Big 3 below their best as La Liga reaches international break

Madrid, Oct 5 (IANS) The top sides in Spain reach the October international break with plenty of questions to be asked about their form and perspectives for the football season.

Sunday’s Madrid derby between Atletico and Real made it clear that both sides have work to do: Real are struggling to score goals, while Atletico seem to lack the intensity of previous campaigns, reports Xinhua.

Real head coach Rafa Benitez has come in for criticism for adopting an overly conservative approach and it could well be that his decision to sit back and defend a 1-0 lead against Atletico allowed Diego Simeone’s men to score a late equaliser.

The draw comes on the back of a 0-0 draw at home against Malaga and although Real scored six against Espanyol and five against a newly promoted Real Betis, the feeling is that goals will not flow as freely this campaign.

Part of the reason for that is that Cristiano Ronaldo is struggling. He may have scored five against Espanyol, but that is the only league game out of seven in which he has found the opposition net.

Meanwhile, German midfielder Tony Kroos also looks short of fitness and his creativity is being missed, while James Rodriguez is injured.

The good news for Real is that their defence does look more solid, but with questions being asked about Benitez’s tactics and the fans notoriously demanding of attacking football, how long will it be before the first whistles are heard in the Stadium?

Atletico were big spenders over the summer, with the arrivals of players such as Jackson Martinez and Luciano Vietto.

So far Martinez has failed to shine, while former Villarreal forward Vietto has also lacked teeth, despite leveling against Real Madrid.

Meanwhile, the defence continues to look solid, although the midfield once again lacks creativity, despite Oliver Torres returning from Porto. There is also a feeling that after nearly four years in charge, the highly demanding Simeone is in danger of provoking burnout in some of his players.

If things are not coming up roses in Madrid, the problems in Barcelona seem even deeper. Last season’s treble winners have already lost two league games, as well as suffering humiliation in the Spanish Supercup.

Luis Enrique’s team has struggled in defence with several players, such as Dani Alves and Jeremy Mathieu below their best and Ter Stegen questioned in goal. Last season’s rock solid back-line suddenly looks open and vulnerable, but all of the blame can’t be placed on the defenders.

Saturday saw Barcelona lose a frantic end-to-end game 1-2 against Sevilla and the phrase ‘end-to-end’ says it all. Barcelona simply lack the midfield control that has seen them dominate European football in recent years. Xavi Hernandez has gone, Iniesta is injured and Sergio Busquets can’t do it on his own.

The loss of Lionel Messi with a knee injury is obviously a handicap, but Barcelona’s weaknesses were clear to see even before his knee injury. The compensation for head coach Enrique is that last season saw them start badly, only to recover in the New Year and win the treble.

But it is not all bad news for football fans, with the big-three below their best, other sides are taking their chances.

So for the moment, lets take our hats off to league leaders Villarreal, an exciting Celta Vigo and tiny Eibar, who have once again started the season punching well above their weight.

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