Barcelona peaking at right time in Liga race, Cristiano Ronaldo silences critics
Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as Barcelona made it 36 unbeaten games in all competitions and Cristiano Ronaldo silenced his critics.
1. Barca record points tally still on
Barcelona's unbeaten run in all competitions clocked up to 36 with their 11th straight La Liga win on Sunday afternoon -- a 4-0 victory at Eibar.
Eibar played about as well as they realistically could, even after Munir El Haddadi put Barca ahead early on. Luis Enrique's side were just too good, though, and Lionel Messi's solo goal just before halftime ended the game as a contest. Messi added a Panenka penalty in the second half, with Luis Suarez also getting on the score sheet late on as his side gave their opponents no hope at all.
Even with an eight-point lead over second-place Atletico Madrid, and 12 points to Real Madrid back in third, there is no sign of Barca taking their foot off the pedal. Luis Enrique praised his players' "ambition" and the team's "evolution" after the game, and they do seem to be coming into their best form as the season's key moments arrive.
Barca will have to win all 10 remaining games to get to 102 points and set a new La Liga points total record. It seems unlikely given their looming Champions League commitments, but it's on if they keep playing like this.
2. Ronaldo reacts to whistles
The locals were very restless at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday afternoon, even after Pepe's header had put Real Madrid 1-0 up over Celta Vigo before half-time.
Early in the second period, Blancos superstar Cristiano Ronaldo easily lost possession three times near the Celta goal, and was whistled with increasing volume from a crowd still angry at his comments after the previous weekend's 1-0 home reverse to Atletico.
Ronaldo reacted by swerving a 30-yard screamer into the Celta net, celebrating pointedly by cupping his hand to his ear. He then followed it up with his best free kick goal in years, and two more straightforward close-range finishes. All within 26 minutes -- before substitutes Jese Rodriguez and fit-again Gareth Bale also got on the scoresheet as Celta's defence wilted in a 7-1 rout.
"It's part of football, that the fans whistle sometimes, not just Cristiano," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said afterwards. "These are demanding fans, who know the game well, and always want more from their players. That is good to improve, to do more, and we always need to do more. Then, you all know Cristiano, he is capable of putting in four, few can do that, he is unique."
Ronaldo himself may or may not be thankful for the prod from his own team's fans. The club's all-time record goal scorer's long-term future remains up in the air, but on Saturday the whistling worked.
3. Simeone decisive as Neville dithers
Two substitutions were very telling as Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid beat Gary Neville's Valencia 3-1 on Sunday evening at Mestalla.
With an hour gone, and the game at 1-1, Simeone removed holding midfielder Matias Kranevitter and sent on a third forward in Fernando Torres, who within nine minutes had turned in a corner to put his side ahead.
Then, as Neville was readying his attacking substitute Alvaro Negredo, Torres was fouled by Valencia centre-back Aderlan Santos, meaning a second yellow for the unfortunate Brazilian. The rookie head coach immediately changed his mind, readying defender Aymen Abdennour to come on instead. Negredo frustratedly returned to his seat, while the Mestalla crowd chanted the popular centre-forward's name.
Following a lengthy discussion with assistants Phil Neville, Pako Ayestaran and Miguel Angulo, Abdennour was sent back to the bench, and Negredo ran onto the pitch to roars from the crowd. 60 seconds later a disorganised Valencia defence was again breached by Atletico winger Yannick Carrasco for the clincher.
Neville denied afterwards that he had been swayed by the crowd chanting Negredo's name, while admitting he probably should have sent on Abdennour. Meanwhile, Simeone was rewarded for his decisive action. "A real coach versus a nice guy," Marca's match report said.
4. Getafe and Sevilla draw as expected
Getafe at home to Sevilla on Saturday afternoon was for a long time the inverse of the unstoppable force against the immovable object.
Sevilla have not won away in La Liga all season, and seemed unlikely to break that run until Ever Banega produce a moment of magic out of keeping with the game by curling in a 20-yard free kick with just 12 minutes left.
Getafe had not scored in any of their previous six games, and that stretch looked sure to continue until centre-back Emiliano Velazquez took advantage of poor Sevilla defending at a corner and knocked home from close range with time almost up.
The 1-1 draw did not really help anybody in the end -- with Sevilla still well adrift of fourth spot, and Getafe still right in the relegation mire.
5. Depor on the dive again
Deportivo La Coruna against Malaga on Saturday evening was a super game, which swung back and forth before ending 3-3 after Depor defender Alejandro Arribas' unfortunate, late own goal.
Things are all going one way for Depor at the moment though -- with Victor Sanchez Del Amo's side not having won any of their last 12 in La Liga. It now looks very similar to last season, when they went 14 games without a win through the spring, and only miraculously avoided relegation on the last day at the Camp Nou.
The Galicians' still have a seven-point advantage over the bottom three, but others teams are catching up fast. Real Betis moved past them with their second successive win in Sunday lunchtime's 2-0 at home to Granada. Las Palmas have made up nine points in a week, with Saturday's shock 1-0 at Villarreal being their third straight victory. Depor need to get a win from somewhere, soon, or they'll again be looking for miracles to survive.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.