Barcelona took an early advantage in the title race, which saw Real Madrid draw at home to Valencia, but the match of the week was played at San Mamés where Betis got a sensational 5-3 win over ‘Llorente-less’ Athletic Bilbao.
Week 1 of La Liga brought plenty of great matches, goals galore and a big upset in the form of Valencia’s draw at the Santiago Bernabeu. It seems a bit sad to suggest that one of the best teams in the country getting a draw against Real Madrid is a big upset, but given the dominance levels exhibited by the top 2 in recent years, every point they lose can be considered an upset, especially at home. More importantly, considering last year it took 100 points to win the league, every point loss has the potential to be compromising. Higuain’s early opener was thwarted by Jonas’ superb free kick and by an amazing performance from Valencia’s goalkeeper Diego Alves. Despite the draw, it was evident that Real Madrid are still as strong as they were last season and will mount a very serious challenge to defend their title.
Barcelona gained an early advantage in the title with a dominating 5-1 win over Real Sociedad, in a game that will be best remembered by David Villa’s returned to action, capped off with a goal. As for the rest of the match, it was as if nothing had ever changed; Tito Vilanova’s Barcelona has picked up where Pep Guardiola’s had left off, overwhelming opponent with their quick possession based style. Lionel Messi has also showed to be as sharp as ever, scoring a brace. Barcelona sent a clear message to their rivals that their era is still not over yet.
But it wasn’t all about the top 2, not by a long shot. The best match of the weekend took place at the San Mamés, where Betis got a sensational 5-3 win over ‘Llorente-less’ Athletic Bilbao. After a first half dominated by the Sevillian outfit, who quickly went 3-0 up, Marcelo Bielsa’s outfit had an incredible reaction in the second half, creating many chances and eventually equalizing the match with 15 minutes left to play. But in another unexpected twist of event, Betis took advantage of Athletic’s sloppiness in defense to secure a 5-3 win and their first three points of the season. In what was a supremely entertaining match, it was clear that Athletic will suffer if Llorente leaves the club as rumoured and also that they need defensive reinforcements urgently. Betis confirmed their reputation as an attacking, entertaining team and should have another good season, they could hardly have got off to a better start.
Malaga, Mallorca and Sevilla also got off to winning starts. Malaga grinded out a 1-0 away win over newly promoted Celta in what was the cagiest match of the week, with very few chances and little to separate both sides. A late Fabrice goal gave Malaga the win. With that goal, the Cameroonian striker became the youngest goalscorer in La Liga history at the tender age of 16 years and 98 days. Mallorca and Sevilla both got 2-1 home wins over Espanyol and Getafe respectively.
On Monday, the last three matches of the week were played, with Rayo Vallecano beating Granada at home, newly promoted Valladolid getting a 1-0 win at Zaragoza and Super Depor announcing their return to the Spanish first division with a 2-0 win over Osasuna.
What We Learned From Matchday 1 of La Liga
- The league and a lot of its clubs might be in crisis financially but that doesn’t show on the pitch, at least not so far. Week 1 brought entertaining football and great goals, as well as packed crowds. La Liga is far better on the pitch than off it at the moment.
- It will a two-horse race. This is not exactly news, but it has become apparent in matchday 1 that Real Madrid and Barcelona operate at a completely different level to the other 18 teams and the gap might have even increased. Real’s draw with Valencia will turn out to be the exception, not the rule.
- Marcelo Bielsa has his work cut out for him. Especially if Llorente leaves the club; the squad is pretty much the same as last year, but the club’s all-Basque philosophy clearly limits its success beyond a certain point.
- Deportivo were sorely missed in La Liga; the enthusiam at the Riazor before, during and after the match against Osasuna showed that Deportivo are always a great addition to Spain’s top flight.
- The standard of refereeing doesn’t look like improving any time soon; new season, same old dodgy refereeing decisions, the most notable ones being a perfectly clean goal disallowed to Soldado at the Bernabeu and a Sevilla’s second goal coming from a non-existent penalty. The standard of refereeing clearly doesn’t match the standard of the football in La Liga.
- There will be balance below the top 2. You can fully expect Real Madrid and Barcelona to run away with the league, but below those two clubs the margins are very small and you can expect narrow point differences in the end like last year, with Europe and relegation going down to the wire.