Christmas La Liga review

It was a scintillating and surprising start to this Spanish football season as Andalusian side Granada topped the table on their return to the elite and the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid were floundering with mixed results. Namely, Granada got the ball rolling with an enthralling 4-4 draw away at Villareal on the opening weekend to set the tone for an action-packed first few weeks in La Liga.

Also on the first weekend back, the 38-year-old Aritz Aduriz scored a spectacular overhead scissor kick late on to earn a famous win for Athletic Club Bilbao over Ernesto Valverde’s beleaguered side.

The big money arrivals of Antoine Griezmann and Eden Hazard were faltering with form and fitness respectively. But the new jewel of the Atlético Madrid crown, the precocious João Félix, hit the ground running with some impressive initial displays.

His team, however, have not fully found their gear as Atlético find themselves misfiring and fighting to be in the Champions League next season – Diego Simeone with the greatest challenge of his tenure ship so far after a transformational summer of comings and goings at the Wanda Metropolitano.

Sevilla also were on a high with new boss Julian Lopetegui navigating his team into the top four places with aplomb. Not the case with cross-city rivals Real Betis, who found the early stages to the season tough. However, in recent weeks Los Verdiblancos have improved steadily. There was a first ever hat-trick from the evergreen Joaquín at a sprightly 38 years young – the oldest player to score a hat trick in the history of the league.

Real Sociedad, fresh with a newly revamped stadium, have shone thanks to the talents of Martin Odegaard who has really come to the fore and his team won a thriller in their most recent outing – a 3-4 victory at Osasuna.

Valencia have been misfiring all season in La Liga and a situation which has not being helped by the surreal sacking of Marcelino after guiding the team to the Copa Del Rey last season, although stability has returned in recent weeks and they have impressed in Europe – reaching the last 16 of the Champions League.

Getafe continue to surprise and have built on their fairy tale fifth-placed finish last season by maintaining that form into this campaign as they lie in sixth with more miracles worked by José Bordalás.

Going into the break, the surprises have subsided, and the league table has somewhat returned to the norm as it is Barcelona who are the winter champions with 39 points, just two points ahead of their eternal rivals Real Madrid.

The Christmas edition of El Clásico before the scheduled pit stop of the league brought a goalless, yet engaging 0-0 draw, demonstrating that most likely the two heavyweights will be jousting at close quarters throughout the season. League-leading Barcelona continue to be lead by the mythical Lionel Messi who shows little signs of tiring with some amazing performances towards the back end of the year.

Madrid, without their talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, continue to sleepwalk their way through the league whilst still hanging on the coat tails of Barcelona thanks to the goals of Karim Benzema, who is still proving how important he is to Los Blancos and firmly establishing himself as the star act, free of Ronaldo’s shadow. The controversies of Gareth Bale continue whichever the side of the fence you sit on: a “Stop. Start. Stop.”  season for the Welshman – in that now fashionable order. Bookmakers in Spain use a PPH software to take bets on Spanish soccer and there are plenty of market worth keeping an eye on.

Sevilla and Atlético make up the rest of the Champions League places whereas Real Sociedad and Getafe currently occupy the Europa Liga places. Down at the bottom, the relegation places are held by Celta Vigo, Leganes and Espanyol.

The Pichichi currently lies with Messi of Barcelona with 13 goals in as many appearances and has 34 goals in 32 games this calendar year in Spain – step forward Europe’s top goal scorer for 2019. Meanwhile the Zamora is held firmly in the capable hands of Atlético Madrid’s goalkeeper Jan Oblak, conceding only 11 goals in 18 La Liga games.

La Liga recommences on the first weekend on January and expect more thrills, spills and entertainment that only the Spanish League can create. Don’t worry, Spanish football will be back before you know it…