Early La Liga season providing suprising results across the board

There is already a curious look in La Liga table after five matchdays of the current campaign.


You can usually spot the top three or four finishers in La Liga season fairly accurately after as little five matchdays. This time a year ago, the same quartet of clubs were all gathered above the dark line that separates the UEFA Champions League elect from the rest as then qualified for club soccer’s best competition. This time in 2013-14, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid formed the top three, though not in exactly the order they eventually would finish with gold, silver and bronze.

So there is already a curious look in La Liga table after five matchdays of the current campaign. At the very bottom, 20th out of 20, sit Sevilla, Spain’s fifth traveler into Europe’s most elevated competition this season, thanks to their triumph in the 2014-15 Europa League. Sevilla’s position is pure Jekyll and Hyde: They are top of their Champions League group, with maximum points and three goals after one match; domestically, they have no wins, two points and two goals after five outings.

Their position is an extreme form of dual personality, full of swagger in Europe, where — taking in the UEFA Super Cup — they have scored seven times in two games, yet supine and confused in La Liga, where they lost 2-0 to freshly-promoted Las Palmas on Wednesday.  Barcelona’s peculiar schizophrenia is of a different sort. The defending Spanish and European champions suffered a chastening loss at Celta Vigo, their 100 percent start to the Liga campaign crashing down 4-1 at the Galicia club. Celta moved into second place, Barca dropped out of the top four.

The leaking of goals is Barca’s major worry. These were the 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th the suffering Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the Barcelona keeper, has now conceded in six competitive games across competitions. It also signaled the third time already, since mid-August, he has let in four in one evening, having done so at Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish Super Cup and against Sevilla in the UEFA equivalent. Ter Stegen would not normally have lined up in Vigo, but an ongoing muscle problem is keeping Claudio Bravo, the Chilean who usually keeps for Barcelona in league fixtures, out of the side, and what is happening to ter Stegen is making Bravo’s remarkable run of invincibility of 12 months ago seem like something plucked out a different sport, or a different century.

No opposition player put a goal past Bravo for the entire first two months of the 2014-15 season. Indeed, it was eight games and more than half a hour into his ninth match that a Cristiano Ronaldo penalty became the first of only 21 goals put past Barcelona throughout their 38 La Liga games.


"We have to correct and work at these defensive errors," sighed Luis Enrique, the Barca coach, whose job, until June 2014, was at a Celta he helped turn into the dynamic attacking unit who stretched and tangled up the champions on Wednesday. "This result will be a good lesson that, in football, it’s always very difficult to win. It shows just how difficult La Liga is."

One of the Celta striker Iago Aspas’s two goals was a lob over ter Stegen, who has watched long-range shots sail over him with alarming regularity during his difficult two months, and he appeared to get his fingertips to Nolito’s shot for the opening goal. Celta were 3-0 up before Neymar scored with 10 minutes remaining. Any faint hope of a comeback would be quickly snuffed out by the Celta substitute John Guidetti, scorer of his team’s fourth.

"The good thing is we recognize where the faults are," said Luis Enrique. "And we’re on top of them. We know very well that we have to function as effectively in attack as in defense. "We had six or seven chances to score against Celta. The problem is that in the first games of this season we have been struggling to turn those chances into goals."

The figures currently tell him Barca are equally flawed in both aspects. In nine competitive matches, they have scored 16 goals and conceded the same number. No titles, except a freakish, lucky run in the Copa del Rey, can be won with that sort of balance of figures. Barca had their best defender Gerard Pique back from suspension in Vigo, but he will not look back on the night with special pride, having been badly positioned for at least two of the goals.

"This league has a strong tint of Real Madrid about it," said Diego Simeone, the Atletico Madrid head coach, before matchday one. He made the statement hoping referees would listen out, his own players would be motivated by the idea they had to stop their neighbor’s juggernaut, but also aware that Real Madrid are under a new coach, Rafa Benitez, who will have a thick skin when it comes to criticism that his instincts are pragmatic more than panache-driven. Atletico were briefly top of la Liga on Tuesday through Wednesday, but the club who emerged strongest after the midweek round were Bentiez’s Real. For the second matchday in succession, Karim Benzema made them victors by a single-goal margin, in this case in a tricky game against Athletic.

The Frenchman’s future at the club looked in doubt as transfer rumors loomed over a move to Arsenal. But Madrid boss Rafa Benitez has applauded the striker’s scintillating form. "He’s a fantastic player. He’s a a number nine with a difference," Benitez said on the club’s official website. "He has a really good understanding with Cristiano Ronaldo. The movement and the quality that he brings cause problems for the opposition defence and create spaces for his teammates."

Real Madrid have none of Barca’s fears about a leaky defense. They conceded their first goal of the season on Wednesday and have none of Atletico’s doubts, at this stage, about nursing new players into an established system. They have none of Valencia’s insecurities about the capacity to manage European and domestic intensity, simultaneously. Valencia, fourth last season, currently find themselves struggling to stay in the top half of La Liga. Poor Sevilla can only envy that mild plunge.

Informaiton from FOXSoccer.com’s newswire services contributed to this report.