Madrid (Spain), Jan 31 (IANS): La Liga has reached the midway point of the season with leader FC Barcelona five points clear of Real Madrid and a tight battle at the bottom of the table.
Here are the four things we learned this weekend in Spain:
BARCA STILL NEED LEWANDOWSKI BACK
FC Barcelona won 1-0 away to Girona on Saturday and extended their lead to five points over Real Madrid at the top of the table, but it was another disappointing display from Xavi Hernandez's side.
The win comes after they scraped past Real Sociedad 1-0 in the Copa del Rey and only beat Getafe 1-0 in La Liga. Although Robert Lewandowski played in the cup game, he missed the league match against Getafe and a 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid earlier this month, reports the news agency Xinhua.
With Lewandowski suspended, Ousmane Dembele has carried the weight of Barcelona's attacking football, but the muscle injury he suffered in Girona will sideline the Frenchman for around a month. It's good that Lewandowski will return next week for a difficult game against Betis.
REAL SOCIEDAD MAKE THEIR CASE IN MADRID
Although Alex Remiro was the busier of the two keepers on Sunday night, Real Sociedad's 0-0 draw away to Real Madrid is another reason to see the side from San Sebastian as title outsiders.
They played for over 45 minutes in the Copa del Rey with 10 men against Barca in midweek and still pushed Barca all the way, while Sunday saw them contribute to a vastly entertaining match.
While Barca and Madrid still have a packed calendar, Real Sociedad have slightly more recovery time and Mikel Merino and David Silva will soon return from injury, so they have to be seen as candidates.
NO INAKI, NO PARTY FOR BILBAO
Athletic Club Bilbao sit eighth in the table after slipping to a 1-0 defeat away to Celta Vigo on Sunday, following a poor display in which they created few chances (especially in the second half). The Basque side was without striker Inaki Williams, who was suffering from a knee injury, with coach Ernesto Valverde preferring not to take any risks with his player.
That decision ended a run of 251 consecutive league appearances for Williams - a record that stretches back over six years without either injury or suspension, which is unlikely to be bettered any time soon, if ever.
Williams has been criticised for his erratic finishing, but sometimes you don't appreciate a player until they don't play, and that was certainly the case on Sunday.
DE PAUL FINALLY IMPRESSES
Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo de Paul was one of the pillars of Argentina's success in the World Cup in Qatar, but the 28-year-old's season and a half with Atletico have so far been underwhelming, to such an extent that he has been booed on occasion by fans in Atletico's Metropolitano Stadium.
Sunday's 1-0 win away to Osasuna showed what De Paul is capable of, as he produced an intense display in midfield and gave the pass that allowed Saul Niguez (another player who could be on their way out) to score the winning goal.
In theory, De Paul should be an ideal player for Diego Simeone's style of play, but the question is: can he do it on a regular basis?