However the opening to the 2018/19 campaign suggests that just maybe we are set for a much more open season this time around. After eight match days, just two points separate the top six, the first time in the history of the Spanish top flight that such a tight margin has existed at this stage.
What’s most surprising is that few saw this coming. Barcelona only lost once last season in La Liga, the defeat coming after they’d already clinched the title, and arguably strengthened their squad over the summer. Real Madrid may have lost Cristiano Ronaldo but still came into this campaign having won three straight Champions League crowns and were clearly keen to set the record straight after a poor domestic campaign. Meanwhile Atletico finally looked to have assembled a side capable of perhaps emulating the title-winning class of 2013-14 and failing that at least widening the gap to the chasing pack.
Read more – Can Atletico Win more silverware this season?
Sevilla the early pace-setters
Top spot in La Liga was occupied by three different sides on Sunday alone but the evening ended with Sevilla on top heading into the international break. Overall you’d have to say they are good value for it. The appointment of Pablo Machin already looks an inspired move with the former Girona boss quickly getting his new side to adapt to his methods and unique tactical approach.
In the final third, they’ve been the most impressive side in the division. Their tally of 18 goals is double that of Atletico Madrid and 6 more than Real. Barcelona may have 19 but that’s largely courtesy of one 8-2 victory over a naive Huesca side and it is Sevilla who have been firing on a much more consistent basis. Crucially they finally seem to have stumbled upon a prolific strike-pairing after a few barren years in that regard where their midfield and wingers were often the main source of goals. Andre Silva only netted twice in a miserable season in Serie A last time around but has 7 in La Liga already while Wissam Ben Yedder has already netted 9 times in all competitions. The duo combined to score all the goals as Sevilla hammered Real Madrid 3-0 on match-day six.
There have been other stars though with Pablo Sarabia also chipping in with plenty of goals while Ever Banega has excelled in an unfamiliar holding role. The Argentine has been one of the standout performers so far this term in La Liga and with four straight league wins under their belt, they will head to Camp Nou after the international break full of confidence. The only concern may be that their early start to the season in Europa League qualifying may lead to tiredness later in the campaign.
Read more – Which league is Europe’s most competitive?
The Misfiring Big Guns
Real Madrid have failed to score in four consecutive games across all competitions for the first time in the 21st century.
Sevilla 3-0 Real
Real 0-0 Atletico
CSKA 1-0 Real
Alavés 1-0 Real
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 6, 2018
There was a time in La Liga, when you’d have to wait months for either Barcelona or Real Madrid to slip up. However in this extraordinary opening to the season, both clubs head into the international break without a win in any of their last 3 league matches. The Catalan giants have actually gone 4 games without a win now for the first time since 2016 to pile some pressure on Ernesto Valverde. However the impressive 4-2 win at Tottenham in the Champions League suggests this may be more of a blip than a serious sign of things to come although their clear prioritising of Europe this season does make them a bit more vulnerable in La Liga and it’s still painfully obvious just how much they depend on the brilliance of Messi.
However it is not in Catalonia but at the Santiago Bernabeu where already there is talk of a crisis. Real Madrid have failed to score in over 400 minutes of competitive football, their worst run without netting in 33 years, with 3 of their last 4 matches also ending in defeat. The early signs were actually quite promising under Julen Lopetegui with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio impressing up top in the opening few weeks. However a few injury niggles and some tougher matches have exposed the flaws in Lopetegui’s plan and already the former Spain boss is under genuine pressure with the Clasico to come later this month.
Atletico Madrid have at least picked up following a slow start to their season when they were beaten in Vigo and needed a Stoppage Time goal to rescue a home point against Eibar. However they don’t really bear the hallmarks of a possible title-winning side just yet. An average of 1.125 goals per game in La Liga is poor given the attacking qualities they possess in the shape of Ballon d’Or contender Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa, who has incredibly failed to score since February in La Liga. They edged past Betis at home last time out but are another team that hasn’t really found top gear.
Surprise Packages Alaves and Espanyol complete Top Six
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) October 6, 2018
The top six contains two teams that looked set for at best mid-table anonymity this year with a relegation battle seeming plausible in both cases. However both Alaves and Espanyol have made excellent starts to the campaign and cemented themselves in the top six with home wins at the weekend.
Alaves stunned Los Blancos on Saturday, beating the Madrid giants at the Mendizorroza for the first time in 87 years. They were pretty good value for their victory too, having spurned a number of chances before Manu Garcia prodded home in the 95th minute for a dramatic and historic win. It was the latest feather in the cap of Abelardo, who has done a remarkable job since taking over at the Basque club early last season, when they looked in deep relegation trouble. Alaves have a 54% win ratio under him and 37 games into his reign, there is still no real sign of a downturn in form.
Espanyol’s presence in the top six is just as surprising. They appointed Rubi as their new boss in the summer, with the 48 year old having just guided Huesca to promotion. However his appointment was still hardly viewed as an inspired move given his previous failures in the top flight while the sale of Gerard Moreno, just about Espanyol’s only reliable goal threat in recent years, also spelt trouble. However they’ve been really well organised at the back so far and crucially have managed to turn the RCDE Stadium into something of a fortress. Espanyol’s tally of 14 points is mostly down to a 100% home record and with back-to-back games against newly promoted teams next up, there’s a chance they could yet improve on their bright opening to this unpredictable season in La Liga.
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