La Liga Fans' Top 5: Barca and Real Madrid players dominate

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Who was your favourite player this week?

YOU have direct influence on who appears in each Top Five so be sure to rate each weekend.

Do you agree with this week’s top five? Have your say by using our Valora Futbol tool or on Twitter using #360Fans.

LUIS SUAREZ (Barcelona) – 8.62

Luis Suarez’s hat-trick led Barcelona to a 6-0 thrashing of 10-man Athletic Bilbao on Sunday.

The Uruguayan slotted in Arda Turan’s cleverly weighed pass, then nodded in the sixth to leave Barcelona two points behind Atletico Madrid.

Suarez was also heavily involved for the second goal as he played in Neymar to dink his 19th goal of the season past substitute ‘keeper Iago Herrerin.

As a result of his scoring exploits, Suarez now moves out in front as La Liga’s top-scorer with 18.

NEYMAR (Barcelona) – 8.09

The Brazilian played with the enthusiasm and skill of a future Ballon d’Or winner, scoring one and assisting two during Barcelona’s victory over Athletic Bilbao.

Neymar was a constant threat down the wing, and registered his goal on 30 minutes after a stunning through ball from Suarez.

He epitomised a voracious workrate for the fourth goal, sending in a cleverly weighed cross from the right flank for Rakitic to net from close range.

KARIM BENZEMA (Real Madrid) – 8.05

Another spectacular performance from the French striker as he contributed two goals and an assist in Real Madrid’s win over Deportivo la Coruna.

Benzema produced a special finish for the second goal as he acrobatically swivelled to volley home Gareth Bale’s cross.

Just before the break, a neat phase of play from Isco freed Benzema to roll in his 20th goal in 19 appearances this season.

IAGO ASPAS (Celta Vigo) – 7.75

The Spaniard was in tantalising form in Celta Vigo’s 4-3 triumph over Levante.

He set up John Guidetti’s opening goal, and added a third from a solo effort on 57 minutes for his ninth goal of the season.

If Aspas continues to apply finishes such as this beauty then expect more goals to follow for the second half of the season.

GARETH BALE (Real Madrid) – 7.68

The Welshman has been at the heart of Real Madrid’s performances the past few weeks, proving to be a menacing threat for his opponents.

He continued his mesmerizing form to score his seventh headed goal of the season from Toni Kroos’s corner on seven minutes to get Los Blancos off to a perfect start against Deportivo la Coruna.

Five minutes later, he was at the business end of another effort, delivering an accurate cross for Kenzema to drill home.

Despite holding a commanding lead, Madrid suffered a setback when Bale pulled up just before the break and had to be replaced by Jese Rodriguez.

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Ball: Bans, press patrons and Real's new mouthpiece

Phil Ball 18/01/2016
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It's been another remarkable week in Spain.

The second half of the Spanish season is underway, and just to keep us all entertained to the maximum, controversy dogs the league’s every step. As much as the top three (Atlético, Barcelona and Real Madrid) tried to pretend that they were only concerned with on-field matters this weekend, the FIFA ban handed the two Madrid clubs has dominated the news, and no wonder. The potential knock-on effect of a shutdown of activities by one of the world’s biggest buyers (Real Madrid) and one of the biggest sellers (Atlético) has sent football directors around the globe scurrying to hold extraordinary meetings. Of course, as a commercial venture, football long ago went off the moral rails. Some reining-in of the madness inherent to the scene might not be a bad thing, but FIFA’s latest does raise a number of questions – not least the ironic timing of an act of ethical judgement by an institution otherwise in complete disarray, seemingly corrupt from its Swiss socks to its Stetsons.

Indeed, Real Madrid, and to a lesser extent Atlético, used their legions of prominent local journalists to make this point public, implying that this was the first step in FIFA‘s attempt to re-invent itself as a caring institution by picking on the big boys. FIFA has moved to uncover a vast network of underhand dealings in the context of its Article 19, which states that minors under 18 cannot be signed from outside of the EU unless their families already live there (and haven’t just moved because the club has bought the folks a house and found them a job). The ruling had its origins in such a case, when Paraguayan youngster Javier Acuna was transferred to Cadiz as a 16 year-old.

If FIFA are right, then it is the responsibility of journalists to support their action. The exploitation of young overseas players by unruly agents out for a fast buck is the under-documented rotting underbelly of the so-called beautiful game. The stories of kids being dropped by clubs and abandoned to their own fates, or of never even getting to the clubs in the first place (after their families paid up) are legion, and if the big clubs have contributed to this – even unknowingly, then the punishments meted out are actually small beer.

More recently Barcelona were fined and similarly banned from the transfer market for irregularities related to their La Masia youth set-up, but it did not stop them from winning five trophies and buying Luis Suarez, Arda Turan, Ivan Rakitic & co – just so long as they weren’t registered during the ban. The appeal process, first to the FIFA Appeals Committee and then (if that fails) to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is a sure-fire way to reduce the damage. In Barcelona’s case, this process took eight months which enabled them to go about their business in a much more focused way than might have been the case. The only people to have really suffered was the public – deprived of Arda Turan for six months – and the young players implicated in the irregularities, whose continuation at the clubs is automatically blocked until they are 18.

What the Madrid ban means

  • Neither club can sign players until summer 2017
  • Atlético fined CHF 900,000 fine, Real CHF 360,000
  • Both clubs can appeal to La Liga and CAS

Real Madrid were allegedly involved in irregularities with 26 players, only 16 of whom are now at the club. That in itself might be significant, but as either a precautionary measure or an act of good faith, none of the 16 were picked to play at the weekend for the various junior sides. This included Zinedine Zidane’s four sons, who are all implicated in the case. This seems rather odd, given that Zidane has been a resident in Spain since 2001, and would seem to support the General Director Jose Angel Sanchez’s theory that the allegations are in general ‘bizarre’. Sanchez, very much the power behind Florentino Perez’ throne, is a man who rarely makes public appearances or announcements, but the fact that he faced up to the press last week was interesting. Was Perez implying that since Sanchez had got the club into the mess, he could talk them out of it?

Some see Sanchez as Mark Antony, others as Brutus. Whoever he is, Perez would do well to keep him on his side. Sanchez is said to have lasted so long because he is the brains behind the club, whereas others claim that it’s because he knows too much. Nevertheless, the club feigning surprise over FIFA’s sudden announcement – Atletico’s president Enrique Cerezo did the same – was rather difficult to swallow. The rumours of an investigation had been persistent for some time, and their recent transfer behaviour suggests they were taking precautions. Villarreal (who for some years have boasted some of Spain’s best youth sides), Granada and Rayo Vallecano are also believed to be under the microscope.

So, it was big news, and as mentioned above, it cast its shadow over the weekend’s events. The focus was even more intense than usual on the top three’s activities, and Real Madrid were first to try their luck, at home to  a Sporting side who are beginning to suffer after their solid-looking start to renewed life in the top flight. Zidane shrugged the business off, called Cristiano Ronaldo ‘the best in the world’ and started out with Isco accompanying the ‘untouchables’ Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the midfield configuration. The question ‘Isco or James?’ seems to be the only overspill controversy from the Benitez reign. It is interesting that with the news of the imminent ban the Spanish press has gleefully announced that certain players were definitely on their way out before. Isco was reportedly targeted by Man City and David de Gea about to appear once again on a fax somewhere near you. Cristiano Ronaldo was apparently on the agenda at PSG too, but if that were true, any move – and the alleged arrival of Paul Pogba to Madrid – will surely have been scotched by this latest turn of events. Besides, Zidane might actually benefit from the ‘less is more’ notion, and be able to concentrate on getting the best out of what he has – which is considerable. The squad is certainly smiling again, and playing with more verve. The BBC had them 4-0 up in 18 minutes and the fifth went in before half-time. The only clouds to appear in the afternoon were the injuries to Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, the former looking more serious. If Real Madrid really do start to worry about their squad, then the FIFA ban does not prohibit the return of loanees like Espanyol’s Marco Asensio.

Barcelona themselves, freed from sanctions which they finally admitted were ‘some small errors of judgement’, went to town on an Athletic Bilbao side who they are about to play twice in the quarter-finals of the King’s Cup. Barcelona showed no mercy after ‘keeper Gorka Iraizoz was sent off in the sixth minute for tripping Luis Suárez – and the Uruguayan went on to score a hat-trick in the 6-0 win. The game basically served to retain the status quo at the top, where Atlético continue to lead by two points.

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La Liga: Atletico march on, Valencia draw again

Andy West 18/01/2016
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Flying high: Atletico Madrid.

Atletico Madrid held onto top spot with a 3-0 victory at Las Palmas.

Atletico struggled early on and Las Palmas twice came close to an opener when keeper Jan Oblak denied Tana and Dani Castellano. The deadlock was broken after 17 minutes when Juanfran crossed from the right to find fellow fullback Felipe Luis, who thumped home a fine left-footed strike.

Atleti had Oblak to thank for another good save from Castellano, but Antoine Griezmann provided some breathing distance, running on to a through ball from Koke and finishing confidently. And the same duo combined in the final stages to complete the scoring, with Griezmann again netting.

Elsewhere, Gary Neville is still waiting for his first league win as Valencia scraped a 2-2 draw despite being outplayed by Rayo Vallecano.

Rayo scored a deserved opener when Jozabed finished an incisive move with a sweetly struck volley, and Valencia’s awful first half showing saw them jeered off at half-time.

Valencia keeper Matt Ryan kept his team alive with a superb triplesave, and Alvaro Negredo then conjured a leveller, spotting keeper Juan Carlos off his line and lobbing him from the centre circle.

However, Los Che were continuing to struggle and they fell behind again when on-loan Madrid defender Diego Llorente was left unmarked to fire home from a corner. But Neville’s men ended up grabbing an undeserved point when Rayo defender Ze Carlos miskicked a clearance, allowing Zakaria Bakkali to cross for Alcacer to score.

Getafe continued their good form with a 3-1 home win over Espanyol. Hernan Perez gave the visitors the lead but Getafe levelled through Pedro Leon and went ahead with a strike from Pablo Sarabia, before Moi Gomez wrapped things up.

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