After 82 days of rest between seasons, La Liga returned last weekend with a bang. The opening matchday, spread out over four days with no two matches coinciding, allowed us to see all twenty teams in action for the first time since May. Some teams seemed to have barely changed since last time out and others exhibited an array of new faces littered among their starting XIs. But who managed to get off to a flying start, who has yet to get going and who doesn’t fit either of those categories? We take a look at who were the winners and losers from matchday one.
Rayo Vallecano must have been extremely happy with the double scalp of FC Barcelona last season, but as sweet as those victories were, they must have known that they were up against one of the weakest Barcelona teams in recent years. So imagine how they will be feeling now having held this exciting star-studded squad to a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou to open the new campaign. A solid Rayo frustrated Barca for long periods of the encounter while themselves having one or two half chances to steal the win. One in particular stood out and Sergio Camello will feel he should have received the ball as he found himself in a great position but the pass never came from Alvaro Garcia.
Three teams managed to produce resounding victories of three goals to nil with possibly the most exciting of those being Atlético Madrid’s triumph over Getafe on Monday night. It was a show of what may be to come this season los rojiblancos. A standout performance from Joao Felix guided the 2020-21 La Liga champions to a confident start to the season. Particularly impressive was the way in which the Portuguese linked up with Alvaro Morata, whose name appeared twice on the scoresheet at the Coliseum Alfonso Perez, adding to the hat-trick he scored in Atléti’s last preseason match against Juventus. A dream start for Diego Simeone who maintains his impressive record against Getafe, but it will be the clean sheet and established performance of Axel Witsel that El Cholo will be most pleased with.
Perhaps a team who’s opening day win may have gone under the radar, is valence. Managed by the newly appointed and controversial figure of Gennaro Gattuso, Los Che were able to carve out a win against the returning Girona in a way in which one might say perfectly represents their Italian manager. A blocky, stop-start match from a stylistic point of view was defined by flashpoint moments in which Valencia converted a penalty just before halftime but then had Eray Comert sent off for a Gattuso-like challenge just after the break. It wasn’t then long before the Italian himself was shown a yellow card for his antics on the touchline. For the fans to get behind the contentious character he will need to keep on winning, even if the wins come in the way this one did. If not, the suspicions of those who believe that he will be the first La Liga manager to be sacked this season may well come true.
Continuing their horrific 2022, Sevilla opened the season with a dismal 2-1 defeat away to Osasuna. Although the team from Pamplona should be given a lot of credit for the result, it was a start el conjunto sevillano were hoping to avoid at all costs. This was a defeat, however, that made a lot of sense as with a makeshift center back pairing of Nemanja Gudelj and Karim Rekik looked as unsure as they did disorganized. Osasuna opened the scoring after just nine minutes on the clock, yet they will feel unfairly treated, as the winning goal came from a penalty which was controversial to say the least. Papu Gomez was judged to have fouled Jon Moncayola which put a cloud over an otherwise good performance from the Argentine, who with a flash of brilliance, set up Sevilla’s equalizing goal. Aside from the poor decision that ultimately decided the result of the match, the Sevilla players won’t be happy with their performance, showing their inability once again to produce enough chances to win games. It will need to be a drastic change in matchday 2 for Lopetegui to avoid the frustration of unhappy Sevillistas.
Another struggling Andalucian side who will be hoping that patterns from last season don’t make a return, is Cádiz who once again failed to win at home. Although against a strong La Real side which featured new signings Brais Mendez and Takefusa Kubo (scorer of the winning goal), fans of los gaditanos will be hoping that they won’t need to wait until their fourteenth home match of this season to see their team win like they had to wait last campaign. A stern test in Athletic Club awaits them the next time they play in their Nuevo Mirandilla stadium.
The “neither nors”
It took a piece of individual brilliance from David Alaba to get Real Madrid over the line in their first match of their title defense, against an inspired Almería side playing in La Liga for the first time in eight years. The newly promoted team got off to the best possible start, going a goal up against the defending La Liga champions after just six minutes. But as we’ve seen time and again (especially last season), Carlo Ancelotti’s men found a way to take all three points back to the capital. Lucas Vasquez responded quickest to a loose ball in the box to drill home the equalizer and David Alaba, having only been on the pitch for a number of seconds, delightfully curled in a free kick to win the match for los merengues. A victory which, just like last season, showed that they are the experts in winning matches even when far from their best.
So with a new season underway, with new teams and new faces both on the pitch and on the touchline, the magical chaos of La Liga remains a constant. A lot has already been learned during the opening round of fixtures, with the promise of plenty more to be unraveled in the coming weeks. There are some mouth-watering games to look forward to in matchday 2 including Real Sociedad v Barcelona, Atlético Madrid v Villareal and Celta Vigo v Real Madrid. Not always, ¡Viva La Liga!