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La Liga Weekend : Five things we learned from Jornada 19

Jornada 19 marks the halfway point in the La Liga season and this weekend’s round of fixtures threw up some standout results and performances.

Real Madrid and Barcelona are locked on 40 points at the top of the table after the first round of fixtures after the Winter Break, the Catalans occupying top spot on goal difference.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have conceded just 12 goals so far in their respective campaigns and this solid defensive platform is what has put Los Blancos in such a strong position.

Let’s have a more in-depth look at what happened over the weekend in La Liga.

Statement of intent from Real Madrid

An emphatic 3-0 away win at Getafe’s Coliseum Alfonso Perez for Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid side was a perfect way to kickstart the New Year and more importantly their title charge on Saturday afternoon.

The foundation for the victory was the solid defensive partnership formed between Brazilian Eder Militao – deputising for the (you guessed it) suspended Sergio Ramos – and the imperious Raphael Varane.

Behind them, Thibaut Courtois was in fine form in goal and the Belgian made a number of good saves throughout the game.

A second-half header scored by Varane from a well-floated Toni Kroos free-kick and a Luka Modric tap-in after being unselfishly played in by Fede Valverde at the death sealed the victory after a first-half own goal from Los Azulones goalkeeper David Soria.

Gareth Bale started and will probably feel he could have taken at least one of the chances which came his way in the second half but the Welshman was involved in the build-up for the third goal.

A potentially difficult fixture to start the New Year for Zidane’s charges but they were deserved winners, and what was significant was the team spirit and togetherness that was demonstrated throughout the game by Los Blancos, something that will be a huge positive for Zidane heading into the second part of the season.

Barcelona’s struggles on the road continue

After their 2-2 draw away at Real Sociedad in Jornada 17, it was yet another 2-2 draw away from home for Ernesto Valverde’s men who were held to a derby draw with city neighbours Espanyol.

Los Blaugrana’s trailed at the half-time break to a wonderfully-taken header from David Lopez, though Barcelona would respond in the second half with two quick-fire goals to turn the game on its head.

A well taken Luis Suarez finish from a perfectly weighted Jordi Alba ball had them right back in the contest five minutes after the break, before they took the lead nine minutes later through an Arturo Vidal header, assisted by that man Suarez again. The Uruguayan curled in a beautiful ball with the outside of his right boot, it was just crying out for someone to be on the end of it, and Vidal was.

Barcelona were in control at this stage but the game changed again with the 75th minute sending off of their Dutch midfielder Frenkie de Jong for two yellow card offences. The 22-year-old had been heavily involved up to this point in proceedings and was missed for the final quarter of an hour.

Substitute Wu Lei equalised for Espanyol in the 88th minute after running in behind Clement Lenglet and decisively finishing past Brazilian netminder Neto in the Barcelona goal.

While Barcelona can count themselves unfortunate to drop two points with the concession of late goal and with de Jong’s dismissal, there are elements which will frustrate fans of the Nou Camp side.

Defensively suspect, a common occurrence for Valverde’s side, particularly for the second goal, with the management seemingly unsure as to what midfield works best for them.

Arturo Vidal put his hand up again for inclusion from the start after Saturday night and was a big reason why Barcelona turned things around after the break when the Chilean was introduced at half-time for Ivan Rakitic.

Lionel Messi didn’t perform anywhere near his best despite a couple of significant contributions. However, Luis Suarez’s run of sustained good-form is a huge positive for Barca. The Uruguayan has now scored or assisted the last ten goals for his side.

Scintillating form which he will need to sustain with significant improvement from those around him if Barcelona are going to go toe-to-toe with Real Madrid for the title.

Villarreal finding form

Three wins in a row for Javier Calleja’s side. The Castellón-based side are in ninth position in the standings after a 2-1 victory away to high-flying Real Sociedad.

The Yellow Submarine won out despite having only 37% possession overall at the Anoeta. They did however create more chances than the hosts and second-half goals from the penalty spot from midfielder Manu Trigueros and second-half substitute Santi Cazorla cancelling out Willian José’s first-half opener for the home side.

Cazorla’s winner was awarded after the what is now obligatory, time-consuming VAR review, which adjudged the Spaniard to be in an onside position.

The finish was classic Cazorla. A left-footed drilled shot across the goal beyond the reach of Alex Remiro in the La Real goal. That’s six goals and four assists in the league now for the 35-year-old Spanish midfielder. Not a bad return for a player who has been ravaged by injury towards the latter part of his career.

Oblak brilliance secures Atletico Madrid maximum spoils

A hugely impressive outing for Jan Oblak in the Atletico Madrid goal got Diego Simeone’s Rojiblanco outfit off to a winning start in January at home to Valencia-based side, Levante.

Two saves from the Slovenian goalkeeper in the last ten minutes from Levante forward Enis Bardhi –  the second a point-blank save from the Macedonian forward’s header – crucial to Atleti holding out for the win.

Three league wins in a row has moved Atletico up third place on 35 points, five points behind the ‘big two’, well placed to contend for at minimum, Champions League qualification, and at best, a shot at the title.

An Angel Correa goal after a well-placed cross from the once again impressive Kieran Trippier had Atleti in an early lead, before Roger Martí equalised shortly after, his on-target effort taking a deflection off Alvaro Morata before finding the Atletico net.

Los Colchoneros retook the lead on 18 minutes, Felipe powering home a header from a left-wing cross from Renan Lodi.

Atletico created plenty of chances in the second half to kill off the game, Joao Felix and Correa coming close, and if Atletico can become more clinical in front of goal and take more of their chances, then they could well push Real Madrid and Barcelona all the way for the title.

They have been very solid defensively, Kieran Trippier and Felipe are really settled into the side now, while two goals and two assists in the last three league games for Angel Correa has seen the Argentine start to add an end product to his game.

There has been some speculation that Atletico are interested in signing Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani from PSG, perhaps a sign that Simeone realises the Madrid-based side need more goals to sustain or indeed mount a title challenge.

Sevilla held at home by Atletic Bilbao

Despite having 65% possession of the ball, Julien Lopetegui’s home side could only muster two shots on target, and needed a second-half own goal from Unai Nunez to salvage a point against their Basque visitors, after Ander Capa’s smart finish had given Athletic the lead in the first half.

It has to be noted that Athletic Bilbao are extremely difficult to break down and have only conceded 13 league goals so far in the campaign.

Luuk de Jong, introduced at half-time by the home side was dangerous and hit the foot of the post as Sevilla improved after the break.

Sevilla, like Atletico Madrid who are only above them on goal difference in the table, have struggled to find the net regularly so far this season, 24 goals scored to Atleti’s 22.

Defensively, Simeone’s side have been stronger, only conceding 12 times while Los Palanganas have let in 18 goals.

Argentine forward Lucas Ocampos is Sevilla’s leading goalscorer on five goals.

For Sevilla to maintain their position amongst the Champions League spots, a more steady flow of goals from the forward/midfield division is required going into the second half of the season.

Read also – La Liga Team of the Week Jornada 19