It all seemed too good to be true. After the two-way titanic tussle between two of the best sides we’ve ever seen for the title over the past few seasons there was a refreshing look about the top of the table through the first quarter of the season, a new name, a new Madrid.
Atletico hadn’t lost since their customary thrashing at the hands of Real in the capital’s derby back in April. A run spanning 23 games that had led them to Europa League glory, seem them hammer Chelsea in the European Super Cup and equal their best ever start through nine League games with eight wins and just one draw.
There were only two problems. Firstly, whilst their incredible start had earned them some breathing space over Real, it hadn’t over Barcelona who even before this weekend headed the table on goal difference. Secondly, there was a sense that despite the great spirit and quality they had shown, a bump in the road was just around the corner.
And it duly arrived at the Mestalla in the weekend’s standout clash on Saturday night. Valencia, so used to being the third force in Spanish football over the past few years, weren’t ready to let that compensatory title go and emerged victorious thanks to a sublime first-half volley by Roberto Soldado and a late second from Nelson Valdez.
The question now for both sides is how do they respond? Valencia’s poor League position has been due to their awful form on the road, losing their last four games without even scoring a goal, but at home they have been strong, taking 13 points from a possible 15. Moreover, they are in a good position to qualify from their Champions League group and can almost seal their place in the Last 16 with a win over BATE Borisov this week. It was repeated failure in that competition that cost Unai Emery his job despite three years of comparative success on the domestic front and with Malaga also losing this weekend their four-point deficit from the top-four is far from insurmountable after just 10 games.
Atleti meanwhile just have to accept the fact that this was coming and get back on track straight away. Eminently winnable games against Getafe and Granada are up next before they hit their difficult stretch including games away to Real Madrid and Barcelona before Christmas, but should they take care of business in the next few weeks, they could come away from the Bernabeu still in front of their neighbours no matter the result.
Elsewhere in Week 10, Barcelona took advantage of Atleti’s slip up to move three points clear at the top with a 3-1 win over Celta Vigo by virtue of a ridiculous backheeled one-two between Andres Iniesta and David Villa to allow the latter to score his third goal in three games and another just as ridiculous decision that allowed Jordi Alba to seal the points despite being a couple of yards offside.
Real Madrid moved up into third thanks to a 4-0 win over Real Zaragoza that included first goals in the famous white shirt for Michael Essien and Luka Modric, whilst Malaga’s first home defeat surprisingly came at the hands of Rayo Vallecano who played some lovely football and deservedly left La Rosaleda with all three points courtesy of two goals from Piti.
At the bottom it was a horrible weekend for Osasuna and Granada though as both slipped to home defeats to Valladolid and Athletic Bilbao respectively, whilst wins for Deportivo and Espanyol moved them further away from the bottom two.