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Perhaps the only story that truly carries any weight in a weekend packed with the usual stuff and nonsense in La Liga occurred at the Camp Nou. It wasn't the entirely predictable result of the Catalan derby between Barça and Espanyol, but the return of Tito Vilanova to the bench just 17 days after surgery on a glandular tumour. The game itself saw more of the same from Barcelona this season - another hefty victory tied up with four goals in the first 29 minutes and another strike for Leo Messi, along with a brace for Pedro.
The superiority of Barcelona over their badly struggling rivals saw a rather uneventful game, in comparison with the glorious lunacy at the Santiago Bernabeu and José Mourinho's ongoing attempts to become half-football manager, half-pantomime villain. At the current rate, it wouldn't be a shock to see Mourinho standing on the Bernabeu touchline during Wednesday's cup clash with Celta Vigo wearing a cape.
The Portuguese had warned that he didn't want any of his players feeling too comfortable this season, so opted for plonking Iker Casillas on the bench for the second match in succession. It was an action that saw enormous cheers for the Madrid keeper when the teams were read out before the match and a cacophony of boos and whistles when the manager's name was announced just seconds after. "Perfect, perfect. Let them boo my name and then support the team, as they did," was the post-match view of the manager.
In a majestic twist during what was a Wagnerian opera of a match, Casillas was only on the bench for seven minutes. The poor soul in the middle of a dressing room civil war, Antonio Adán, brought down Carlos Vela to trigger a penalty and a red card for the keeper. It was an equalising goal in what ended up being a narrow 4-3 victory for Real Madrid, a side who are the most watchable team in Spain these days for reasons that Florentino Pérez probably never intended. As well as having outstanding performers such as Cristiano Ronaldo, who racked up two goals to move onto a truly mind-blowing 171 strikes in 171 games, there is beautiful anarchy elsewhere which may be causing distress to the team's supporters but is wonderful fare for everyone else.
Atlético Madrid had a bit of a blip in a 1-1 draw away at Mallorca but it was fairly understandable with the side missing the crucial forward pair of Arda Turan and Falcao through suspension. Aside from this duo, Atletico's top scorer is midfielder Raul García with four, the most recent of these coming in Sunday's match. It's an indication of what could happen to the form of the Rojiblancos should both players end up leaving in the summer, something that looks a distinct possibility with the Turk's agent saying that a move to England would be a fine idea.
Betis continued a strong campaign with a 2-1 win at Zaragoza, the team's sixth away victory of the season in the league. The victory moves the Seville side into fifth, sharing 31 points with Málaga. The zombie-like unstoppability of Levante continued with a 3-1 home win against an Athletic Bilbao side who are almost unrecognisable from the outstanding outfit of last season. The win put Levante into sixth, three points ahead of city neighbours, Valencia, who have improved a little under Ernesto Valverde but are still far from convincing.
The only managerial casualty over the Christmas break came at Deportivo with José Luis Oltra being fired despite taking the Galician team up from the second division. It was a very understandable move though with Depor going into the Christmas break bottom of the table with just two league wins. Former Sporting Braga boss, Domingos Paciencia, had instant success with a 1-0 win over Málaga for Deportivo's first league win since the November 4 and first goal in four matches. However, the move off the bottom will be only a tiny bit of a joy in a week when Deportivo are set to go into administration.
The health of one Primera coach at one end of the table and the possible repercussions of job losses and unpaid employees at the other are naturally the most important narratives of the weekend. But with the notion that La Liga is the "bread and circus" for the people of Spain at the start of a year set to be even worse than the last in terms of the country's economic situation, Real Madrid are certainly playing their part with another match that will give people more than enough madness to chew over until the next time the side takes to the pitch, which can't happen soon enough at the moment.
Round 18 Results
Zaragoza 1-2 Betis
Levante 3-1 Athletic Bilbao
Granada 1-2 Valencia
Sevilla 1-0 Osasuna
Deportivo 1-0 Málaga
Celta Vigo 3-1 Valladolid
Real Madrid 4-3 Real Sociedad
Barcelona 4-0 Espanyol
Mallorca 1-1 Atlético Madrid
Rayo Vallecano - Getafe (Monday)