Monday September 19 2016
What we learned from La Liga Week 4

Another weekend of La Liga football is in the books, so Euan McTear discusses five of the main storylines from the action in Spain.

1. Mascherano’s Barcelona days are numbered

Javier Mascherano never has been, nor will he ever be, accused of slacking. He gives his all in every match he plays and puts his body on the line for his team, even tearing his anus while representing Argentina in order to reach the World Cup final. Yet for all his passion and hard work, Mascherano is not the player he used to be. As part of Barcelona’s three-man defence against Leganes, he struggled to keep pace with the new boys’ attack, suggesting that Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti will be Luis Enrique’s preferred centre-back partnership for the season’s big games, such as Wednesday evening’s clash with Atletico Madrid. The Argentine was close to leaving the Camp Nou last transfer window and, given that he is expected to have a limited role this year, next summer he may finally move on after seven years in Catalonia.

2. James has a future at Real Madrid

It seemed unlikely at the beginning of the summer transfer window that James Rodriguez would still be at Real Madrid on September 1, but that’s exactly what happened and Zinedine Zidane will certainly have been pleased to have him available on Sunday evening. In the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, James was the star of his team’s win at Espanyol, scoring a long-range beauty in stoppage time of a first half that had not gone as planned for Los Blancos. He may not have a place in the starting XI, but James is the perfect understudy, a role which is increasingly being accepted by both the club and the player. With a transfer ban coming up, Madrid should do all they can to keep the Colombian.

3. Aduriz is back

As Aritz Aduriz leapt through the air at San Mames to smash a header into the back of Valencia’s net, memories of last season came flooding back for Athletic Bilbao fans. The Basque forward netted 20 La Liga goals last season, a quarter of which were scored with his powerful head, but he had failed to hit the target in the opening three matches of this season. Given that he will turn 36 this season, there was some doubt as to whether or not Aduriz could put together a season as impressive as last year’s, but he demonstrated against his former club that he still has what it takes. Besides his headed equaliser, he also flicked the winner over Diego Alves and came close to finishing his afternoon with a hat-trick.

4. Eibar can compete for Europe

Since winning their first-ever La Liga promotion in 2014, Eibar have started well in both of their top-flight seasons before struggling post-Christmas, so fans should be wary of getting too carried away by their seven points from four matches. Yet there is something special brewing in that part of the Basque Country this year. Both this week and last week, Los Armeros went down to ten men, but at Granada and at home to Sevilla they were able to cope with the man disadvantage to play some impressive football. Defensively they were solid against Sevilla, while they showed plenty of flair down both wings to secure a 1-1 draw, so this team can certainly avoid relegation and could even end up jostling for a position in the top half of the table. They just need to keep all their players on the field to do so.

5. Nolito was even more important than we thought

Nolito has not played a single minute in the four weeks of La Liga action so far, yet Celta Vigo fans’ appreciation of his talents has increased in that time. That is because the Spain international moved to Manchester City in the summer, leaving Celta without their main attacking force from last season. While some believed that his absence could be overcome, life post-Nolito is proving tough for Celta as they have managed to score just one goal in their opening four matches, collecting a solitary point. Osasuna became the latest team to keep a clean sheet against Celta this weekend, highlighting how much less clinical the Galicians are in attack without the exciting winger who scored 12 goals and provided seven assists last season. The fact he has already scored three times and assisted twice for his new club makes his absence hurt even more. 

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