The funny thing about football is that every now and then, it gives you an opportunity to get back up and get right into the race – just like the Madrid derby. While Atletico doesn’t have the riches of Real Madrid or Barcelona, they are certainly a team who are punching above their weight. While Real Madrid leads the pack with 64 points, Barcelona have cut down the 3-point deficit by 2 are just a point adrift of the Blancos. Atletico, however are 3 points behind Real but have a decent enough chance to catch up.

The Madrid Derby

The talk of the week was undoubtedly the Madrid derby. While fans of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid where anxiously waiting for the outcome, Barcelona had a comparatively relaxed time. Any result would have been favourable for them. And so it did. Real and Atleti drew the match and Barcelona won, as expected, against lowly Almeria and went ahead of Atletico Madrid in points and reduced the deficit at the top.

The Madrid Derby had everything that could have been expected. While any other time the 32 times Spanish Champions would have been favourites, but not in this match. Ronaldo scored 8 minutes from time to ensure that they have something from the match. While Karim Benzema opened the account for Real Madrid just 3 minutes into the match, Koke, one of the most coveted young midfielders in Europe right now, put Atletico level just around the half-hour mark from an exceptional goal.

While Madrid media and fans can cry their hearts out about Barcelona being the favourites of refereed and the Spanish FA, the fact remains that they get as many decisions in their favour as does Barcelona and sometime even more. Sergio Ramos brought down Diego Costa inside the penalty box, but the referee Carlos Ferreiro did not award the hosts a penalty. Had that not been the case, Barcelona would have regained their position at the top of the league, which they surrendered just a few days back.

Despite that, Simeone’s men kept up the pressure and Gabi scored an absolute cracker of a goal from 30-yards out. Certainly the goal of the week. Lopez however, should not be blamed because he had a host of player standing right in front of him and even if he didn’t, he could have barely done anything about the stunner.

Gareth Bale, the high profile summer transfer from Tottenham has finally started finding his feet for the Blancos and had a great outing. Despite his profligacy, Ronaldo scored when it mattered. An intelligent strike inside a crowded box found it’s way at the back of the net, and it was perhaps a bit too late for Atletico to up the ante and go for a winner, without allowing Real to score from a counter.

The match ended in a draw – no winners. But Barcelona certainly won more from this match than they did against Almeria.

Barcelona Cutting The Deficit At The Top

While Martino has had a poor outing against Sociedad recently, his team conceded yet again last weekend. And in a not-so-surprising way – from a set-piece. While Martino watched from the stands, Barcelona assistant coach Jorge Pautasso took charge and saw the team win all three points.

“The first half was impeccable, we constantly created chances, and we did well to recovered possession. We had 10 clear chances to score, but in the second half we lacked depth, despite having the ball. In the end, however, we closed out the game. The goal margin we won by is justified,” said Pautasso, Barcelona’s stand-in manager.

The first half was indeed impeccable. Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring for the hosts as early as the 10th minute and then there was the Leo Messi magic which saw a fabulous freekick find the back of the net and Barcelona had 2 goals in their account even before the half-hour mark.

Barcelona had an incredible number of passes in the match – 785, while Almeria had just 263. Almeria pulled one back via Angel Trujillo’s free header from a corner and that will be a matter of concern for the clubs. In the later stages of the Champions League, Barcelona are bound to come up against teams who defend extremely well from set-pieces and are equally lethal while attack from them. And that is a matter of concern for Martino. A worrying piece of statistic says that Barcelona have conceded 10 if their 21 goals from set-pieces – that is almost 50%.

Carles Puyol scored for Barcelona after a long time and led from the front.

While Pautasso was effusive about his captain.

“Puyol has a lot of playing time left, he has a lot of authority. Every time he plays he gives us answers, he’s always there to help the team and he’s an example for us all.”

But the fact remains that it is high-time for Barcelona to look beyond Carles Puyol.

Fun Fact: Despite playing together in the senior team for more than one and a half decades, this is the first time Puyol and Xavi scored in the same match.

The Rest

Bilbao started their weekend early and ransacked Granada. A hattrick from Aritz Aduriz and one from Carlos Gurpegui made sure that the Basque side held onto their position and keep hopes alive for Champions League football next season.

Resurgent Villarreal were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Betis. After the departure of Pepe Mel, Betis has lost their grittiness and under Gabriel Calderón they do not look like the tough oppositions they once were. However, they still got a point but it looks to be too little too late.

Real Sociedad, who recently won against Barcelona, lost to Sevilla. With that win, Sevilla keep their hopes for a European berth alive. The funny thing about Sociedad is that they have been a top team at home. This season, they have played 22 matches at home – won 12, drawn 7 and lost just 3. Real Madrid still have to visit Anoeta!

Valencia have been nothing but appalling this season and a goal by Joaquin Larrivey gave Rayo Vallecano all three points. In their quest to survive in the Spanish top tier, this win will go a long way to ensure that.

Race To Pichichi

  1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – 23 goals
  2. Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid) – 21 goals
  3. Alexis Sanchez (FC Barcelona) – 16 goals
  4. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) – 15 goals
  5. Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona) – 15 goals