We have played six games in Spanish Football’s La Liga and a few trends, most expected, are clearly emerging.
Barcelona FC is in first place on the table and is the class of the pack. They are followed, by default, it would seem, by Real Madrid in terms of team strength and then by Atletico Madrid, though those two have swapped table positions with the smaller team tied with Barca at 18 points and Real in second place with 14 points.
Barca is hitting on all cylinders, scoring in bunches, scoring pretty, being inventive and entertaining, and adding verticality, a la Tata Martino, to their traditional tiki-taka horizontal play. With Neymar clicking so early as a playmaker and assist man Pedro and Lionel Messi are free to invent and score (). With Carles Puyol ready to make a comeback from his long injury and with Adriano, Dani Alves, and Jordi Alba proving good company alongside Gerard Pique, the defense will feel more at ease. This is not good news for opponents. Barcelona will host Madrid on October 26 in the first leg of their La Liga Clasicos and the early betting is lopsided. Barca will have few challengers at home and only a handful abroad this year.
In the middle of the country, this Saturday, Real host Atletico and the match will go a good ways toward showing us whether the gap that historically separates these city mates has narrowed or continues to keep them well apart. This is as big a game for the hosts as for the visitors.
Real has not been playing well as a team, it has been the talent of their individual players that has landed them on the win column of most of their recent games ( ). Gone are the days of Mesut Ozil’s sublime feeds, and no one has filled that creative void ( ). Similarly, despite his spectacular form, Diego Lopez is no Iker Casillas in either talent or leadership. despite having Real’s talent is substantial but it might not hold up to teams whose teamwork is superior or against those few teams whose players are a match but who also play cohesively.
Furthermore, Carlo Ancelotti has yet to take the pulse of his locker room while clearly having club president, Florentino Perez, ear. It would not be a stretch to say that the locker room brouhahas that helped speed Jose Mourinho’s departure this summer strained relations between Perez and the locker room leaders. That rift will continue to play out this season since Ancelotti has not had the time to build the needed pile of chits to cash in for more say at Real. The question is will the still-wounded players manage to reach anything approaching top form this season? If they don’t, just how meaningful will Gareth Bale’s arrival or Cristiano Ronaldo’s contract renewal have been?
Atletico is living another reality. They have won well-wrought victories against all comers in all competitions. David Villa’s entry into the squad that last year won the Copa del Rey (against Real) and the UEFA Super Cup, has been surprisingly smooth. He has not quite displaced Radamel Falcao, but he has made an impression. Diego Costa (7 goals and tied with Messi atop the scorer’s table, and Raul Garcia (4 goals and fifth on the table) have been the recipients of additional opportunities and space to maneuver thanks to the added attention defenders give to Villa.
Atletico know they are in for a fight this Saturday, but the fact that their hosts feel they are too is an indication of the smaller team’s progress. Real will be looking to reassert their historic dominance and avenge their Copa loss, but Atletico is playing for more. They want to establish the reality of their stake to an automatic Champions League slot, a potential shot at the La Liga title, and also want to make a statement that last season’s Copa win was no fluke. This game will be a must watch meeting.
Fourth place Villareal FC are having a dream beginning to their season not having lost a game yet and playing an exciting home game against Real earlier that could have gone to the hosts more than to the visitors. With balanced scoring (six players have scored so far) and a strong defense, Villareal might turn into the revelation of the season.
The rest of the table is in flux with Athletic Bilbao, Espanyol and Valencia the next three in line and most likely swapping places among each other at weekend’s end.
So, at week six, La Liga looks predictable, our first big game of the season looms this Saturday, and the drama at Real continues. What is going to make the season fun is to see how long that predictability remains in force–for there are actors on stage with different agendas. Barcelona will soon be transcending their domestic interests in favor of a European focus, while, simultaneously, Real stumbles at home and seeks redemption on Barca’s chosen turf. Meanwhile, at the homeland, Atletico is creeping forward and Villareal are beginning to believe in themselves. So much potential to look forward to from here through next May!