By Noah TanFollow @@Noah_Tan
Barcelona were the big winners in this round of La Liga action as their 6-1 mauling of Getafe, coupled with Atletico Madrid’s shock 2-1 loss to Rayo Vallecano, meant that the Catalan giants extended their lead at the top of the table to an incredible 12 points.
Real Madrid are now just four points behind Atletico after an inspired Ronaldo led them to a 4-1 win over Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Meanwhile, Real Sociedad boosted their push for a Europa League with a 2-1 win over Real Zaragoza, a dominant Espanyol easily dispatched Athletic Bilbao 4-0 to climb above the Basque side, Granada continued their good run of form with a comprehensive 3-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna, and Valencia left it late to secure all three points as they beat Celta Vigo 1-0.
Elsewhere, Osasuna were held to a 1-1 draw by Real Mallorca, Isco starred for Malaga in their 2-1 win over Levante, and Real Betis’s winless run stretched to four games as they lost a little more ground on the European race in a goalless draw at home with Valladolid.
Here, FOXSPORTSASIA.com selects the best players from the La Liga this week. The formation chosen is 4-3-3.
GK: Vicente Guaita (Valencia)
While Valencia substitute Nelson Valdez will steal the spotlight after his last-gasp goal helped Los Che beat Celta Vigo, it was Guaita’s heroics in goal which provided the platform upon which Ernesto Valverde’s men based their victory upon.
Guaita dominated his penalty box, coming out to claim nearly every cross launched into his box and commanded his backline with authority. Although Valencia dominated the game, Guaita had to be alert to rush out his line after Iago Aspas raced onto a through ball, and the 25-year-old’s immense presence forced the striker to fire his effort wide. Guaita then denied Aspas again with a stunning save, and did very well to stop Fabián Orellana’s goalbound header from going in as Valencia deservedly ended the game with a clean sheet.
LB: Victor Alvarez (Espanyol)
Alvarez’s budding reputation got a huge boost after the 19-year-old’s superb performance for Espanyol against Athletic Bilbao on Sunday. Having come on as a 53rd minute substitute for Simao, the rampaging left-back immediately provided an attacking thrust for his side and set up Victor Sanchez to score with a delightful chip which caught Bilbao’s defence out.
Barely a minute later, the Spain U-19 international was the creator for Espanyol once again. This time, Alvarez charged forward down the left flank and sent in a drilled low cross into the box which Christian Stuani turned home from close range. If Alvarez can turn in a few more displays like this, it will not be long before he gets regular playing time with Espayol’s first-team.
RB: Javi Lopez (Espanyol)
In Javi Lopez, Espanyol have one of the most stable, if unspectacular, full-backs in the La Liga, and the 27-year-old was once again a rock on the right flank, effectively keeping Bilbao left winger Oscar de Marcos from making inroads into his penalty box.
Lopez was also seen overlapping to support his attack numerous times and delivered a few good crosses into the box. Despite his forays forward, the former Betis B player never neglected his defensive duties and made several wonderful last-ditch saving tackles to prevent Bilbao strikers Iker Muniain and Aritz Aduriz from going through on goal.
CB: Tino Costa (Valencia)
Costa, by trade a midfielder, was deployed in a somewhat unfamiliar role as a centre-back for his side’s clash with Celta, but instead of floundering, the 28-year-old flourished and was one of the star players for Los Che on Saturday.
The Argentine showed great awareness at the back to doggedly track Iago Aspas’ clever off-the-ball running and prevented the deadly Celta striker from getting so much as a sniff at goal. Costa, renowned for his pinpoint passing, also launched numerous counter-attacks with long passes out of defence and effectively dictated the tempo of the game from the back.
CB: Gerard Pique (Barcelona)
There are not many centre-backs in the world more underrated than Pique. The former Manchester United player has often been pinpointed as the weakest link in the Blaugrana’s defence, with team-mate Carles Puyol taking much of the plaudits, but the Spain international has proven time and again that he is much better than given credit for.
And the 26-year-old was his imperative best at the back for the Blaugrana on Sunday. Pique effectively marshalled the defence, showed great anticipation to make important clearances, and was brave in the tackle. Pique even managed to get on the scoresheet, timing his run to perfection to sweep home Thiago’s cross as the centre-back took a huge step to successfully proving himself to his doubters.
CM: Isco (Malaga)
It is not hard to see why several top European clubs, including the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Bayern Munich, were interested in signing Isco during the recently closed January transfer window.
The 20-year-old, who ended speculation over his future at the club by signing a new contract last month, was the star for Los Boquerones as he scored a superb brace to secure all three points for his side against Levante. Isco scored his first goal, and Malaga’s equaliser, with a coolly taken penalty after Julio Baptista was fouled by Christian Lell in the box. The Spain international then scored the winner for Malaga when he got away from his marker in the box and did well to direct Jeremy Toulalan’s cross from the right past past Levante custodian Gustavo Munua.
CM: Pedro Geromel (Mallorca)
Geromel was the name on the lips of every Mallorca fan after his goal in injury-time earned Los Bermellones a vital point against Osasuna. The 27-year-old showed great determination to get his head to the ball to divert Dudu Aouate’s long kick out from deep past Osasuna custodian Andrés Fernández, and his performance will surely have given new Mallorca coach Gregorio Manzano cause for joy.
Apart from the goal, Geromel’s all-action display in the middle of the pitch was a joy to behold and he never allowed the Osasuna midfield to settle whenever they received possession. The former FC Koln player also showed great vision to set up several good goalscoring chances for his team-mates and tested Fernandez with a few dangerous shots from range.
AM: Andres Iniesta (Barcelona)
Iniesta was probably the best player on the pitch (yes, eclipsing even Lionel Messi!) in Barcelona’s resounding win over Getafe on Sunday. The Spain international was the inspiration for nearly every attack the Blaugrana launched on the hapless Azulones.
The 28-year-old took less than six minutes to make his mark on the game, sending a brilliant through ball which took out three Getafe defenders for Alexis Sanchez, who calmly finished the golden chance presented to him. Iniesta was then heavily involved in the Catalan giants’ second goal, showing great vision to find Thiago in the box with a perfect pass, which allowed the 22-year-old time and space to pick out Messi to score.
Iniesta was once again at the heart of another delightful move which saw David Villa score the Blaugrana’s third, and the diminutive midfielder finally got the goal his performance deserved when he fired home to finish Messi’s slightly fortuitous layoff.
ST: Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
While Iniesta rightfully stole the headlines for his masterclass display in midfield for Barcelona on Sunday, Messi’s contribution to the Catalan giant’s thrashing of Getafe should not be overlooked. The Argentina international may not have been the main catalyst for Barcelona’s win, but he was certainly an influential figure in the game, opening up space for his midfield by stretching Getafe’s defence with his mazy runs.
The FIFA Ballon d’Or winner took only 13 minutes to find the back of the net with a simple finish from inside the box after having been set up by Thiago. Messi then combined well with Iniesta to set wing-back Jordi Alba free on the left, whose cross was turned in by a grateful Villa. The 25-year-old also showed great unselfishness when he danced his way into the box and laid the ball off for Tello instead of shooting at goal, and the 21-year-old Spaniard gleefully fired the ball into the back of the net.
ST: Alhassane “Lass” Bangoura (Rayo Vallecano)
Atletico were hardly at their best against Vallecano on Sunday, and Bangoura took full advantage of Los Colchoneros’ lethargy to wreak havoc in their defence. Having impressed in Rayo’s youth ranks and reportedly a target of Real Madrid, Bangoura enhanced his burgeoning reputation with an all-round display up front which Atletico’s defence failed to cope with throughout.
The 20-year-old opened the scoring in the game with a typically predatory strike, powering into the box to score his third goal in six games with an easy tap-in from Piti’s cross. Bangoura then showed he was more than just a goalscorer by providing the assist for Leo Baptistao to turn home with an accurate cross into the box.
ST: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
With Real set to take on Manchester United in the Champions League, the headlines have inevitably centred on Ronaldo. The Portuguese international signed for Los Blancos from United in 2009 but is still a highly revered figure with the Old Trafford faithful after having led the club to three Premier League titles and one Champions League triumph during his time at the club.
However, instead of wilting under the spotlight like some other players might, Ronaldo obviously relishes the attention he has been getting. This was none more so evident on Saturday as the 28-year-old turned in a performance of the highest quality to help his side dispatch Sevilla.
It took only 18 minutes for Real to open the scoring, and unsurprisingly, Ronaldo was the architect of the goal. The former Sporting CP player burst past two defenders on the left and sent a low cross for striker Karim Benzema to toe poke home. Ronaldo then doubled his side’s advantage with a beauty of a goal, unleashing a near unstoppable shot from 25 yards out which nestled in the top corner of the net. The speedy forward then capitalised on a defensive error by Federico Fazio to score his second of the game, then completed his hat-trick in style when he started and finished a devastating counter-attack, tapping the ball into an empty net from Gonzalo Higuain’s pass across goal.