League leaders Real Madrid were not in Valencia this round due to their Club World Cup engagements (which they unsurprisingly won), therefore it was an opportunity for Atleti and Barcelona to close up the gap at the top. Both teams didn’t disappoint. The league goes on break – albeit a short one – for Christmas and will resume in the first week of January.
Almeria will finish the first part of the season outside the relegation zone, and it’s down majorly to the heroics of goalkeeper Julian Cuesta. In just his first appearance for La Unión, the 23-year-old showed manager Juan Ignacio Martínez what he had been missing all along by posting a Man-of-the-Match performance in Almeria’s 1-0 win away against Celta Vigo. There was no breaching Cuesta as he made a number of top saves including a penalty from Celta Vigo’s top man Nolito. A performance to remember….
In defence is Barcelona’s leftback Jordi Alba who reminded everyone how good a player he still is. The Spanish international was back in world-class form, tormenting the Cordoba defence down the left – from his fullback position – in the Blaugrana 5-0 win at the Camp Nou.
Joining Alba in defence is teammate Gerard Pique. It’s probably been a season to forget so far for Pique, and he’s had to struggle to get consistent playing time due to several factors. But he ended the first half of the season on a high with an impressive show for Barcelona. Pique bagged the third goal for Luis Enrique’s men, and was solid defensively making sure his side kept a clean sheet as well. He’ll be hoping it’s a sign of things to come.
Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone will be hoping that in Uruguayan defender Jose Gimenez, he’s found a young defender who will seamlessly ease into the team, and be a ready replacement for Brazilian defender Miranda who seems to have lost form, and is likely to leave the Rojiblancos soon. As Atleti pressed forward for an equaliser in their 4-1 win at the San Mames against Athletic Bilbao, it was the 19-year-old (alongside Uruguayan partner Godin) who made sure Atletico Madrid maintained a tight rear. Gimenez racked a total of six tackles in the end; no player had more.
Juanfran was also involved defensively, but as Atleti pushed up for a desperate equaliser from the blast of the whistle in the second period, it was the former Real Madrid man’s cross which proved the ammunition for Antoine Griezmann to score the champions equaliser.
In midfield, Malaga strong man Ignacio Camacho showed the offensive side to his game, scoring the equaliser for the Andalusians in their 2-1 away win at Elche. Real Sociedad midfielder Sergio Canales must have thought he’d handed David Moyes’ team all three points after his goal two minutes into the second half. They were ultimately pegged back by a late Andreas Ivanschitz penalty, but the former Valencia midfielder had done enough to win the hearts of many.
Further forward in midfield, is Atletico Madrid’s man of the moment, and unarguably the biggest star of Match Round 16 – Antoine Griezmann. The French international has had to ensure a topsy-turvy start to his Atletico Madrid career. But just when the La liga champions needed him the most, in the absence of Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic, he stepped-up in style and showed exactly what he’s capable of doing with a superb hattrick against familiar foes Athletic Bilbao. It was only befitting that the former Real Sociedad man played his best Atletico Madrid game till date against Athetic Bilbao.
Lionel Messi cannot stop scoring, and despite not scoring a hattrick this time, his two goals are just about enough to get him a slot in the Team of the Week. How does that sound? Well, it just tells how high he’s raised the bar. The Argentine striker has now notched 15 league goals in 16 appearances this season. Only player to have scored more than him,….you guessed right.
Captain fantastic Sergio Garcia was at his best for Espanyol, lifting them to a 3-1 win at Rayo Vallecano. Effective as usual up front for the Catalan side.
Finally, and as the arrow head of the attack, is Villareal’s Argentine striker Luciano Vietto. The 21-year-old, who’s gradually building a fearsome reputation for himself hit a brace as the Yellow Submarines took an easy 3-0 win at El Madrigal against struggling Deportivo La Coruna. But it wasn’t just the goals, Vietto kept terrorizing the Depor defence, and could probably have had more goals based on the number of attempts he had.
That’s our team for yet another round of games, the last before Christmas and for the year. Merry Christmas, and prepare yourself for an even more exciting ride next year.