Lionel Messi endured some testing times with Barcelona last season, but he was back smiling in scoring two against Elche. Tim Stannard gives us his rundown...
After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
Unfortunately, those that should have been most pleased about the result of the Clásico on Sunday weren't able to kick back with a few well-earned tinnies and enjoy the unfurling of a chaotic, dramatic encounter.
That Primera posse was Atlético Madrid, the team in action earlier in the day who succeeded in putting in a typically consistent display to beat Betis 2-0 and move to the top of the table. When quizzed about whether Clásico was going to be must-see TV for the players, Diego Simeone admitted that his side were going to be on the fast train back from Seville to Madrid during the clash and was unsure that the internet would be good enough to support a stream.
In the end the result and the fall-out from the game was completely perfect for the Rojiblancos. The mad-as-bats 4-3 win for Barcelona under typically controversial circumstances left Atleti at the top of the table, equal on points with Real Madrid but with a superior head-to-head record. Barça lag just one behind with the two set to meet in the Camp Nou on the final day of the season.
The Big Brucie Bonus for Atletico is that so many stories are now going to be generated about conspiracy theories that the two teams will be tied up in knots for weeks (add in various FA disciplinary cases) to leave Atlético merrily unnoticed at the top, like a group of cider-downing squatters occupying a mansion whilst the owners squabble outside about the state of the lawn.
A Cristiano Ronaldo with perfectly cut eyebrows led the way in the hidden finger-pointing by moaning that someone, somewhere doesn't want Real Madrid to win the league. Presumably, a different person to the one that awarded his side a penalty after a non-existent clip outside the area to put Real Madrid into a 3-2 lead. And not to mention that whole 'Pepe wrestling a defender to the ground to win a penalty' business against Elche.
By that time in the game four proper goals had been scored by Andrés Iniesta, Leo Messi and a couple from Karim Benzema in what was a tremendous, slug-punching affair that had the best of all Clásico bits - wonderful attacking skill, awful defending, and referee-tricking skullduggery.
League titles in Spain tend to be won or lost on the Spanish equivalent of those wet midweek nights in Stoke. And that's why more drama is set to be squeezed out of the Clásico encounter with a rare midweek fixture list that has all three title-chasers in action on Wednesday.
Naturally, the questions posed to the managers of the respective Big Two on Tuesday related to the events two days before. Madrid's Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti, with eyebrow sternly raised, was looking to lower the tensions a tad ahead of an unreadable fixture against Sevilla in the Sánchez-Pizjuán, in the sense that it is impossible to predict quite what the fifth-placed outfit are going to do. "Referees make mistakes in every game," said Ancelotti on such matters as another Sergio Ramos sending-off and Sergio Busquets being able to trample on Pepe's head. "The team is not happy, but we are going to try and move on and look ahead," confirmed the former PSG man.
Tata Martino was in full-on naïvety mode about the love of scandal and conspiracy-hunting in the press in La Liga. "I was thinking that more people here spoke about football," noted the Barça boss to possible chuckles from the press gallery, ahead of a game against the team that are a Low-Cost Barça in terms of playing style - Celta Vigo.
Whilst the victory in the Santiago Bernabéu has certainly helped ease a little bit of pressure on the Argentinean boss, the main story is now Neymar's no-show and if Martino will see out the second and final year of his contract to 2015. More questions on all those topic suggest that the prospect of doing so will be too intolerable.
Meanwhile, Atlético Madrid have been left to do their own thing at the top of the table, a position that should remain as is, with the Rojiblancos facing a fairly easy home clash against Granada. The plan from Simeone will be to allow both sides to squabble away, although a title race will be made more difficult by a Champions League double-header against Barcelona. Nevertheless, fans will simply be delighted to be in a position to play the Catalan club in the quarter-finals in a season that is simply getting better and better for the Rojiblancos.
Tim Stannard - follow him on the Twitter