La Liga: Barcelona eighth, Real Madrid stunned by Valencia - What on earth is going on?
Real Sociedad are top of La Liga after nine games while Atletico Madrid could replace them with their games in hand; meanwhile Real Madrid are fourth after a shock 4-1 defeat at Valencia on Sunday and Barcelona are eighth after three wins, two draws and two defeats – just what is happening over in Spain?
Real Madrid lost to Valencia on Sunday while Atletico are unbeaten in 23 league games
La Liga has joined the Premier League in throwing up some surprise results at the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign, so could Real Madrid and Barcelona’s dominance be under threat? Or is this just a blip?
Bar a 4-0 Champions League defeat to holders Bayern Munich, Atletico have enjoyed a terrific start to the season, winning their last four league games after two 0-0s and an opening day 6-1 victory over Granada.
Simeone’s side have in fact gone 23 league games unbeaten, last losing at rivals Real in February, and in what looks set to be a scrappy campaign Atletico look typically up for the fight.
Joao Félix (Atlético)
Image credit: Eurosport
"What generates enthusiasm and enthusiasm for me is what has happened since the draw against Huesca or Villarreal or the defeat in Munich," Simeone said.
"I see the team well, with dynamics, enthusiasm, strength, desire to do things and see how we evolve in training. I think we have a balanced squad.”
This balance has seen Atletico thrive so far, with Joao Felix looking back on track with five goals and two assists so far, while the acquisition of Luis Suarez – also on five goals – has given them added bite in an already impressive attack.
View from Spain
Eurosport Spain's Fermín de la Calle...
1. Sociedad... are a team that has been strengthening itself for years to complement a squad made up of many young players from its lower categories. It is a consolidated project that in the best of cases will fight to be in the Champions League.
La joie des joueurs de la Real Sociedad face à Grenade
Image credit: Getty Images
2. Atletico... Simeone has the deepest squad he's had in years. A strong bench, a competitive eleven and a consolidated goalscorer like Suarez. To this is added the explosion of Joao Felix and he is a clear candidate to fight for awards. It is a growing team against a Real Madrid in decline and a Barcelona under reconstruction.
3. Barcelona... Koeman has inherited a worse squad than last year. Unbalanced in defence, without muscle after leaving Rakitic and Vidal and with a serious goal problem when Suarez left, the only solvent there was. Messi is deciding whether to leave and Koeman's relationship with the dressing room is strained. There are also elections at Christmas and Barca has financial problems.
4. Real Madrid... are clearly in a transitional season. Without reinforcements and with the Santiago Bernabeu stadium under reconstruction, next year will be the premiere season and Florentino wants to do it with Mbappe dressed in white. But until that happens, Zidane has to work with a team one year older and without any guarantees in attack and defence. Ramos and Benzema are irreplaceable despite being over 34 years old. A very serious problem.
Atletico v Barca: The big test
It will be a huge test of Atletico’s credentials when they welcome Barca to the Spanish capital in the first match after the international break.
Barca go into that match off the pace and will need to put in a display that shows they are capable of challenging under Ronald Koeman, who will know his position as head coach is far from safe with the prospect of a new club president looming.
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His side arguably head to the Wanda as underdogs, and Koeman is not happy a game of such magnitude falls after the international break.
“There are many international players at the club and of course we like to have people here, because then we can work on more tactical things,” Koeman said.
“But we already know that the schedule is very tight. We will play against Atletico on Saturday after everyone has returned from duty on Thursday.”
The Real rollercoaster
Victory at Barcelona in El Clasico. Good. A 4-1 defeat at Valencia two weeks later. Bad.
Already Real Madrid are something of an enigma this season, beating their biggest rivals but losing to Valencia and Cadiz in the league as well as to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League – very nearly to Monchengladbach, too, before a couple of late goals.
'I take full responsibility' - Zidane after Real Madrid's defeat at Valencia
It has left head coach Zinedine Zidane scratching his head.
"It is difficult for all of us to understand what happened,” he said after defeat in Valencia. “But yes, clearly I am the one who's responsible, because I am the one who has to find solutions during the game and instead we were not able to change things after they scored their goals."
"After our goal we fell apart and changed the dynamics of what we were doing. And this can be a problem because from then until the end everything happened to us - three penalties, an own goal. And today it is a bit difficult to understand our match because we started well and then after they drew everything changed."
Real will take some comfort knowing that after the break Atletico and Barca go head to head, meaning dropped points somewhere, but in facing second-placed Villarreal upon their own return Zidane knows it will be a tough ask to take full advantage. As Cadiz and Valencia have shown, clubs do not fear hosting the Spanish champions.