Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico all win, joy at last for Gary Neville
Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as the big three all picked up maximum points, while Gary Neville's long wait for a league win is finally over.
1. Barca's forwards having such fun
An under-strength Celta Vigo troubled Barcelona for much of the game at the Camp Nou on Sunday night, but an awe-inspiring final period saw the Blaugrana romp clear to win 6-1.
With 15 minutes remaining, the score was just 2-1, but Barca's front three began a magical show of creativity and finishing -- and Luis Suarez finished the game with a hat trick, Lionel Messi with two and Neymar with (just) one.
The cherry on top came when Messi passed up a chance for his 300th La Liga goal, instead copying Johan Cruyff's legendary 1982 penalty with Ajax teammate Jesper Olsen, tapping a penalty sideways for Suarez to run in and score past shocked Celta keeper Sergio.
"It was for me, we had practiced it in training!" Neymar joked afterward. "Leo and myself had practiced, but Luis was closer and he scored it. Our friendship is the most important thing. It doesn't matter who scores the goals, just that we win the games."
Barca have now won six on the trot, and 13 of their last 16 in La Liga, to take control of the title race. They now play twice before either of their title rivals have another game -- so by next Saturday night, they could be nine points clear at the top of the table.
2. Zidane's Madrid also having lots of fun
Athletic Bilbao were also missing key players at the Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon but put up a decent fight before eventually being outgunned. Real Madrid won 4-2, with two strikes from Cristiano Ronaldo, a 20-yard drive from James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos grabbing a rare goal.
The result was not a huge surprise -- Athletic have now lost in all nine of their most recent visits to the Bernabeu, conceding at least three goals each time. And Madrid have won all four home games since Zinedine Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez as coach in early January, scoring 20 times and conceding just three.
The game was great fun. Both teams had a host of chances, with Ronaldo & Co. winning out in the end thanks to their greater individual firepower. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas was also among his team's best players, however, regularly bailing out a rocky defence that did not receive enough protection from midfield colleagues.
Zidane's Madrid now face a trick run of games, Roma away in the Champions League on Wednesday, followed by Malaga and Atletico Madrid, which will test their mettle. Players such as James keep insisting that a lot has changed with Benitez's exit, but Athletic coach Ernesto Valverde is not so sure.
"No, more than anything because it is very soon," Valverde said on Saturday. "A month... we'll have to wait. We all know the characteristics of their players."
Zidane's arrival has freed up big-name players, including Ronaldo and James, who felt restricted by Benitez's controlling approach. They have definitely enjoyed their first month under the galactico coach. But the real test is starting now.
3. Torres strikes early as Atletico beat Getafe again
After waiting 1,030 days between his 99th and 100th goals for Atletico, Fernando Torres' 101st came just one week later. El Nino opened the scoring with only one minute played at Getafe on Sunday evening. That was ultimately enough for another three points to keep Diego Simeone's side second in the La Liga standings.
Atletico were not at their best, and lost winger Yannick Carrasco to a serious-looking ankle ligament problem, but as usual showed their mental strength and made sure they got the victory against their local rivals from the Spanish capital's suburbs.
The result means Atletico have scored 23 times, and let in zero, in 11 games against Getafe since Simeone took charge in January 2012, a record run without conceding for any La Liga side against one opponent.
4. Neville's luck changes
Gary Neville finally got his first win as Valencia coach on Saturday evening, with a 2-1 comeback win against struggling Espanyol at Mestalla, but he knows he has not won everyone over yet.
Neville looked further into the mire when his team again went behind early in the second half through Oscar Duarte's header, but they came back to win through goals from substitute Alvaro Negredo and winger Denis Cheryshev, who is on loan from Real Madrid.
Former Manchester United defender Neville afterward admitted that this time fortune was with his side, which had played better without getting their reward in other recent games. He also praised the support his team had received from their own fans, while accepting that local media who had criticised him lately had been "well within their rights."
"You saw the reaction of the fans and players -- everybody was relieved to get a win under our belt," Neville said. "Nine without a win under me, four before I came, too many for this club. This is not a night for celebration, to get carried away, but it's important we gain some confidence and take that forward."
Neville went on to say that he knew he was "in a fight," a situation he "thrives in." But the overwhelming reaction was relief that his winless run was over.
5. Other runs continuing
Neville's awkward wait for a La Liga win might be over, but the weekend saw many more runs continuing.
Villarreal stretched their unbeaten run to 11 games, as Roberto Soldado's first goal of 2016 saw his side keep their grip on fourth spot by beating Malaga 1-0.
Deportivo La Coruna's 2-2 draw at home to Real Betis was the Galicians' fifth consecutive draw -- and means they are the first club to draw 14 out of the 24 first matches of the season in La Liga history.
Sevilla's 2-0 defeat of Las Palmas, with goals from Ever Banega and Kevin Gameiro, was their 11th consecutive home win -- equalling their best stretch at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.