LaLiga Review: The state of play at the halfway stage


FotMob - about 2 months ago

Title rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid both played in midweek, completing the 19th round of games and therefore, the first half of the 2022/23 campaign.

By Ben Hayward, LaLiga expert

Barcelona strike first

Barcelona reached the halfway point in LaLiga with 50 points after a 2-1 win at Real Betis on Wednesday night. Raphinha had a fine header ruled out for offside after 33 minutes, but the Brazilian did open the scoring in the second period as he tapped home at the far post from an Alejandro Balde cross following a quickly taken free-kick.

Robert Lewandowski scored the second with 10 minutes left to mark his return to the side with a goal, having missed the last three matches due to suspension. Without the Polish striker, Barça won all three games by the same scoreline: 1-0. But his return brought an additional strike and it was needed too after an own goal from defender Jules Koundé, who chested the ball into his net when trying to clear with five minutes left.

“We played a great game,” Xavi said. “Our play was excellent. I’m happy with the result and with the way we played. We improved in relation to the Girona game.

50 points at the halfway stage means the Blaugrana are on course to equal the record points total in LaLiga, set by Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in 2012 and equalled by Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona the following year.

“We’re leaders, we’re solid in defence, we’re working well,” Xavi said. “The work is paying off. The players are competing. I think today they played one of their best games of the season. I’m very satisfied.”

Betis, meanwhile, were unhappy that Barça were awarded a free-kick in the build-up to the opening goal when they believed it should have been given to them and also that it was taken ahead of where the foul took place.

“The first goal is quite conflictive because it was a clear foul on Aitor [Ruibal] and it wasn’t given,” Betis coach Manuel Pellegrini said. “[Instead] they get a free-kick and they take it 20 metres further forward…”

Betis are sixth despite the loss, level on points with Villarreal in fifth and three behind fourth-placed Atletico Madrid. “In general terms I would say it has been a good first half of the season,” Pellegrini said. “31 points which allows to be in the European spots. We have the dream and the ambition to qualify for the Champions League.”

Real Madrid strike back

Real Madrid beat Valencia 2-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu on Thursday night in the other fixture still outstanding following the recent Supercopa de España played in Saudi Arabia.

Los Blancos started the day eight points behind Barcelona, but closed the gap back to five at LaLiga’s halfway stage following second-half goals from Marco Asensio and Vinícius Juníor. Both were spectacular: Asensio fired home from distance with a fierce left-footed drive; Vinícius ran down the left flank and cut inside to finish with a low effort into the corner.

Karim Benzema assisted both goals, but was forced off with an injury on the hour mark. “It’s very slight,” coach Carlo Ancelotti said afterwards.

Ancelotti, who now has 150 wins as Madrid boss across two spells, praised Dani Ceballos after the midfielder impressed again. “He’s doing really well and we all recognise that,” the Italian said. “There’s a contract issue that they have to look at. It won’t be a problem if he keeps playing like that…”

At left-back, midfielder Eduardo Camavinga also caught the eye. “He doesn’t like playing there,” Ancelotti said. “But we like him playing there.”

At the end of the first half, Antonio Rüdiger had seen a goal ruled out and it was a fairly comfortable win for Madrid in the end against a Valencia side with Voro as interim coach following the departure of Gennaro Gattuso earlier in the week.

Valencia also had defender Gabriel Paulista sent off for a cynical foul on Vinícius after 72 minutes. They drop to 14th and are just a point above the drop zone after 19 rounds of matches. “He was frustrated and he lost his head,” Voro said. “The Bernabéu is so difficult with 11 men, let alone playing with 10.” And he added: “We have to lift ourselves up.”

This weekend’s action

This weekend, Barcelona are at home to Sevilla at Camp Nou on Sunday, with signs of improvement from the Andalusians in the last few weeks, but big question marks over their away form still.

Madrid, meanwhile, are away to Mallorca on Sunday ahead of their trip to Morocco for the Club World Cup next week. Also on Sunday, third-placed Real Sociedad are at home to Real Valladolid. And on Saturday, Atlético Madrid face Getafe in a local derby at the Metropolitano.

At the bottom, Elche are without a win after 19 games and will look to avoid the worst league run in their history by beating fifth-placed Villarreal at home on Saturday. Don’t bank on it, though.

(Cover image from IMAGO)

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