Barcelona are back on top of la Liga after previous leaders, Atletico Madrid, were unable to break down a stubborn Sevilla defence.
It might not have been imaginative or particularly original but it summed it up nicely, getting right to the heart of the issue. Both Catalan sports dailies opened with the same headline on Monday morning: “Leaders!” cheered Sport and El Mundo Deportivo.
Yes, Barcelona are top. More on top than they could imagined, too. On a weekend when Luis Enrique’s team travelled to Málaga and struggled to get a 2-1 victory, the coach admitting that he could not recall a first half so bad, Atlético Madrid drew to allow them to go into first place on the head-to-head record.
That might not sound like a big deal and there was always a reasonable chance that Atlético would drop points against Sevilla — who came to the Calderón in search of a 0-0 draw and got it — but Barcelona also, unexpectedly, climbed further ahead of Real Madrid after Zinedine Zidane’s team were held 1-1 by Betis on Sunday night. So, despite being under pressure for much of their trip to the Rosaleda, Barcelona now sit four points clear of Madrid, with a game in had — which they will play against Sporting Gijón in February. Next week they play Atlético at the Camp Nou.
“It’s natural that people talk about the lack of goals, but we had chances and this is the right path to follow,” Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone insisted after his team’s 0-0 draw with Sevilla.
It was quite a compliment that Sevilla came to look for the draw, changing their team to try to counteract Atlético, with Kevin Gameiro left out and Fernando Llorente in his place to give physical protection, and Atlético might have found a way through anyway. They racked up over twenty attempts on goal and Griezmann hit the post with a header. It is also true that their defensive record means that they do not always need to score many: they have conceded just eight league goals all season, in twenty-one matches.
But the goal scoring situation will concern, whatever Simeone says. Griezmann is getting goals for all of them most of the time but the contribution from Fernando Torres and especially from summer signings Jackson Martínez and Luciano Vietto has been hugely disappointing and needs addressing.
The Zidane Effect wore off at the Benito Villamarín. But if Real Madrid’s first away trip with the Frenchman in charge ended in a damaging draw that makes taking the title harder yet, he still insisted that his team had made him “proud” and it was easy to see why. Luka Modric lead Madrid in a largely impressive performance, even if they did not eventually turn round a game that started with a superb volley from Cejudo after just six minutes. The Croatian was superb and Madrid created sufficient chances to win it: it is too early to judge for sure, but they look a different team already under Zidane and the atmosphere, certainly, has changed.
There are issues to work through, though: not least James Rodríguez, Danilo and the form and frustration of Cristiano Ronaldo, whose goals have largely come against weaker teams: 6 have come against Malmo, 5 against Shaktar, 5 against Espanyol, 2 against Sporting, Rayo and Real Sociedad, while he has none against Valencia, Atlético, Barcelona, Sevilla, Villarreal or Athletic. He has also now kicked out at opponents off the ball five times this season. Something is not right.