When Diego Costa collided with the post against Getafe, he showed the commitment many Barcelona fans feel is lacking from their side. The Copa Del Rey now becomes massive...
Real Madrid (Iron Man), Barcelona (Thor) and Atletico Madrid (Captain America) all assembled to win their La Liga matches this weekend. It goes on and on...
"We never stood a chance," was the sad lament from the Elche boss shortly after Sunday's 4-0 defeat to Barcelona in the Camp Nou. At 2-0 down after just 16 minutes, Fran Escribá knew that his team were already well beaten, admitting that "if the chances of getting something from the game were minimal before, then they were reduced to practically nothing."
Any glimmer of hope at something resembling a contest at the Camp Nou was swiftly squished despite Leo Messi being left out of the squad (although back in training) and Neymar starting the game on the bench. Tata Martino was still able to field a forward line of Alexis Sánchez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas - a trio strong enough to win the league without Messi and Neymar, who could sit out the entire domestic campaign should the manager see fit.
It was a hat-trick from the Chilean and a goal from the wonderfully unselfish Pedro that disposed of Elche and continued the forward line form that has been able to cover the absence of Messi from the beginning of November with ease.
Although the clash in the Catalan capital was entirely tension-free due to the forgone conclusion of the result, the game was very much a must-win match for Barca with Atlético Madrid having brought the relentless form of 2013 through into the new year with a 1-0 win at Málaga to temporarily jump to the top of the table.
The manner of the victory over a five-man defence was patient and pragmatic, demonstrating how Atlético have been learning to conserve their energies for the long haul, as opposed to the frenetic, energy sapping nature of the team's opening months in La Liga.
With both teams equal at the top of the table on 49 points, next weekend's clash between the pair at the Vicente Calderón is set to match anything the Clásico can throw up in terms of drama and tension with Atleti knowing that even a draw would be a fine result in what even Diego Simeone is now admitting to being a genuine run at the league title.
Third-placed Real Madrid beat Celta Vigo 3-0 on Monday evening, leaving the battle for fourth spot very much in the spotlight over the weekend. The Basque derby was a typically battling affair with fifth-place Real Sociedad proving they are a better outfit overall than Athletic Bilbao, despite still being a point behind their neighbours after a rousing 2-0 victory on Sunday night. The match saw yet another strike from the remarkable Antoine Griezmann, whose opener against Athletic now sees the winger with 12 goals scored in the past 12 league games.
Sevilla continued to show that the listlessness and negativity of the past five years may be behind the club. Whether or not this recovery has anything to do with the Spanish courts telling the now former president José María del Nido that he really, really, really needs to go to prison for seven years for corruption is debatable. What is more likely is that a year of relentless drilling, grilling and annoying positivity from Unai Emery may finally be starting to have an effect on the team, who have climbed into sixth after five wins from the past six games.
A new managerial face made his debut with Juan Antonio Pizzi the latest pour soul to take over at Valencia to try to lead the club back into the promised land of the Champions League. The Argentinean-born former Spanish international had a fairly easy start to the league campaign with a 2-0 win over visiting Levante in front of a Mestalla crowd still waiting to see if a proposed half-a-billion buy-out by Peter Lim is going to go through or whether the whole story is far too good to be true. Knowing Valencia's luck, it is probably the latter.
All these stories are set to be cast to one side though next weekend as La Liga gears up for a whopper of a match involving Barcelona and a side from the capital city. But for once, and in a hugely pleasing surprise, that team won't be Real Madrid, but the noisy neighbours to the south.
Round 18 Results
Málaga 0-1 Atlético Madrid
Valladolid 0-0 Betis
Valencia 2-0 Levante
Almería 3-0 Granada
Sevilla 3-0 Getafe
Barcelona 4-0 Elche
Osasuna 1-0 Espanyol
Real Sociedad 2-0 Athletic Bilbao
Real Madrid 3-0 Celta Vigo
Rayo Vallecano 2-5 Villarreal
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter