The 2015-16 La Liga season has reached its halfway point, so now seems the ideal time for Alexandra Jonson to take a look at what has gone as expected… and what hasn’t.
With a record-breaking five Spanish teams in the Champions League – and two more in the Europa League – the Spanish league seemed to be shaping up for one of its most competitive seasons in years. And with half of the season now been and gone, that has proved to be the case, with six different clubs topping the table by this stage for the first time in ten years.
Three of those teams, not surprisingly, have been the established top three of Atlético de Madrid, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. What’s quite astonishing though, is that the other three aren’t the expected trio of Sevilla, Valencia and Athletic Club, but Celta de Vigo, Eibar and Villarreal: three clubs who all played Segunda-football at some point during the last four years.
Eibar were first to top the table, being one of only two teams to score more than a single goal on the opening day. 18 rounds later and the smallest club ever to have played in La Liga are no longer at the top… but are still on for a Europa League spot. It’s quite an amazing achievement for a team who played in La Liga for the first time last season and ended up being regulated at the end of it, only for Elche not to meet the economical requirements and grant Eibar an unlikely reprieve. And boy, they sure are making use of it.
Matchday Two saw Celta de Vigo take over the leader’s seat. Their time on the throne may have been short, but the Galician club have still probably been the biggest surprise of the season, as they trashed Barcelona 4-1 and had only Keylor Navas standing in their way of three points against Real Madrid. However, there has been a notable dip in form since top-scorer Nolito suffered an injury and now the team’s captain Augusto Fernández has left for Atlético de Madrid. On Sunday they lost their third consecutive league game and it’s hard to imagine Celta landing a European spot without Augusto.
On Matchday Five Villarreal became the fifth team to top the table by passing Real Madrid. Finishing sixth on their return to La Liga in 2013, the Yellow Submarines have started even better this season and if they can maintain their current form then there might just be a Champions League spot in store.
Another team that had a positive campaign is Deportivo La Coruña. Despite being just one goal from regulation last season, the Galicians are now enjoying their best spell since the SuperDepor days. With Lucas Pérez in the form of his life, Depor have been taking points from big teams like Athletic Club, Atlético, Sevilla, Celta and Barcelona. However, Sunday’s visit to the Bernabéu did not go so well, as they were beaten 5-0 by Zidane’s side.
On the other side of things, Valencia, Sevilla, Athletic Club, Real Sociedad and Málaga have all had surprisingly weak starts to the campaign. Sevilla, Athletic and Málaga have all been as far down as the regulations spots, while Real Sociedad (currently 14th) sacked their manager David Moyes. Valencia waited a couple of weeks longer before sacking their manager, Nuno Espírito Santo, with the team ninth in La Liga at that point. Things haven’t gone much better under new coach Gary Neville – they are currently 11th.
So what about the big three? Current league leaders Atlético Madrid have had their ups and downs, but with Antoine Griezmann continuing his great form from last season they’ve clinched the title of ‘winter champions’ – although that is helped by Barcelona having played one game less. Talking about Barcelona, it’s hard not to mention the super trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez and Neymar, an attacking trio simply impossible to compete with. However, the current Club World Champions have had problems themselves during the season, with the 4-1 loss to Celta de Vigo standing out as the Catalans’ biggest league loss in five years. Meanwhile, Real Madrid’s 15 dropped points were enough for Florentino Pérez to give Rafael Benitez the boot with (as you no doubt know) club legend and all-time great Zinedine Zidane taking over.
With half the season still to be played it looks like the early indications were right: this has all the makings of one of the most exciting La Liga campaigns in years.
Read more form Alexandra here
Follow Alexandra on Twitter @AlexandraJonson