For at least 90 minutes on Sunday against Real Betis, Barcelona looked potent offensively without Lionel Messi. This is a development that can’t be overstated.
Elsewhere in Spain, Real Madrid settled for a 1-1 draw against Valladolid. And following an offseason overhaul, this year’s Atlético Madrid appears to be a case of “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
After two games, Los Rojiblancos are one of just two undefeated squads in Spain’s 20-team top flight. *Sevilla is currently in first place (thanks to a +3 goal differential compared to +2 for Atleti) after opening the season with a 2-0 win over Espanyol and a 1-0 defeat of Granada on Friday.
Plenty to talk about for Barcelona
But let’s start with the reigning league champs, which looked like a different team than the one we saw lose the season opener 1-0 to Athletic Bilbao. The Catalans fell behind 1-0 in the 15th minute at Camp Nou, but responded with five unanswered goals as Antoine Griezmann led a young XI to an impressive blowout.
First of all, no, this was not a starting lineup we should get used to seeing. But it was still interesting to see Barcelona’s front three of Antoine Griezmann, with Rafinha to his left and 21-year-old Carles Pérez to his right. And the subs that Ernesto Valverde chose for Rafinha (23-year-old Júnior Firpo) and Pérez (16-year-old Ansummane Fati) showed the manager’s interest in seeing what the next generation of Barcelona players can do.
Griezmann enjoys his Camp Nou debut
It was Griezmann, however, who stole the show. He scored twice and added an assist, looking like the best player on the pitch in a welcome sight for Barcelona fans.
Messi’s track record tells us he’s unlikely to miss many games, but we’ve learned over the last few months that the Argentine alone is not going to be enough for Barcelona to reach its goals. Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé are nice complements to Messi when healthy, but another dominant (and durable) striker is a necessity for this team, and Griezmann is exactly that. And if his Lebron James-esque celebration of his second goal – but with confetti instead of chalk – was any indication, he appears to be right at home under the Camp Nou spotlight.
— LeBron James (@KingJames) August 26, 2019
Sunday night may have also given us a glimpse of Barcelona’s latest teenage prodigy. Fati, who will likely spend most of the season playing for Barcelona’s B team, came on for the last 15 minutes and did not look the least bit intimidated. The teenager, who became the second-youngest player in club history to play in a La Liga match, nearly scored in the 86th, but his shot was just wide.
There was one notable absence, though: Sunday marked Ivan Rakitic’s second straight game as a sub. The Croatian did not play at all this week after coming on at halftime last week. There are rumblings his days in Catalonia could be numbered, with Juventus reportedly interested. Rakitic is still widely considered a quality player, even if he’s divisive among Barcelona supporters, so his situation is worth monitoring.
Real Madrid falters
Los Blancos are not exactly right back in the panic mode after drawing Valladolid 1-1, but it was a disappointing result for Zidane’s club. The biggest headline before the match was that not only was Gareth Bale starting again, but that he was joined by James Rodríguez. The Colombian’s potential impact on this year’s team was set to be the biggest storyline of this weekend. However, Monday morning news broke that he suffered a calf injury. We’ll know more on how long he’s out soon, but after 825 days between appearances for RM, his injury made Saturday’s game a bittersweet return.
Atleti remains stout defensively, but where’s the offense?
Another week, another 1-0 win for Diego Simeone and Co. We’ve seen that this is obviously a winning formula for this club, but those who thought João Félix (*looks in mirror*) was going to turn this team into an offensive juggernaut overnight will need some patience. It was the 19-year-old who created the only goal his team needed, feeding Vitolo in the 71st for the game-winner.
*We’ll touch on whether Sevilla can continue its strong start later this week.
A look at La Liga futures
It’s worth noting that Atleti’s title odds keep getting better and better (or worse and worse, if you wanted to grab them at +1400). Oddsmakers see this is a three-team race. Don’t expect that to change for awhile.
|2019-20 La Liga Title Favorites|
|Barcelona -150||Real Madrid +200||Atletico Madrid +600|