Thursday December 6 2018
What we learned from La Liga Week 14

Daryl Hammond looks back at the best storylines of the weekend, including big trouble in Bilbao and star players elsewhere.

Athletic in real trouble

Athletic Club, along with Barcelona and Real Madrid hold the great distinction of being the only three clubs to never to be relegated from the Spanish top flight. That status is under threat.

A 3-0 loss to Levante condemned Los Leones to their fifth loss of the season, their 13th game without a win, with Eduardo Berizzo subsequently dismissed. Taking eight points from a possible 39 is relegation form and that is where they currently find themselves. Berizzo sounded a defeated man after the result. Unable to replicate the form Athletic showed under Ernesto Valverde during his four years in the San Mames, it was time to go.

The nature of their recruitment means they cannot so easily splash the €80m they received for Kepa Arrizabalaga. But a change was needed. Replacement Gaizka Garitano may be able to re-motivate the troops in a was Berizzo could not. A new-look Athletic might be worth a free bet as we see if a new regime can transform their fortunes.

Dembele is a problem

For defenders. Ousmane Dembele is problem for defenders. It is little secret Barcelona have had their troubles bedding in the youngster. Injury hampered much of his first season, and the second has be fraught with rumours of unprofessionalism – constant tardiness and missing training sessions.

But recent performances show he’s worth the hassle. After nabbing the equaliser against Atletico he set up Gerard Pique for Barca’s opening goal against Villarreal with a pinpoint cross. His silky skills against Alfonso Pedraza in that match gave fans a glimmer of the extravagance Barcelona shelled out €135m for.

Bale actually has a problem.

Last season Gareth Bale made no secret of his desire for one of two things. To get more game time or leave the club. He felt he was good enough to hold down a starting place, whereas Zinedine Zidane thought differently for most his tenure. Two managers late and thrust into a starring role following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

He talked the talk, saying they were ‘more of a team’ without the Portuguese, and been given the platform to show the talent Zizou could not appreciate. He started off strongly, scoring in their first three but hasn’t quite lived up to the billing lately. He hasn’t found the net in his last 10 La Liga games and Madrid have suffered for it.

Messi is underrated

Criminally. The world’s best footballer is somehow hugely underrated. The Argentine lead the league in goals and assists as his near unbeaten Barcelona marched to another La Liga title and Copa del Rey double. He was unmatched in terms of what he did with the ball, top of most creative and attacking statistical categories throughout Europe. But that was only good enough for him to rank fifth of the Ballon D’or list.

It is the price paid for consistency. Doing the extraordinary every week is expected and 45 goals in a season shocks less and less. Moreover, the weight the World Cup holds in voting now meant he would never be top, with Argentina losing to eventual champions France in the round of 16 (although Argentina may never have reached Russia without him). The fact that Kyrgyzstan voted Thibaut Courtois top and the Central African Republic went for Karim Benzema speaks to the zaniness of the voting process.

Modric has come a long way

The man to end Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10-year dominance over the trophy was Luka Modric. Unquestionably a talented player few would have predicted that a year ago. And though I say ‘unquestionably’ there were those who had doubts about his ability when the Croatian first joined Real Madrid. After an underwhelming debut season, he was voted the worst signing of the season by Marca readers.

Fast forward to 2018 and he has captained his country to a World Cup final, less than two months after winning his third Champions League title. Some will continue to argue on whether he truly deserved the award, but his mantelpiece of medals puts him in the discussion.

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