Messi makes the difference

Leo Messi struck late to give Barcelona all three points away to Atletico Madrid on Sunday night to keep them top of the Liga Santander: here are some things we learned from an exciting Matchday 15 in Spain.

1. Messi makes the difference (again)

Either of the two sides could have won Sunday’s clash between Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona in the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium, but in the end it was Leo Messi, after a combination with Luis Suarez, who sealed a win which keeps Barca top of the table.

Barca can also thank Marc Andre Ter Stegen for two big first half saves, while Suarez’s contributions go much further than his goals and although Barca again lacked the fluid football that typified their game, once they weathered an early Atletico storm, the midfield of Ivan Rakitic, Arthur and Frenkie de Jong did well to try and control the game, even if they did miss the suspended Busquets.

2 Real Madrid roll up their sleeves for win

Real Madrid’s 2-1 win away to Alaves on Saturday showed they know how to tough things out when they need to as goals from defenders Sergio Ramos and Dani Carvajal gave them three vital points against a rival that had previously lost just one of their seven home games and conceded just twice in front of their fans.

Alaves will wonder why they didn’t get a penalty after Aleix Vidal was clearly caught in the Madrid penalty area and neither the referee nor the VAR spotted the foul, but overall Madrid looked compact and hard-working. It was the sort of game they lost too often last season and in the opening weeks of this campaign, but this time Zidane’s men dug in to show their continued improvement.

3 The value of a clean sheet

Athletic Club Bilbao’s 2-0 win at home to Granada on Sunday lifted them above Atletico Madrid in the table and gives them 26 points from 15 games this season.

It may not have been pretty at times and there was plenty of controversy surrounding Raul Garcia’s opening penalty, but under Gaizka Garitano, Athletic have become really hard to beat and incredibly difficult to score against.

They have conceded just three goals in front of their fans in the San Mames Stadium and goalkeeper Unai Simon has kept 7 clean sheets to have the best goalkeeping record in Spain.

It may sound obvious, but if you don’t concede a goal, you only need one goal to win the game.

4 Deep problems at Espanyol

It was going so well for Espanyol when they lead Osasuna 1-0 at halftime in their Cornella-El Prat Stadium, but 45 minutes later Pablo Machin’s side had fallen to another crushing defeat that leaves them with just nine points.

What makes the 4-2 defeat to an intense Osasuna side even worse is that they conceded two goals in the first three minutes of the second half (the second after a dreadful backpass) and then saw how their rivals went 4-1 ahead despite being reduced to 10 men in the 52nd minute.

Espanyol’s squad is limited to play domestic and European competition, but the way they fell apart points to issues of confidence which must be an even bigger worry to Machin.