With Sunday’s matches still ahead, most of the top La Liga teams played early. At the top of Spanish Football’s domestic table, Atletico Madrid lost 0-2 to hosts Valencia and Barcelona FC beat visiting Celta Vigo 3-1, giving the Catalans sole possession of the top spot. Real Madrid beat visiting Zaragoza 4-0 climbing up a step on the ladder, while Malaga lost at home 1-2 to Rayo Vallecano and dropped to fourth on the table.
As expected, Valencia proved a stumbling block for Atletico who lost their first game of the season in a tough and well played match at Mestalla stadium. In what was an early must-win test in an up and down start to their season, Valencia played their best game of the campaign so far and earned three points on Roberto Soldado’s stunning volley (http://bit.ly/R3ejyQ) at the 19th minute mark and Haedo Valdez’s clincher at the 94th. Radamel Falcao was kept in check at the 10 goal scoring mark, having little impact on the match. Malaga’s next game will be at home to 9th placed Getafe and the visitors will reap the wrath of a team that does not suffer losses easily.
Barcelona, despite the score line, had a tough time with Celta Vigo who scored a quick equalizer just as Barca had finally gotten a lead. The hosts, still riding high on the wave of their charmed and record breaking season, then scored the eventual decider two minutes later, but the 2-1 score was not a comfortable one as the visitors were playing well and deserved what replays showed was an equalizer but the linesman ‘s raised flag disallowed.
Replays would also show that the Catalans’ third score, a Jordi Alba run, shimmy, and score from close in, was off sides, but charmed Barca saw the linesman keep his flag down this time. A game that only showed sparks of Barca’s brilliance, and in which Lionel Messi, despite several opportunities, did not score, still managed to keep the Catalans on track. These continuing gifts, coupled with their extraordinary talents, have enabled Barcelona to get off to their best La Liga start ever.
They are top of the table, three points clear of Atletico and eight clear of Real, and Messi is top of the scorers’ table at the 13-goal mark. Their next game, away at mid-table Mallorca should not see their winning ways wane.
Yet, as if to keep critics at bay, it was the game’s two first goals that showed, again, what artistry the best team in the world can produce. In particular, what would become the winner was a classic Barca score. After good work on the edge of the box, a brilliant David Villa back heel to Andres Iniesta led the diminutive striker into the box and to the goal line, where he crossed back to a waiting Villa for the close-in put away. The previous goal, a quick cross and quicker stab from one of the three incoming Barcelona attackers saw Adriano score minutes before a groin injury forced his replacement.
Real Madrid, despite their lopsided victory, did not have an easy time with Zaragoza. With Cristiano Ronaldo kept at his 11-goal mark, it was left to Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Luka Modric and even Michael Essien to make the difference. The goals came in back-to-back scoring sprees (22nd and 24th and then the 88th and 91st) during the few moments when the Zaragoza defense did not have the answers for the potent Madrid attack.
But, Zaragoza did force Iker Casillas to make several best-goalkeeper-in-the-world saves, which he dutifully pulled off nonchalantly, in a game both sides will remember come time for their rematch. Real, meanwhile, will be hosting Dortmund on Tuesday for the second leg of their Champions League tie and then play away to surprising sixth-place Levante. Both games should prove a stage for Ronaldo who will be aching to get back on the score line.
Malaga suffered a mini-letdown at exactly the time that Rayo had an upswing, and needed the win. Coming off a 0-5 spanking by Barca, Rayo were hungry for a win while Malaga was still enjoying their well earned Champions League and La Liga standings. But, with goals in the 10th and 59th minutes, Piti sealed the deal on a very well played game, with many scoring opportunities and great saves on both sides of the ball. Malaga may have played well enough not to deserve the loss, but Rayo played well above their level and earned the win.
Now come their back to back days of reckoning with a tough Tuesday visit to AC Milan for their Champions League return leg followed by what should be a relatively easy home stand against Real Sociedad. If they can navigate those two matches successfully, the bitterness of this weekend’s loss will quickly recede.