Ten Things Learned From La Liga

The international break gives us time to reflect and Tim Stannard has been doing just that - on Gareth Bale, Neymar, the problem with Iker Casillas, Atletico and...

Last Updated: 15/11/13 at 10:19 Post Comment

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This season's Spanish campaign is a good third of the way through and it has been a bit of a blast. Atlético Madrid continue to split the big two, Villarreal are back with a bang and the division's other new boys, Elche and Almería, are currently holding their own. Here are ten more ways in which we are older and wiser during the current international break...

10) Real Betis are in big trouble
Although Betis were never going to have a season like the last, which saw the side qualify for the Europa League, ending up bottom of the table was never part of the plan. But that is where Betis sit after a rotten start to the year blighted by injury to leading scorer Ruben Castro and a bit of a rift between the club president and manager Pepe Mel. With the Seville derby just around the corner, the concern for Betis fans is that the campaign is about to get even worse.

9) Rayo Vallecano are on borrowed time
The future of Rayo is looking a little bleak with doubts over whether they have another survival battle left in the tank. Manager Paco Jémez says that the team is going to carry on playing in a gung-ho, all-out attack style, but so far it is not paying off with Rayo in the relegation zone and struggling to climb away.

8) Málaga are struggling to move on from the past
The Andalusian side's almighty run in the Champions League last season now feels like a very long time ago. Much of the squad is new, as is the coach Bernd Schuster, who has been given a five-year deal to rebuild the side and may need all that time to do so. Some sections of the crowd have been on the back of the footballers for a perceived lack of effort, but the players will argue that starting afresh in La Liga is not an easy business.

7) Valencia and Sevilla are still complete wastes of space
In order to contribute to what could have been an immense scrap for the Champions League places, the hope was that the previously failing Valencia and Sevilla could get their acts together and start playing properly. Pants to that idea. Both are jammed uselessly in mid-table with Valencia having drawn 2-2 with Valladolid in Mestalla last weekend and the southern side only just picking up a first away win in La Liga for 14 months.

6) Athletic Bilbao are back in business
Whilst the new stadium might have a few teething problems in terms of leakiness when it rains, the same cannot be said for the sturdiness of the team, which has quickly recovered from the disastrous second year under Marcelo Bielsa. They are a little short in forward power but have versatile enough midfielders to carry the side through. Not exactly fun to watch but effective under Ernesto Valverde and in sixth going into the international break.

5) Villarreal's return has been worth the wait
Villarreal would have been tickled pink to be mid-table at this stage of the season, but to have returned from exile in La Segunda and be in fourth is above and beyond expectations. The Yellow Submarine have been strutting their stuff in some style too. Alongside Atlético Madrid, Villarreal have one of the fittest squads in the division and each game features 90 minutes of intense attacking and defensive fury. Well worth a watch.

4) Gareth Bale may fit in just fine
Although his first weeks at Real Madrid did not go well, with one or too fitness issues stemming from a lack of pre-season, the Welshman has started to get into his groove, providing goals and assists. Bale is offering a pleasing balance to Cristiano Ronaldo on the opposite flank and is afforded so much time and space in a more technical La Liga that the footballer may quite enjoy his spell in Spain.

3) There's something not right with Iker Casillas
Jose Mourinho choosing Diego López ahead of the club captain could be interpreted as an act of petulance, a move to make some waves at a club he wanted to leave. But for Carlo Ancelotti to follow the same path sees the attention focusing on Saint Iker himself, rather than the manager making the choice. Is Casillas too short, lacking motivation or simply overrated? No-one seems to want to come clean, leaving the very real prospect of the national captain on the bench in Brazil, having become the permanent number two at Real Madrid.

2) Atlético Madrid are still living the dream
The Rojiblancos ended the last campaign with a roar, finishing in third, and beating Real Madrid in their own home to pick up the Copa del Rey. The question though was whether the club could keep up its winning ways without the goals of Falcao. The answer is 'hell, yeah!' Atletico Madrid are riding high in second having dropped just four points from 39, and having beaten Real Madrid once again in the Santiago Bernabeu. Diego Costa and David Villa have knocked in 19 league goals between them, covering the absence of the Colombian forward. The old question of how long Atleti can keep on going should be jettisoned in favour of simply enjoying the run whilst it lasts.

1) Neymar was worth the gamble
This column must confess it thought the €57million purchase of the Brazilian might upset Barcelona's applecart, that too many sponsors and haircuts would be a hindrance rather than a help to the reigning league champions. Instead, Neymar's slow and steady introduction by Tata Martino has been exemplary, with the forward's purchase now appearing impeccably timed with Barça facing two months without Lionel Messi, an inconvenience rather than a crisis for the club thanks to the Brazilian and the resurgent Alexis Sánchez.

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