Moyes downs Barcelona, Real run ends: Five things we learned in La Liga
Five things we learned from a very interesting weekend of action, as La Liga returned from its winter break with a bang.
1. Moyes gets first taste of big La Liga moment
Up until now David Moyes' spell as Real Sociedad coach had been pretty underwhelming. For one thing, it has rained a lot in San Sebastian and, although his side have picked up some points and kept a few clean sheets, just one win and two players scoring in his first five La Liga games had offered little for anyone to get excited about.
Sunday's 1-0 win at home against Barcelona has changed that, with local and international media hailing Moysie's boys for deservedly beating Lionel Messi & Co.
There are some reasons not to get too carried away with the result. Luis Enrique's side have been poor away all season, also failing to score while dropping points at Malaga and Getafe; La Real had previously beaten Barca three times at Anoeta in the last four years. The Txuri-urdin have also raised their game to beat both Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid earlier this term, only to later slump once more against "lesser" opponents.
But this result looks very important, especially for Moyes himself. The Scot spoke afterward about watching Barcelona in huge games in the past, wondering how he might try to beat them. Now he knows, and he looked extra chuffed about this result. The weather should soon start getting better, too.
2. Nuno really knows what he's doing
When Valencia played 3-5-2 at Eibar in their final game of 2014, it seemed a specific once-off tactical plan against defensive opponents, something Los Che coach Nuno appeared to confirm last week. So the formation returning in his side's 2-1 win over Real Madrid on Sunday was a surprise.
Wing-backs Antonio Barragan and [early substitute] Jose Gaya, however, turned out to be the match-winners. Both players regularly found space as Madrid's attack-minded midfield trio of Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez and Isco looked swamped, and neither Cristiano Ronaldo nor Bale showed any inclination to track back and help out.
The two combined together for Valencia's first goal -- with Gaya streaking away from Bale and then passing to Barragan, whose shot deflected to the net off Pepe for his first La Liga goal since 2007. Another Gaya run decided the game, as it was the teenager who won an initial free-kick on the edge of the area which led quickly to Nicolas Otamendi heading in a subsequent corner.
Nuno's tactical ploy had worked again. With all the big names brought to Valencia by Peter Lim and Jorge Mendes in recent months, the previously little-known coach had arrived under the radar. He's quickly become the most important figure at Mestalla.
3. Gareth Bale's return to Mestalla did not go well
Gareth Bale's first visit to Mestalla saw him score a superb solo winning goal in April's Copa del Rey defeat of Barcelona. His second trip to Valencia's ground was a lot less fun.
Two moments early in the second half, with the game at 1-1, summed up Bale's afternoon. First he ran clear behind the home defence, but opted to go for goal himself rather than square to the unmarked Karim Benzema, and squandered the chance. Soon afterward he was easily beaten in a challenge for the ball in midfield, with Valencia going up the pitch to make it 2-1. Boss Carlo Ancelotti did not seem impressed, and quickly removed his 100 million euro attacker, even with his side needing two goals to stop their winning run ending at 22.
Afterward Marca and AS both gave Bale the lowest mark of any Madrid player for the game. In the latter, pundit Antonio Romero's Monday column was headlined "A warning for Bale." The reaction on his Mestalla return underlined that, despite a string of moments such as the Copa winner, the Wales international is still not really trusted by many Blancos watchers.
4. Torres' Atletico return is going to be emotional, one way or another
Fernando Torres' return to Atletico Madrid this week has brought a week of celebrations around the Vicente Calderon. 40,000 Rojiblancos were present at Sunday lunchtime to cheer as "El Nino" pulled on an Atletico shirt again for the first time in seven-and-a-half years. It was an emotional occasion, for him as well as those supporters and pundits who remember the angel-faced blonde teenager redeeming the club during its "two seasons in hell" (in the Segunda in 2000-2002) a decade ago. And a busy one for staff at the club shop, who were busy selling thousands of quickly produced "Torres 19" shirts to happy fans.
But less than 24 hours earlier, as he watched Atletico's 3-1 win over Levante from the VIP seats, Torres must surely have realised the potential for his dream return to go sour. Diego Simeone's extra demanding high-tempo style of play does not seem a good match for a player now almost 31 with a history of injury problems. And two more goals from French attacker Antoine Griezmann, eight years his junior, showed how well the 30 million euro summer signing has now settled in.
Atletico's directors, and coach Simeone, keep stressing that Torres has been brought back for purely football reasons. More skeptical observers who wonder if the real reason was emotional, or more likely commercial, will take more convincing.
5. Sevilla grind on
Marca called Sevilla's 1-0 win at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday evening "a victory of lies." AS said "Parejo's cannonball makes up for a bad Sevilla" -- with the report insisting Argentine defender Nico's excellent free-kick was the only good thing about his team's performance.
Such harsh comments were deserved, as Unai Emery's team did not play well, with their only goal coming from that one piece of individual inspiration. This even though Celta defender Marc Planas was harshly sent off on 21 minutes, and the Galicians have now not scored at all in their last seven La Liga games.
Emery's side looked short on ideas in attack, and his defensive and ever changing team selections continue to perplex. The Sanchez Pizjuan rang with whistles during the second half, as the visitors' 10 men looked the better team.
But... Sevilla have now gone 17 games unbeaten at home, their best run in 33 years. They may have only scored three goals in their last four outings home and away, but they've not conceded any at all. A haul of 33 points from 16 fixtures in La Liga leaves them just one behind much-praised Valencia, with a game in hand.
It's not been pretty, but Sevilla remain right in the top-four race.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan