It was a dramatic weekend in Spain, ending with Barcelona and Valencia playing out a thrilling and controversial 1-1 draw that allowed Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid close the gap in the league table.
The two Madrid clubs returned to form but the major talking point undoubtedly came from the Mestalla, where Valencia could have won, Barcelona should have won, and neither side actually did win.
Instead, the game became the perfect advert for the need for technology in football – and confirmed that Valencia are the real deal.
Here’s a look at two good and two bad performances from La Liga‘s weekend fixtures.
Valencia’s young Portuguese attacker is taking the league by storm, and on Sunday he showed he can produce his best against the best.
Barcelona couldn’t handle him, especially the way he and Jose Luis Gaya combined down the left, giving Barca right-back Nelson Semedo a horrid time, especially in the second half.
Guedes is on loan from PSG and if he keeps playing like this, his employers are going to have a tough decision on their hands at the end of the season.
The Parisians are loaded with attacking talent, but letting Guedes go could still prove to be a mistake.
It wasn’t just Antoine Griezmann‘s return to form that was a cause for delight at Atletico – it was that so many other players joined him.
Koke was sublime. Kevin Gameiro scored two and probably could have had five – not to mention, he set up the other three.
Thomas Partey, who has been a bright spark in Atletico’s disappointing start, played out of position at right-back and didn’t miss a beat.
A good day all around for Atletico.
Malaga are the league’s bottom team and Madrid blew a lead twice and needed a late goal to secure the three points.
Both of Malaga’s goals came from inexplicable Madrid errors. They won, and gained two points on Barcelona, but this was far from a convincing performance.
La Liga and the LFP
LFP president Javier Tebas has said goalline technology is too expensive to implement in La Liga. This is one of Europe’s five biggest leagues, with two of the continent’s premier clubs, and time and again, Madrid, Barca and others face the disadvantages of the league’s stubbornness regarding technology.
It is inexplicable that in 2017, Lionel Messi’s goal was clear to everyone across the world, except for the people in charge of the match.
The VAR system will be in place from the 2018-19 season – although not for goal-line replays – leaving plenty of room for controversy.
The Valencia man has been in superior form this campaign and is second on the La Liga scoring charts. Sunday night’s clash top-of-the table clash against Barcelona was an opportunity for him to make a statement against the league leaders – and for Suarez, a chance to finally rediscover his best.
In the end, neither really happened, as a controversial 1-1 draw in which Lionel Messi had a perfectly good goal disallowed because the officials hadn’t spotted the ball crossing the goalline saw Zaza put in an excellent shift but miss a glorious chance to win the game right at the death, while Suarez endured another frustrating evening.
Here’s a look at how both players fared.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 33
Pass Accuracy – 58%
Key Passes – 1
Dribbles – 0
OK, is Simone Zaza a striker or a defensive midfielder? The guy is literally everywhere now, working his socks off!— Jonas Giæver (@CheGiaevara) November 26, 2017
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 2
Touches – 39
Pass Accuracy – 71%
Key Passes – 1
Dribbles – 0
Also, Suarez being offside for 80% of the game is another sign of his deteriorating physique. Can't beat defenders in a foot race, so he's always a step ahead. Barca continue to need much more from him than they're getting.— Jen Evelyn (@JenFCB) November 26, 2017
Zaza did everything but score on Sunday – and he had his chances to do that, too.
But while his finishing let him down, his movement was still threatening, and his work rate was especially impressive – on multiple occasions, Zaza could be found inside his own half to snuff out Barcelona attacks.
When it’s not a striker’s day in front of goal, that sort of effort means he’ll endear himself to fans anyway.
It was another frustrating game for the star striker.
He had his moments, and forced a couple of good saves out of Valencia keeper Neto, but he spent more time arguing with the referee than he did making an actual impact on the game.
Suarez was caught offside way too often, a testament to Valencia’s defending but also an indication that the timing of his runs is still off.
42nd min, CHANCE: Valencia launched a quick counterattack that spanned the length of the pitch, with the ball finally coming to Zaza. He just slipped slightly as he took the shot, which bounced off of Barcelona right-back Nelson Semedo.
50th min, SHOT: It seemed like the moment for Zaza to get on the scoresheet. The ball was cut back to him at the edge of the area, teed up perfectly for the Italian to get a shot away. Zaza’s strike went through Thomas Vermaelen’s legs but just wide of the post.
90th min, SHOT: It was set up for Zaza to win it. After Barcelona nearly got the winner, Valencia went the length of the pitch with a lightning-quick counter which found Zaza in acres of space in the box. The height and pace of the cross into him meant he needed to attempt a difficult volley, but he would have backed himself to score it on most occasions. This time, however, his effort bounced into the ground and just over the bar.
42nd min, SHOT: The Barcelona striker beat his man to go clean through on goal, and it seemed like this was about to be a classic Suarez goal. Neto covered the angle, however, giving Suarez little to shoot at and ultimately making the save.
76th min, SHOT: Suarez pounced on an error as Valencia’s defenders failed to clear a high ball. He hit a fierce shot on the turn, and it would have been a fantastic goal, but the strike was a little too close to the keeper, with Neto making a relatively comfortable save.
90th min, CHANCE: Suarez nearly turned provider right at the death, slipping the ball into the box from the edge of the area. Somehow, no one was able to get onto the end of his pass – it would have been a certain goal had there been anyone to receive it.
Suárez has the best ever 'that was definitely a goal' pose pic.twitter.com/LDnhGTZIWq— AS English (@English_AS) November 26, 2017
Missed a glorious chance to grab a dramatic winner, and it would have been a fitting end to Zaza’s performance on the night.
The Italian showed his hunger and desire throughout the game, not to mention his usual pace and intelligent movement.
All his display lacked was a goal – and he’ll be sorely disappointed not to have gotten it.
On this evidence, Suarez is still a little ways off his best.
The Uruguayan endured another frustrating afternoon, mistiming his runs and seeing the few chances he had saved by Valencia keeper Neto.
Barcelona probably should have won anyway, given they had a clear goal disallowed, but it wouldn’t have mattered if Suarez had performed better.
If there were a striker anywhere near Suarez’s calibre in the squad, the 30-year-old’s place in the starting XI would be in danger.
Twice Champions League finalists in the past four seasons, Atletico Madrid are staring an embarrassing and financially damaging Champions League exit in the face unless they beat an in-form Roma on Wednesday.
Even victory over the Group C leaders and away to Chelsea in two weeks may not be enough to save Atletico unless Azerbaijani Champions League debutants Qarabag can also do them a favour by taking points off one of Chelsea or Roma in their final two games.
In Diego Simeone‘s glorious reign as boss, only Real Madrid have previously been capable of eliminating Atletico from the Champions League. They have twice dumped out Barcelona and beat Pep Guardiola‘s Bayern Munich en route to the 2016 final.
Here, AFP Sports looks at what has gone wrong for Simeone’s troops this season.
Simeone remains steadfast in his words of support for star forward Antoine Griezmann more than in his actions after substituting the French international in each of Atletico’s last two games.
Griezmann has angered some Atletico fans by publicly flirting with a move away before agreeing to stay and signing an improved contract when the club’s appeal against a transfer ban was rejected in June.
However, a run of no goals in his last eight games and just three all season has meant there has been little reconciliation with a set of supporters that demand commitment above all else.
Simeone insisted he was with Griezmann “to the death” as long as he “remains in his family” after another blank in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at home to bitter rivals Real.
Yet a divorce between player and club at the end of the season now seems inevitable, particularly with Atletico needing to balance the books should they crash out early in the Champions League.
NOT SO MAGIC WANDA
Atletico’s European success was built at the fortress Vicente Calderon where they won 18, drew four and lost only one of 23 Champions League games under Simeone.
They are yet to experience the winning feeling in the Champions League at their new 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano after two attempts: a late defeat to Chelsea and an even more damaging draw when Qarabag visited three weeks ago.
Indeed, after opening the €310million stadium with victories over Malaga and Sevilla, Atletico are winless in their last five at the Wanda Metropolitano as players and fans alike struggle to adapt to their remote new home, nearly 20 kilometres northeast of the Calderon.
DIEGO COSTA CLOUD LINGERS
Griezmann’s lack of form has been exacerbated by a dearth of other goalscoring options as Atletico have scored just 12 times in their last 15 games and failed to score more than once in a game for two months.
A club record fee was splashed out in September to bring Diego Costa back to Atletico from Chelsea, but he can’t feature until January when the ban on registering new players is lifted.
In the meantime, Angel Correa, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres have failed to justify a continued run in the team as Griezmann’s strike partner.
LOST THEIR HEADS
So strong were Atletico in the air during their La Liga title-winning season in 2013/14 they were nicknamed “Atletico Aviation” in reference to a club that formed part of a merger to make what is now known as Atletico Madrid in the late 1930s.
This season, Atletico’s own set-piece threat has dried up, while seven of the 10 goals they have conceded have come from headers.
Atletico’s aerial defending has cost them points against Girona, Chelsea, Qarabag, Barcelona and Villarreal.
DRAWS DON’T WORK
Despite the doom and gloom, Atletico have only lost one game in 17 in all competitions this season. The problem is 10 of those matches have ended in draws.
Not turning draws into wins has been particularly punishing in the Champions League as Atletico have dominated twice against Qarabag and away to Roma on matchday one for the reward of just three points.
Now they have no margin for error left, but Simeone is never comfortable in setting his side up to go gung ho.