Five things we learned from La Liga this weekend: Guillem Balague's verdict
Last Updated: 28/08/17 2:40pm
Guillem Balague takes a look at five talking points from La Liga's weekend action, including Marco Asensio's stunning start and Lionel Messi's new role...
1 - Valencia for the top four?
Let's start with Valencia. Marcelino has brought order and discipline to a team that lacked it last season. They can take lots of positives from the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid, the way they defended as a team was impressive, the way they pressed high and the way they retreated fast when that high press was beaten.
They were very organised and the first goal involved three players promoted through the club's youth ranks, Jose Gaya, Toni Lato and Carlos Soler. That will please the Valencia fans, who love a feisty attitude and will have enjoyed their team's aggressive display at the Bernabeu.
It was also good to see Dani Parejo and Geoffrey Kondogbia - playing his first La Liga game for his new team - linking well in midfield and Marcelino's tactics were very clever. Full-backs are key to Real Madrid so Valencia countered with two left-backs on Dani Carvajal. Gaya and Lato did an excellent job, attacking the space often and blunting Carvajal's offensive instincts.
As well as Kondogbia, two of their other new signings - Neto in goal and Jeison Murillo the centre-back - did really well in a tough situation. It looks like Valencia could be in contention for the top four and that can only be good for La Liga.
2 - Marco Asensio steps up again
The game confirmed - if there was any need for it - Marco Asensio's arrival at the top table of Spanish football. He might be a Ballon d'Or contender in a couple of years. He already has four goals for Real this season and his first against Valencia was typical Asensio, he seems to score out of nothing. He possesses a special ability to change the game in an instant, a quality we only see in the world's best players.
It wouldn't be too much to say he kept Real going while Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale were getting booed by the home fans. Isco was replaced with dizziness too, so it was Asensio who put the team on his shoulders. The question for Zidane is, who will play in the big games - Bale or Asensio? It will be interesting to see how both progress as the season continues. By the way, Asensio will stay at Real Madrid. He has no intention of leaving Real and the rumours about Arsenal are rubbish.
The same can be said of Bale, who knows he has to keep his performances at a high level. Competition is only a good thing for any football team.
3 - Messi's changing role
Lionel Messi is saving Barcelona. They are predictable, they lack depth and on the wing they don't have the necessary quality. Messi was played as a false nine again and every game he has a different team-mate out wide.
Ernesto Valverde has changed formations several times already - playing Messi in three different positions - because at the moment it is all about winning, not so much about creating a style. That will come once the manager sees what signings are made before the deadline.
In any case, you can see some small changes. It's a less direct Barcelona, one that relies on midfield control a little more. Messi played closer to the box against Alaves and scored two goals, hit the woodwork again and missed a penalty.
He still hasn't officially renewed his contract yet - he feels now is not the time to announce that - but everything is agreed.
The arrival of Ousmane Dembele will help with the problems named above. The France star is not just a winger and not just a dribbler. He often played centrally for Dortmund rather than on the wing.
Of course, he can dribble - only Messi and Neymar do so more successfully in Europe - but he can offer more. For instance, last season he provided more assists per minute than Neymar. He is two-footed, a goalscorer and has great personality. It's a great signing for Barcelona.
On Coutinho, as I keep reporting Liverpool are not selling. Barca are telling the Catalan press they are optimistic so we will wait and see.
It has been reported that their plan B could include Naby Keita of RB Leipzig - previously a Liverpool target. Or, if the interest is real, are they trying to use him to lure Coutinho? We will soon know. Interestingly, the transfer window in Spain closes at midnight on September 1, one day after the English deadline.
4 - Koke's legacy
Koke scored two goals for the first time in his career as Atletico beat Las Palmas 5-1. They were both spectacular, one an overhead and the other from long distance. He ran the most, recovered possession the most and participated in two of Atletico's other five goals as well.
He is becoming a mature player and is under contract until he turns 32. If he finishes that contract he will have been at the club for 24 years and will become their record appearance maker. He is well on the way to becoming an Atleti legend.
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Looking at the performance, it was an Atletico that sounded new, with Teye Thomas, Koke, Saul Niguez, Luciano Vietto, Angel Correa and Yannick Carrasco. It was a team with an average age two years' younger than last season.
But Correa and Vietto could be leaving, more likely Vietto than Correa, because Atleti are preparing for the arrival of Diego Costa. Diego Simeone feels Vietto especially will be surplus to requirements.
5 - A word on Girona and Leganes
Finally, two modest teams in La Liga did really well this weekend. Girona picked up their first ever La Liga win, edging Malaga 1-0.
They had just four new players in their XI from last season's promotion-winning side, although last week it was confirmed they are joining City Football Club, the sixth club to enter the Manchester City partnership. City took a 44.3 per cent share of the team, which is exactly the same as Girona Football Club, an agency owned by Pere Guardiola, Pep's brother.
The idea is to make the team a platform for some of the City players but also to have a very good run in the top division. Several City players have already joined on loan but Pablo Maffeo looks to be the only first-team regular at the moment.
The other team to highlight is Leganes, who beat Espanyol 1-0 thanks to a very defensive - but very effective - performance in Catalonia. That's put them joint-top of La Liga. Their target remains to avoid relegation so they are six points on their way to a 40-point target. A great start.