Barcelona break unbeaten record, Denis Cheryshev stars for Valencia
Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as Barcelona broke the unbeaten league record and Denis Cheryshev starred for Valencia.
1. No let up in Barca's intensity
Barcelona's 5-1 win at Rayo Vallecano on Thursday evening means they have now won 10 on the bounce in La Liga, are a Spanish club record 35 games unbeaten in all competitions, and eight points clear of Atletico Madrid at the top of the Primera Division standings.
After a mistake from Rayo goalkeeper Juan Carlos let in Ivan Rakitic to open the scoring midway through the first half, Lionel Messi netted his latest hat trick, with Arda Turan's first goal for the club finishing the scoring late on.
Even though Luis Suarez was responsible for Barca's latest penalty miss, there was no sign of any let-up in Barca's focus during the game, with coach Luis Enrique pointedly praising his side's intensity and attitude at his postmatch news conference.
"We played very well," said Luis Enrique afterwards. "When this team shows this level of intensity and attitude, it is very difficult for the opponent."
2. Madrid's kids to the rescue... maybe
The local media in the Spanish capital is convinced, or so they say, that an injection of home grown youngsters can bring back the attitude and intensity that Real Madrid need to rejuvenate their season.
Mostly due to injuries and suspensions, Los Blancos coach Zinedine Zidane gave a chance to squad players such as Lucas Vazquez, Nacho and Casemiro in Wednesday's 3-1 win at Levante, with 18-year-old centre-forward Borja Mayoral also getting a first senior start.
AS editor Alfred Relano opined the next morning that "in times of crisis, you reach for the cantera [youth system]," while Friday morning's Marca said the plan now was to "keep quiet, work hard, and respond," with Vazquez featured as the main example.
On Wednesday night, Zidane had gone along with this narrative by praising the hard work of the 24-year-old winger -- who ran more than any of his teammates during the game, and ended it with cramp.
"Lucas was very committed, he worked very hard," the coach said. "That is what we must do -- to run, to be committed. We must always make the maximum effort on the pitch. Not just the kids."
3. Cheryshev clicking at Valencia
Madrid youth product Denis Cheryshev did not get much chance to show his worth earlier in the season, but since joining Valencia on loan in January he has been a revelation.
Cheryshev was the key player in Valencia's 2-1 win at Malaga on Wednesday night, as he inadvertently played a role in Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni's calamitous own-goal, and then coolly converted Andre Gomes pinpoint cross for the winner.
The Russia international, 25, also scored the clincher in Gary Neville's first La Liga win against Espanyol last month, and has been generally to the fore as Los Che have won five of their last six outings in all competitions.
"Wins always give you confidence," Cheryshev said on Thursday. "It's true I've not been here long, but the team are on the up now. We hope it continues until the end of the season."
4. Aduriz getting better and better
Athletic Bilbao remain in the hunt for Europa League qualification, after Aritz Aduriz's latest hat trick in Wednesday's 4-1 win at home to woefully out of form Deportivo La Coruna.
Three close range finishes brought Aduriz to 30 goals in all competitions already this season, including 17 in La Liga. It is already the best campaign of the 35-year-old's career -- the last player to score at this age was Hungarian superstar Ferenc Puskas for Real Madrid back in 1963-64.
Aduriz has just one cap for Spain, from almost five years ago, but is currently easily outscoring La Roja's present centre-forwards Diego Costa, Alvaro Morata and Paco Alcacer. This is leading to a swell of support for the veteran to be included in the squad for the summer's Euros in France.
"We do not pick players by public vote, but if everyone is calling for him, we must think about it," said national team coach Vicente del Bosque in Marca on Thursday.
5. Nervy at the bottom
This seemed a big gameweek in the relegation battle, with Las Palmas hammering free-falling Getafe 4-0 at home, Real Betis winning 3-0 at illness hit Espanyol and Sporting Gijon going down 2-0 at a resurgent Granada.
Sporting are now 19th in the table, without a win in their last six games, and the Asturian team's coach Abelardo was not happy after his young team had what would have been an opening goal ruled out for a debatable offside, then a harsh penalty awarded against them, and finally a player sent off by referee Javier Estrada Fernandez.
"Today was a scandal," Abelardo said at the postmatch news conference. "I don't care if they give me a 50 game ban. Everything is on the line for us. Those kids are crying with rage in the dressing-room. They have robbed us today. Maybe I will regret this tomorrow, but I am so angry right now. These kids don't deserve this. It's shameful. But we'll survive despite what many people want."
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.