By Joseph Cassinelli
MADRID (Reuters) - Lionel Messi was at his scintillating best for Barcelona as they moved clear at the top of the table, while Atletico swept aside fifth-placed Alaves and Gareth Bale scored his first league goal for 99 days as Real Madrid snuck past bottom of the table Huesca. Here are five talking points from the La Liga weekend.
MESSI HAD A POINT TO PROVE
There were few arguments when Luka Modric won the Ballon D'Or last week, however eyebrows were raised when it emerged Lionel Messi had finished fifth and for the first time since 2006 was not on the podium in the top three.
The Argentine forward seemed to make it a personal challenge to prove he is not a fading force in Saturday's Catalan derby between Barcelona and Espanyol, scoring two sumptuous free kicks and laying on another for team mate Ousmane Dembele in a 4-0 victory.
Victory means Barca are three points clear of Sevilla at the top of the table.
BALE BACK IN THE GOALS
Many believed with Cristiano Ronaldo no longer at Real Madrid, this season would see Gareth Bale become the team's talisman and lead them to glory.
However, managerial upheaval and inconsistent form has meant it has been as difficult a campaign for the Welshman as any of his other team mates.
On Sunday Bale gave a glimpse of his match-winning potential with a sweetly-struck volley in Real's narrow 1-0victory at bottom of the table Huesca.
Remarkably, the goal was his first in 99 days in La Liga, and the club will be hoping that he can use it as a springboard for the rest of the season and prove himself to be a difference maker when they need him.
ALAVES CHALLENGE RUNNING OUT OF STEAM
The LA Liga title race looks like being one of the most open in recent memory but Alaves, one of the surprise challengers, appear to be fading away.
Alaves, a small team from the Basque country, kept pace with the likes of Barcelona Atletico during the opening weeks of the season and were ahead of Real Madrid.
But a 3-0 defeat by Atletico on Saturday means it is now three games without a win in La Liga and they dropped to fifth and are in danger of being swallowed up in mid-table.
VALENCIA STRUGGLES CONTINUE
Last season Valencia were a breath of fresh air in La Liga, playing swashbuckling, attacking football as they secured a fourth-placed finish and spot in the Champions League.
This time round has been a complete contrast for MarceloGarcia's side, who sit 15th and have won just three times in the league, scoring only 12 goals in 15 games.
They rescued a point with a last-minute equaliser against Sevilla at the weekend, however fans at the Mestalla made their frustrations with the team known at the final whistle.
SIDNEI CHANNELS HIS INNER MARADONA
It is not often that a lumbering centre-back will draw comparisons to the great Diego Maradona, however that is exactly what Real Betis's Sidnei did this weekend as he scored a magnificent solo goal in their 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano.
Picking the ball up 10 yards inside his own half, there appeared little danger, however the Brazilian charged forward, beat a couple of defenders for pace, fooled Alejandro Galvez with a stepover of the kind we are more accustomed to seeing the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo produce before firing past Stole Dimitrievski in the Rayo goal.
(Editing by Martyn Herman)