MADRID, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Talking points from the weekend in Spanish soccer after Atletico Madrid beat Barcelona 1-0 and Real Madrid were held 1-1 at Villarreal.
WILL KOEMAN LAST THE SEASON?
Barcelona's defeat at Atletico Madrid sealed their worst start to a La Liga season in 29 years and the first seeds of doubt about coach Ronald Koeman's early spell in charge were planted in the post-match news conference.
The Dutchman roundly dismissed suggestions that players and the club could lose faith in him, but the outlook looks bleak.
Lionel Messi looked far from his usual best against Atletico and got little support from the midfield, while the whole team was at fault for Yannick Carrasco's winning goal, which provoked the ire of Koeman.
Barca only have three fit defenders available, including one centre back, after losing Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto to serious injuries and the coach no longer has an ally in president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in October.
The club faces elections in January and unless Koeman turns things around quickly, he could be the first casualty once a new president is elected.
ATLETICO'S NEW APPROACH PAYS OFF
The most striking thing about Atletico's win over Barcelona was that Diego Simeone's side were so keen to have the ball.
Atleti are infamous for their cautious approach against the top teams but they looked assured in possession and saw out the victory without resorting to defending deep in their own half.
"We were a lot calmer than them and when we had the ball we tried to circulate it in order to tire out our opponents," said match-winner Carrasco.
"We're always thinking about defending well but this season we are playing the ball much more."
If Atletico can maintain this attacking outlook while continuing to defend resolutely, the title could be theirs to lose.
IS MARIANO THE ANSWER TO REAL MADRID'S STRIKING TROUBLES?
Real Madrid's injury crisis led to forward Mariano Diaz being handed his first start in 18 months and the Dominican certainly made the most of the opportunity, needing less than two minutes to open the scoring in the eventual 1-1 draw.
Mariano was easily Madrid's most threatening player in an otherwise poor performance and his display led to many in the Spanish media questioning why he is so rarely used by Zinedine Zidane despite scoring five league goals in only four starts in the last three seasons.
"Mariano has done more in 35 minutes than Luka Jovic has in 18 months," said Cadena Ser radio commentator Antonio Romero during the first half, contrasting Mariano's impact with that of Real's 60-million-euro ($71 million) forward.
With Karim Benzema still nursing a muscle injury and Jovic out with COVID-19, Mariano could get another chance to prove himself in Wednesday's Champions League clash with Inter Milan. ($1 = 0.8436 euros) (Reporting by Richard Martin Editing by Toby Davis)