BARCELONA (Reuters) – Barcelona beat Girona 2-0 in a Catalan derby on Sunday to maintain their five-point lead at the top of La Liga, while Real Madrid thrashed Espanyol 4-2. Here are five talking points from the weekend in La Liga.
Coutinho struggles continue
Even as Barcelona recorded an eighth consecutive league win, Philippe Coutinho’s personal struggles continued at Montilivi.
The out-of-form Brazilian playmaker is low on confidence and it showed as he spurned two one-on-one chances in the Catalan derby.
Coutinho saw his first effort kept out by Girona goalkeeper Bono after being played in by Lionel Messi, and then another blocked by a defender.
Only Ousmane Dembele’s ankle injury is keeping Coutinho in Ernesto Valverde’s starting XI and, a year after his debut, he still has not carved out a place in the champions’ side.
Benzema brings the heat
Real Madrid have been functional but rarely fun under coach Santiago Solari in his 11 league games in charge.
However, at Espanyol that changed and Karim Benzema’s sparkling form up front was the catalyst.
As well as two well-taken goals, the French forward showed brilliant footwork to tee up Gareth Bale for his comeback strike.
“People ask a striker to score goals, but I think I am a number nine who has the soul of a number 10,” said Benzema after his best performance of the season.
The forward has nine league goals, considerably more than last season’s tally of five, and has been the club’s top performer this season.
High-scoring Celta sinking
Celta Vigo have been in fantastic form in front of goal this season, striking 33 times — more than any other club in La Liga with the exception of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla.
However, the Galicians sit 17th, one point above the relegation zone and are considering the future of coach Miguel Cardoso, say Spanish reports.
Celta sacked Antonio Mohamed in November and replaced him with Portuguese coach Cardoso, but even though the club have continued to score goals, they have not been able to secure the points.
On Sunday they led at Real Valladolid before eventually stumbling to a 2-1 defeat and it may seal Cardoso’s fate.
Espinosa’s raw deal
Girona gave as good as they got against Barcelona but were hurt by Bernardo Espinosa’s red card.
Perhaps the defender paid the price for battling with illustrious duo Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, because neither of his two yellow cards were deserved.
Messi ran into Bernardo on the edge of Girona’s area and was given a generous free-kick, with the defender harshly booked.
Later he committed a soft foul on Suarez who writhed in apparent agony until the defender was dismissed.
“It was a dubious decision, as neither of the yellow cards was clear,” said Girona coach Eusebio. “I’ve always trusted the honesty of the referees, but today, to leave us a player down in the position we were…
“It’s a decision that needs to be thought about more, there was a lack of consistency.”
Return to the norm
After a rollercoaster start to the season, La Liga’s biggest sides are beginning to return to their usual positions.
Since Santiago Solari replaced Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid, 11 league games ago, Barcelona have taken the most points with 28 from a potential 33.
They are followed by Real Madrid and Atletico on 25, Valencia with 18, Real Betis and Sevilla with 17 and Athletic Bilbao and Getafe with 16 each.
It shows Madrid have stabilised after a terrible start to the campaign, while both Valencia and Athletic, seventh and 11th respectively, have improved hugely.
Rubi’s Espanyol, who moved second on Oct. 21, have slumped to 15th.
(Reporting by Rik Sharma, editing by Pritha Sarkar)