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Spanish Watch - Messi magic, Bale brace and Atletico falter - Game Week 11

Tracking the performances of La Ligas big three.

Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale scored a brace and helped Los Blancos defeat Leganes 3-0

La Liga is always a fascinating culmination of Spanish culture and identity. Within Spanish football, the old cliche of “There is no ‘I’ in team” is a paradox of sorts because Spain’s game relies heavily on the inherent creativity of the individual player. Overall teamwork, work rate and ethic seem to conflict with an individual player’s creativity making them incompatible.

Freedom to flourish, play attractive football and license to create; surpass any sort of well drilled, result-oriented style of football. That is why perhaps Jose Mourinho could never be accepted by Real Madrid’s Madridistas. They do stress on teamwork, of course, but with an evolved philosophy of how creative the individual can be while playing in a team. 

La Masia at Barcelona have ingrained this into their club’s youth for years. “I was 11 when I arrived, and the football philosophy of this club was drilled into me, the most important thing is a willingness to learn. It's the philosophy that the result is not important” said Xavi Hernandez, Spain and Barcelona’s old midfield lynchpin.

While his teammate and arguably the best player in the world Lionel Messi said, “Today teams are playing more statically, more for the final score than producing good football. For them, it’s more important to win than to play well. We need more players with passion coming up for the good of Football.”

One may argue that “La Resultado” – The result –  is more important than the football played, but not to those in Spain. Sure they like to win, but they crave creative, attacking football and goals scored in such a way. 

Fittingly, Gameweek 11 was one where that individual brilliance was shown and yet the “Latido del corazón” or the “heartbeat” was clearly missing for La Liga’s giants, in some cases more so while in some cases much less. As always we track the performances of La Liga’s big three. 


Real Madrid

Before the game against Leganes, Zidane hit back at the critics of his selection and tactics saying, "I don't pick the team to make one player happy." Zinedine Zidane came under harsh criticism for switching to a back three in the Champion’s League as Real Madrid finished the game against European minnows Legia Warsaw sharing the spoils.

The game finished 3-3 but one player in particular showed his quality. One player who just the previous season missed nearly half of Real Madrid’s games through injury. Welshman Gareth Bale finished last season with 19 goals and 12 assists, missing 20 of their total of 52 games last season AND had he stayed fit Real could have perhaps won La Liga.

His goal in the Champion’s League was of the highest quality scoring from outside the box with a left foot volley into the top corner. This coming the day after he signed a new long-term contract with Los Blancos

This weekend against Leganes though, Real and Cristiano Ronaldo were rather subdued and were not at their best. However, Gareth Bale popped up with 2 goals. Real are still missing the ever so resolute Casemiro in the heart of their midfield, but managed a shut out and 3-0 victory against little known Leganes who were tough to break down and very physical. 

Isco’s long ball found Bale who had made a run through the middle and took a good touch and after a bit of good fortune poked the ball into the net from a slightly tight angle.

His second came after gambling with another run from a Kroos free-kick that Morata flicked on. Bale scored from close range and made it 2-0 while Alvaro Morata wrapped things up after a through ball by Toni Kroos. The Spaniard still had quite a bit to do but took a great first touch and finished almost like Thierry Henry of old, sidefooting it in. 

Real Madrid now lead La Liga with 27 points from 11 games. 


Atletico Madrid

Carlos Vela
Carlos Vela could not hide his smile as he slotted past Jan Oblak with a 54th-minute penalty

This is Atletico Madrid’s worst La Liga start under Diego Simeone. On the flipside, they have a 100% record in the Champion’s league, the only team in the competition to win all their 4 games. This weekend though, Real Sociedad took the sting out of Atletico’s attack and won 2-0, courtesy, two penalties.

Carlos Vela could not hide his smile as he slotted past Jan Oblak with a 54th-minute penalty after Gabi tripped left back Yuri Berchiche. While Willian Jose scored another from the spot after Vela was brought down by Angel Correa in the second half. For Atletico though it would only be the finest of margins that didn’t go their way with Kevin Gameiro hitting the post and Antoine Griezmann’s shot getting hacked off the line. 

Eusebio Sacristan, the former Barcelona B coach, who replaced David Moyes as manager has got the best out of Vela and Real Sociedad since taking over. They find themselves 6th in the La Liga table after this victory at home.

Griezmann is experiencing a dip in form in La Liga, by his high standards, and when Simeone was asked about his form he replied, “It is merely incidental. He’ll score again soon, there’s no need to make a big deal out of it.”

Ateltico need Griezmann to start hitting the back of the net to continue to put pressure on Real Madrid. After all they play Los Blancos in the Madrid derby next. After the loss, Atletico are down to 4th with 21 points in 11 games. 


Barcelona

Lionel Messi
Messi scored his 500th career goal in the match

This was perhaps the first game in recent history that Barcelona were dominated. Sevilla sent wave upon wave of attack –  they had their first shot after 34 seconds from kick off and their second after 48 seconds. Sevilla had more possession than Barcelona in the first 30 minutes and cornered and chased and harried the Barcelona players high up the pitch in a superb high-press.

Samir Nasri looks to have found some groove for the Seville-based club and is playing some of his best football in years. Steven N’Zonzi and Nasri bossed the midfield while Barcelona, the club that thrived on their midfield brilliance, seemingly had a non-existent one. How badly missed was their captain and midfield “Latido del corazón” Andres Iniesta, as Busquets and Rakitic could do nothing to stop Sevilla. 

Vitolo scored the game’s opener after poor defending by Sergio Roberto who couldn’t get to a through ball by Nasri. 

Jorge Sampaoli has instilled some belief at Sevilla already, much like his previous Chile team. His philosophy is more about making footballers “artists” instead of “functionaries”. He is about all out attack and sustained pressure throughout the game, as he did with Chile. Sevilla were bossing Barcelona until Lionel Messi, who was relatively quiet all night, showed his quality.

The thing about Lionel Messi is that he does these extraordinary things in such a suave, composed fashion that he almost makes it look routine and that, in essence, is the true genius of Messi. So was the finish for his goal that levelled the game.

Neymar cut the ball back outside after getting into the box and Messi ran on to it, finishing superbly, curving and slotting it in from outside the box, past four Sevilla defenders, into the bottom corner.

The confidence flowed into Barcelona’s veins and Messi was back to his terrific best as he ran from his nearly his own half at speed with the ball with none of the Sevilla’s defenders able to catch up to him as he dragged the players into the middle before he slid it to Suarez to his right. The Uruguayan made no mistake and put the ball into the back of the net.

Barcelona won 2-1 and all Sevilla’s hard work, attacking play and high-pressure football had been undone by the magic of Messi. Sevilla’s president Jose Castro when asked about the game simply said, “They have Messi and we don’t.”

While Sampaoli remained proud of his side’s performance saying, “I’m obsessed with people leaving the stadium with a smile on their faces, having seen a team play with no inferiority complex and no fear against Barcelona.” 

Sevilla fans would have surely left with a smile on their faces after that performance, but they also saw the class of a certain Lionel Messi. This was his 500th career goal and Barcelona are now 2nd with 25 points within 2 points of leaders Real Madrid. 

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