November 4, 2019 2:48:10 pm
After more than two months of the season, the three marquee signings of the summer in Spain are not having inspired starts for their new clubs.
Eden Hazard has scored once for Real Madrid since transferring from Chelsea for a club-record 100 million euros plus add-ons. Antoine Griezmann is doing more as a hustling defender than a goal-scorer for Barcelona. And Atletico Madrid’s teenage phenomenon Joao Felix has been hobbled by injury after a promising beginning.
Hazard was billed as Madrid’s next superstar when brought in to fill the void still left by Cristiano Ronaldo. So far Karim Benzema is leading the team with seven goals while Hazard searches for that superb pace and creativity that made him one of the Premier League’s best players.
Felix scored three goals and showed flashes of his talent amid mixed performances before he injured his right ankle, ruling him out of Atletico’s last four matches. Diego Simeone’s club shattered its mark for acquiring a player after paying Benfica 120 million euros for the 19-year-old Felix, who the club hopes will be the star of the team after Griezmann’s exit.
Griezmann, a World Cup winner with France, has scored four times as a third scoring option to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at Barcelona, but he has only looked like the force he was at Atletico in wins against Real Betis and Eibar. On Saturday, when Barcelona was upset 3-1 at Levante, Griezmann was extremely active in pressuring and helping defenders recover the ball, but provided little else.
And Barcelona did not pay 120 million euros for a hard worker.
“I feel fine. The same thing happened (when joining) Atletico and it is happening to me here,” Griezmann said. “I am not going to grasp all the tactics in one second, but I am adapting.”
As for his defensive contributions, Griezmann credited former coach Simeone.
“It is thanks to ‘Cholo’, who taught me to either be going forward or to get back.”
Levante’s Paco Lopez has an achievement that not even Simeone or Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane can boast: he is the only coach to have beaten Barcelona more than once since Ernesto Valverde took over the powerhouse in 2017. Lopez has now done so three times.
Lopez’s team shocked Barcelona on Saturday with three goals in eight minutes to erase an earlier penalty kick by Lionel Messi. It’s a victory over the defending champions that both sets of fans won’t easily forget.
The upset was reminiscent of the 5-4 win by Lopez’s Levante in the penultimate round of the 2017-18 season that ruined Barcelona’s quest to become the first team to finish a season unbeaten in league history.
Levante also beat Barcelona 2-1 in the first leg of their Copa del Rey tie last season, before losing 3-0 in the second leg.
Lopez saved Levante from a relegation fight when he took over in March 2018. He immediately employed an aggressive approach that got the most out of a modest squad that attacks much better than it defends and has just enough firepower to pull it off. Speedy forward Jose Morales has become one of the most confident scorers in the competition.
“Our fans must be pleased, only the select few can beat Barcelona in the course of a season,” Lopez said. “We have been fortunate enough to do so three times in recent years. But our feet are on the ground. We have a clear idea of what our path is and we concentrate on the daily work.”
Many coaches would have lost faith in a striker whose scoring troubles appear to be chronic.
Diego Costa has two goals in 13 matches this season for Atletico. He has yet to score in the Champions League, and has only taken 12 shots in the league. In comparison, Real Madrid’s Benzema has played the same number of league games (10), but has scored 7 times on 36 shots.
Costa’s problems are not new. He only scored five times last season.
This is from a player who regularly scored more than 20 goals a season, and reached 36 goals in 2013-14 when he led Atletico to the league title and Champions League final.
Meanwhile, strike partner Alvaro Morata has scored in four successive games. But Simeone said he was sticking with Costa.
“He is working hard, but not finding the goal,” Simeone said. “When someone works like Diego, there are two options: You are with Costa, or you are against Costa. If you give it your all like Costa does, I am with him.”
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