THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
La Liga is definitely not short of top quality goalscorers, and while Uruguay international Cristhian Stuani might not be the most recognisable name from the Spanish top flight, he is certainly proving that he can cut it with the best strikers in 2018-19.
After forgettable spells in both Italy and the lower leagues in Spain, he joined Middlesbrough in 2015, and after that did not work, out he headed back for Spain for another bite at the cherry, with Girona.
At 32, he is certainly making up for lost time – particularly when you consider that he did not make a top flight appearance in Europe until the age of 24 – and he is quietly leading the way in the La Liga scoring charts.
He netted 21 League goals in Girona's debut in La Liga in 2017-18, bettered only by four players last season, and his form so far in this campaign is disproving any doubts that he could be a one season wonder.
Stuani's performances are easing the expected hangover from the departure of Girona's former Coach Pablo Machin, to Sevilla, as the Catalan side enters into only their second ever season in La Liga.
He has consistently been the vital difference for Girona this season, with key goals against Villarreal, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, leading the line and providing a platform for their younger attackers to thrive.
With Stuani slowly beginning to feel the breath of more and more of La Liga's leading defenders on his neck, he has incorporated a greater amount of link up play into his all round play, allowing Pedro Porro and Patrick Roberts to thrive in the space behind him, all the while still ensuring he is on hand to provide the finishing touch when needed.
Athletic Bilbao are in a state of La Liga freefall, entering the crucial Christmas and New Year period with just one win, and the Basque side are in very real danger of relegation from La Liga for the first time in their 120 year history.
Answers are never easy to find in these situations, but the common theme in their decline does appear to be the exit of Ernesto Valverde, to Barcelona, back in 2017. Valverde secured a period of consistent European qualification, and League placings not seen at the club since the title wins in the early 1980s, during his four seasons at the helm.
He was replaced at the start of last season
by Cuco Ziganda, his former reserve team Coach. However he proved to be a disaster, finishing in 16th, their lowest finish for over a decade. The club moved to replace him in the summer with former Celta Vigo and Sevilla boss Eduardo Berizzo to provide some stability.
But he has already been relieved of his post following the horror start to the season, with the club's board looking to be proactive in their attempts to stop the rot at San Mames, and avoid the relegation scramble of Ziganda in 2017-18.
With an ageing squad, including Aritz Aduriz, Raul Garcia and Markel Susaeta, approaching the end of their careers, major surgery was needed in the summer, but it didn’t happen in the crossover between Ziganda and Berizzo.
And now, with just 11 points gained from their opening 14 games, Athletic face some huge fixtures over December and January. The club have again looked internally for a solution, with Gaizka Garitano promoted to first team coach, and charged with the task of overseeing a dramatic turnaround to save Los Leones from a disastrous slide into the relegation zone on a permanent basis.
Barcelona's start to the 2018-19 La Liga season has been a positive one, as they seek to retain their League title, in the face of their great rivals Real Madrid's enduring a testing time.
The Catalans established a narrow lead over the chasing pack, at the top of the table, and Ernesto Valverde's side secured their passage into the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 15th consecutive season.
However the former Athletic Bilbao Coach has had quell rumours of potential rifts between certain senior players in the early stages of the campaign.
Gerard Pique's row with his teammates was an issue for Valverde to address in his postmatch Press conference following their first defeat at Camp Nou since in September 2016, against Real Betis in November.
Barca are still the team to beat in La Liga, but the row between Pique and Luis Suarez, and then Arturo Vidal, at full time of the
4-3 loss has opened supporters eyes to potential frictions in the squad.
Suarez was reportedly unhappy at Pique not passing on to him on a number of occasions during the match, and the Spain international later rowed with summer signing Vidal, after a mix up between them saw Betis scored their winning goal.
Pique, who retired from international duty following the 2018 World Cup, is regularly the recipient of excessive criticism in the domestic media, and moved to diffuse the situation by dismissing it as a minor incident, and an inevitability following a defeat and the end of their proud home record.
But it worth keeping an eye on for the remainder of the campaign as Barcelona chase back to back title wins for the first time since 2016 under the management of Luis Enrique.
ABOVE:THE GOOD, Cristhian StuaniLEFT:THE BAD, Athletic BilbaoBOTTOM, OPPOSITE PAGE: THE UGLY, Gerard Pique