The criticism of La Liga is always that it's too predictable. Well, not this weekend. I suppose in retrospect the Barca match at La Real was a banana skin waiting to be slipped on (and Barca duly obliged), and certainly Valencia have shown from time to time they are capable of getting up for the big matches and doing well.
Atleti were the only one of the top three to perform as expected, dispatching Levante easily enough. So what to make of this weekend's results? Here are a few takeaways.
(1) Of the top six, the three that played at home all won. Of the three that played on the road, two lost and one (Villarreal) drew.
(2) In many ways, this was a "perfect storm" weekend for Barca and Madrid. They had to play away; with the winter break, the coaches of the home sides had ample time to prepare for them; and Madrid, at least, had to have one eye on the Copa, as they play Atleti in the Copa on Wednesday. (Barca host Elche on Thursday; their team selection today baffled me, to put it mildly).
(3) Valencia certainly looked a Champions League side today. Their defense was resolute, and they really deserved a shutout--the penalty was clearly ball-to-hand rather than the other way around. They could be this year's Atleti; I don't know what coach Nuno Espirito Santo is selling, but Los Che is buying it, that's for sure. And they are not playing in Europe this year, so will have more rested players toward March and April than their competitors. (Full disclosure: I figured they wouldn't even qualify for Europe this season back in August, so I might not be the best prognosticator where they are concerned....)
(4) Keep an eye on Malaga over the next couple of weeks. They're one of the clubs that had to offload players before obtaining new ones in order to keep under the salary cap; Roque Santa Cruz has already gone for that reason, and Meme Ochoa, who can't get a game these days, may be transferred as well. That's all well and good if they use that money and bring in a player or two to improve their squad, but no one really seems to know what the owners' plan for Malaga is these days.
(5) Has there been a stranger record than Real Sociedad's so far? Four wins, all at home; three of those wins have been against the top three teams in the table, and they drew at home with the fourth-placed club.
(6) And then, there is little Eibar. Coach Gaizka Goretano and his charges are living the Primera dream big. Currently 8th on 23 points, they're off to the best start for a club playing in the Primera for the first season ever since Albacete, who finished 7th in 1991-92. The top four that season? Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Valencia.
The more things change.....