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An unexpected turn for the better

Sergi Roberto capped off an unforgettable night at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
Sergi Roberto capped off an unforgettable night at the Camp Nou on Wednesday. / EFE
  • New life has been breathed into La Liga in recent weeks with the revival of both Barça and Atlético

It is like someone has turned on all of the lights at the funfair!
There was a point a few weeks ago when I wondered to myself whether some of the life had gone out of La Liga. Real Madrid were walking the league, Barcelona looked spent, Atlético were waning… and then boom!
Valencia, a club that looked to be in a comatose state, awaken from their slumber and humble the apparently run-away leaders Real Madrid.
Barcelona are liberated by Luis Enrique’s announcement that his journey with them is going to be ended in the summer and they revert to their former selves.
Even Atlético Madrid, who looked as though they’d lost their mojo, have perked up and look completely rejuvenated.
So what has happened? Real haven’t necessarily lost their way as proved by the way they swept aside Napoli in the Champions League with Ronaldo weighing in as captain Sergio Ramos led the way.
The cliché is to suggest players lose motivation if they know the manager is to leave them. This may apply at Leicester, and maybe Arsenal but not Barcelona. Luis Enrique unburdened himself after his team hit six against Sporting Gijón. They followed this up by regaining top spot by scoring five against Celta and then the remarkable turnaround against PSG.
My theory is that he no longer feels he has to incorporate the substandard signings that may have been foisted upon him or give a fair share of game time to all. He picks the team he wants to, rattles the egos that annoy him and does it all his way without worrying about the long-term effects. The joy on his face when they pulled off the improbable on Wednesday was a complete contrast to the anguish that has been his facial feature for far too long.
Who would want to face this buoyant Barcelona with a manager on the rebound and apparently demob-happy?
Diego Simeone similarly looked like a wizard without his wand and he was just killing time on his contract before heading for his next adventure in Italy. Suddenly his Atlético team has kicked into life. The new players have taken six months to acclimatise and now there is a new order. Antoine Griezmann is courted by many big clubs but the hope is that he won’t follow the other great strikers, like Torres, Agüero, Falcao and Costa, out of the door imminently.
La Liga is once again he place to be. It is the greatest test of the world’s best players and brightest coaches. I wonder if Pep Guardiola wished he was back home this week when he struggled to work his magic on a cold Wednesday night against Stoke City?