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Monday March 6 2017
What we learned from La Liga Week 26

La Liga never stops and there was another busy weekend round for fans to enjoy. David Peters takes a look at the main talking points as the five top six teams who were in action all won.

1. Zidane’s rotations were risky, but paid off

There was a certain amount of shock when Real Madrid’s lineup was announced on Saturday, as Zinedine Zidane had decided to rest Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos, despite the fact that he was already without the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and the suspended Gareth Bale. Yet Zidane’s faith that Karim Benzema could get the job done without his BBC colleagues was repaid as the Frenchman scored his first La Liga brace in over a year, while Los Blancos understudies like James Rodriguez and Marco Asensio also performed well in the 4-1 win at Eibar. That risky decision should now see Real Madrid’s starters extra fresh for their midweek Champions League outing.

2. Deportivo are earning points, but not convincing, under Pepe Mel

On paper, Deportivo La Coruna have had an excellent start to life under Pepe Mel, holding Atletico Madrid to a draw and defeating relegation rivals Sporting Gijon away from home. Yet they have yet to convince with their performances and are perhaps a little fortunate to have taken four points from these two games. Against Atletico, a goalkeeping error gifted the Galicians a goal when their initial play hadn’t merited one and against Sporting they benefitted from the Asturians missing chances and the failure of referee Mateu Lahoz to award Sporting a penalty kick. In the battle for relegation, though, points are better than performances.

3. Quique Setien’s patience has paid off

It would have been easy for Quique Setien to change his approach after Las Palmas had taken one point from their previous five matches, but he remained true to his possession-based style, even if he was keen to remind his players why they keep the ball. “It’s one thing to manage the ball and be patient, while it’s another to keep it for entertainment,” he told his Las Palmas players before Sunday’s 5-2 victory against Osasuna. The Canary Islanders then delivered an excellent performance, with the only blot being the two goals they conceded due to poor goalkeeping. By sticking to their beliefs they have been rewarded.

4. San Mames is a fortress

Athletic Club seem to be unstoppable at home, defeating Malaga 1-0 on Sunday night to collect their 10th home victory of the season. Only Real Madrid have earned more home points this season that the Bilbao-based side, which is a testament to how motivating the San Mames crowd is, as is the fact they won all of their home Copa del Rey and Europa League matches. There’s always a risk of losing atmosphere when moving stadiums, but the new home of Athletic Club is just as inspiring as the one it replaced. The fact that Real Madrid have to visit next could prove decisive in the La Liga title race.

5. Barcelona believe

Just a couple of weeks ago, Barcelona were in crisis, yet all of a sudden there is a mood of optimism at the Camp Nou. To overcome a four-goal deficit against PSG remains an almighty task, but far more people believe that the Blaugrana can do so after defeating Atletico Madrid away from home and after two five-goal home victories. The fans unfurled a banner during Saturday’s 5-0 demolition of Celta Vigo, announcing that they believe in the comeback and the way their team were dismantling a quality Europa League-calibre side suggested that there is indeed a chance. If Barcelona can score a couple early on, anything can happen.

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