The return of La Liga with matchday 28 was brilliant, as there was everything fans look for when watching such a highly-competitive league where anyone can beat anyone.
The Spanish game lovers heavily anticipated la Liga’s return, and they were spoiled with excellent football this weekend. Stunning goals, dramatic moments and referee Mateu Lahoz’s return to football were well-received by the fans who had many derbies and six-pointers to watch through.
The five big matches at the supporters’ disposal lived up to their potential, and lots of goals went in the poor goalkeepers’ nets. From Barça’s thumping victory in Mallorca to Villarreal’s lucky late winner, many twists and turns occurred during matchday 28 of La Liga. First, let’s take a look at the three best fixtures of the round.
Granada CF 2–1 Getafe CF
Granada are one of the surprise packages of this La Liga edition, and the Andalusians even managed to sting Barcelona at Las Cármenes earlier this campaign. Against Getafe, one of the wildest sides in La Liga, they had to up their game a lot. José Bordalás’ side had a great start to the game and stuck right to their values. Such as every other Getafe game, they went intense and aggressive into fouls, while Granada were right to feel harshly done by the refereeing in place.
The red and white outfit went behind early in the first half and were overwhelmed by the pressing applied by the forwards. This pressure translated in a goal on the 20th-minute mark as Barça loanee Marc Cucurella tackled pass came right to David Timor, who shot the ball first time and it landed in Rui Silva’s top corner. It was a game of two halves as Granada came back from the dead and suffocated the valiant Getafe defence from start to finish in the second period.
They began with a great header parried out by Getafe’s keeper David Soria at the start of the half and then turned the game on its head in the space of ten minutes. First, an excellent free-kick from the Andalusian side was headed down by Darwin Machís, and Geta‘s Djené Dakonam helped the ball on its merry way while striker Carlos Fernández was applying the pressure on the Togolese. A long ball from the Granada keeper then started an attack in which Carlos Fernández two-time effort resulted in the winning goal of the game.
All in all, not the most thrilling of fixtures on paper but the number of occasions both teams had in both halves made the whole 90 minutes worth a watch. Also, Granada’s victory makes them enter the European race at this crucial stage of the season, while Getafe lose the opportunity to take a considerable advantage in front of Atlético de Madrid, who drew at San Mamés the next day.
Valencia CF 1–1 Levante UD
The Valencia derby was one of the games to watch this weekend, and it lived up to the hype. It was an even game where both sides had clear cut chances they just didn’t take. While Levante had more shots, Valencia tested the keeper way more with some dangerous attempts in Levante’s area. Los Ches played well, but their strikers missed sitters just like Rodrigo Moreno’s effort, which landed in Aitor Fernández’s hands, or Carlos Soler’s shot that crashed into the post.
The main talking point of the game was the red card for Levante’s Roger Martí after his cynical tackle meant that he got his second booking of the game. With ten men, Levante began to take their foot off the gas, and Valencia’s players gained in confidence. The Bats’ relentless bombing of the opposition area was a success as José Gaya’s assist crowned a spectacular outing from the left-back, who eased through a Levante defence that was lost at sea the whole match. Rodrigo Moreno’s return to football ended with a beautiful goal after 85 minutes of hard luck, but the drama did not end there.
Late drama at a crowdless Mestalla | Photo by Xisco Navarro / Cordon Press via Imago
The referee decided to give five extra minutes, and Levante felt like there was a chance to get something out of this game. With three minutes already gone, Valencia’s centre-back Mouctar Diakhaby decided to foul a Levante player in Los Ches‘ half. The Frenchman was also the protagonist of the next action. After the free-kick went in, he kicked another red and blue attacker and gave away a penalty in the dying embers of this theatrical game.
With set-piece specialist Enis Bardhi already subbed off, Gonzalo Melero showed he had ice in his veins to score the equalising goal and dampen Valencia’s mood. A superb game with lots of actions at every end of the pitch.
CD Leganés 1–2 Real Valladolid
Real Valladolid were the luckiest side in La Liga this time. While having scored the third least amount of goals in the league, they sit at a comfortable 14th place and had to beat Leganés on Saturday in a relegation six-pointer to make them feel more at ease. Throughout the whole game, Leganés were unfortunate not to score and fell behind early due to a howler from their defender Chidozie Awaziem. The Porto loanee’s backpass came right to Enes Ünal’s feet, and the Turkish international was ruthless in front of the empty net and opened the scoring in the second minute.
Individual mistakes defined the result at Leganés’ Butarque | Photo by Joaquín Corchero via Imago
After a few wasted chances by the hosts, Rubén Alcaraz doubled the scoring early after the break. The Spanish midfielder rifled a shot to the top corner from the penalty area. Leganés thought they could get back into this game when Valladolid’s Mohammed Salisu committed a silly foul in the box. Óscar Rodriguez converted from the spot, but Leganés came in vain in front of a lucky Valladolid side. This game was important for both squads and was decided by luck and errors even though there were many occasions for Leganés specifically.
What does this weekend mean for Barcelona?
Barcelona’s 4–0 win at RCD Mallorca’s San Moix and Real Madrid’s 3–1 victory against SD Eibar mean everything remains unchanged for the two rivals at the top. Madrid are still two points short of the culés, but for the two clubs, the break has been beneficial. Barcelona looked fresh physically and mentally against Mallorca and will have to play at this intensity for the rest of the campaign to retain their La Liga title. Now, with Leganés on the horizon, Barcelona will have another affordable clash at the Camp Nou before going to Seville.
How the table has been affected
Much like the top two, the first round of games hasn’t affected the table dramatically, but there could be some regrets when looking back at matchday 28 in the long term. The top six have stayed in the same place, and that’s mainly because Atlético de Madrid couldn’t beat Athletic Club to leapfrog Getafe after their dramatic loss at Las Cármenes.
Real Sociedad couldn’t break down an organised and combative Osasuna | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
Real Sociedad are still fourth after a 1–1 draw with a brilliant Osasuna, and Sevilla’s stellar win against arch-rivals Real Betis gives them some breathing room concerning the top four. They are now four points above both Getafe and Atlético and, barring a monumental fall from grace, they are on course to qualifying for the Champions League.
At last, Villarreal’s late win at Celta’s Balaídos means two things:
1. Celta are still poor, and the joint- lowest-scoring team in the league has some significant issues. They should thank Barça for thrashing Mallorca.
2. Villarreal get closer to Europe after every team above them decided to miss their opportunities.
At the bottom of the table, RCD Espanyol breathe a little more after a 2–0 home triumph over Alavés and are level on points with Leganés. Real Valladolid are now closer to the tenth place than the relegation zone.
Player of matchday 28: Lucas Ocampos
Sevilla’s win in the Derbi Sevillano was essential, and one man enabled it. Lucas Ocampos played remarkably well and deserved to leave the game with more than just one goal. His powerful effort that ricocheted off the crossbar early on was frightening, and the penalty won by Luuk de Jong gifted him his deserved goal in the 56th minute. His backheel assist to Fernando six minutes later was the cherry on top of the cake and capped a performance of the highest quality for the former Marseille winger. His campaign is already stellar, and his performance made the 94-day wait all so worth it.
Ronald Koeman’s first month compared to Barcelona managers of the recent past
Managing FC Barcelona is unlike any other job in the world. Between the towering expectations, ruthless media, and passionate fanbase, there is no room for error. Each manager brings with them a unique set of questions and expectations that they must answer as quickly and assuredly as possible.
Ronald Koeman — who came in with questions about tactics, integrating new players, and how he would bring stability to a disarrayed team — is a little over 2 months into his reign, and one month since his first game, but has already begun to offer answers.
Barça Universal attempts to look back at how well each of the last five Blaugrana managers — including Koeman himself — have met the problems and expectations asked of them during their first few months in charge.
Gerardo “Tata” Martino (2013-14)
Tata Martino’s appointment came at a tumultuous time for the club. Whilst Barcelona achieved domestic success the prior season – winning the league with a record amount of points – they suffered a humiliating 7-0 defeat (across two legs) to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi finals.
Unfortunately, head coach Tito Villanova announced in June that he would step aside from his role due to a bout with cancer. On the pitch, it seemed like the end of Tiki-Taka, and off of it, the void left by Villanova was impossible to fill.
Tata was a relatively unknown hire at the time, heralded for his successful spell at Newell’s Old Boys and impressive quarterfinal run with Paraguay in the 2010 World Cup. He was hailed as a discipline of Marcelo Bielsa, and his style focused on pragmatic solutions.
Tata was known for his extremely pragmatic Paraguayan side. (Photo by MAURICIO DUENAS/AFP via Getty Images)
His Paraguay side was ultra-defensive, but Old Boys were more expansive and attacking. Naturally, there were questions about what style he would implement and whether he was fit for the role. Above all, results weren’t the only criteria; Barcelona fans wanted to look at the way they were achieved.
His reign got off to a hot start. Barça won their opening match 7–0 and then the Spanish Supercup the following week. They ended up winning their first seven La Liga matches. Although the results were more than encouraging, there were still concerns about the new tactical approach.
During his first few months, Martino introduced more variation to the system. They were counter-attacking more than usual and would even rely on the long-balls. For many, this was unacceptable. They weren’t satisfied with just winning, but rather sticking true to the Barça-identity. Players supported him, however, including Messi.
“The more variations we have, the better. There will be days when it’s better to have the ball and move it around the park, and others when it will be better to park the bus and play for the counter-attack.”Lionel Messi
Nonetheless, things didn’t change. On September 21st, Barcelona beat Rayo Vallecano 4–0, but all anyone cared about was that it was the first time since 2008 that Barca had less possession than their opponents. They finished the match with only 49%. It also ended a streak of 316 consecutive games of out-possessing their opponents.
“If Barça had played their own style but not won the title, it wouldn’t have been a failure. But we didn’t win and we didn’t play well either.”Tata Martino summing up his time at the club
Expectations were monstrous as Martino was required to not only get results but play well in the process. In his first few months, it was clear that he could not meet these expectations.
It never looked like it would last. (Photo by Miquel Benitez/Getty Images
Eventually, the Catalan Giants were eliminated by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League quarter finals and lost the league to the same team on the final matchday. They also lost in the final of the Copa del Rey against Real Madrid.
Martino left the club when the season ended and is a case study of how for Barcelona, winning is not, or at least was not everything. However, it would be fair to say that his dismissal was a direct consequence of the trophyless season the club endured.
Luis Enrique (2014-2017)
Luis Enrique is remembered as one of Barcelona’s most successful coaches, but it certainly didn’t look that way from the start. While his first few months were fairly successful with results, off the pitch issues dominated the headlines.
The summer of 2014 brought a lot of changes to the club. Amongst new signings Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, captain Carles Puyol retired, and veteran goalie Victor Valdes left the club.
Enrique was a welcomed hire having been a rather iconic former player and coach of Barca B. There was hope that he would revive Barça after a disappointing season.
They did get off to another good start, conceding zero goals in their first seven games, setting a La Liga record. The revamped squad looked encouraging.
Lucho used different lineups almost every game, rotating key players to give them necessary rest. To add, his “vertical tiki-taka” was a lot closer to old Barca than what Tata offered. It seemed that expectations and questions were well met.
This is how Lucho’s first year ended. An icon. (Photo by QUIQUE GARCIA/AFP via Getty Images)
The tide turned in October when Barca went on to lose three out of six games. The first was against PSG in the Champions League. They then lost 3–1 in the El Clasico when Suarez made his club debut, looking unconvincing in the process.
These results had Luis Enrique facing new questions of whether Barca could beat bigger teams. Six days later, Barca lost 1–0 to Celta Vigo, a match in which Enrique continued his rotation policy, resting key players like Gerard Pique and Xavi. These back-to-back losses spelt distress for the club. To make matters worse, there was locker room strife and drama that would continue escalating until January.
All hope was lost but eventually, all the pieces fell into place and Barca went on to have one of their most successful seasons ever. Enrique’s reign ended after a lacklustre 2016-17 season, but his initial slip-ups are minuscule compared to his success.
Ernesto Valverde (2017-2020)
Ernesto Valverde’s hire was surprising, to say the least. Though he had a successful stint with Athletic Bilbao, his tactics and lack of Champions League experience did not fit the Barca mould. To make things tougher, he inherited a notably weak squad and also had to ensure the team stayed afloat after Neymar’s departure to PSG.
The first of the nails came when Barça started the season with a 5–1 defeat across two legs to Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercup, in what was Valverde’s first official match as manager of the club.
“This is a long process and there is room for improvement, but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid.”Gerard Pique after the defeat in the Spanish Supercup
Nonetheless, they picked themselves up and dusted the defeat off. By the end of October, the Spanish manager amassed ten wins and one draw in their next eleven matches.
From his first few months, it was clear he brought a new identity to the squad. Barca played more pragmatic than ever, taking into account an ageing core, and so often utilized a 4–4–2 formation for defensive stability. Furthermore, gone was the dressing room drama and bouts with the press that Enrique was notorious for.
Valverde’s tenure was defined by pragmatic football, European mega-defeats, and an impressing crouch on the sidelines. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Valverde didn’t initially have to face the monumental expectations of Tata Martino and Luis Enrique, but many supporters were still disappointed with his tactical decision making. Questions about his fit for a team of Barça’s stature were at first relaxed, but big losses on the European stage would eventually stain his Barcelona career.
Quique Setién (January 2020-August 2020)
Ronald Koeman’s predecessor came in at yet another rough juncture for the club. Valverde was fired halfway through the season, and Barca scrambled for a new head coach. The board’s first choices of Xavi, Ronald Koeman, and Mauricio Pochettino all rejected their offer, so Barça opted for former Real Betis manager Quique Setién.
He was an unknown hire, his most notable result being a win with Betis at the Camp Nou the year before. After a disappointing two seasons with Valverde, Culés’ expectations weren’t high, but heads turned after Setién’s first conference.
He made headlines in his first press conference when he proclaimed his admiration for Johann Cruyff and promised to bring back Barca’s style which was lacking for previous seasons. He also promised an emphasis on youth which was welcomed by all.
After his first match in charge, things looked great — the Catalans played well against Granada. With the team making over 1,000 passes, they operated with an expansive brand of football, and all looked splendid. To add, he brought on youth starlet Riqui Puig for his debut, who was integral in setting up the winning goal in the said fixture.
It seemed like Setién could answer all questions and expectations after his first match, but unfortunately, things went downhill from there. In his first few months, it became evident that Setién would not make the necessary decisions with the squad. There was not enough emphasis on youth over worn-out players and not enough rotation, to name a few. To make matters worse, he was not respected in the locker room.
From grazing cows on the field to grazing his legacy with Barcelona; Setien’s tenure was a horror show. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
After his first match, Setién built great expectations for a deprived team, and his illustration is a clear one on careful expectations.
Closing Thoughts and Comparison
Ronald Koeman’s reign has been hard to define. He is coming off yet another week with mixed results, including a 3-1 loss to Real Madrid and a 2-0 victory against Juventus.
Heading into November, Barca have four wins, one draw, and two losses, and sit 12th in the La Liga table. His tactics have been more or less welcomed by the Camp Nou faithful, though, as they know a change in formation will help bring the best out of their players.
That said, the main drawbacks include problems with game management, especially in crunch-time. In his wins, the crew look fresh and lively, but in his losses, problems of past teams – lack of effort and intensity – creep back in.
In terms of pure results, Tata Martino edges him out; but Koeman hasn’t had to deal with a fanbase with sky-high expectations or one that will harp on him for diverging from the Barça style. He also exactly hasn’t inherited a world-beating squad, but it sure has depth.
Both Koeman and Luis Enrique lost their first Clasicos and have tried to implement squad rotation, although not always to great effect. Also, both managers had to play through institutional crises, albeit at different times in their stints.
One could argue that Lucho’s losses were more attributed to off the field problems, more specifically pertaining to the dressing room, whereas Koeman’s have a lot more to do with overall team makeup.
Ernesto Valverde got off to a great start, but his style eventually wore down the club and supporters alike. Koeman’s style is similarly pragmatic with the 4–2–3–1 shape, however, it’s been somewhat accepted by supporters – probably due to manageable expectations of the squad he’s dealing with.
Compared to those before him, Quique Setién clearly had a rougher start in terms of results and could never get the squad on the same page. In his defence, he arrived in January and had to deal with a worldwide pandemic.
Koeman is dealing with a similar squad as Setién, but he hasn’t had great results yet either. Although, the Dutchman hasn’t made promises he can’t keep. So far, he’s succeeded in integrating more youth players, something he promised when he was hired.
In all, it’s clear that the former Everton manager is dealing with things not all past managers have: a change in administration midway into the season, the Coronavirus inspired schedule, a disjointed squad, and a fanbase with much lower expectations.
Koeman has not yet managed as many games as the sample sizes explored in this piece, so it’s hard to compare them on fair terms, but it’s clear that he’s already answered some of the questions asked of him. He has solidly implemented a new style, given the youth more chances, and injected a bit more life into the team.
This is just the start – how far will Koeman go from here? (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
On the contrary, Koeman’s job is made easier by Barca’s past shortcomings, as expectations are lower than ever. Audacious wins and bitter losses have defined his start, but hopefully, the team can find their footing under him. In the end, that’s all we can ask for.