MADRID, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Barcelona’s 100 percent start to the season was ended by Catalonian neighbours Girona, who picked up a draw at the Nou Camp, allowing Real Madrid to take advantage with a victory over Espanyol. Here are five talking points from this weekend’s La Liga action.
VAR controversy as Barca slip up
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee was meant to help reduce the number of contentious decisions but controversy reared its head this weekend as Clement Lenglet was shown a red card by referee Jesus Gil Manzano following a VAR referral.
The French defender thundered into a challenge with Girona midfielder Pere Pons and his elbow appeared to inadvertently catch the midfielder, who initially apologised to Lenglet after believing he had been penalised for the foul.
Upon review it was deemed that the Barca player was in the wrong and subsequently dismissed, much to the side’s fury.
“It’s not an act of aggression, he wasn’t looking to do that. Even the Girona player apologised because he made a foul,” lamented midfielder Sergio Busquets. “VAR has to be used in the correct way and with consistent criteria.”
Vinicius still nowhere to be seen for Real
VAR was more helpful for Real Madrid, who had initially seen Marco Asensio’s winner against Espanyol disallowed for offside.
Coach Julen Lopetegui made a number of changes to his starting XI following the club’s Champions League exploits in midweek, but there is one man who continues to be conspicuous by his absence: Vinicius Junior.
Real had a quiet summer by their standards, yet the 18-year-old’s arrival for 45 million euros ($52.93 million) was supposed to help fill the void created by Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit.
Lopetegui, a coach known for his faith in youth, had resisted the urge to throw the Brazilian in at the deep end, instead allowing him to find his feet in Castilla, the club’s reserve team.
However, with club president Florentino Perez having personally overseen Vinicius’s recruitment, it remains to be seen how long the attacker will remain out of the limelight.
Lemar bursts into life
After keeping hold of Antoine Griezmann and an impressive summer of recruitment, many tipped Atletico Madrid as dark horses for the La Liga title, but Diego Simeone’s side have endured a topsy-turvy start to the campaign.
A surprise defeat at Celta Vigo was followed up by a last-gasp draw at home to Eibar but after a more solid showing at Monaco in the Champions League, they got back to winning ways in La Liga with a 2-0 victory at Getafe.
Summer arrival Thomas Lemar was the star of the show as he scored one and set up the other in an all-action display that Atleti fans will be hoping can kick start their season as they play catch up to leaders Real and Barca.
Valencia season in danger of collapsing
After enjoying a fantastic last season, Marcelino’s side have made a woeful start to this campaign, winless after five games and struggling to cope with the rigors of Champions League football.
They were swatted aside by 10-man Juventus in midweek and played out a bore draw with local rivals Villarreal this weekend in what Spanish publication Marca described as “one of the worst derbies in living memory”.
Things do not get easier for Los Che, whose season could unravel over the next fortnight as they host fourth-placed Celta Vigo on Wednesday before a tricky trip to Real Sociedad.
That is followed by a difficult Champions League group game at Old Trafford against Manchester United.
Alaves dream big after great start
Abelardo Fernandez took over at Alaves last December with the Basque outfit at the bottom of the table and looking doomed for relegation.
However, he turned their fortunes round, leading them to a respectable 14th placed finish last season, before hitting the ground running this campaign.
The 48-year-old former Barcelona defender has been in charge of the club for 30 league games, picking up 51 points in that time (16 wins, three draws and 11 defeats) and their 5-1 hammering of Rayo Vallecano sees them move into third.
Only Barca, Real and Atletico have won more points over the same period and with Valencia struggling, there is possibly room for a new team to claim the fourth Champions League berth.
$1 = 0.8501 euros Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; Editing by John O'Brien