Metropolitano, Madrid – The Atletico Madrid players strolled out of the main building at the Ciudad Deportiva Atletico de Madrid, wash bags in hand, and formed an orderly queue in the beating Madrid sun. They boarded the team bus – Griezmann was last on, the cool kid of the gang, and went straight to his favourite seat at the back. Simeone was alongside his trusted lieutenant, German Burgos, as they discussed the final details before the day’s main event.
The bus soon made its way onto the Autopista de Circunvalacion – the ring road around Madrid – and headed towards the airport in Northern Madrid; a journey, which was familiar as it had been made many times before. However, on this occasion, it went past the airport and veered right towards the Canillejas area of the capital. The bus pulled up and the players departed. They strode towards a new and impressive structure that they will now call home.
Saturday evening’s game against Malaga was the first in Atletico’s new stadium – the Wanda Metropolitano. The decision to leave their famous home of over fifty years, the Vicente Calderon, had been contemplated for many years. Different financial, logistical and legal reasons held things up at various times before investment from Atletico’s Chinese co-owners Wanda meant that this summer the switch finally took place.
The Metropolitano was the name of Atletico’s original home before they moved to the Calderon – however, the new 67,000-seater Metropolitano is a redevelopment of the city’s former La Peineta athletics stadium. The new structure is an impressive one with state-of-the-art facilities that mean it can be called Spain’s most modern stadium. It has been tipped to host a Champions League final within the next couple of years and there is a growing acknowledgement that it should become the home of La Roja – the Spanish national team.
However, not all Atletico fans are head-over-heels about their new home. Their reasons are numerous. One fan suggested that “there is a sizeable group of fans critical of the relocation and the huge debt involved. They feel the Calderon was allowed to grow old through negligent maintenance over years, to help push the move through. Whether the ‘wow-factor’ outweighs these concerns remains to be seen.” Meanwhile, the surrounding area of the Metropolitano – a previously barren landscape near Barajas airport – is far from the old city-centre Calderon barrio in terms of both location and feel.
Yet, the atmosphere on opening night was as good as ever. After a daylong celebration – featuring a food festival, a royal fly-over and the match ball being delivered by para-gliders all in the presence of lifelong fan, King Felipe VI. Simeone, after the match, said that “as a player or a coach I have never seen anything like it. The memory will live with me for the rest of my life. All the Atletico flags flying, the fans’ involvement. I wanted to go on and play.”
The action on the pitch soon took precedent. Malaga – who were still pointless after three matches – could have taken the lead through Borja Baston. The Swansea loanee forced a save from Jan Oblak in the first half that could have put a dampener on the occasion. But it was Antoine Griezmann – who had been restored to the side after a two-game La Liga suspension – who broke the deadlock and scored the only goal of the match. The France international guided home Angel Correa’s cross on the hour mark to give Atletico the points.
The evening ended with a firework display and at about midnight local time, the Atleti fans started to head for home after twelve hours of celebration. When the excitement and expectation generated by the Wanda Metropolitano’s opening night fades, for the fans the success of Atletico’s new home will be measured – as always – by what happens on the pitch.
Los Otros Puntos
- Borja Mayoral repaid the faith that Zinedine Zidane placed in him by scoring one and instigating another, giving Real Madrid a 1-3 win against Real Sociedad. Mayoral – a Real youth team product who spent last season on loan at Wolfsburg – opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a finish from close range before playing a ball across the Real Sociedad area that deflected off Rodrigues for the second. In between these two goals, Rodrigues himself scored with a volley that squirmed under Keylor Navas. One of the more bizarre images of the weekend was a television cameraman being carted off with his leg in a brace after being injured when the home crowd around him – in a temporary stand – celebrated Rodrigues’ equaliser. The best goal of the night – and Bale’s only significant influence – came in the 61st minute when Isco pumped a long ball into the final third and the Welshman showed his pace as he ran past Rodrigues to collect the ball and finish with composure. Although La Real’s 100 percent winning start came to an end, there was still ample evidence to suggest that they have got plenty to look forward to this season.
- Two Barcelona substitutes – Denis Suarez and Paulinho – spared the blushes of Barcelona and Ernesto Valverde as they came on and scored to give Barcelona a 2-1 victory away at Getafe. Club-record signing Ousmane Dembele barely had a sniff of the ball in the opening stages before hobbling off in the thirtieth minute – the club confirmed on Sunday that Dembele would be out for three to four months after rupturing his tendon in his left thigh. The hosts set the early rhythm and took the lead in the 39th minute through Gaku Shibasaki’s stunning volley past Ter Stegen in the Barcelona net. But Denis Suarez levelled just after the hour mark. Paulinho got La Blaugrana’s late winner five minutes after coming on – he powered his way into the Getafe penalty area before netting from a tight angle. Four wins from four games for Valverde in La Liga – yet this was the closest of the lot.
- Sevilla hung on to a 1-0 win – provided by Luis Muriel’s goal in the 69th minute – in Girona after Alex Granell missed a penalty for the home side in stoppage time.
- It finished all square in the Valencian derby at the Estadio Ciudad de Valencia – Rodrigo and Bardhi got the goals for Levante and Valencia respectively, leaving both sides on six points.
- Alaves sacked coach Luis Zubeldia with the club still winless and goalless – a long season ahead it seems.
Eibar 1–0 Leganes
Levante 1–1 Valencia
Getafe 1–2 Barcelona
Real Betis 2–1 Deportivo
Atletico Madrid 1–0 Malaga
Alaves 0–3 Villarreal
Girona 0–1 Sevilla
Las Palmas 1–0 Athletic Bilbao
Real Sociedad 1–3 Real Madrid
Espanyol – Celta Vigo to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Borja Mayoral (Real Madrid)