The league we all know and love has set foot in Spain. These past few weeks, the league lacked controversy and La Liga fans have been treated by matchday 30.
Another round of matches in La Liga where football was the centre of attention and, for once, the controversy came into play. Matchday 30 of La Liga was full of brilliant players – again –, magic moments and also controversial calls, as twists and turns came all around the table. La Liga’s return is a triumphant success, especially given the outstanding football at everyone’s disposal. This weekend’s games have all been astonishing and filled with action. However, three have stood out.
Celta de Vigo 6–0 Deportivo Alavés
Celta Vigo came into this game with only one goal in their last five games, and some of the worst records in the team’s recent history. With the quality of players they have at hand, Celta should not be battling for relegations, and La Liga fans were left wondering what had been happening to Iago Aspas, Rafinha Alcântara and company in the past few weeks. Against Alavés, these players finally showed some life by annihilating their opposition in one of the most one-sided contests of the return.
Celta recovered their smile in matchday 30 of La Liga | Photo by Octavio Passos via Getty Images
The Galicians dominated the game from A to Z and scored six times to compensate for their last five games. Iago Aspas made amends with his penalty demons from Real Valladolid by scoring his spot-kick this time. Barça loanee Rafinha showed what he could do by firing in two crackers in Roberto Jiménez’s net in the space of a few seconds.
Ex-Barcelona player Denis Suárez registered two assists as his sublime cross landed on the head of former on-loan Barça centre-back Jeison Murillo, and the other one set up Rafinha for a sublime finish. Nolito marked his return to Vigo with a penalty, after being bought last week as an emergency signing from Sevilla. At last, Santi Mina rounded the mark against a ten-man Alavés side bereft of confidence.
Valencia CF 2–0 CA Osasuna
After a draw and a defeat in the past two rounds, Valencia returned to winning ways with what looked like a pretty dominant win. The Valencians scored in the first minute, but Rodrigo Moreno could not catch a break with VAR and disallowed goals. Some could say that the goal should have stood and the Valencia players felt as though the spell was going on as Rodrigo already had a disallowed goal in Madrid a few days ago. But, again, his opener had to be ruled out for offside.
Gonçalo Guedes and Rodrigo Moreno, a devastating duo for Valencia against Osasuna | Photo by Xisco Navarro / Cordon Press via Getty Images
This event did not dishearten Los Che, and Gonçalo Guedes went on to score the goal of the weekend when he erased three defenders with his mazy run and fired one in the top corner. The Valencia players were disgusted at the referee’s behaviour when he used VAR to make sure of a perfectly fine goal – it was clear on Dani Parejo’s face that they were fed up of the technology. A misplaced pass later and Valencia were on the break, and Guedes turned provider to the unlucky Rodrigo, who doubled the lead.
After the goals, Valencia went into sleep mode, and Osasuna were really unlucky not to find a consolation goal at least. After the restart, it was all Osasuna and Valencia did well to see out the lead, as Enric Gallego and Adrián López kept searching for a breach in their defence. It is worth noting that the Basques’ defence sank their chances of getting anything from a game whose second half they dominated. The explosive Pervis Estupiñan, for example, left acres of space on his left side, making errors both in attack and at the back.
Real Sociedad 1–2 Real Madrid
If you thought there was some drama concerning VAR at Mestalla, then hop in for a tale of polemic shouts at Anoeta. Real Sociedad come a bit hungover from the break, and they are seeing their top-four chances fall behind their eyes. Against Real Madrid, La Real had an effective plan and played a thorough kind of football as they passed their way through the first half and kept Los Blancos quiet.
In the second half, Real Sociedad couldn’t get the best of their opponents quick enough, and Madrid’s Vinícius Júnior won a debatable penalty after a mesmeric run in the txuri-urdin‘s box. The locals’ centre-back Diego Llorente wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt as it looked like he clattered Vinícius from the back at first, but further replays showed the Brazilian fell a bit easier than usual.
There was controversy at Anoeta, but if Real Madrid are top of the table, it’s thanks to them and Barcelona’s fault | Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce via Getty Images
La Real went for the kill, and Adnan Januzaj thought he had found the equaliser with a neat finish in Thibaut Courtois’s net. The referee considered the offside Mikel Merino was blocking the Belgian keeper’s view and decided to disallow the goal subsequently, a tough pill to swallow for the hosts as they thought they had found a life-saver in their top-four bid.
Real Madrid went the other end, and Federico Valverde worked his magic as Karim Benzema allegedly shouldered the ball and scored in Álex Remiro’s net. This time, VAR did not disallow the goal, even though this was a less controversial call. Still, the Basques tried to salvage a point at least against a tough team and got a consolation from Mikel Merino’s powerful shot that cannoned in off the crossbar. It was hard for the hosts, but Madrid grabbed an all-important win and sit now at the top of the table.
What does matchday 30 mean for Barcelona?
Barcelona’s disappointing goalless draw in Seville meant that the culés prayed for Real Madrid to slip up in against Real Sociedad, but all their praying came in vain. Los Madridistas are now at the top of the table on the head-to-head ruling. The contest for the league title is as tight as ever.
How has the table been affected?
The La Liga table now looks completely different than how it started before matchday 30. As mentioned, Madrid are now first, but many other teams have swapped positions. Vitolo’s winner for Atlético de Madrid against Real Valladolid means the rojiblancos now sit third on head-to-head with Sevilla, with both teams on 52 points.
With a 1–3 win at Cornellà, 11th-placed Levante are much closer to safety while Espanyol return to the bottom position | Photo by Alex Caparros via Getty Images
For Getafe, while standing at fifth, yet another slip-up against Eiber implies that José Bordalas’ team is closer to eight-placed Valencia than fourth-placed Sevilla in the table. Thankfully for them, they can count on Real Sociedad’s poor run of form as they are still fifth while La Real and Villarreal are on the same number of points. For Valencia, Villarreal’s recent run of form means the Yellow Submarine has leapfrogged them and are now in contention for continental football. Albert Celades’ squad have been weak and only have themselves to blame.
Lower down the table, Celta de Vigo breathe finally with their scintillating win and are above Eibar by a point. Mallorca, 18th, are now three points away from safety.
Of course, Gonçalo Guedes’ sublime goal and assist make him one of the best players this weekend as he looked unbeatable at Mestalla on Sunday. For Barça, Nélson Semedo found form and was superb in Seville. The Iñigo’s combined for Athletic Club’s exquisite corner routine as Iñigo Córdoba assisted Iñigo Martínez for an all-important win against Real Betis, who had an in-form Nabil Fekir. The Frenchman won a penalty late in the game, but Sergio Canales inexplicably blasted it out of the stadium. At last, Enis Bardhi’s strike in the bottom corner against Espanyol was Levante’s highlight.
Sergio Busquets’ form: Age or complacency?
Sergio Busquets is a club legend and is arguably the best holding midfielder of his generation. However, for a couple of seasons, the veteran has been far from his best. Is it time for Barça to realise that the Spaniard should not be an undisputed starter anymore?
For almost a decade, Sergio Busquets was the consistent and dependable anchor in a world-class midfield. At just 20 years old, Busquets made his debut under Pep Guardiola. He would go on to be a crucial part of two treble-winning sides and form one-third of the greatest midfield trio ever with Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Busquets was the perfect holding midfielder for the Catalan side.
In recent seasons, however, his performances have deteriorated, and he has not been at his level best. Or even at an adequate level for the Blaugrana. While he managed to redeem himself with the first half of last season, this campaign, Busquets has found it even tougher with having to adapt to the double pivot system. His partnership with Frenkie De Jong is not working as the two do not seem to understand each other’s game. After another poor display against Real Madrid, and with other talented midfielders on the bench, should Busquets still be starting for Barça?
The brilliance of Sergio Busquets
It would be unfair to write an article solely criticising Sergio Busquets. As one of the greatest servants in the club’s history, Busquets deserves a huge amount of respect from Culés. The La Masia graduate broke into the first team at a young age and has been an ever-present since his debut season. He has gone on to become Barça’s fifth-most capped player in history and will likely take over Carles Puyol who is in fourth.
The Spaniard has been a key figure in the most successful period in the club’s history too. The same can be said for his time with the national team, winning the World Cup in 2010 and the UEFA European Championship in 2012. In total, the midfielder has won a behemoth 31 trophies with Barcelona including three Champions Leagues and eight league titles.
Busi has had several moments of celebrations at Barça. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/LLUIS GENE)
At his peak, there has arguably never been a better defensive midfielder. He redefined the role by showing that it was not just about tackling and breaking up play, but how the holding midfielder can be heavily involved in the build-up play and can dictate the tempo of the game.
Opponents quickly learned that it was almost pointless to press Busquets while Barcelona were in possession. His composure on the ball was and still is for the most part unmatched, while the passes were extremely accurate, progressive and have the ability to break the lines of defence.
He had exceptional awareness and ability to read the game, which was second to none; however, they have taken a massive toll. What once allowed him to take over the game with the utmost ease is slowly becoming his weakness at Barcelona.
Busquets was exceptional in every team, every year. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Sergio Busquets has not been at his best for several seasons now, and the time may have finally come when the team realises that his starting spot is no longer undisputed. This campaign especially, the 32-year-old has not managed to adapt to the new system. He is used to playing at the base in a midfield three.
Now, he shares the defensive midfield role with Frenkie de Jong in a double pivot. Neither player has performed close to their best, and it seems as if this partnership, that should work on paper, is not compatible.
Unfortunately, the problem reeks past just the structure of the team; the World Cup winner is struggling with some of the basics as well. His passing has started to him down every game, and his sloppy possession is giving away the ball in dangeorus areas of the pitch too many times. For his high standards, he is losing the ball far too often.
Busquets is lacking, and it is hurting the team. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)
Against Real Madrid, Busquets made a criminal error in his defensive duties. The veteran knows how important this match is and was one of the most experienced players on the pitch. But, whether due to a lack of awareness or complacency, he failed to track Federico Valverd’s run. It resulted in Barcelona conceding an early goal. The experienced midfielder should know better, especially in a game as important as El Clásico.
Age or Complacency?
As one of the Barcelona captains, Sergio Busquets should be a leader on the pitch and set an example to the rest of the team. However, his level has significantly dropped, and he has been involved in several catastrophic defeats. The game against Los Blancos is part of a growing list of big games where the #5 has let down the fans and his teammates.
Busquets was never the most athletic midfielder, but he always made up for this with his intelligence. His age could be a reason for his poor run of form as his physical attributes begin to decline naturally. However, he should grasp a better understanding of the game as he loses more of his pace.
One can always argue that is complacency catching up with the 32-year-old for his innumerable trophies and his world-class performances in the last decade. But, the likes of Gerard Pique, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta or Xavi never went through this despite being part of the same era of Barcelona’s generational team.
Busquets has managed to maintain his high level for the Spanish National Team. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Moreover, somehow, Busquets continues to perform at an exceptional level for the Spanish national team, playing under former Barça manager Luis Enrique. Maybe Lucho is more tactically adept, and maybe the dressing room for the national team is far less toxic. We can only sit and speculate. That said, with competition for places in the Blaugrana squad, can Ronald Koeman continue to justify Busquets’ starting role in the team?