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Barcelona and Real Madrid struggles reflect the most open La Liga in years

Barcelona and Real Madrid struggles reflect the most open La Liga in years

27/09/2018 at 21:28Updated 28/09/2018 at 15:08

The front of the Spanish papers said it all on Thursday morning: “Barca bad, Madrid worse,” ran the headline on Mundo Deportivo. “Giants,” read Marca in reference to the two relative minnows to have toppled the two footballing behemoths of La Liga.

It would be 24 hours of recovery for football aficionados after the first time since January 2015 that both Barcelona and Real Madrid had lost on the same day.

Back then, on January 4, David Moyes was leading Barcelona a merry dance during his time at Real Sociedad – a 1-0 win coming as Real were being beaten 2-1 at Valencia.

That's 141 matchdays where at least one of Spain's big two have avoided defeat. Real Madrid losing 3-0 at Sevilla wasn’t a huge surprise, but Barcelona's 2-1 defeat at the division’s bottom side Leganes certainly was.

Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar blasted Barcelona's attitude towards their opponents after the defeat.

Gerard Gumbau celebrates Leganes' improbable victory

Gerard Gumbau celebrates Leganes' improbable victoryGetty Images

He said: “We are an unassuming side but we would have preferred a different reaction from Barcelona. If you are a team who are used to winning and you do not, you should congratulate the other team but Barcelona did not do that to us. None of their players came over after the game, that it not the right way of doing things, it is ugly and should not happen.

“I was very pleased with my performance and the saves I made, but the important thing is always the team and I am just glad I could play my part. We did not start well and I was disappointed for my own par in their goal but we did well to take advantage of them switching off.

“When we entered the closing stages of the game, we had faith and belief in ourselves even though they are one of the best teams in the world.”

It shows how little teams are now intimidated by the more illustrious names. The opening month of the season had followed a familiar pattern, and while the top three still reads similar to each of the past five seasons, this is the most wide open the league has been for many years.

Paris Saint-Germain have already opened up a seven-point lead in Ligue 1, Juventus are yet to drop any points in Serie A, but just three points separate the top six in Spain.

Messi is crowded out by two Leganes defenders

Messi is crowded out by two Leganes defendersGetty Images

As Lionel Messi trudged off the Estadio Municipal de Butarque on Wednesday, he must’ve contemplated how Barcelona could immediately make up the three-point gap Real would likely establish later that evening in Andalusia.

But Wissam Ben Yedder had other ideas, notching a brace to mean he has now scored with seven of his last nine shots in La Liga.

Here was Thibaut Courtois picking the ball out of his net three times in 30 minutes, barely 48 hours after being named FIFA’s Best Goalkeeper for 2018, somewhat farcically despite not being named in the FIFPro World XI.

Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for the Belgian since his dream move to Madrid, but nor is this a vintage Barcelona, who lost to a Leganes side who had hitherto not won a game under Mauricio Pellegrino. Yes, that Mauricio Pellegrino.

Leganes took advantage of a sluggish Barcelona, and clearly enjoyed their position as underdogs, but their good organisation and improved coaching now speaks for many of the clubs supposedly making up the numbers.

Sevilla scored three unanswered goals to trounce Real Madrid

Sevilla scored three unanswered goals to trounce Real MadridGetty Images

Getafe have committed 10 fouls in the first half on more than two occasions already, with their aggressive approach helping them to a fine 2-0 win at Sevilla earlier this season.

Levante are another side who raise their game against the bigger sides having ended Barcelona’s unbeaten run last season – and they will relish being cast in the role as underdog once more when they travel to the Santiago Bernabeu next month.

Both Barca and Real remain joint top, with Atletico Madrid third. So much for shaking up the table. But the Madrid derby this weekend means more dropped points from at least one of the traditional top three.

This was the fourth time in a row that Real have lost at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuain, the sixth time in seven league games that they've been beaten there. They've been defeated in this stadium more than at any other this century, but it was the manner of the latest reverse which suggests this may be a more revealing loss.

The frustrating element for Lopetegui was that the setback came immediately after Barca's defeat at Leganes, but his side were unable to capitalise on the chance to open a gap on their rivals.

Leganes produced an unexpected second-half turnaround

Leganes produced an unexpected second-half turnaroundEurosport

This was a matchday which many had envisaged to be the moment Barcelona created some daylight, but it was in fact Real who missed their golden chance, in the knowledge that Ernesto Valverde's men had succumbed to an unexpected loss.

It was by far the most impressive result in Leganes' brief history in the top flight - their first win over Barcelona almost as impressive as 'Super Pepino', their seven-foot tall cucumber mascot - but Real were torn apart by Sevilla.

Barcelona appeared to be in cruise control thanks to Philippe Coutinho's opener, but two goals in 68 seconds transformed the occasion, both awful from a defensive point of view.

Valverde's men had the best part of half an hour to salvage things, but that Leganes saw out the match largely untroubled further points towards the greater depth in the division that many give La Liga credit for.

Most alarming was the lack of urgency, the usual sense of frustration and injustice that has previously smattered games that have escaped serials winners such as Barcelona.

Barcelona have conceded as many goals now as they had done after 17 matches last season (seven) - a statistic that will provide Tottenham with plenty of encouragement heading into their Champions League clash next week.

Ernesto Valverde is facing one of the most testing months of his tenure

Ernesto Valverde is facing one of the most testing months of his tenureGetty Images

Having won their opening four league matches, the draw against Girona and defeat to Leganes most certainly represents a blip as Valverde heads into the most testing run of his tenure to date.

Athletic Bilbao are the visitors to the Nou Camp this weekend, which should provide the perfect opportunity to return to winning ways, but a visit to Spurs precedes encounters with Valencia, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Real Madrid in the next month.

The difficulties shared by both Barcelona and Real opened the door for Alaves to go top on Thursday night, but they needed a last-minute equaliser to draw at home to Getafe.

It perhaps reveals the different pressures which come on the lesser sides when expectations are raised, but you wouldn't expect Atletico Madrid to be so forgiving if the top two continue to drop points. They have been the biggest winners of the week, having closed a gap of seven points to just two on the leaders in the past fortnight.

Antoine Griezmann was on target as Atletico Madrid beat Huesca this week

Antoine Griezmann was on target as Atletico Madrid beat Huesca this weekGetty Images

Valencia were expected to be among the chasing pack, but it is not they that have provided the strength in depth. The most recent eye-catching demonstration of the deeper pool of talent came at the San Mamés. Pablo Fornals scored a superb 40-yard volley in Villarreal's fine 3-0 win at Athletic Bilbao in midweek, but that wasn't his only impressive contribution.

The 22-year-old stole the headlines by capping his phenomenal opener with an unbelievable piece of trickery to bamboozle Inigo Martinez on the byline.

After a mixed start to the campaign, including the Europa League draw against Rangers last week, this was a reminder of the qualities lower down the Spanish top flight.

Barcelona ran away with the title last term, beating Atletico by 14 points, but the early signs are that it will be far from a cakewalk for whoever leads the way this time around.

Real Madrid finished third last season, and are yet to replace Cristiano Ronaldo, a crucial figure in deciding awkward trips to places such as the Sanchez Pizjuan throughout his time in the Spanish capital.

Such a resounding defeat has sent shockwaves throughout the country, but it may happen with greater regularity.

While the chaos of this week may not be sustained, it will hopefully provide those from the outside looking in that the Spanish top flight is far more competitive than previously thought.

Come May, it will likely be the same trio competing at the sharp end, but the greater depth further down the food chain means the gap is closing – and that could in turn further complicate Spanish hopes in European competitions with the margin for error domestically increasingly thin.

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