By Cillian Shields l @pile_of_eggs
Matchday 18 in La Liga was dominated by snow, as parts of Spain were strongly hit by Storm Filomina causing freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall disrupting games up and down the country and playing a part in tinting the title race picture.
Leaders Atletico Madrid did not get to play this weekend as their opponents Athletic Club Bilbao could not land in Madrid airport due to icy ground, second-placed Real Madrid were frustrated to leave Pamplona with a single point which left Zidane furious at the state of the pitch, while now in third place and trailing the champions by just three points sit Barcelona, who are quietly entering their name into championship contention.
Indeed, the Catalans only just very recently made it into the top four, but it has not taken them long to get within touching distance once again of the leading pack as their resurgence in form dominates Barcelona news. Granted, Diego Simeone’s side have now three games in hand to play, but there’s no guarantee that those games will be won, and Barça now sit just four points behind the league leadership.
The events of the whole weekend enraged Zinedine Zidane, whose troubles began the day before Real Madrid’s 0-0 draw with Osasuna when the team sat on the runway for hours unable to take off due to the poor conditions. The manager said the journey was “bad” for the team, and after the game complained that he didn’t know when his side could leave Pamplona. Eventually, Madrid were forced to stay in Navarre an extra night, making it three nights in total, before heading to Málaga on Monday to play in the Spanish Super Cup – as Real Madrid news focuses on the troubles.
Zidane had anger for the journey but also the state of the El Sadar pitch, which was icy but cleared of snow after ground staff worked hard at clearing the playing surface. “It wasn’t a game of football, that’s our feeling after what just happened here. The game should have been suspended.” If that’s how Zidane truly felt, Real Madrid never officially requested the game be postponed.
Thibaut Courtois called the whole situation, from the difficulties in making the trip to the poor state of the pitch, “lamentable” on behalf of the league authorities for, as he felt, made them play out the game in less than satisfactory conditions.
Ronald Koeman may now have finally found his best lineup, capping off a fantastic 0-4 win away to Granada, as Barcelona put some of the ghosts of last year behind in a ground where they were beaten 2-0 during last season’s disaster-ridden campaign.
A front four of Lionel Messi, Pedri, Ousmane Dembélé, and Antoine Griezmann are now connecting together well, backed up by a holding pair of Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong, who is enjoying a role with a lot more freedom to burst forward in recent weeks.
Perhaps most notably, the smile has returned to the face of Messi, who is clearly enjoying his football once again playing alongside the prodigy of Pedri. The 18-year-old midfielder has now assisted the Argentine with a sumptuous backheel pass on two occasions in his first ever season playing top-flight football, highlighting the telepathic connection the two players already share which is bringing great results to Barça of late.
When fit and on form, Dembélé can be so important to making the whole Barça attacking unit function, due to his strengths offering a quite different type of threat, fast and direct, with his unpredictability being one of his best assets at times. Elsewhere, despite his many issues fitting into the team on and off the pitch, Antoine Griezmann is still an extremely talented footballer who can click with the others when the others are clicking too. He has shown himself perhaps unable to take the initiative and force his side to play well, but with Messi pulling the strings and the attacking unit on song, the World Cup winner can more than play his part.
– Elche-Getafe was pushed back to Monday night due to the adverse weather. There were incredulous scenes when Getafe players had to get out and push cars that La Liga had sent to collect them to bring them to hotels near the Madrid airport, after it was revealed that air traffic was completely shut down in the Spanish capital on Saturday night. The team were unable to train for the prior three days and the postponement of kickoff meant that they would be travelling by plane on the day of the game, all going well.
Getafe find themselves dangerously close to the drop zone, just a point above Elche who sit in 18th. Manager José Bordalás hopes that new arrivals Take Kubo and Carles Aleñá to Los Azulones will help the team kickstart their campaign after a terribly slow start.
– Sevilla have faced two tricky tests in recent weeks that will surely go a long way in deciding their fate for the campaign and have come out of both with wins. After beating Unai Emery’s Villarreal, they dispatched of another direct rival for the Champions League spots this weekend with a thrilling and sometimes calamitous 3-2 win over Real Sociedad.
With the game just six minutes old, three goals were already scored, with a fourth coming in minute 14. Youssef En-Neysri netted all of Sevilla’s goals, continuing his excellent run of form and justifying his starts over Luuk de Jong.
– Villarreal enjoyed one of their best games of the season against a resurgent Celta Vigo side dragged back down to reality. The yellow submarine were 0-4 to the good in just over half an hour’s play, stunning Chacho Coudet’s team, missing Aspas, Nolito and Tapia, into submission and forcing errors out of the home defence.
20-year-old Villarreal forward Fer Niño has been enjoying a huge amount of game time lately, thanks in part to injuries elsewhere in the side, but has quietly gone from strength to strength in the side. He and Gerard Moreno have been growing an understanding of each other’s movements nicely, and the pair connected brilliantly for their team’s fourth goal.
– After a terrible run of results, three losses and two draws in their last five games, Cádiz have found the winning formula again with a 3-1 victory of Deportivo Alavés. The goalless draw with Valladolid a few weeks ago snapped the losing streak and gave the team some heart as they managed to finally keep a clean sheet again, a bedrock of their style that has brought them to the topflight for the first time since 2006. Now, Álvaro Cervera has passed an important test of getting his team back on track after a downward spiral could have been incoming.
Messi doubles the Barca lead with a trademark finish! 🙌
After a slow start to the season, Barca’s legendary No. 10 is starting to hit top form 🔥 pic.twitter.com/3g7i91dpAJ
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) January 9, 2021
Goal of the week: Lionel Messi’s first strike against Granada to put Barcelona 0-2 in front. The Argentine shuffled his feet and delightfully placed his shot into the top corner to extend the lead.
The Barça captain’s second could also have been chosen for this accolade this week, outwitting nine Granada players forming two walls trying to block his free kick, but none of this could prevent the genius from finding the bottom corner from the dead ball. Messi is now the league’s top scorer with 11, one more than Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno.