Five December La Liga lessons

Atletico Madrid were the big winners of the La Liga weekend as Barcelona, Valencia and Real Madrid surprisingly all faltered against unfancied opposition.

 

Valencia's first defeat of the season at Getafe meant Barca even extended their lead at the top to five points, but they arguably suffered an even bigger blow than their 2-2 draw at home to Celta Vigo with the news centre-back Samuel Umtiti will be sidelined for two months.

Real remain eight points back of the leaders in fourth after another off night for Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema as the European champions were held 0-0 by struggling Athletic Bilbao.

Here, we look at five things we learned from La Liga:

King Koke 

Atletico's resurgence continued as Antoine Griezmann netted a late winner against his old side Real Sociedad to earn a 2-1 victory and move Los Rojiblancos to within six points of Barca.

Griezmann's return to goalscoring form has played a huge part in Atleti's recent revival, but even more telling is the difference made by the return of Spanish international midfielder Koke.

Without him for six games last month, Atletico lacked creativity and control as they most likely sustained irreparable damage to their Champions League hopes in back-to-back draws with Qarabag while also dropping La Liga points against Villarreal.

"The team suffered in the games without Koke," admitted Diego Simeone.

Since Koke's return, Atletico have rediscovered their scoring touch by netting 12 goals in dismissing Roma, Levante, Elche and Sociedad.

 

Irreplaceable Umtiti 

Umtiti's absence has sparked suggestions Barca could look for centre-back cover in January with Javier Mascherano also currently injured and Thomas Vermaelen perennially sidelined.

However, no matter who covers for the French international, they won't be able to offer Barca what Umtiti has.

Signed from Lyon last year, in the 24-year-old Barca have found what they have needed for a number of seasons since former captain Carles Puyol retired in a reliable centre-back partner for Gerard Pique.

Strong, fast and calm in possession, Umtiti has even outshone Pique at the heart of a Barca defence that hadn't conceded more than once in a match for nearly four months until he pulled up injured on Saturday.

 

What might have been for Madrid 

Sunday's sports papers in Madrid lamented Real's resistance last summer to tear up the 'BBC' strike force of Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale to retain Alvaro Morata and recruit Kylian Mbappe.

Morata tired at his lack of game time behind Benzema, whilst Mbappe was reportedly keen on a move to Madrid as long as one of the incumbent attacking trio was shipped out.

In the end Real were left empty-handed in their summer striker hunt and have paid the price as injuries and suspension have meant Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale are yet to play a single minute of action together this season.

 

Magic Moroccans 

Spain's World Cup draw on Friday caught the eye for a match-up with Ronaldo's Portugal, but most believe the last two European champions should have too much for Morocco and Iran in group B.

However, Moroccan duo Nordin Amrabat and Nabil El Zhar fired a warning sign to La Roja as Amrabat came off the bench to set up goals for Diego Rico and Gabriel Pires, whilst El Zhar got on the scoresheet himself as Leganes shocked Villarreal 3-1 on Sunday.

 

No Guedes, no goals for Valencia 

Valencia's start to life without injured Portuguese playmaker Goncalo Guedes got off to a terrible start as Getafe cut off their supply line to forward pair Rodrigo and Simone Zaza despite playing with 10 men for 65 minutes.

Guedes has been the shining light in Valencia's rejuvenation under Marcelino Garcia Toral with three goals and five assists in just 11 La Liga outings.

However, with Guedes set to miss the rest of the year due to a broken toe, Valencia will need to come up with other creative solutions quickly if they are to maintain an unlikely title challenge.

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