La Liga weekly roundup: New boss brings the fun and the victories back to high-flying Celta Vigo

By Cillian Shields l @pile_of_eggs

Celta Vigo appear to have struck gold with their left-field managerial appointment and are now looking upwards at European spots instead of lingering around the relegation zone after winning their fourth consecutive game. The Galicians now sit in 8th spot after beating Deportivo Alavés, are just one point off Sevilla in 7th, and have outscored opponents 11-1 since Eduardo Coudet came in as the new boss, with a 5-0 away win over fourth-tier Llanera in the Copa del Rey added to that run too.

Credit for the revival is new coach ‘Chacho’ Coudet, who has dragged Los Celestes up from the bottom of the table when he took over. Now, he says “there is no ceiling” for this team that is easily packed with enough talent to reach Europe. Celta Vigo have been one of the biggest underperformers of recent seasons, finishing just above the relegation zone in each of the last two seasons, and failing to even end in the top half of the table since 2016.

They are now onto their seventh coach since that campaign. Celta take a shotgun approach to their managerial appointments; frequently employing unknown quantities that showed promise in other leagues in other parts of the world that haven’t yet been given a chance to show what they can do on the biggest stage. The decision to appoint Coudet was a gamble, but not necessarily a miscalculated one.

Chacho Coudet

Chacho Coudet

It has become the modus operandi of Celta to hire coaches relatively unheard of in Spain, in hopes of unearthing a gem for a price lower than their market rate. In turn, the managers are put in the shop window, working with a big club in one of the best leagues in the world, a potential springboard to bigger and better things.

The recently departed Óscar García had never had a number one position in Spain prior to joining Celta, Juan Carlso Unzué arrived with huge promise from working as assistant to Luis Enrique at both Celta Vigo and Barcelona, and Antonio Mohamed had 16 coaching jobs in almost as many years without ever working in Europe apart from his brief stint at Balaídos. None of them found success as first team manager of Los Célticos.

Cacho Coudet had never worked in Europe in his career, aside from a very brief spell at Celta as a player where he made little impact. Now four games into his managerial career on this continent, he boasts a 100% record after winning their last four encounters, a run of form the club has not seen since six seasons ago.

With players like Iago Aspas, Nolito, Denis Suárez, Santi Mina, Brais Méndez, Hugo Mallo, and plenty more, there’s no way Celta’s aim for the campaign should be merely survival. The squad, while a little thin, has the talent to perform at a much higher level, but just have not been able to find the right manager to lead them.

Celta Vigo (II)

On balance, there is more attacking talent than defensive in Celta’s squad. The previous manager García wanted to minimize danger and sit deep, but Coudet has taken an opposite approach, pushing the team higher up the pitch to press from the forward line. The five main forwards are all fluid and enjoy swapping positions during the games, always flanked by the two full-backs, Hugo Mallo and Lucas Olaza, tasked with manning their entire wing.

The method is paying dividends, with the best goals scored and conceded records in La Liga since he took over. After a sizzling start for Coudet’s time in charge, it looks like Celta can finally look upward once again.

Elsewhere

Barcelona are still a very fragile side, even despite coming into this game on the back of stringing together back-to-back league wins for the first time since their opening pair of fixtures this season. It has been a familiar story all year, they are easy to frustrate and sooner or later gaps appear in their concentration and in their lines, giving opponents the chance to inflict a lot of damage.

It is a low bar for a club the stature of the Catalan giants, but just managing to beat Levante last week, followed by a narrow win in one of their better performances of the season against Real Sociedad midweek, is something that really uplifted the despondent mood at Barça. Welcoming Valencia to the Camp Nou, so often a brilliantly high-voltage game between two of La Liga’s proudest and most historic clubs, could have been the perfect opportunity to achieve three successive wins for the first time this season.

But the Catalans still lack a lot of self-confidence and find it very difficult to take charge of matches that aren’t going their way. They found a way to do this by coming from behind to beat an injury-ridden Real Sociedad but failed in a similar type of challenge against Javi Gracia’s side.

Barcelona star Lionel Messi

Barcelona’s Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (C) vies with Valencia’s Portuguese forward Goncalo Guedes (R) and Valencia’s Spanish midfielder Carlos Soler during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Valencia CF at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 19, 2020. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP) (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

Valencia centre back Mouctar Diakhaby found a criminally gigantic hole in the heart of the Blaugrana defence and put los che 0-1 with a free header from a corner just outside the six-yard box at the front post. His run from the edge of the penalty area fooled Griezmann too easily, and the defender simply attacked the space vacated by two Barcelona players – Ronald Araújo and Jordi Alba – both tracking the one Valencia opponent, Gonçalo Guedes.

Araújo would go some way to making up for his part in the costly mixup with a sweetly struck volley to take the lead in the second half, but Maxi Gómez preyed on the inexperience of 21-year-old Óscar Mingueza to level the game at 2-2, catching him flat-footed as he is shifting backwards, only for the forward to steal a march and meet a low cross in front of the defender. To be fair to Mingueza, the Barça B player has deputised well in the team while Gerard Piqué, Samuel Umtiti, and Clement Longlet have missed a lot of games lately. The youngster is still on a learning curve that unexpectedly got a lot steeper in recent months due to first-team injuries.

Meanwhile, the togetherness and spirit of these Valencia players continues to inspire awe. After a turbulent off-season that saw the majority of their first team from last year leave and not be replaced, youth team players have entered the starting XI while other young players have taken on a lot more responsibility in the group.

Various tense meetings between the new manager Javi Gracia and the massively unpopular owners over the total lack of signings led to the coach calling for his own sacking, because to resign would have personally cost him financially. After something of a standoff, Peter Lim and the Meriton group in charge of the club kept Gracia in the position, and the former Málaga manager has since put his gripes behind him and gotten on with the job at hand with the squad he has at his disposal.

Despite all the disarray and bitterness at Mestalla, fans can be proud of this team that represents them, working hard and earning results against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and of course an emphatic derby win against Levante in the first game of the season.

– With two sumptuous assists and two clever first time finishes from Luis Suárez, Atletico Madrid overcame the stern test of Elche 3-1. This kind of finish is now the Uruguayan’s trademark, and the type of connection between the forward and those who feed him is becoming more and more their style of play.

First, Kieran Trippier’s pass into open space in the box was perfectly weighted to draw Elche keeper Édgar Badía off his line but left him without a hope of reaching the ball before Suárez. In the second half, Yannick Carrasco put himself directly in contention for assist of the season with his excellent wing play to dance around defenders before a pinpoint low cross met the number 9 at the back post.

What is particularly amazing about this second assist is that the pass from the Belgian forced Suárez to make the run in the first place. Carrasco knows how good at hunting and attacking space the ex Barça man is and knew that if he could put the ball into the most dangerous spot, his teammate can anticipate the move and will reach the ball. The Uruguayan hitman now has seven goals in Atletico colours, and both of Saturday’s strikes came from smart runs around the back shoulder of his markers. Both goals were lightning-quick connections from a set of players hugely enjoying their football right now, neatly defining Atleti’s evolution this year.

For their part, Elche competed well in the Wanda Metropolitano and can take positives from the game against a much more fancied opponent. They limited the hosts to few chances, and the breakthrough first goal greatly conditioned the second half. Suárez opened the scoring just five minutes before half time, but had it been scoreless at the break, Simeone would have had much more to think about in his half time speech, and Elche would have been boosted by an important psychological milestone of reaching the break at nil-all.

On the ball, Los Franjiverdes showed themselves more than capable of keeping possession and moving the ball around the pitch with purpose. Midfielders linked with the lone forward Lucas Boyé, who put in a fantastic level of effort to help his side beat pressure from Atleti players and progress up the pitch when the defence needed a respite. Raúl Guti found gaps in the colchonero back line, while Marcone kept the tempo of the play sitting deep. They played with a clear sense of understanding of their game plan which will serve them well through the season, and is something particularly impressive considering their chaotic summer and how late in the off-season their team was assembled, from the manager to a large chunk of the squad.

Despite this, they are now seven games without a win – the longest top-flight winless streak in the club’s history, coming on the back of the best start to a Primera División campaign the club has ever had. However, Jorge Almirón’s side went into this game knowing that the next match, against Osasuna, is the more important fixture of this week, facing up against a direct rival for relegation where three points will be vital.

– Sadly, it really looks like injuries are catching up with Real Sociedad. They now have no wins in their last eight games in all competitions after falling 2-1 to Levante, in a game that they had been leading thanks to Alexander Isak’s goal.

The txuri-urdin were without David Silva, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adnan Januzaj, Aritz Elustondo, Asier Illarramendi, Jon Guridi, and Luca Sangalli, and are badly missing the movement and creativity from Oyarzabal and Silva in particular. The effects of the condensed calendar are also being strongly felt, juggling La Liga and Europa League duties amid the injury crisis.

As well as this, La Real are missing too many chances to get away with. At times, the inexperience of Isak shows, despite scoring a magnificent free kick, while others scuffed their lines at vital moments too. Understat said the Basques led the game in expected goals, 2.10 to 1.53. They should have beaten Alavés too, with 1.40 xG to 0.25 in a game that finished 0-0. Across their last five league games, expected goals stats say they created better chances to score in four of them.

They remain in the Champions League positions, but no longer share the leadership of the league, and other sides below them are breathing down their necks with games in hand.

– Both Levante’s and Granada’s managers, Paco López and Diego Martínez respectively, were honoured before their sides games for each of their 100th matches in charge of their teams. Both were presented with special framed jerseys adorned with their names and the number 100.

– A moment of appreciation for Karim Benzema’s first touch. The Frenchman was majestic once again this week against Eibar, in a game that posed one of the biggest potential banana skins that fans would have feared. He had the ball in the net on two occasions from collecting a high ball and firing into the net, one to open the scoring, and another that was ruled out for offside, but the brilliance was still there.

Against a lowly, unglamorous opponent, with the memory of brilliant Champions League and derby victories already in the past, Real Madrid have switched off in these types of games this season but kept their laser focus in Ipurua to race to an early 2-0 lead, determined not to let these three points get away from them. A couple of seasons ago, there was much fanfare made about Eibar’s 3-0 win over Madrid in a game that dealt a huge blow to Los Blancos’ hopes of winning the title, but this year and last campaign, they have clearly kept that defeat in the forefront of their mind and were not prepared to let the same thing happen again.

For their part, Eibar started a fight back from 0-2 down that could easily have brought them rewards. Kike García struck one of the most beautiful goals we’ll see this year from nowhere and unleashed one of the angriest celebrations we’ll see too, pointing his finger at an unknown target somewhere in the stands, with strong words to back it up and no hint of a smile or any happiness. Bryan Gil too was fantastic again, destabilizing the Madrid backline on the wing and providing opportunities, but ultimately the challenge was too much for them.

– One of the strangest moments we’ll see on a pitch this season occurred on Friday night, as the referee had to stop play momentarily after a mobile phone was found on the San Mamés pitch in Athletic Bilbao’s late win over Huesca.

– In the form of his life, Gerard Moreno is the new ‘Pichichi’ – top scorer – of La Liga, with eight strikes. His brace against Osasuna gave Villarreal a relatively comfortable win that breaks a run of four successive league draws for Unai Emery’s side. In all competitions, Villarreal have only lost once this season – against Barcelona in Barça’s first league game of the campaign, when the Catalans flew out of the traps and scored with almost all of the early chances, they had in the game to create an insurmountable lead.

– The defeat is Osasuna’s fourth in a row, and sixth in their last seven games. Jagoba Arrasate must find solutions soon if they are to turn their fortunes around.

Goal of the week: Rául Carnero’s unbelievable volley that earned Valladolid a point in the 87th minute away to Sevilla. The left-back struck the perfect hit after the ball dropped his direction just outside the box, and Carnero sent it flying into the top corner with a beautiful amount of dip on it to be enjoyed as well.