Monday December 5 2016
What we learned from La Liga Week 14

The Clasico may have been the big match of the weekend in La Liga, but there were plenty of other talking points too. David Peters discusses.

1. With Iniesta back, Barca still have a chance

Sergio Ramos’ last-minute Clasico equaliser may have been a major blow for Barcelona in their title challenge, with his header maintaining Real Madrid’s six-point lead, but there is a long way to go before the name is engraved on the trophy. The fact that Andres Iniesta returned to spark La Blaugrana into life in the second half should inspire confidence going forward as he had been in excellent form before suffering his recent injury. With him on the sidelines, Barca’s midfield was often overrun and they tasted victory in just three of the seven matches they played without him. Now that he has returned, they have a chance of clawing back some points.

2. Zinedine Zidane continues to trust youth

Needing a goal late on in Saturday’s match at the Camp Nou, Zinedine Zidane had a number of options on his bench and, interestingly, he decided to turn to youth. The expensive superstar of 2014 World Cup, James Rodriguez, was left on the sidelines, while Casemiro, Marco Asensio and Mariano Diaz entered the action, three players who have come through the Real Madrid youth setup. When Zidane, the former Coach of the Castilla team, was appointed as first-team boss, the hope was that he would bring through some of the youth-teamers into the first team, but many worried that he might not be brave enough to do so. It turns out that he is. Check out these football offers for existing customers if you fancy a flutter next time on Los Merengues.

3. Athletic keep producing them

Speaking of youth academies, Athletic Bilbao deserve credit for their consistent conveyer belt of talent. They headed into Sunday’s derby against Eibar without the suspended Aritz Aduriz and Raul Garcia, the only two players to have netted more than once this campaign, but their absences didn’t turn out to be as problematic as some had feared. Their Basque-only policy means that most members of their squad came through their own Lezama academy, as was seen when youth graduates Benat Etxebarria, Inaki Williams and Iker Muniain scored the three goals in the 3-1 win. Also encouraging was the debut of Asier Villalibre, who assisted the third.

4. New Coach, but same old Valencia

Since Valencia qualified for the 2014-15 Champions League, five different Coaches have taken charge of matches for the club, yet Los Che continue to struggle. Just 23,000 turned out to watch them take on Malaga at Mestalla on Sunday evening and any fans that left early will have missed the late Andalusian equaliser in the 2-2 draw. Cesare Prandelli has, therefore, won just one La Liga match out of the seven he has been in charge for, which leaves Valencia just two points above the relegation zone and in a worrying situation. Their issues are more complex than a matter of finding the right Coach, but for now Prandelli is the man tasked with putting out their many fires.

5. Espanyol have fixed their defence

Four-hundred-and-ninety-six minutes of La Liga action have passed since Diego Lopez last conceded a goal, with the Espanyol goalkeeper enjoying a fifth consecutive clean sheet on Saturday evening against Atletico Madrid. When Espanyol were trailing Eibar 3-0 at half-time at the end of October, it seemed that Quique Sanchez Flores’ position at the Catalan club was at risk. Not anymore, however, as he has steered them up to 12th in the table. Los Periquitos’ performance at the Vicente Calderon was simply the latest piece of evidence of their defensive improvement, and they nearly won the match on the counterattack too.

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