La Liga Review - Game-week one
A look back on a fantastic opening weekend of La Liga football, with Atletico already losing ground on rivals Real and Barcelona following an exciting draw. There were 10 goal thrills in Seville and just the two goals for Lionel Messi.
Barcelona 6 - 2 Real Betis
Luis Suarez scored his 10th hat-trick for Barcelona as the Catalans destroyed Betis at the Nou Camp. Arda Turan and a Lionel Messi double put Barca way out of sight. Ruben Castro cancelled out Turan’s early goal to make it 1–1 and scored a late consolation for the side he scored 19 league goals for last year.
Luis Enrique handed a La Liga debut to Samuel Umtiti after his move from Lyon following his impressive Euro 2016, as well as youngster Denis Suarez following his move from Villarreal. Turan was handed a start in the flexible looking Barca attack with Neymar away on Olympics duty. Enrique’s final tough decision was the right back position. Following the departure of Dani Alves to Juventus, Enrique opted for Sergi Roberto ahead of Aleix Vidal. A decision that showed it’s worth with Roberto getting two assists.
Gus Poyet gave debuts from the start for five summer signings; defenders Aissa Mandi and Riza Durmisi; midfielders Jonas Martin and Felipe Gutierrez and 20-year-old ex-Barcelona youth forward Antonio Sanabria.
However, the back five Poyet deployed were no match for star-men Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. The South American pair ran the show in the final third with a barrage of chances created by the relentless duo. Last season’s breakthrough pair Charly Musonda and Dani Ceballos had to settle for substitute appearances for Betis.
Star Man - Luis Suarez
A wonderful hat-trick from the Uruguayan including a beautiful, curling free-kick past Adan. Despite another typically stellar performance from Lionel Messi, and one of Arda Turan’s best performances in the famous Barca shirt, Suarez showed all the signs that he is perhaps the world’s best number 9.
Real Sociedad 0 - 3 Real Madrid
Gareth Bale opened his account for the season with a bullet header in the second minute for Madrid and got his second in the 94th after rounding Geronimo Rulli. Youngster Marco Asensio repaid the faith in him shown by manager Zinedine Zidane as he scored a delightful chip over Rulli to double Madrid’s lead going in to half time.
Madrid were without star men Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Pepe and Luka Modric through injuries. Whereas big money signings James, Isco and Danilo all started on the bench with a second La Liga debut handed to Alvaro Morata. Following two years at Juventus the striker was given a chance to challenge Benzema for his starting spot, however the Spaniard failed to score and was also booked for simulation in the opposition penalty area.
Surprisingly Zidane handed a rare start to Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic alongside Casemiro and Toni Kroos who was denied by the crossbar from an excellent left foot volley.
Real Sociedad did have a few chances in the first half that was dominated by Madrid with ex-Real Madrid man Asier Illarramendi passing up a glorious chance as he opted to square the ball rather than shooting.
New signing Juanmi had a disappointing debut for Sociedad following a similarly disappointing season at Southampton. However, the defeat won’t disappoint Sociedad too much but they will hope for better performances if they are to break into the European places.
Star Man - Gareth Bale
With two goals and a solid performance, the Welsh wizard could have his best season yet in Madrid following on from his superb summer form for Wales. After scoring many headers last year, his bullet header this weekend is more proof that he is a complete, world-class forward. Surprisingly, he allowed Sergio Ramos to take a free-kick from 25-yards, that would never happen in a Wales shirt!
Atletico Madrid 1 - 1 Alaves
Atletico Madrid were denied three points by a resilient newly promoted Alaves with a sensational 95th minute equaliser from Manu Garcia with a 25 yard strike.
Atletico controversially took the lead after a 90th minute penalty was awarded, despite Fernando Torres being held clearly outside the box by centre back Laguardia. Debut striker Kevin Gameiro put the penalty away in style as he thought he’d marked his debut in perfect fashion.
Gameiro, who started up front on his own with star-striker Antoine Griezmann suspended, had a great chance to open his account only to blaze his shot over the bar from close range. The French striker couldn’t believe his luck as he was twice denied late on from an outstanding double save from Fernando Pacheco.
New number 10 Yannick Carrasco clipped the outside of the post before half time as did half time substitute Fernando Torres in the second half.
New man Nico Gaitan came off the bench to make his debut at the Vicente Calderon. The substitution came either side of two fantastic chances for centre back Diego Godin, with the first a close range header saved by Pacheco, followed by an awkward left foot stretch which saw the ball fly over the bar from 6 yards out.
Alaves, after making 10 loan signings in the summer, as well as eight permanent transfers, handed six debuts from the start. One of the many debutantes for the Segunda Division champions, Zou Feddal lasted no longer than 15 minutes as an elusive injury saw him limp off.
Atletico were unfortunate not to win, but Alaves wouldn’t have deserved to lose from the penalty that was wrongly given. Diego Simeone will be disappointed his side couldn’t convert more of the 26 shots they had and that they didn’t do better with the staggering 20 corners they won.
Star Man - Fernando Pacheco
Despite conceding a penalty, the Alaves ‘keeper made a collection of outstanding saves. Atletico should have won the game comfortably if it wasn’t for his, and the team in front of him’s, resilience and determination. Alaves will need plenty more performances like that if they’re to stay up this season. New manager Mauricio Pellegrino will be impressed with the defensive performance.
Sevilla 6 - 4 Espanyol
A 10-goal thriller involving two new managers in Seville saw all of Sevilla’s six goals coming from summer signings. Pablo Sarabia, a double either side of half time from Atletico loanee Luciano Vietto, Franco Vazquez, Wissam Ben Yedder and Hiroshi Kiyotake won the match for Sevilla. Espanyol, who lead twice in the match had goals from Valencia loanee Pablo Piatti, Hernan Perez, Victor Sanchez and Gerard Moreno.
New Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli opted for a very attacking side with only one recognised centre back in a back three formation, a formation he used to win Chile two Copa America’s in as many years.
Following three defeats in his first three games in charge at the hands of European champions Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup and the La Liga champions Barcelona in two legs of the Supercopa, the Chilean was desperate to win his first match at home in La Liga.
The win came at the expense of new Espanyol manager Quique Sanchez Flores. The former Watford manager took over the side in the summer and his side started brightly with an early goal from Piatti. However the Europa League champions Sevilla were too good for the Catalans who are looking to build on their 13th place finish from last season.
Star Man - Pablo Sarabia
After being unable to keep Getafe in the league last season, the former Real Madrid youth man hit the ground running with his new club. On the day of the debutante Sarabia shone the brightest with a goal and two assists. Vietto and Vazquez also had very promising debuts for a side who will be hoping to break into the top four.
Granada 1 - 1 Villarreal
Villarreal’s new manager Fran Escriba had to settle for an away draw against last season’s strugglers Granada at Los Carmenes, who also were under new management. Samu Castillejo’s free-kick put Villarreal in the lead for all of four minutes with Ezequiel Ponce (on-loan from Roma) gaining a point for the home side.
Escriba’s appointment at Villarreal left the yellow-submarine’s followers scratching their heads following his disappointing year at Getafe, which saw the side relegated after 12 years in the top flight.
Villarreal were never really threatened of losing the game, but the side who finished fourth last year will have to start picking up wins against the lower sides in the division if they hope to repeat their success this year.
Alexandre Pato and Nicola Sansone were handed debuts at the head of the attack for Villarreal, who were without both Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakambu. Alfred N’Diaye was given his debut in midfield and Atletico loanee Rafael Borre couldn’t mark his debut with a goal after coming on from the bench late on.
Four loanees made debuts for Paco Jemez’ Granada, Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa couldn’t stop Castillejo from breaking the deadlock; Chelsea winger Jeremie Boga and Arsenal man Jon Toral played just behind Ponce. Full back Tito also made his first start for the club following his move from relegated Rayo.
Star Man - Samu Castillejo
His fine free-kick put Villarreal in front but it wasn’t enough for his side to win. After an indifferent season following his move from Malaga last summer, he’ll be hoping for more of the same as he looks to fill the slot left by new Barca signing Denis Suarez.
On Friday evening Malaga and Osasuna opened the La Liga campaign with a 1–1 draw. Malaga’s Juanpi scored the first La Liga goal of the season, only for former Arsenal midfielder Fran Merida to score on his debut in the 85th minute to equalize for new boys Osasuna.
Lucas Perez’ 87th minute penalty won Deportivo all three points as La Coruna came from behind to beat Eibar 2–1, who took the lead through former Wigan defender Ivan Ramis.
Duje Cop and Victor Rodriguez scored as Sporting Gijon cruised into a 2–0 lead against Athletic Bilbao in a packed El Molinon. The game was unfortunately halted as the home crowd delivered racist chants towards Bilbao forward Inaki Williams. The hosts, however, ran riot in the second half with both goals, a saved penalty and a shot against the bar all within a 10 minute spell. A late Williams cross was deflected in from teammate Borja Viguera to make the last five minutes nervy for the home supporters. However, Sporting deservedly got all three points with a 2–1 win, after a promising display from the side who finished 17th last season, one point from safety. Bilbao’s manager Valverde will be hoping his team can bounce back after a dismal display. Champions League football is their aim, but they’ll have to do a lot better if they’re to achieve it this season.
Monday night’s action sees newly promoted Leganes travel to Celta Vigo both off the back of impressive seasons. Celta could hand winger Pione Sisto a debut after he was brought in from Midtjylland to replace Man City winger Nolito. Leganes’ top scorer last season Szymanowski could be in line to start after training on his own this week to gain fitness. However, new signing Guerrero is fit to make his debut.
Finally, Valencia will look to bounce back from their disappointing season with a win at home against Las Palmas. Forward Rodrigo and new signing Nani both have suspensions, whereas Arsenal target Shkodran Mustafi could start at the back. Las Palmas travel from the canary islands without suspended promising defender Mauricio Lemos. They also could be without forward Sergio Araujo. Former Portsmouth and AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is in line to make his debut for the club in midfield.