Does anyone want to win La Liga this season?
‘You go first. No, you go first. No, why don’t you go first. Don’t you want to go first? You know what, let’s just wait. Something will push forward.’ You could imagine if there was a room where La Liga’s top teams converse, the conversation would probably like this. It’s been that sort of season so far, where nobody wants to go top, almost like they’ve a received a warning, ‘if you reach the top, they’ll all come for you’.
Put it this way: On Friday, Alaves had the chance to go top; they lost at Leganes. Atletico Madrid had their opportunity, they drew at home to Barcelona, who held the slender lead as number one, until Sevilla grabbed it on Sunday. Real Madrid, meanwhile, took any chance to close the gap at the top, and simply tossed it away, as they were taken to the woodshed at Eibar on Saturday. That means the league table reads: Sevilla- 26; Barcelona- 25; Atletico- 24; Alaves- 23; Espanyol- 21; Real Madrid- 20.
This time last season, Barcelona were top with 35 points, nine more than first-placed Sevilla have now. The gap between first and sixth place was 14 points, now it’s six. Yet, that doesn’t mean there’s an improvement from the supposed also-rans, considering Real Madrid are the side in sixth now. In fact, Villarreal, sixth-placed this time last season, have a point more than Real Madrid do now. But the biggest indictment on the teams at the top this term, the biggest evidence of their sloppiness, is that Valencia are only nine points behind leaders Sevilla. That may seem like nothing, but Valencia only have three league wins this season; Marcelino has actually been a manager under some form of pressure of late, yet his side are two wins away from the top four. This time last season, Celta Vigo had the same number of points Valencia do now, but the Galician team were 10 points of fourth place, too busy looking over their shoulder to aim for the top.
And it’s not just the stats as well. Barcelona have looked anything but convincing, shuffling through results like beating Real Madrid 5-1 and conceding four at home to Real Betis, winning against Sevilla and losing at Leganes. Atletico Madrid have lost just once in the league, but have six draws, with a paucity in attack evident by the fact that Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa have a combined league tally of four goals so far. Sevilla have raked in the goals on occasion, but have looked far from secure at the back, and the goals seemed to have dried up a bit. Alaves are a surprise package in that spot, and they themselves seem surprised, so much so that any chance they get to go top, they almost never take it. Real Madrid have already ridded themselves of a manager, and look like they don’t know what the problems are, not to talk of solving them.
Neutrals have always wanted a close-knit league in Spain, other than the top two/three, but as ESPN’s Sid Lowe has always pointed out, if the top three always lead by such high margins, it doesn’t mean the rest are donkeys, with their European exploits serving as a constant evidence of that. Those European readings aren’t bad this season, either, of the 28 games Spanish teams have played in Europe – excluding the UEFA Super Cup and Europa League play-offs – they’ve won 16, and lost just four. All but one of the seven teams are in pole positions to qualify from their groups.
All of which makes the teams falling over themselves on domestic front all the more baffling. It’s still quite early days, and perhaps one or two teams might gather steam in the coming weeks. Anyone who does may just have a free run at it this season, the league looks very much up for grabs. But everyone seems busy being a gentleman to take control. Hay Liga.