Eleven rounds deep, this year’s Primera Liga is starting to take on a definite form, with a few things becoming clear about the top teams. There is a pretty clear division between the top five teams and the rest, although the league is competitive top to bottom as usual. Here are some thoughts on the season so far, with a focus on the biggies.
- No one is touching Barcelona. They have a ridiculous goal differential of +28, with more goals scored than anyone else (36 – Real Madrid is closest but still trails by 8 goals with 28) and tied for fewest allowed (8 – with Sevilla, who have only scored 18 themselves). More importantly, they are playing just as well as those numbers indicate. They started a little sluggishly, drawing with Racing Santander and losing to Numancia in their opening matches in La Liga, but they haven’t slipped up since then, winning their next nine league games. Their only mediocre showing was a 1-1 draw against FC Basel in Champions League play, but this came after beating the team 5-0 in the home fixture. I don’t see any other team in Europe playing as well as Barça are doing right now, especially if you take consistency into account. Chelsea are playing good football with a similarly spectacular goal differential, also +28, but they have suffered more slip-ups than Barcelona, particularly in their 3-1 loss to Roma in Champions League and a 0-0 defeat to Championship side Burnley on penalties in the Carling Cup. Pep Guardiola has the team playing at a higher level than anything I’ve seen in recent years from them and probably better than anyone else on the planet right now.
- Valencia and Villarreal have yet to prove they have real staying power at the top. That might be unfair considering they both currently sit ahead of Real Madrid in the standings, but it still feels true. Both suffered disappointing outcomes this week, with Valencia losing to Sporting and Villarreal settling for a draw after giving up an injury time goal against Malaga. Villarreal are still the only unbeaten team in the Primera but have five draws to go with their eleven wins. Valencia have lost two consecutive home games but are doing better than just muddling through without Spanish international David SIlva playing up front alongside Villa. Villa is carrying the goal scoring weight disproportionately, as expected, and the team will have to prove they don’t need to rely exclusively on him as the rounds continue.
- Sevilla may be tied for third, but they are not easy on the eye. They have scored far fewer goals than anyone else in the top five (a mere 18) and seem content to scrape by. In their defense, they have been without important striking options, including last year’s Pichichi runner up Luis Fabiano and Kanoute. They have been playing better their last few games after a poor run of form that included losses to Malaga and Valladolid in league play, to Ponferradina in Copa Del Rey, and to Standard Liege in the UEFA Cup. They have a tough end to the month with home matches against Barcelona and Valencia, both of which will be important in gauging how they intend to go forward.
- And finally, Real ain’t got nothin’ on Barça. Whereas Madrid have been undergoing some soul searching regarding their current coach, Barcelona are reveling in the new level of intensity under their new steward. Real has been scoring at a decent clip, although nothing like Barcelona, but the truly troubling thing has been their weakness at the back, which has been repeatedly exposed. Gabi Heinze in particular has been suspect, as has Marcelo and even Cannavaro on occasion. They have had some serious injury woes which have only worsened with the news this week of Van Nistelrooy’s season ending knee surgery, but that doesn’t account for the poor defensive performances. Given the team’s propensity to spend, a significant pick-up or two in the January transfer window seems likely. Tevez has reportedly been in their sights, as has Mario Gomez, although one might wonder whether they aren’t more in need of a stronger defensive presence or even a winger to replace Señor Vidrio, who is once again out injured. Whatever the case, their moves will play a big role in deciding how their season ends up and seeing whether they can pull off the three-peat.