Monday January 9 2017
What we learned from La Liga Week 17

The festive break is over and La Liga has returned. David Peters discusses five talking points from the first weekend of 2017. 

1. Barca still have a chance, but only because of Messi

It’s become boring to say it, but Lionel Messi is pretty good at football. So good, in fact, that he has been able to score 25 goals so far this season in a Barcelona side which has often misfired. They didn’t play too poorly away at Villarreal on Sunday night, but they were struggling enough for it to look as if they’d leave empty-handed, before the Argentine stepped up with a brilliant free-kick to spare their blushes. With Real Madrid four points ahead and with a game in hand, Barcelona have a mightily tough task if they are to win this La Liga title. Yet, with Real Madrid still to visit Sevilla, Villarreal and Athletic Club and with Messi on Barcelona’s side, there is still a chance for Luis Enrique’s men.

2. Simeone continues to experiment

The 2016-17 season has been an odd one so far for Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone still doesn’t seem to know his best starting line-up. As such, he has been experimenting in recent weeks, playing ex-right-winger-turned-right-back Juanfran in his old midfield role, trying Saul Niguez in the middle and now testing Jose Maria Gimenez in defensive midfield. Simeone played the Uruguayan centre-back in front of the back line against Eibar this weekend, as he had previously done in their friendly in Saudi Arabia and in their cup matches. The jury is still out on whether or not this will be a long-term solution to Atletico’s woes, but there were some positive signs in the Basque Country. He did struggle when it came to bringing the ball out, but he continually won possession and, if given time, could become a useful defensive midfield option.

3. Depor have truly turned their season around

Just a few weeks ago there were serious doubts as to how much longer Gaizka Garitano would be in the Deportivo La Coruna dugout. His side were struggling to score the goals that the departed Lucas Perez offered them the year before and they were slipping towards relegation. Now, though, they have scored in each of their past nine matches, including in Friday’s 1-1 draw against Espanyol’s tough defence, and now sit five points above the relegation zone in 17th. They’ve averaged two goals per match during this nine-match scoring run, which is a big change considering they’d scored just once in the five matches after Perez moved to Arsenal. If they can sort things out at the back then there is no reason why Deportivo can’t stay up.

4. Granada hate playing midday at Madrid

After losing 9-1 in a lunchtime kick-off at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu two seasons ago, Granada were desperate to avoid another embarrassing showing in front of the Real Madrid faithful. However, just half an hour into last Saturday’s trip to the Spanish capital they were 4-0 down after Isco’s early double and the strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. In the end, the 5-0 full-time result wasn’t quite a repeat of the 2014-15 disaster, but it was another embarrassing blow for Granada on the grand Bernabeu stage, to add to the 7-1 thumping they suffered down the road at Atletico Madrid in October. Their big matches, though, will be against the smaller teams of the division, making next week’s trip to rock bottom Osasuna one to watch.

5. Bargain buy Ben Yedder has a day to remember

Sevilla’s sporting director Monchi is one of the most highly respected people in football when it comes to transfers, having consistently stocked the club’s squad with talented players, most of whom go on to fetch a large sell-on fee. He has worked his magic touch yet again, it seems, with the €9m signing of Wissam Ben Yedder from Toulouse. The Frenchman has now scored 15 goals this season across all competitions, most recently netting a hat-trick and grabbing an assist in their statement 4-0 away win over in-form Real Sociedad. Tweeting “now you see me, now you don’t” with a picture of him rounding goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli in the aftermath of the match means his Twitter mentions also had a very active evening.  

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