After a summer of unprecedented transfers and numerous managerial changes, La Liga returned this weekend with new players, new managers and a new club.
Montilivi, Girona – Since the 4th of June, there has been an air of excitement and anticipation around the historic city of Girona. After a 0–0 home draw with Real Zaragoza, on a humid evening in Catalonia, Girona FC had finally reached the Primera Division. Founded in 1930, Girona have spent the entirety of their history in and around the lower reaches of Spanish football.
Having experienced a couple of near misses in terms of promotion in recent seasons, June 2016 represented a historic achievement for the club which is part-owned by Pep Guardiola’s brother, Pere. This fraternal link with Manchester City has led to Girona taking a number of youth players from the North-West of England to the North-East of Spain on loan.
There has even been talk of The City Football Group possibly taking over Girona – attempting to add the Catalans to their portfolio, which already includes Man City, New York City and Melbourne City.
The first La Liga game at Montilivi certainly did not disappoint. New signing Stuani headed the newcomers in front against Atletico Madrid in the 22nd minute and the Uruguayan doubled Girona’s lead just three minutes later. The Catalans were in dreamland and their mood was bolstered when Antoine Griezmann received two yellow cards – one for a dive over goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz and another for contesting referee Munuera’s decision – which resulted in him leaving the 11,500 capacity stadium in the 66th minute.
Yet Atletico responded when Angel Correa pulled a goal back with a long-range strike in the 78th minute before, with just six minutes left, Jose Gimenez headed in an equaliser from Koke’s chipped free kick. Girona deserved more from their first Primera match but could not live up to their city’s nickname of ‘The Defenders’ even against the ten men of Atletico.
Camp Nou, Barcelona – Valverde surprised Barca fans by giving Semedo his debut at right back in Barcelona’s opener against Real Betis. The atmosphere in the Camp Nou was understandably subdued at the start of the match as all reflected on the horrific atrocity that had taken place in the city a couple of days earlier.
The match only really came to life at the thirty-minute mark when Deulofeu burst into the Betis area and pulled the ball across towards Messi only for Adan in the Betis goal to palm it away. This is an element of Deulofeu’s game that he must continually display if he is to become a consistent starter in Valverde’s side.
Deulofeu then played a pass towards Messi and the Betis goal but it was a slight deflection from Romanian defender Tosca that steered the ball past Adan and into the Betis net. The game opened up once Barca had taken the lead.
Real Betis’ debut attacker Sergio Leon should have scored the equaliser two minutes later but Mascherano somehow managed to catch-up with the pacey Spaniard and performed a last ditch tackle that had Leon and much of the Camp Nou amazed and astonished.
Barca then counted and doubled their lead, Deulofeu this time setting up Sergi Roberto who slotted easily into the goal. Messi managed to rack up three attempts that struck the post and at times during the match, he appeared pensive – either upset about missed chances or reflecting more deeply on whether Barcelona are serious underdogs for this year’s league title with Real Madrid looking irresistible and the MSN having partially dismantled.
It was a comfortable win in the end for Barcelona – a victory that Valverde welcomed after humiliating defeats to Real Madrid in the Super Cup. They will face tougher opposition than Real Betis who were fairly insipid in terms of attack but a win is a win.
Los Otros Puntos
- Celta Vigo’s new manager, Juan Carlos Unzue, also experienced the full range of emotions during the opening matchday of the season when they welcomed Real Sociedad. Celta took the lead midway through the first half when Gomez hooked the ball in at the far post. La Real, though, were level just 10 minutes later when Oyarzabal put the ball into an empty net after a loose pass by Celta goalkeeper Sergio Alvarez. However, Uruguayan international Gomez scored again for Celta in the 50th minute only for Sociedad to equalise through Juanmi with ten minutes left. Willian Jose scored from a penalty for Real Sociedad after Carlos Vela was brought down in the area – giving La Real the win and punishing Unzue to defeat in his first competitive match as Celta manager.
- Real Madrid got their La Liga campaign underway by beating Depotivo La Coruna with relative ease. Three goals by Bale, Casemiro and Kroos ensured that Real’s fantastic form continues yet Deportivo’s Andone did miss a penalty in the 89th minute. Sergio Ramos got a second yellow card late on in the match for a wayward elbow – this was the 5th red card to be seen on La Liga’s opening weekend. Ramos was lucky to not get sent off earlier in half after an altercation with Depor defender Schar.
- Joao Cancelo appeared very emotional walking off the pitch at the Mestalla late on Friday evening – waving and applauding to the Valencianistes. The Valencian defender, who has been at the club since joining from Benfica in 2014, looks like he is on the move to Italy and Internazionale. Cancelo will be sadly missed in Valencia, he has been one of the few rays of sunshine during the turbulent past few seasons. A Simeone Zaza goal midway through the first half against Las Palmas ensured that Cancelo’s final game was victorious.
Leganes 1–0 Alaves
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 – Villarreal & Malaga – Eibar to be played on Monday
El Jugador de la Semana: Christian Stuani (Girona)