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Spanish Football Column: Levante work hard to improve, Espanyol disappoint, Messi breaks another record

A brand new feature on this website is the introduction of weekly & fortnightly columns focusing on various leagues, countries and regions across the World.  Adam Gray here documents the latest talking points in Spanish football.

Messi Column


Barcelona hint of their best in Messi’s headline night

Sevilla haven’t won at Barcelona since 2002 and on Saturday they travelled to the Nou Camp in good spirits having made a great start to the season, while Luis Enrique’s Barca have begun to stutter. However the Andalusians would again be thwarted as Lionel Messi picked that night to surpass Telmo Zarra’s La Liga scoring record that had been in place since 1955. He would equal it with a superb free-kick in the first half before linking up with Neymar to break it mid-way through the second.

The tally would move to 253 league goals before the end, as he again traded passes with Neymar before beating Beto to make it a 27th career hat-trick. It was a night to marvel again at Messi’s genius as the Argentine broke yet another record, but Luis Enrique would have taken greater satisfaction from a team performance that suggested his Barcelona team were heading back to form.

They attempted 711 passes (only misplacing 66 of them) to Sevilla’s 302, bossing possession at 66.7% to 33.3% and registered 16 shots to Sevilla’s 2. Even the visitors’ goal was Barcelona-made, as Jordi Alba inadvertently turned Vitolo’s cross past Claudio Bravo. Vitolo and Grzegorz Krychowiak would take 2 shots at Bravo but that was it Sevilla could muster, as Unai Emery’s team were simply overwhelmed. It was a Nou Camp evening that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Pep Guardiola era.

Enrique would have been buoyed by the link-up play between Neymar and Messi that Sevilla found too much to deal with. Luis Suarez, still lacking a competitive goal for his new club, would also seem like he is growing in understanding with his fellow South American forwards. Assists are coming freely for the Uruguayan though as he made it 4 from 5 games, providing the cross for Ivan Rakitic’s header. The Croatian allayed some of the criticism headed his way in the past few weeks with a welcome goal.

Sergio Busquets was outstanding in his holding midfield role, completing every one of his 88 passes, while Xavi completed 72 of his 79, also chipping in with an assist as his free-kick was converted by Neymar. The night would belong to Messi though, moving on to 368 career goals and leaving the pitch with his name ringing out around the Nou Camp.

Levante’s hard graft begins to see improvement under Lucas Alcaraz

Since Lucas Alcaraz took over at Levante it is 7 points from a possible 12, which has taken Les Granotes from 19th in La Liga to 13th. On Sunday, it was a 2-1 derby victory over Valencia which owed to their new found work ethic under the new manager. Visiting manager Nuno Espirito Santo was right to claim his team “were very much the superior side”, having double the amount of shots and dominating possession, though they lacked the ruthlessness provided to Levante by Victor Casadesus and Jose Luis Morales, who hit one of the goals of the weekend. “Obviously we’re a team that don’t play with the same strengths as they have, so we played with order, intention, conviction, with a group of players who have shown their commitment to hard work every day and their involvement in the game”, said Alcaraz, who continues to lead cash-strapped Levante clear of trouble.

Elche and Cordoba loan the Premier League some food for thought

Elche and Cordoba were both in the relegation zone going into Sunday night’s game and their meeting wasn’t the most illustrious of the weekend’s La Liga games, though it did produce 4 goals, a raft of chances in an open game and a significant talking point in the form of Fidel’s opener for Cordoba. The midfielder is currently on loan from Elche and with no league regulations barring him from playing, he was free to score against his parent club. Perhaps the Premier League, a target for criticism for a loan system that currently prevents loan players participating against their contracted clubs, could take note and do away with a bizarre rule that can be strategically exploited by stronger clubs, leaving their rivals weaker when they meet.

A managerial sacking to come at Espanyol?

Athletic Bilbao continued their resurgence with an impressive 3-1 win over Espanyol, Aritz Aduriz looking particularly good on his return from injury as he linked well with fellow striker Borja Viguera, Ander Iturraspe would also score a screamer, but for the away team there has to be major concerns. Manager Sergio Soriano has led them to just 2 wins so far this season and Friday’s loss made it 5 games without a win.

Although not outclassed in the San Mames, they looked short of confidence and conviction, leaving the manager scathing in his disappointment. “At a competitive level, we’ve been a long way from what we came here to do. Now there’s no sitting back and folding our arms. We’ve got to work much harder to find the keys to doing things better”, he said, “if you don’t compete well enough, there’s nothing you can do”. Rare cheer came with Victor Sanchez’s late consolation but it was only the fifth goal Espanyol have managed in their past seven games. With La Liga already witnessing 3 managerial changes in the first 3 months of the season, could we see a fourth before the winter break?

Talent Radar Player of the Week

Moi Gomez- Villarreal: Villarreal kept up their recent good run of form with a 2-1 home win over Getafe and 20 year old Gomez contributed to the victory with an intelligent display on the right-hand side of midfield. His clever movement in-field is designed to create space for others and the main beneficiary of that was right-back Mario who managed to get forward to score Villarreal’s first. Gomez also proved his worth defensively, winning 3 tackles as Getafe threatened to get back into the game late on.

Villarreal have turned into genuine contenders for a European place since returning to La Liga from the Segunda a year ago and the form of the two wingers has been a major factor behind the success of Marcelino Garcia’s 4-4-2 system in this campaign. The direct running of Denis Cheryshev on the opposite wing is complemented well by the movement and creative vision of Gomez, who is on hand to knit the play together with his cultured array of passing.

Written by Adam Gray

Adam Gray

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