Welcome to La Liga, Wanda Metropolitano! Atletico Madrid have finally moved into their new ground that they’ve been planning on for over a decade, and in week 4 the Colchoneros finally played their first home game of the season, welcoming feeble Málaga as the Metropolitano’s first guests.
The Wanda Metropolitano takes its name from the Wanda group, a Chinese company that owns 20% of the club, and the Metropolitano, Atletico’s second home stadium where they played between the years 1923 and 1966, a nice throwback to history.
However, not all was bound to be a smooth transition from the Vicente Calderón to the Metropolitano, as the move uprooted the club’s home 20km, from the heart of the city centre in an area filled with local bars and culture, to a rather empty, spacious area of Madrid, without much reason to be there apart from the new football stadium that’s just popped up.
Atletico Madrid are a club that thrive on their identity. For decades they suffered soul-crushing eras, cruel derby defeats at the hands of their richer neighbours, and were without very much to cheer about, but the fans always clung onto their identity, as it offered an enormous sense of pride. ‘At least we’re not them.’
Their identity was reinforced when they hired Diego Simeone as coach, who restored their high-flying underdog image and used it to turn them into title winners. Holding onto this identity was simply imperative for Atleti.
Before the opening day, the club worked hard to make their new house a home. A huge advertising campaign throughout the city was aimed at generating a buzz about the new ground, and even a paseo de leyendas, a walk of fame for Atletico legends, was built surrounding the stadium.
In typical Atletico fashion, this produced a lot of ire of some Atletico fans.
— El Chiringuito TV (@elchiringuitotv) September 18, 2017
The criteria to this walkway of recognition was a little odd, it simply included all former players who surpassed the 100-game mark, which included the likes of Hugo Sanchez, who later moved to Real Madrid and who is not looked upon fondly by Atleti fans, and Sergio Aguero, who left in inharmonious circumstances and isn’t particularly remembered fondly.
Their plaques were predictably defaced. The 100-game definition of ‘legend’ also left out a lot of ex-players Colchonero fans truly believe are legends, such as Germán Burgos, Lyuboslav Penev, and Radamel Falcao.
One of the big worries pre-match was largely focused on the infrastructure surrounding the stadium. How would the parking be? How would public transport accommodate fans? How would the queues be? What sort of pre-match, atmosphere-building entertainment be, in a rather empty and barren part of the city?
Boring questions, yes, but all serious issues that can make or break a fan base’s match-day experience, and thus play a vital role in how the team settle into their new home.
The good news for Atleti is that by most accounts, everything went rather well, despite construction on the infrastructure being not yet completed.
Fans and journalists largely reported easy passage to and from the ground via public transport, and parking, while expensive (with season tickets in the car park going for nearly as much as in the stands,) was seemingly hassle-free for all concerned.
Onto the game then, where Wang Jianlin, top dog at Wanda and biggest shareholder in Atletico Madrid was unable to attend one of the club’s most historic days in recent times, as he had his passport confiscated by police due to financial irregularities. Boardroom corruption is a thing that Atleti fans are accustomed to, at least.
The match ball was delivered to the pitch via parachutes, after an airshow and other inauguration celebrations.
Málaga played to defend, while Atleti were on the front foot but lacked a lot of creative spark to make things happen.
A cagey game played out with Ángel Correa eventually producing the little bit of magic to assist Antoinne Griezmann for the first ever goal in the Wanda Metropolitano, while club legend Fernando Torres was literally waiting on the sidelines about to come on at the next dead ball, hoping he could be the one to grab that historic goal.
Jan Oblak was desperately needed in the last minute to salvage the win with a good save from Rolón. All in all, Atleti can be delighted with the opening day win, but will need to improve if they are to seriously challenge for titles this season.
The goalscorer Griezmann said after the game:
For me, the Wanda is the best stadium. The fans were very excited to play this game. Before [in our three away games], we were missing our 12th man, which today we had. I’m hoping the fans here can push us on in the important games.
Unfortunately, for the sake of the fans, it looks as though ticket prices are starting to reflect the costs of having to build a new stadium…
This all part of the "fan experience"? Never mind Wanda, rename it Wonga cus that's what you need to afford a ticket vs Sevilla. Scandalous pic.twitter.com/C7GKqQUA0y
— Phil Mugford (@PhilMugford) September 19, 2017
– La Liga 2017/18 has had its first managerial departure. Deportivo Alavés have parted ways with Luis Zubeldía after four games played, four losses, zero goals scored, and seven conceded.
In truth, Zubeldía was a strange choice to begin with, as this column touched on before the start of the season.
Having never managed in Europe before, Zubeldía came from Colombian football to take over Alavés, and was by far the youngest manager in the league at only 36 years of age. Javier Cabello takes over as interim manager.
In a not-too-common-these-days touch of solidarity, Alavés players Manu García and Ibai Gómez were quick to assume responsibility on behalf of the players for the firing, taking to Twitter to admit they haven’t been good enough this season.
Jugadores que no rehuyen la responsabilidad. Y que agradecen lo bueno que les deja un técnico despedido tras 4 jornadas. Bravo pic.twitter.com/JZtG47UpIC
— Aitor Lagunas (@aitorlagunas) September 17, 2017
– Yes, the same Paulinho that Spurs sold to the Chinese Super League! Barcelona endured a very tough afternoon at Getafe, but manager Ernesto Valverde can take a lot of heart out of how his players responded to his tactical changes.
Gerard Deulofeu came on for the injured Ousmane Dembélé, who looks to miss the rest of 2017 with a terribly unfortunate muscular tear, and he provided a bit of spark for the equaliser, scored by substitute Denis Suárez. Barca’s third substitute Paulinho turned out to be the match winner with his first goal for his new club, thanks to a brilliant show of strength and presence of mind to pick out the perfect finish.
“Anger in my celebration? It was a celebration after a difficult match,” the Brazilian said after the game. “Ultimately, the most important thing was to come out with the three points. It’s difficult to score in these situations, but I received a great pass from Messi and I’m very happy for my goal.”
Paulinho’s signing was met with disappointment by a lot of fans in Catalonia, but perhaps this impressive cameo will go some way in creating some room for reconsideration in their minds.
– Real Sociedad had won their opening three La Liga games and cantered to an impressive 4-0 win midweek in the Europa League, and have been praised across La Liga for an attractive brand of football.
What happened when they hosted a Real Madrid side out of form after two league draws and missing Ronaldo, Marcelo, Kroos, and Benzema? Enter the youngster Borja Mayoral to step up to the plate!
The 20-year-old youth product is trusted to be this season’s Alvaro Morata, stepping in when the team need him, and took his chance brilliantly in one of the toughest grounds in Spain to visit.
Mayoral scored one, and kind-of scored a second by forcing an own goal, in a brilliantly contested match. Bale ran at 35km/h to kill the game in the second half for Madrid’s third in a 3-1 win.
– In the Valencian derby between Levante and Valencia, both clubs have agreed an away ticket price structure that saw visiting fans pay only €15.
This fantastic initiative saw a great atmosphere in the ground, and is an all too rare example of clever thinking and consideration for fans – two things Spanish football needs more of.
Goal of the week: Fede Cantabria, for Depor’s consolation goal in a loss against Real Betis.
Player of the week: Joaquín, the 36-year-old winger who scored his first brace for Real Betis since 2004! His two goals earned los béticos all three points.
La Liga Week 4 results: Eibar 1-0 Leganés, Levante 1-1 Valencia, Getafe 1-2 Barcelona, Real Betis 2-1 Deportivo La Coruna, Atletico Madrid 1-0 Málaga, Alavés 0-3 Villarreal, Girona 0-1 Sevilla, Las Palmas 1-0 Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad 1-3 Real Madrid, Espanyol 2-1 Celta Vigo.