Huesca now look as good as down after conceding late at the Mestalla but there was a key win for Rayo Vallecano who are within 3 points of safety after they saw off Levante in Madrid. 3 of the 9 games saw decisive Stoppage Time goals including Oscar Plano’s late leveller for Real Valladolid away at Athletic Bilbao, the first the Basques have conceded since sacking Eduardo Berizzo and appointing Gaizka Garitano.
Here were some of the main stories from match-day 17 in La Liga:
Real Madrid with 8 points to make up in 2019
Leo #Messi heads into the winter break:
✅ 1st in La Liga with 15 goals this season
✅ 1st in La Liga with 10 assists this season
✅ 1st in La Liga with 34 goals in the 2018 calendar year
Happy holidays, Mr. G.O.A.T.! 🐐 pic.twitter.com/7Vt6C4Ck2J
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 23, 2018
Real Madrid were not in action in La Liga this weekend but they did win a trophy as they predictably saw off Al Ain 4-1 to win the Club World Cup. While they weren’t severely tested at any point in the Middle East, Santi Solari may well look back on it as a useful exercise with Gareth Bale rediscovering his goal touch and Marcos Llorente impressing again with the Spaniard now perhaps even having ousted Casemiro from Real Madrid’s first choice XI.
Los Blancos will start 2019 with 8 points to make up on Barcelona in La Liga though. They do have a game in hand, the first Spanish league match of the new year at Villarreal, but unquestionably the Catalans are now firmly in pole position and will take some stopping. They weren’t at their best against Celta Vigo on Saturday but nor was the result ever in doubt with Jordi Alba and Leo Messi combining yet again to seal a comfortable 2-0 win. Significantly it was a 4th straight clean sheet for Barcelona in La Liga. They’d conceded in 11 consecutive league matches prior to that so we have seen a real improvement from Ernesto Valverde’s men at the back and they did well to shut out one of the division’s highest scoring teams this weekend.
Atletico Madrid also extended their advantage on their city rivals with a very Atleti-like 1-0 home win over Espanyol, who continue to slide down the table. Antoine Griezmann settled the game from the penalty spot with his 40th goal in 2018 (33 for Atletico and 7 for France). It has been a remarkable year for the World Cup winner, who perhaps still doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Valencia up to 8th with late Piccini Goal
— EDAFE MATTHEW ESEOGHENE (@ELEGBETE1) December 23, 2018
There was late drama at the Mestalla on Sunday lunch-time. Level at 1-1, Valencia looked to be heading for their 7th home league draw of the season against bottom club Huesca. That would have left them in 15th place heading into the new year and would have piled the pressure on Marcelino with Valencia fans less than impressed by how the season is panning out.
However there was late salvation in the unlikely form of a goal from full-back Cristiano Piccini. The Italian struck in the 94th minute and remarkably his strike propelled Valencia up 7 places to 8th, such is the congested nature of life in the middle of the Spanish top flight. It should be a much happier Christmas for Valencia fans as a result but it may mask over some of the underlying issues. Another game went by without their strikers scoring and there has even been talk that Michy Batshuayi could be sent back to Chelsea in January with just 1 goal in 14 league appearances so far for Valencia.
For a side that spent very big in the summer, the 2018/19 season has so far been a real disappointment for Valencia and it’ll be interesting to see just how active they are when January comes around. They no longer have the lure of Champions League football but they may have little choice but to change something up front with Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro also struggling for goals.
As for Huesca, it was a crushing late blow and one that condemned them to an 8th straight away defeat in all competitions, leaving them winless in La Liga since the opening day of the season. With just 8 points on the board, it seems inevitable now that the Aragonese minnows will be playing Segunda Division football again next season.
Sociedad on the Slide
Espanyol now have the longest losing streak in La Liga with 6 straight defeats seeing them fall from 2nd place all the way into the bottom half. The next worst streak is that of Real Sociedad who have now lost 4 on the bounce after a 1-0 home defeat to Basque rivals Alaves on Friday night ensured they will head into 2019 down in 15th place.
Their summer appointment of Asier Garitano, who had previously worked wonders with Leganes, looked a smart one but things really haven’t gone to plan. While they do boast one of La Liga’s best away records, they’ve been woeful at home, winning just 1 of their 8 matches in San Sebastian and accumulating only 6 points in front of their own fans. Only bottom club Huesca have collected fewer at home.
It’s hard to figure out why things aren’t quite clicking. On the surface, La Real still have the core of a good side with Asier Illarramendi capable of dictating games from midfield while the likes of Juanmi, Adnan Januzaj, Mikel Oyarzabal and Willian Jose are all good options in the final third. With a more defensively minded coach, there was hope they would become more organised at the back too but right now they are neither the exciting, attacking team of old nor a functional, disciplined Garitano side. La Real are one of several pretty big clubs with sizeable budgets who may be looking over their shoulder in the new year with a whole host of teams in danger of slipping into the third of the relegation positions.