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Season Review: Barcelona

Barcelona
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Barcelona's penalty issues continue, Atletico Madrid back among the goals

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol gives his take on Barcelona's penalty kick woes this season and how they can remedy the situation.

Five thoughts from another weekend of La Liga action, as Barcelona won big but saw their penalty woes continue and Atletico and Real Madrid also secured wins.

1. Barca could yet pay the penalty

Barcelona took the latest step towards retaining their Primera Division title with Saturday afternoon's 6-0 stroll past Getafe at the Camp Nou.

Lionel Messi was brilliant through the first half, playing a part in the early own goal by Juan Rodriguez, providing assists for Munir El-Haddadi and Neymar and hammering home a fine 20-yard strike of his own. Soon after the break, the Argentine laid on Neymar's second, before Arda Turan completed the rout with an acrobatic sixth.

Even with key players Luis Suarez and Sergio Busquets rested, Barca and Messi were so dominant that coach Luis Enrique was buoyant after a 12th straight La Liga win and 37th match unbeaten in all competitions.

There was little focus on Messi having failed to score yet another penalty early in the first half, with Santi Gimenez writing in his AS match report: "A penalty for Barcelona is now taken by the Camp Nou as something vulgar, not worthy of taking too seriously."

Speaking after the match, Gerard Pique said he was confident Barcelona would score penalties when they truly matter, saying: "When things are on the line and we have to score them, we will score them."

However, the team's penalty record is of genuine cause for concern. Barca have now scored just 10 of the 20 penalties they have been awarded in all competitions this season, with Messi and Neymar -- who have both scored four from eight, and Suarez -- with two from four -- all having 50 percent conversion rates.

Messi's reaction to Vicente Guaita's penalty save on Saturday was revealing -- he bit the neck of his shirt and hit the post with his hand -- while Luis Enrique was also visibly frustrated.

At this stage, it looks like the most likely thing to derail Barca's bid for a second consecutive treble will be a miss from 12 yards.

Atletico Madrid look to be shaping up for a strong finish to the season.

2. Atletico getting back among the goals

Second-placed Atletico Madrid also enjoyed a big win at the weekend, seeing off a Deportivo La Coruna side in disastrous form 3-0 at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.

Another clean sheet for Diego Simeone's team means they have still conceded only 12 goals in 29 La Liga games this term. More importantly, though, they have also scored three times in three consecutive games for the first time since 2012.

Through much of the season Atletico have struggled for goals, relying way too much on top scorer Antoine Griezmann, who was again on the scoresheet against Depor. But the Frenchman is getting more help recently, with Saul Niguez up to eight goals in all competitions following his first half header, and Angel Correa moving to seven with his late strike despite limited playing time.

"The important thing is that the goals come from different areas of the pitch," Simeone said on Saturday night. "We have people who arrive well from the second line, like Saul and Koke, and Griezmann keeps playing as he does."

Barca's eight-point lead at the top of the table means it is probably too late for a title push, but it does mean Atletico look well set to take second place and could be real contenders in the Champions League.

ESPN FC's Paul Mariner breaks down Real Madrid's narrow 2-1 victory over Las Palmas.
The FC crew discuss PSG's chances against the best in the UCL after they captured the Ligue 1 title with eight games to spare.

3. Zidane wants more from Real Madrid

Zinedine Zidane was less than impressed with his team's showing in Sunday evening's last-gasp 2-1 win at Las Palmas, with the Real Madrid coach saying afterwards that his team needed to play much better.

Madrid claimed the three points thanks to headers from Sergio Ramos and Casemiro, but AS' match report told the real story: "Las Palmas played the football, Real Madrid won the game."

The visitors' performance had been lacking in open play, with very few chances created and goalkeeper Keylor Navas again by far their most impressive player.

Their showing was not an isolated occurrence, and nor was the reliance on set-pieces. Madrid have scored 11 goals from corners over the course of this season in La Liga -- more than anyone else. They've also scored 18 headers -- again, more than any other team.

The statistic is not entirely surprising given that the team boasts several excellent set-piece takers like Isco, James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric as well as several superb headers of the ball, including Ramos, Pepe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

However, for many Bernabeu fans and pundits -- and, it seems, Zidane himself -- that is not really how they want to be winning games.

Gary Neville has so far been unable to revive Valencia's fortunes.

4. Neville at least gets points for honesty

Gary Neville's term in charge of Valencia reached a new low in Sunday afternoon's 1-0 derby defeat at Levante.

Everyone, including Neville, can see what's wrong -- the coach spoke openly and at length at Saturday's prematch news conference about how his team would need to match Levante's spirit and commitment, about how they needed to fix their problems defending set-pieces and keeping clean sheets.

His warnings made no difference. Levante's goal on Sunday came from a simple long throw into the box, with five defenders watching as Giuseppe Rossi hooked in a volley in from 10 yards.

Neville did not hold back after the game, telling reporters: "I've sat up here after defeats and said we've been unlucky. Today I'm not defending that. I apologise to Valencia's fans because the very basic premise of a football match is that you run, fight and tackle as hard as the opposition."

Neville's comments have been welcomed by many supporters and pundits, with former Los Che goalkeeper Santi Canizares saying the Englishman was the only senior Valencia figure honest enough to come out and give an explanation of what was going wrong.

The problems at the club go much deeper than who is on the bench, and owner Peter Lim remains for most the main culprit for a disastrous season that sees Valencia sitting 12th in La Liga.

5. Ochoa returns

Malaga beat Sporting Gijon 1-0 on Friday night with another screamer from in-form Venezuela international Juanpi, but the real story of the game was an excellent performance by Boquerones goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Ochoa joined Malaga after starring at the 2014 World Cup but found himself behind first-choice keeper Carlos Kameni, sitting on the bench for 66 straight games before an injury to Kameni last weekend allowed the Mexico international to finally make his La Liga debut.

The 30-year-old showed no signs of rustiness, making five saves in total, including fine stops from Tonny Sanabria and Pablo Perez, to take the home fans' man of the match award and frustrate a visiting side that probably deserved something from the game.

Kameni is out for another six weeks after a knee operation so "Memo" -- known as "Guille" in Andalucia -- will have more chances to show his worth.

"Just because there are obstacles in your path does not mean you should give up on your dream," Ochoa said last week. After his inspirational debut, he is now primed to make up for lost time.

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Twitter @dermotmcorrigan.

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