News Live Scores

Spanish Inquisition: Unconvincing Beginnings In La Liga

After a summer of blockbuster transfers, dramatic inter-organization rows, and pre-season friendly matches, all of which together seemed to last for an inordinately prolonged period, La Liga is back for what has been touted as one of the most exciting seasons in years.

Unfortunately, the first matchday of the season fell some way short of that billing in the excitement stakes. While both the Big Two won, Real Madrid and Barcelona earning the three points by beating Deportivo La Coruña and Sporting de Gijon, respectively, it must be said that the Spanish giants were a bit lacklustre in their Primera Division openings.

In the maiden match of the season on Saturday evening, Manuel Pellegrini made his coaching debut for Real Madrid as Los Blancos hoped to entertain an expectant Santiago Bernabeu against bogey team Depor. Madridistas were still reeling from the shock sale of mercurial winger Arjen Robben (who, by the way, scored two dazzling goals in a dream debut for Bayern Munich), but it became clear that the Flying Dutchman was already history as Karim Benzema took the pitch wearing the vacated number 11 shirt.

Madrid played well enough and created a host of chances, almost scoring in their first attempt on goal as Kaka flashed his wayward shot across the face of the net. But the defence, which consisted of three new summer signings in Alvaro Arbeloa, Raul Albiol, and Ezequiel Garay, gave up two careless goals to the Galician visitors as Andres Guardado, Riki, and Juan Carlos Valeron (the latter two were goalscorers) flustered the three defenders.

Marcelo, however, despite questions about his defence last season, looked solid at the back while Raul made a strong case for himself in the starting XI with a brilliant goal that demonstrated his persistence and professionalism—a Kaka pass that crept between the legs of two defenders found Benzema, the Frenchman’s shot thudded off the post, and while the Depor back line stood staring blankly at the assistant referee for the off-side flag, Raul snuck in and slotted home the rebound.

Moreover, ‘El Capitan’ had a hand in the second goal, winning the penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo did well to convert, despite immense pressure. In the first match of the season, Raul has made a statement that it is his starting job to lose, leaving Gonzalo Higuain with it all to do in order to break into a starting role.

The Man of the Match though was the same player who stole the show last season as the best player in the squad, Lassana Diarra. In just six months of play in the Spanish capital, Lass has won the affection of fans by relentlessly pursuing the ball and recovering possession with remarkable consistency, and he is now beginning to make a name for himself as a goalscorer, bursting the net in Madrid’s last pre-season game against Rosenborg with a stunning strike, while burying the winning goal on Saturday with a driving shot into the bottom-left corner.

How Madrid are able to perform in their future matches remains to be seen. The regular season has proven to be slightly more difficult than the pre-season cakewalk and already the pressure has been ratcheted up with the rise in expectations. With Florentino Perez having been unable to make a last second push for Franck Ribery (although Rafael Van der Vaart has, in the end, stayed at the Bernabeu), the Floren Team have much to prove as they attempt to take the trophies that are, somewhat deservedly, expected of them.

Casual Cules

Yesterday, in the final match of the first Liga weekend, Barcelona took to the Camp Nou pitch to tackle Asturian side Sporting de Gijon—a side who were only afforded another season in La Primera by virtue of finishing one point above the relegation zone cut-off.

Pep Guardiola’s defending champions featured a starting line-up without superstar Lionel Messi as the little Argentine had left for his home country in preparation for a World Cup qualifying match against Brazil. In his stead was the newly promoted canterano, Pedro ‘Pedrito’ Rodriguez, who scored a brilliant goal in the European Supercup tie against Shakhtar Donetsk to give Barcelona their second title of the season. The side also featured new signings Maxwell (the left-back who left the match with an injury) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the star striker eager to begin his Liga campaign with a goal or two.

Although he rarely looked interested in the match, ‘Ibra’ duly got his debut goal and Barcelona dispatched Sporting by a 3-0 scoreline; but while the box score may indicate a dominating performance, those who watched the encounter saw a different story.

At times during the match, Barca looked every bit as impressive as the side that easily won the Triplete last season, connecting passes through the midfield, drawing their adversaries away from their area, exploiting the space opened up by the hapless visitors, and creating a good deal of pressure on the opposition goal. But during other long spells, the Blaugrana gave the ball away much too easily (a very atypical occurrence under a Guardiola-coached side) and looked as if they were still shaking off some pre-season rust.

It does need to be said that both Messi and Henry were out of the side with the former in South America and the latter being rested after playing much of the European Supercup tie, but if Barca are to claim the rest of the four titles for which they are eligible, Sunday’s performance will simply not suffice.

Surprises in Spain

Outside of the Big Two, however, there were a few shocking results in La Liga. Malaga, a side that took an impressive 8th place last season after being promoted from La Segunda, shocked Champions League-quality competition, thrashing Atletico de Madrid with a 3-0 scoreline.  If the first match of the season is any indication, Los Boquerones could be a force to reckon with.

Osasuna, a side that was battling relegation last season, severely tested Europa-League qualifiers Villarreal in a 1-1 draw, showing improvement over their play last season. Valencia also dispatched an undermanned Sevilla side as youngsters Juan Mata and Pablo Hernandez helped Los Che begin their quest to be mentioned with the Liga elite.  

But the surprise of the weekend came in the form of Getafe’s 4-1 demolition of Racing Santader in El Sardinero, with Madrid youth product Roberto Soldado scoring a hat-trick to become La Liga’s leading scorer through the first weekend. Aside from Soldado, Dani Parejo, also of the Madrid youth academy, was one of the best players of the match, as Getafe coach Michel, formerly of Real Madrid Castilla, put the 20-year-old in charge of orchestrating the Getafe attack. In the final hours the transfer window, Getafe also secured the signature of Madrid right/left-back Miguel Torres, effectively making Los Azulones a second Madrid youth team for developing talent.

As it stands after one weekend, Getafe sit in first place waiting to take on second place Barcelona two weeks from now at the Coliseum. Malaga sit in third place while Valencia have climbed into fifth place, up a spot from their finish last season. Winning only by one goal, the Real Madrid of the second Galactico era sit in sixth place, Villarreal’s Yellow Submarine has sunk to 10th, Sevilla sit in 16th, and Atletico languish in the relegation zone in 19th place.

But thankfully the season does not end with three points and with only one weekend of La Liga in the books, we still have 37 more Liga matches to enjoy before we head into a summer that should feature some of the best football the world has ever seen in World Cup 2010. So despite the slow start, it promises to be a very good year for football.

Cyrus C. Malek, Goal.com

For more on Spain click ahead to Goal.com's Spain homepage!