The new La Liga season kicked off this past weekend, with Barcelona looking like the team to beat early on after a strong showing Saturday night, while the other traditional big two had contrasting fortunes. There was a surprise on Friday as a potential Champions League contender slumped to a shocking loss, and further down the table, only one of the three newly promoted sides tasted defeat.
The first game got underway on Friday evening as Girona hosted newly promoted Real Valladolid at the Estadi Montilivi. There was a change in the home dugout over the summer, as Pablo Machín’s departure to Sevilla saw Eusebio Sacristán appointed at the helm, and he will have his work cut out if he is to improve on last season’s 10th placed finish.
As for Valladolid, with their main goal for the season being survival, they got off to the best possible start. In a game dominated by Girona, taking 13 shots in comparison to Valladolid’s two, their defence held out and they left Catalonia with a well earned point. While Barcelona next weekend may be a bit of a stretch, this point on the road may prove invaluable in the long run with the bottom half set to be closely contested over the 38 weeks.
The first day of action ended at the Estadio Benito Villamarín, home of Real Betis. Under the guidance of Quique Setién, many are tipping Betis for a Champions League spot this season, however, to everyone’s surprise, they were beaten 0-3 by Paco López’s Levante. Strugglers early on last season, López was appointed in March with the club in 17th and only one point above the relegation zone, but turned their fortunes around and guided them to a comfortable 15th place. Although this is a heavy defeat on day one, Setién’s side are still the team to watch this season, and should still give Valencia and Sevilla fierce competition for 4th place.
Saturday’s first game saw Celta Vigo welcome Espanyol to the Balaídos. Celta should not struggle this season and have been a solid mid-table side in the past, but Espanyol could be in for a long 38 weeks. In an even back and forth game, it was Espanyol who took the lead through Mario Hermoso on the stroke of half-time, although Celta, now under the leadership of Antonio Mohamed following Juan Carlos Unzué’s resignation, pegged them back on the 51st minute thanks to an unfortunate David López own goal.
Whilst Espanyol will happily take the point back to Barcelona, Celta will feel they should have beaten the side tipped by some for a relegation threatened campaign, after having the most clear cut chances over the 90 minutes.
The evening game saw Real Sociedad travel to the Estadio de la Cerámica to face last season’s fifth placed finishers Villareal. In a game in which both defences didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory, with Ramiro Funes Mori of particular prominence at the heart of the Villareal defence, it was Sociedad who emerged 1-2 winners, thanks in large part to Argentine goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli.
After a shaky campaign last season, a recent call up to the Argentina squad may have filled him with renewed confidence, as goals from Willian José and Juanmi were enough to turn around Gerard Moreno’s stunning 16th minute opener.
Saturday was rounded off as Deportivo Alavés travelled to the Camp Nou to face the champions. Despite a gritty and determined performance, during which they kept the first-half score at 0-0, Alavés were eventually broken down, thanks to the genius of Lionel Messi. From a free kick, he struck his effort low and hard under the wall, while Philippe Coutinho wrapped up the three points with a curling effort from inside the box. With stoppage time drawing to a close, there was still time for one more goal, as Luis Suárez found Messi with a wonderful ball over the top, before Messi shrugged off his marker and slotted the ball past Pacheco in the opposition goal. Despite it being early days, Barcelona again look like the team to beat, as they bid to be the first team since 2016 to retain the La Liga title.
Sunday saw two of the newly promoted sides play, as first Huesca, making their Liga bow, travelled to the Basque Country to face Eibar at the Ipurua. Finishing ninth last season, many expected Eibar to brush aside the team whose stadium only holds 5,500 people, and whose town has a population of only 50,000.
But it was the minnows who not only took the lead thanks to a fantastic effort from Alejandro Gallar Falguera, who would grab the second before half-time, but emerged 1-2 winners. Huesca, who came up from the second division after finishing runners-up to Rayo Vallecano, have spent only three million pounds in the transfer market, and are surely the neutrals favourite this season being one of the smallest sides to ever compete in the Spanish top flight.
The evening match saw Rayo Vallecano’s first game back in the first division following a two year absence, as they hosted Pablo Machín’s Sevilla. After a lacklustre seventh placed finish last campaign, the Sevilla faithful will be expecting vast improvements this term, and they could not have asked for a better start. After Franco Vázquez gave them a 15th minute lead, debutant André Silva, brought in on loan from A.C Milan, scored an impressive hat-trick, already beating his tally of two goals for the entirety of last year’s Serie A campaign. An 85t minute Adri Embarba penalty was nothing but a consolation for the home fans, but for Sevilla, who have not been the same side since Jorge Sampaoli’s departure, this is a big result as they face a tough test in Villareal next week.
Much like Saturday, Sunday finished with a late kick-off at one of the big three. Just as Barcelona did the day before, Real Madrid got the Julen Lopetegui era off to a good start, at least domestically, as they brushed aside a poor Getafe side 2-0 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, although Madrid can consider themselves unlucky not to have made it more. Along with goals from full-back Dani Carvajal and Welshman Gareth Bale, Bale hit the crossbar with a first-half header, and Marco Asensio hit the post from a strike outside the box.
Although they are probably behind Barcelona and their city neighbors Atlético in the race for the title, they certainly got off on the right foot following a disastrous UEFA Super Cup outing last week.
The last day of action saw two games, as firstly, in what was the most eagerly anticipated match of the weekend, Atlético Madrid travelled to the Mestalla to face Marcelino’s Valencia. Dreadful before his appointment, Marcelino has restored confidence back at the club, and despite Antoine Griezmann slicing open the defence for Ángel Correa’s opener, a wonderful volley from Rodrigo brough the sides back level.
Again, despite a 1-1 draw being the fair result, Valencia’s incredible home support was almost rewarded with a last minute winner, as new signing Kevin Gameiro found himself faced with Jan Oblak. However, against his former club, he hit his shot tamely in to the hands of the grateful ‘keeper, and both teams emerged from an entertaining match with a point.
Jornada one ended at the San Mamés as Atheltic Bilbao welcomed Leganes. Bilbao, under the guidance of Eduardo Berizzo following his successful battle with cancer, got their campaign off to the right start with a 2-1 win, with goals from Peru Nolaskoain and, in the 93rd minute, Iker Muniain, who is still somehow only 25. When Ernesto Valverde departed for Barcelona, Cuco Ziganda was appointed at the helm, and guided them to a poor 16th place finish last term. For a club that constantly finished in the Europa League places under Valverde, the pressure is on for Berizzo as he is expected to return the club to their lofty standards this season.