The Spanish Football domestic league, La Liga, has reached the ten-week mark and a few things seem like budding trends.
Barcelona has been at the top of the table since week one, without suffering a loss and with a +26 goal differential. Atletico Madrid, at number two on the table since week two, has a +19 goal differential, and is the only other team with a double digit plus in goals. With a game in hand, if Atletico win against Granada today they will be just one point behind Barca. Real Madrid, coming in at third as of week five, host tough Sevilla today. If the Merengues can win, they will be six points behind Barcelona.
Trend: these are the strongest La Liga trophy contenders and they should end up as the top three at year’s end making it into the Champions League Group Stage, barring some major mishap along the way.
The top goal scorer, at eleven goals, is not Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo, both at eight goals. The top scorer today is Atletico’s Brazilian striker Diego Costa, who has opted to play for the Spanish National Football Team (he’s got dual citizenship) instead of for the Brazilian team who has not called him up for duty since March of this year–14 matches ago.
Chilean Alexis Sanchez ridding a remarkable resurgence wave at club and national sides shares the top five scoring perch with the aforementioned three and Mexican Giovanni Dos Santos. This makes five different nationalities among the top five scorers, not one of which is Spanish and only one of which is European. Among the top assist leaders, Cesc Fabregas at number one, Koke at number two and David Villa at number five are all Spaniards, with Brazilian striker Neymar and Argentine Messi, rounding off the top five. Barcelona’s scoring prowess is confirmed with half of the names on the top five on the leader boards for goal scoring and assists.
Trend: it would not be a stretch to expect that Messi, Ronaldo, Sanchez, and Costa, will remain among the top scorers in La Liga this year with Messi having the inside track thanks to being the beneficiary of a phenomenal supporting cast. It would also not be a stretch to think Neymar will be among the top assist leaders at year’s end.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at seven goals against have the better defenses at the early stages of the domestic competition. Victor Valdes has been the most consistently excellent goalkeeper in La Liga for the past two seasons and he is looking like he wants to leave Barca at year’s end as their all-time best. Diego Lopez, at Real, did himself no favors being caught off his line by Sanchez for the recent Clasico’s winning goal, but don’t expect that to change the mind of Madrid coach, Carlo Ancelotti, when picking his starting goalkeeper. That inherited decision has not been motivated by football criteria for some time.
Trend: La Liga club defense will come in second to their overall offensive prowess given the over abundance of creative and attacking superstars from the Americas playing in Spain.
The Clasico, usually reserved for the most experienced and in-favor refereeing crews working in La Liga, served as a continuing reminder of one the game’s most fragile links, its Achilles heel, as the refs, once again, played a decisive role in the outcome of that game. Adriano’s first half ball handling in the Barca box, off of Ronaldo’s cross and Sami Khedira’s slide, was a clear penalty in Saturday’s Camp Nou match, as was Javier Macherano’s second half push on Ronaldo in the box. In a game with a one goal margin two uncalled penalties makes a difference. Perhaps it is time for some form of instant replay for such critical, game-changing plays.
Trend: officiating will not improve soon enough. It will be a while before FIFA requires leagues around the globe to add the needed officiating oversight to ensure the rules of the game are actually applied.
When that change occurs, one player inhibiting another’s progress by grabbing him by the arm, jersey, or pants will no longer simply earn a yellow card, but a red card for the truly unsportsmanlike behavior it exhibits. Hopefully, then, plays such as we witnessed at last weekend’s Clasico, and Fred’s ball handling in the Spanish box in the 2013 Confederations Cup final, and the Bayern and Dortmund unsportsmanlike roughness in last year’s Champions League semifinals, will be curtailed.
Gareth Bale has not shown he is worth the $100M plus fee but Neymar has shown he is a bargain at $70+. Mesut Ozil with assists and goals a plenty at Arsenal, Kaka with creative play at AC Milan, and Roberto Soldado with a top-ten spot in the scorer’s table since joining Tottenham Hotspur, are all contributing to their new clubs in ways they were often prohibited from doing at their La Liga teams. Villa is a top five assist man and a top ten scorer in his new role at Atletico.
Trend: Spanish Football lost a bundle of prestige, good play and tremendous sportsmanship when the above-mentioned moved to England and Italy. What La Liga got in return, with the exception of Neymar, has so far been negligible by comparison. That trend will persist throughout the year with but with a few potential modifications.