Evaluation: 4 issues we discovered this weekend in Spain

By Paul Giblin

MADRID, March 11 (Xinhua) — The top-four in the Spanish Liga Santander all won in Matchday 27, while the battle for Europe also seemed to become more clearly defined. Here are some things we learned this weekend in Spain.

1. Coutinho a problem for Barcelona

Barcelona conceded the opening goal to Rayo Vallecano on Saturday, but dominated the game to end up with a relatively convincing 3-1 win. However, the form of record-signing Philippe Coutinho continues to be a worry. The Brazilian was given another chance to shine in the starting 11 and showed absolutely nothing to justify his inclusion in the side, to the increasing frustration of the fans in the Camp Nou stadium.

Last season, Coutinho seemed to adapt to the club must faster than Ousmane Dembele, but while Dembele has made a lot of progress this campaign, Coutinho seems to have gone backwards and unless he improves, Barca may have to make a big decision this summer.

2. Atletico Madrid stick to the script

Atletico Madrid did just enough to take all three points from their game against Leganes on Saturday with Saul Niguez’s solitary goal, which came as he followed up after his original penalty had been saved, separating the two sides.

Once again Atletico took advantage of a set piece and allowed their defense to do the rest and they have now kept five clean sheets in their last five matches. That’s good news as they prepare for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16 tie away to Juventus where they defend a 2-0 first leg lead.

With Atletico’s defense so hard to break down and the final to be played in their home ground, it will need something very special from Cristiano Ronaldo and company to knock them out of Europe.

3. Is the battle for Europe becoming clearer?

After a season which has seen a traffic jam of sides clustered together in the middle of the table, this weekend saw Valencia, Sevilla and Betis give themselves a boost in the battle to qualify for Europe next season.

While Getafe have a four-point lead over fifth place Alaves, Sevilla, who beat a direct rival in Real Sociedad, Betis and Valencia (who have hit form at the right time) have also opened up a gap over the teams behind them

There is still plenty of time for that to change, but these sides look stronger than those below them (Real Sociedad, Eibar, Espanyol and Athletic Club) and that should be decisive in the run in to the end of the campaign.

4 Wu Lei is much more than a trophy signing

In the short space of just two months, Chinese striker Wu Lei has sold more replica shirts than any other member of the Espanyol squad and taken the Barcelona based team to a new Asian audience, but he is far more than just a signing made to boost the club’s image.

Before he made his first team debut, Espanyol were in a disastrous run of nine defeats from 10 games and threatened with relegation.

They have not lost in the six games since Wu Lei’s debut and now stand nine points above the relegation zone. In six games he has won a penalty against Rayo, scored against Real Valladolid and on Friday he gave his first assist with a header to set up Espanyol’s goal in Bilbao. In a very short term he has become a key player at the club.

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