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5 Things We Learned in La Liga - Week 3

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Shocking upsets and heart stopping finishes highlight this week’s action in Spain.

FC Barcelona v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Barcelona’s loss is La Liga’s gain

In the eyes of many, writing this headline on a Barcelona blog alone could be the equivalent of committing high treason. But before you light up your torches and sharpen your pitch forks, hear me out. A little over a week ago, Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, sat down with the Daily Mail and gave his thoughts on the challenges one has to navigate managing in the Premier League and all of its cup tournaments:

"The biggest difference between England and the others is that the competition is always so hard. So, yes, you can play three games if you have teams with special ability, like Manchester City or Manchester United -- two teams and let them play.

"The big difference to Spain is that Barcelona can play 50 percent of their games with Team B; or there are games where Lionel Messi runs 4.3 kilometres but scores five goals. That's a recovery session. England has no recovery session, in absolutely any game.”

QUE?!?!?

As expected, Twitter went ablaze with La Liga fans defending their honor, resorting to their recent domination of European Cup tournaments while EPL fans highlighted the leagues parity, with no example greater than Leicester City’s league triumph a season ago. Even I wasn’t immune to the virtual World War, sucked into the debate with people from Liverpool all the way to the Philippines. The idea that a side full of substitutes — albeit some very good ones — could beat half of the league, is not only outrageous but downright lazy.

Fortunate for us, Saturday’s match would deliver us the perfect case study.

Deportivo Alavés spent a decade out of the Primera. They returned to the first division with 18 new players and an entire squad cost of €6.55m, €3.2m of that on Daniel Torres, alone. Meanwhile, with much of his side returning from the international break, Luis Enrique would field a starting XI with €123m spent on six players, five of whom were subs. Not exactly the “B” team, but it was about as close as you’re gonna get. Alavés would go up through Deyverson in the 38th minute but it still only seemed to prolong the inevitable. You knew Barca would eventually equalize, forcing Alavés’ proverbial damn to break and all hell to break loose. Equalize Barca did, but instead, a funny thing happened. Ibai Gomez came back and put the visitors ahead once more. The Blaugrana pressed and pressed and the Camp Nou groaned, but the equalizer never came. The minnow had ate the shark and, for a week at least, La Liga fans united for an ‘‘I told you so.’’

Sevilla FC v RCD Espanyol - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Sevilla snatches (robs) a late-victory over Las Palmas

At the Sanchez Pizjuan, it is a tradition to the hang the flags of the clubs by their order in the league table. It has almost become singed into the brain that looking up at this will reveal a white or a claret and blue. But for the first time in 38 years, a canary yellow flew loud and proud in the pole position. That flag represented Las Palmas and for 88 minutes it looked as though it would remain there. Tana had put them ahead, and Roque Mesa, who could very well be La Liga’s most underrated midfielder, was bossing the match. It looked all but over in the 89’ until Pedro Bigas’ feathery touch on Vitolo was deemed criminal enough to award a dubious penalty to the hosts. If that wasn't harsh enough, Bigas received his second yellow banishing him to an early date with the showers. Sarabia easily converted and the gate had been opened.

Three minutes of added time flashed on board but that mysteriously turned into 3:30. Enraged, Quique Setién yelled on the sidelines like a man who had just lost his winning lottery ticket. Oblivious, the ref allowed play to continue eventually leading to a Sevilla corner. The ball was sent in to the box, flashing right in front of the keeper before bumbling to the ground. Carlos Fernández, a 20-year-old Sevilla fan, born in the city and promoted from the B team, met it with his foot sending the Pizjuan into pandemonium. A week 3 loss may not seem like the end of the world but come the end of the year, it could cost a side like Las Palmas a spot in Europe.

Real Madrid CF v CA Osasuna - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s march towards history rages on

It had been nearly three months since Cristiano Ronaldo last had a touch of the ball for Real Madrid. It just so happened to be quite the big deal, with the Portuguese netting the winning penalty for his clubs 11th UCL trophy. Making his season debut against Osasuna, Ronaldo went the first five minutes without as so much breathing on the ball, but in the sixth, Gareth Bale broke free towards the keeper before sending an inviting cut-back that found Ronaldo at the far-post for the easy tap-in. It was the first of five for Los Blancos and although it wasn’t always pretty, the result was never in doubt. Real’s 15th consecutive La Liga win under Zidane matched the club record set by Miguel Muñoz’s side in the 1960-61 season, when Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskas and Francisco “Paco” Gento were lighting up the world. One more win, and they would equal Barcelona’s 2010-11 La Liga record of 16 in a row. From there, the news only got better. Las Palmas’ defeat coupled with Barca’s was enough to take Madrid top of the table for the first time in a year and a half. It’s early, but Madrid’s operation: win La Liga is off to a good start.

FC Everton v Real Betis - Dynamo Dresden Cup 2016 Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Rubén Castro continues to bathe in the fountain of youth

Go ahead, try to think of the really old guy who still scores lots of goals. The guy who is often talked about and universally praised. Who did you think of? Let me guess, Athletic’s Aritz Aduriz. Congratulations, you passed the test. But if you travel further down the south of Spain, you will find another striker just as worthy of your consideration. He too is 35 years-old and, he too led his team in goals. Real Betis scored 34 all of last season and Rubén Castro was responsible for 19 of them. Heading into the depression cave that is the Mestalla, Betis jumped all over Valencia. Castro got things started with his goal in the 38th minute, before ex-batman Joaquin would add to the misery. Munir finally made his long awaited debut and immediatley sparked Los Che. A sure loss had become at last become a draw, when another newcomer, Ezequiel Garay, equalized in the 78’. The 92nd minute rolled around and most had exhaled, except for the man with maybe a little less oxygen than his younger counter-parts. Castro came through again for Los Beticos, scoring the match winner with full-time on the cusp of being called. Aduriz gets the fan fare, but its Castro who has played with significantly less talented players throughout his career. Oh, and he also has 5 goals now, good for leading scorer in La Liga.

SD Eibar v FC Barcelona - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Eibar are providing the blueprint for smaller clubs

They play in a 6,300 seat capacity stadium nestled in the mountains of Spain’s Gipuzkoa province. The club is owned by more than 10,000 shareholders from 69 countries all over the world. In 2013–14 Eibar earned, for the first time in its history, direct promotion into La Liga. However, before the party could even get started, the club was threatened with relegation back to division three due to the financial inability of the S.A.D. to have a share capital of at least €2m before August 6th, 2014. In response, the club launched a campaign named Defiende al Eibar (Defend Eibar) with the aim of reaching the required share capital through a seasoned equity offering. After spending time with the club’s academy as a youngster, then Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso threw his support behind the campaign to raise the required amount. In a bid to increase public awareness of Eibar’s situation, the hometown kid from Gipuzkoa was joined by fellow Basque and Real team-mate Asier Illarramendi in lobbying for investment. It took only until July, but the club announced it had reached the established goal.

They went on to finish that season 18th in the table, ending in relegation. The one-year wonder had all but come to an end, when miraculously, another teams nightmare had become Eibar’s saving grace. 13th place Elche were instead demoted for financial irregularities, which gave Eibar, as the side occupying the final relegation position another shot at surviving in La Liga. Now in their third season in the top flight, the tiny Basque club continues to amaze. Sergi Enrich's stoppage time winner grabbed an unlikely 2-1 win at Granada on Sunday, despite playing for an hour with 10 men following goalkeeper Abel Riesgo's first-half red card. The result places them 6th in table, tied on points with Barcelona. They may not have much money or a lot of players you have ever heard of, but Eibar’s story is the one that keeps giving. Long may it continue.

Musings and other random facts

  • Sergio Ramos has now scored in each of the last 13 La Liga seasons - joint all-time record.
  • The last 25 Barcelona goals in La Liga have been scored by players born outside of Spain.
  • Javier Mascherano has equaled Michel Reiziger as the player with the most La Liga appearances for Barcelona without netting a goal (173).
  • Valencia have lost their last 6 La Liga games. It’s their worst run of form in the league in club history.