Minnows flying high in La Liga as giants forced to play catch-up


1 Eibar’s Ander Capa (right) vies for the ball with Xabier Etxeita of Athletic de Bilbao during their Primera Division Liga match at the Ipurua Stadium.2 Celta’s Sergio Alvarez (keeper) jumps for the ball with Rayo Vallecano’s Guinean forward Lass Bangoura in their encounter at Balaidos Stadium in Vigo.3 Atletico Madrid’s Jackson Martinez celebrates after scoring against Sevilla at Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium in Seville.4 The Valencia squad prior to their match in last weekend’s fixtures.

International football has come at a terrible time for Celta Vigo and Eibar. The joint leaders of La Liga have surprised many with their wonderful starts to the season and will be cursing the momentum halting international break.

Eibar, in particular, have looked impressive after coming out with guns blazing against Granada and Basque giants Athletic Bilbao, over the first two matches this season.

Los Armeros (The Gunners) are making the most of their top-flight return after being reinstated to La Liga at the expense of Elche, who suffered administrative relegation for breaching financial regulations last season.

Jose Luis Mendilibar’s men are regarded as favourites for the drop once again but they have made a positive impression so far, thanks, in part, to the form of midfielders Dani Garcia and Adrian.

Despite their good start, Eibar will be wary of repeating their disastrous mid-season run from last season when they managed only one win in 19 matches from Jan 17 to May 18.

That ultimately led to the their initial relegation butwith another shot at Primera Division football, they will beseeking consistency this season.

Celta Vigo currently sits above Eibar at the top but only due to the fact that their name starts with a “C” rather than an “E”.

Both teams have struck five goals in two matches with just one goal conceded and are currently separated only by the order of letters in the alphabet.

It is a long season however and both sides should enjoy their current positions and the illustrious company they keep at the moment. It will not last long.

Survival will be Eibar’s main aim this season while Celta, as exciting as they are to watch, will be busy chasing a top half finish.

The other two sides with perfect starts to the season are Atletico Madrid and Barcelona. Atletico were brilliant in their recent 3-0 win over a quality side in Sevilla.

They have their attacking verve back again and have looked as solid defensively as they have always been under Diego Simeone.

Their signings in the transfer window have been positive and one of their latest additions, Jackson Martinez, opened his account for the club with a lovely strike.

Their old boys continue to deliver, with Koke pulling the strings in midfield alongside Gabi and Tiago.

With the mobility, pace and, finishing of Antoine Griezmann and company ahead of them, things will only get better.

Even at this early stage of the season, Atletico look like they are back to their best and will be incredibly hard to beat this season, both in Europe and in the league.

Barcelona, meanwhile, are yet to hit their stride. Two unconvincing 1-0 wins from two matches. Six points from two games with zero goals conceded. What is there to complain about?

Well, at a club like Barcelona, that is not good enough in the longer term. Style matters and the fans will be quick to remind Luis Enrique and his players of that if their displays do not improve.

The Catalans will have the perfect opportunity to remind everyone of their incredible talents once the league resumes as they face Atletico Madrid in a massive clash at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.

Barcelona are unbeaten in the last 10 league matches between the two sides but a win for Atletico over a title rival would send out a strong message about their aspirations this season.

The talent on display will be a joy to behold and it should be an intriguing contest. The international break cannot end soon enough.

Roshan Rai is a former professional footballer turned analyst/commentator, presently working with Fox Sports Asia and occasionally on Astro’s coverage of Malaysian football. An AFC licensed coach, he can be contacted at rhyshrai@hotmail.com or on twitter @RhyshRai

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