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Wednesday December 19 2018
What we learned from La Liga Week 16

Daryl Hammond looks back at the best storylines of the weekend, including trouble for Villarreal and impressive midfield performances.

Messi sends a message

More people should have a dig at Lionel Messi. If coming fifth in Ballon D’Or voting didn’t get under his skin, comments about his game from Pele might have. The Brazil legend when comparing the Argentine to Ronaldo, said Messi ‘only shoots with one leg, only has one skill and doesn’t head the ball well’.

Since Messi demonstrated what wonders and wizardry he could wield with that one leg in his recent performances against Espanyol and Levante.

In the Catalan derby he scored two inch-perfect free-kicks and had many watching in disbelief as he wriggled out of trouble and played a no-look pass to find Ousmane Dembele who scored. 

Against Levante he did it all, scoring a hat-trick and setting up two goals, now leading the way in many statistical categories across the league and Europe.

 

Yellow Submarine sinking

Sitting in the shadows of the chaos and turmoil of Athletic Club’s season is Villarreal. Head-to-head record is only reason they are not below the Basque club and in the relegation zone, having won only three league matches this season. Their recent 3-2 loss at home to Celta Vigo proved the final straw for Javi Calleja, with Luis Garcia Plaza taking the reins. 

He got a win over Spartak Moscow in his first game and with that a last 32 place in the Europa League. But in the league against Huesca, with Manu Trigueros and Mario Gaspar conceding clumsy penalties and the Yellow Submarine letting a 2-1 lead slip in the 94th minute, there is still much work to be done.

 

Lo Celso a revelation

As the drama of Adrien Rabiot’s likely exit from Paris Saint-Germain unfolds, how they might wish they had midfielder Giovani Lo Celso. If Real Betis have anything to do with it, he may never return to Paris.

Underused or poorly positioned, the Argentine seems to have found a home in the Betis midfield. He was played at defensive midfield for the French club’s Champions League tie against Real Madrid, but now in Spain has shown all his attacking attributes. He has scored more for Betis this season than he had for PSG last season in 30 fewer matches.

More than likely to take up the €25m option to make the move permanent, PSG’s loss is very much Betis’s gain.

 

Marcos Llorente takes his chance

One man more suited to defensive midfield is Real Madrid’s Marcos Llorente. Hidden among several of Real Madrid’s poor performances in recent games has been is rise. The 23-year-old has seen increased time on the pitch due to Casemiro’s absence, playing the last six games in a row.

He has shown great calmness and ability when keeping possession and playing the ball short. He also pushes the team forward in a way his Brazilian teammate does not as he did against Huesca, being the driving force behind Real’s first and only goal scored by Gareth Bale. 

And as shaky as Madrid have been, they have only conceded in one game while Llorente has been on the pitch this season, an inconsequential UCL game against CSKA Moscow. Turning 24 next month, it’s about time we see more from the Spaniard.

 

Alaves take on Tebas

While the fight to stop La Liga matches crossing the channel rumbles on, fans are fighting not only for where matches are played but when. In the game between Athletic Club and Alaves, fans displayed a tifo reading ‘turn off the television, save football’ in protest of weekday La Liga matches. It’s a sentiment many in red-and-white can co-sign, playing their third Monday game in a row. 

Fans’ objections to Friday and Monday night games are well documented, given the extra expense of accommodation, late night travel, exclusion of children or in many cases fan absence due to work. It perhaps stings even more given La Liga’s top clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid seldom play outside of primetime hours on a Saturday or Sunday.

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