldo who struck from close range to double the lead for the hosts. Bale then helped Ronaldo score his 400th career goal as he cut the ball back from the right wing for the forward to see off the victory. The defeat resulted in Celta dropping in the relegation zone.
The win sees Real Madrid 5 points behind league leaders Atletico and Barcelona who face each other at the weekend.
Bilbao’s Champions League ambitions were threatened as Real Sociedad managed to beat them at the latter’s homeground. A goal in both the halves saw La Real win the Basque derby and narrow the gap between themselves and their northern rivals to just a single point. Sevilla defeated Getafe in a convincing fashion with a 3-0 scoreline to move to the seventh spot. Villareal punished lowly Rayo 5-2 at Las Vallecas in a game which saw Ikechuwku Uche hitting a hat-trick and Jeremy Castillo scoring two. Valencia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi saw a win in his second game as Valencia defeated Levante 2-0 at the Mestalla. Real Valladolid and Real Betis took a point each from a goalless draw at the Jose Zorilla. Osasuna and Almeria also won against Espanyol and Granada respectively.
Golden Boot Contenders
- Cristiano Ronaldo-20
- Diego Costa-19
- Antoine Griezmann-12
- Alexis Sanchez-11
- Javi Guerra-11