Sevilla Set Down A Marker
La Liga resumed after the three month break with El Gran Derbí, usually a fixture characterised by the colour and passion in the stands. But in this case it was the red and white side of the city which adapted best to the new normal of playing in eerily empty stadiums.
Lucas Ocampos was their star man, hitting the post in the first half before opening the scoring from the penalty spot after Marc Bartra was adjudged to have fouled Luuk De Jong and then providing the assist for Fernando’s game-clinching second.
Julen Lopetegui’s reputation has taken a battering over the past two years, but steering Sevilla back into Europe’s elite competition would surely go a long way to restoring some of its shine. Meanwhile Rubi, his counterpart at Betis, is once again facing serious questions over his future at the club.
Pacheco Gives Espanyol A Helping Hand
Espanyol v Alavés was probably the most one-sided game of the weekend, but this was entirely conditioned by the 19th-minute red card for Alavés’ keeper Fernando Pacheco, who came charging out of his penalty area and caught the ball. His replacement, former West Ham goalkeeper Roberto, performed admirably to keep the scores level under near-constant Espanyol pressure but was finally beaten by Bernardo’s header in first half stoppage time.
Wu Lei doubled Espanyol’s lead with a cool finish from Adrián Embarba’s through ball just after the break and with the Basque side missing both Lucas Pérez and Joselu, who have scored over two thirds of their goals this campaign, there was no way back.
Espanyol are now looking up the table, the weekend’s results leaving them only three points from safety, while further performances like this could have Alavés looking nervously over their shoulders.
Goalkeepers On Top At San Mamés
On a weekend which saw a larger than average helping of goalkeeping errors, it was pleasing to see two of the best in the league going head-to-head in Bilbao.
Jan Oblak produced a wonderful save to keep out Yeray’s header but there was nothing he could do to stop Iker Muniain’s opener for Athletic on 37 minutes. Diego Costa equalised for Atleti soon after but they found their attempts to win the game late on were frustrated by Unai Simon who made a great stop to keep out Santiago Arías’ point-blank effort. Neither goalkeeper deserved to be on the losing side, so a point apiece was a fair result.
Challengers Stumble In Race For Fourth
With Sevilla tightening their grip on third spot on Thursday night, there was a lot of pressure on the rest of the teams in the hunt for European places to keep up with them.
But none of them managed a win. Getafe started off Friday’s game in Granada in impressive style, but dropped off badly after the break and ended up losing. Valencia thought they’d won the derby against ten-man Levante when Rodrigo scored in the 89th minute, only for them to concede an even later penalty, converted by Gonzalo Melero. Real Sociedad were held to a 1-1 draw by an impressive Osasuna side and while Atlético Madrid were largely unimpressive in their 1-1 draw with Athletic, but on the whole will probably feel that their result was a better one than their rivals.
The European race will still have a lot of twists and turns to go before the season reaches its climax.
Business As Usual For The Big Two
Barcelona and Real Madrid didn’t take long to dispel any speculation that they would be a little rusty after the break.
Arturo Vidal took barely two minutes to open the scoring for the Blaugrana in Mallorca and the main talking point in an otherwise straightforward victory was how, in an empty stadium, a pitch invader managed to gain access to the field and take selfies with Lionel Messi and Jordi Alba.
Toni Kroos opened Madrid’s account in the unfamiliar surroundings of the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano after four minutes and the points were safe by half-time following further goals from Sergio Ramos and Marcelo. For all the attacking talent he has at his disposal, it will be concerning for Zinedine Zidane that Ramos is his second top scorer with six goals and he will be hoping that the fit-again Eden Hazard can help give them more of a cutting edge in the weeks to come.