By Rik Sharma
MADRID (Reuters) – Real Betis earned a stunning 4-3 victory against leaders Barcelona at the Nou Camp while Real Madrid won their fourth game in a row under interim coach Santiago Solari 4-2 at Celta Vigo.
Here are five talking points from the weekend’s action:
Defence goes missing at Barca
One of the hallmarks of Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona side last season was their tight defence, conceding just 29 times on the way to winning the title.
However, this campaign the Barca rearguard has crumbled and opponents are scoring against them for fun.
“Teams can’t come here and score four against us,” lamented midfielder Arturo Vidal, but that’s exactly what Real Betis did on Sunday.
Barcelona have already let in 18 goals, meaning they have the sixth weakest defence in the division, despite retaining their position at the top of the league.
They may get away with it in La Liga, but Europe’s elite will not be so forgiving as Barcelona seek to win their first Champions League title since 2015.
The most obvious Panenka ever
Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos has been taking penalties at Real Madrid and the captain likes to pull off the old Panenka chip.
Earlier this week former Czech international Antonin Panenka, who invented the spot kick technique, praised Madrid’s captain for his ability to pull them off.
“(Ramos) could be the best imitator, because he did it more than once,” Panenka told Goal. “People know he does it, and he still does it, so that is great for him.”
So when Real were awarded a penalty against Celta Vigo in their 4-2 victory on Sunday, and Ramos stepped up to take it, everybody knew what was going to happen.
Except, it seems, Celta goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez, who dived to his left and saw Ramos’s chip waft into the net as the defender pulled off the move yet again.
Barca audition passed
Quique Setien has been a long-term admirer of the Johan Cruyff style of possession football, taking risks and reaping rewards.
The coach’s Real Betis side came to the Nou Camp and shone, putting in a brilliant performance which also served as an audition for Valverde’s job.
The Barca manager’s contract expires at the end of the season and there have been no talks to renew it yet.
After Betis’s victory Sergio Busquets gave Setien his signed shirt, writing ‘For Quique with respect and admiration for your way of looking at football.’
It is a sign that Barcelona’s key players would be happy to have a coach like Setien on board.
Growth of the outsiders
For many years the Spanish league has been criticised for the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona, with the occasional title challenge from Atletico Madrid.
However this season the league appears more competitive than ever, as evidenced by the jam-packed top of the table.
Real Madrid, who were in crisis two weeks ago and sacked coach Julen Lopetegui, are sixth but just four points behind leaders Barcelona, who have 24.
Three teams are one point behind Barca on 23, Sevilla, Atletico and Alaves, while Espanyol are fifth with 21.
“This year, the level of our opponents has risen, you can no longer win the league with 100 points,” said Barca defender Gerard Pique.
“Teams have bigger budgets, better players and they are more competitive and that’s better for spectators.”
Solari in limbo
Santiago Solari refused to clarify his future after Madrid’s win at Balaidos, but what is clear is that the coach cannot continue to operate as an interim manager after Monday.
There is a 15 day period in Spain in which somebody can operate on that basis before they must be given a contract or freed from the role.
With four wins in four games, 15 goals scored and just two conceded, Solari has staked his claim for the job.
However, director of institutional relations Emilio Butragueno could not confirm if Solari would stay on as coach on Sunday night.
Club president Florentino Perez has reportedly attempted to convince various higher-profile coaches to come, without success.
For now it seems Madrid have no choice but to continue with Solari.
(Editing by Christian Radnedge)