For the past decade, so often the La Liga winners have been Barcelona, Real Madrid and, often to defy the SBOTOP La Liga betting odds, Atletico Madrid who have enjoyed something of a renaissance under Diego Simeone.
That seemed to be the case again this weekend. That is, until Valencia marched into the Mestalla and duly despatched, not one, not two, but three penalties.
After becoming the first player to score a hat-trick of spot-kicks in the same La Liga match in the 21st century, Carlos Soler is your biggest winner of all as Lia Liga pauses for the international break.
Barcelona 5-2 Real Betis
In a week which began with a draw at Alaves and pressure mounting, this La Liga success was as welcome as it was needed.
There was no doubting whose introduction from the bench at half-time turned it around in Barca’s favour.
Being held by Real Betis, the arrival of Lionel Messi did the job required as the Argentine maestro scored twice and set up another in an eventual 5-2 win as Ronald Koeman’s men climbed to eighth in the table.
He then put Barcelona ahead from the penalty spot after Aissa Mandi was sent off for handling Ousmane Dembele’s shot on the line – a decision made after a lengthy video assistant referee review.
Atletico Madrid 4-0 Cadiz
In previous seasons when Barca or Real have stumbled – or when Atletico have had a great chance to crank up the pressure against supposedly lower opposition – Diego Simeone’s men have often failed to take advantage or make the most of their opportunities.
You would think whenever Diego Costa and Luis Suarez team up together they would rarely lack a punch but a recent humbling at hands of reigning European champions suggests all is not well.
This performance though ensured Atletico were not going to go the same way as their city rivals who were recently stunned by newly promoted Cadiz.
They had won every one of their La Liga fixtures away from home as they arrived at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano hoping to repeat their historic win in Madrid over Real only a few weeks ago.
It wasn’t to be as Atletico ran in plenty of La Liga highlights to seal a convincing win.
The visitors had not conceded at all away from home so far, nor in their last three games, but it took just eight minutes for Atletico to change that as Joao Felix despatched a far-post header.
That set the tone as Marcos Llorente, Suarez and Felix again were on target to move Los Rojiblancos to the top (temporarily).
After losing so many of their best players – Thomas Partey recently moved to Arsenal and in 2019 the club lost the services of former favourite Antoine Griezmann, midfield anchor Rodri and their entire backline of Juanfran, Filipe Luis, Diego Godin and Lucas Hernandez. – Simeone is impressive the way he is able to work through such transition and keep Atletico at the top end of Spanish football.
Valencia 4-1 Real Madrid
A Sunday night clash of Los Che and Los Blancos at Mestalla appeared to be going to form when Karim Benzema produced a special finish from 20 yards to fire the champions ahead.
Then Lucas Vázquez handled Jose Gaya’s cross and the night changed in a way no-one could have predicted.
Soler’s attempt was actually saved by Thibaut Courtois and the ball rebounded to the Spaniard who hit the post before Yunus Musah smashed home an equaliser.
Except it wasn’t an equaliser as Vazquez, along with Musah, were said to be encroaching when the initial kick was taken.
The spot-kick was ordered to be retaken and this time Soler made no mistake.
When Raphael Varane then diverted a cross past his own goalkeeper, the luckless Courtois, Valencia had a lead they would never relinquish.
Soler added a second penalty after Marcelo fouled Maxi Gomez and then a third spot-kick after Sergio Ramos handled in the box.
A mad night and Valencia, who started the day in 15th place and ended it in ninth, were in dreamland.
Real boss Zinedine Zidane has always found a way to bounce back during tricky times in charge, something he has done again over the past month after surprise defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk in Europe – more accurately really against Donetsk reserves.
Now he needs to do it again.
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