La Liga round up – Girona make history and Atleti’s two faces

La Liga returned this weekend with plenty of golazos scored, red cards rightly and wrongly given and not given, penalty controversies, and even history made.

After the first round of fixtures of the season, 20 goals were netted, and the season begins just as the last one ended, with Real Madrid top and Barca second.

Here’s what we can take from La Liga week one.

The good, the bad, or just Atleti?

History was made at the Estadi Montilivi on Saturday night, as the stadium hosted its first ever Primera División game with the visit of Atletico Madrid.

Girona were buoyed up for their monumental first game in top-flight Spanish football, a game that would go down in the history books no matter the final score.

Twenty-five minutes into their first ever La Liga season, Christian Stuani had the Girona fans in dreamland, and already reached the half way point of his goal tally for last year in the Premier League with Middlesbrough.

The Uruguayan forward’s two headed goals will infuriate Atletico Madrid given the standard of, or rather lack of, defending.

In fact, both goals were very ‘old-school Simeone Atleti’ style, coming from well-crossed balls from the wing. El Cholo likes his team to be brutish battling beasts, but they were anything but that when Girona crossed the ball in the first half.

The goals meant Stuani became the first player to score two headed goals in a game against an Simeoneled Atleti.

The turning point was somewhat a bizarre one – Antoine Griezmann’s sending off.

Two weeks in a row we see one of La Liga’s biggest stars see red cards for diving in attempt to win a penalty (although Griezmann also followed up the decision with some verbals directed towards the referee,) just like Cristiano Ronaldo last week in the first leg of the Supercopa.

Atleti had started the second half much better than the first, but pushed a lot harder after the red card. “At half time, I told them the truth, that Girona were better than them,” Simeone said after the game, and he probably told them a lot stronger than that, because Atleti looked a different team after the break.

Angel Correa, Nicolas Gaitán, and Luciano Vietto gave them the pace that they needed to get back into the game, and eventually break down the stubborn Girona team thanks to a long-range effort from Correa and a set-piece goal from centre half Jose Gimenez.

The impact of the introduction of the Argentine attackers won’t bode well for Fernando Torres, who was slow and sluggish throughout his first 73 minutes of the season.

The result will leave a lot of questions to be asked about Atletico Madrid, as for the second season in a row they open the campaign with a lacklustre performance against newly-promoted opposition.

Last season, they failed to beat Alavés and Leganés in their first two fixtures and spent the rest of the season playing catch-up with Real Madrid, Barca, and even Sevilla until the final few games.

Los Colchoneros will soon be moving to their new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano, and nobody can be sure how they will settle into their new surroundings.

If they don’t hit the ground running in their new home, they could be looking at another season not troubling the big two in Spain.

Semedo makes huge case for Barca right-back spot

Huge question marks hung over the right-hand side of Barcelona’s defence throughout last season, but 2017/18 just may be different after Sunday’s display from Nelson Semedo.

Dani Alves was allowed to leave the club in the summer of 2016 and the replacement plan was essentially just to ask a midfielder from the youth academy to completely change his game.

By and large, Sergi Roberto did a good job, but looked a step below the quality needed to play in that position.

Enter Nelson Semedo, Ernesto Valverde’s €30 million man from Benfica, to make his Liga debut in the 2-0 win over Real Betis on opening night.

Fans and analysts alike weren’t sure what to expect from Semedo as he didn’t feature regularly as the starting right-back in preseason – Aleix Vidal made the initial XI most non-competitive games – but the Portuguese new arrival impressed in his first game at the Camp Nou.

Semedo showed himself to be a strong athlete capable of marauding up and down the wing in the mould of Dani Alves, with the skills to boot.

Plenty of times Semedo opted to attack the space ahead of him, taking control of the play and making things happen.

The 23-year-old enjoyed a 100% passing rate (27 passes) by the half time whistle (finished with a team-high 94.2%), and made some successful dribbles and key passes too.

A beautifully executed croqueta move to get past Joaquín put smiles on the faces of the fans who turned up to cheer on their team on an emotional night in Catalunya, following the devastating terror attacks in the city just days prior.

The move evoked memories of the great Ronaldinho and the joy he brought to these stands, but let’s see if Semedo could repeat the trick against a younger-than-36-year-old winger.

Real Madrid’s adaptability to win

We’ve seen three quite different ways of winning from Real Madrid in their first three competitive games of the season.

Against Barcelona in the first leg of the Supercopa, they showed the world again their prowess at hitting teams on the counterattack.

In the second leg, they opened the game with a relentlessly high press, suffocating the life out of their Catalan rivals, giving their defenders no breathing space before Marco Asensio scored another long-range rocket, something that’s becoming a bit of a trademark of the young star.

Against Deportivo La Coruña in their La Liga opener, Madrid’s second goal came after a truly outstanding 44-pass move, culminating in a magical Brazilian jig from Marcelo to pin-point the ball to Casemiro’s feet to tap it in.

The tiki-taka that Zidane’s team was the highest amount of passes leading up to a La Liga goal in a single move since “at least 2006/07” according to Opta.

After picking up the last two Champions League titles, there probably aren’t too many people who doubt that Real Madrid are currently the world’s best team, and over the last few games they’ve shown that they have the firepower and options to keep it that way.

For Zinedine Zidane, there always seems to be a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C, and all potential systems have this Madrid team looking amazing.

They can choose between three midfielders or four, play with urgency pressing opposition defenders, or with calmness and control, passing their opponents to sleep in the style of Guardiola’s great Barcelona.

Last season los blancos captured their first league and Champions League double in 59 years, this year they’re going for their first ever treble, and so far the early signs are looking good for them.

And also…

Last season’s Segunda winners Levante managed to win their season-opener in the top division for the first time thanks to a late penalty by captain Jose Morales.

They beat local rivals and Champions League hopefuls Villarreal 1-0 in the first derby of the season thanks to a penalty, also won by Morales.

La Liga lacks Video Assisted Referee. Getafe missed out on a probable three points away to Athletic Bilbao after the ball looked to have crossed the line, but was missed by the officials.

Sevilla may have benefitted from a lack of VAR after their goal against Espanyol was dubbed to have crossed the line, whereas replays showed inconclusive.

A little watch on the referee’s wrist to tell him whether the ball had crossed the line or not may have come in handy this week in La Liga.

Is Sergio Ramos an evil genius; the best Captain in club football, or just an idiot? 3-0 up and with only 60 seconds or so left on the clock, the Real Madrid captain equalled the most red cards in La Liga history with his career 18th.

It can be argued that his second yellow card was a little harsh, but really he should have been sent off much earlier in the game after pushing the face of Fabian Schär during an altercation.

Goal of the week: Casemiro’s to finish off that incredible succession of passes.

Player of the week: Christian Stuani, for an historic performance.

La Liga week one results: Leganés 1-0 Alavés, Valencia 1-0 Las Palmas, Celta Vigo 2-3 Real Sociedad, Girona 2-2 Atletico Madrid, Sevilla 1-1 Espanyol, Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Getafe, Barcelona 2-0 Real Betis, Deportivo La Coruna 0-3 Real Madrid, Levante 1-0 Villarreal, Málaga 0-1 Eibar

The Author

Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields is an Irish football writer currently living in Barcelona, focusing on Spain's La Liga. Interests include the intersection of politics and football, football history, and smaller, humble teams with noisy, boisterous fans.

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