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Liga halfway point provides pause for thought

Monday 14 January 2013 12.54 CET
Real Betis have had plenty to celebrate in the opening half of Liga

Taking stock at the halfway point – or la primera vuelta – is par for the course in Spain and with FC Barcelona's record start, Club Atlético de Madrid's perfect home form and Real Betis Balompié dreaming of Europe, there has been plenty for pundits to mull over. 

"Incredible" was how Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova described his side's record points haul for the opening 19 games of a top-flight campaign following their 18th victory of the season, a 3-1 win away to Málaga CF. "It's the players who are keen to keep on winning and we can't stop now," the 44-year-old said after Barça made it 55 points from a possible 57, surpassing their 2010/11 best of 52 points at the same stage. 

"The Liga is by no means won and we know it will be difficult to repeat this form in the second half [especially] with some tricky games away to Atlético and Real Madrid to come," the Blaugrana boss added.

Atlético coach Diego Simeone alluded to his team's "obsession to win" after Los Rojiblancos registered their tenth victory in as many Liga home games this season. Real Zaragoza were the latest victims at the Vicente Calderón, as the hosts won 2-0 to consolidate second place in the standings. "We put in some important pre-season work and, apart from Diego, we've lost almost nobody from last year," Simeone said. "Our team has a clear identity which is what has allowed us to put in a good opening to the season."

An important part of Atlético's success has been their lethal marksman Falcao, whose first-half strike against Zaragoza drew the Colombian level with Brazilian Baltazar's 1988/89 club record 18 league goals in the first half of a campaign.

Liga leaders this time last year, Real Madrid CF have struggled to live up to the record form they produced in winning their 32nd league title in 2011/12. A scoreless draw away to CA Osasuna at the weekend means José Mourinho's side are seven points behind Atlético and 18 off pacesetters Barça.

"Winning away is proving difficult for us this term as is scoring goals," defender Raúl Albiol explained after the Merengues registered their worst start to a campaign since 2005/06. "We are eager to get back up to last season's levels – we can't think of the distance between us and the leaders – and must put in a brilliant second half to the season."

Betis, meanwhile, continue to challenge for a place in next season's UEFA Champions League and coach Pepe Mel said he felt "like a proud father" after the Verdiblancos put paid to Levante UD in a 2-0 weekend win. "Those of us who aren't Real Madrid or Barcelona must still look to follow the same path as them," Mel explained of his fourth-placed outfit. "We are a strong group and healthy in many aspects. Everything that happens in our dressing room is seen as positive and I am proud of the veterans and the youngsters we have here."

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