La Liga correspondent Heath Chesters rounds up the opening weekend of action in Spain, as Basque minnows Eibar sit proudly at the top of the table.
La Liga is back, although not quite with the bang that was expected for the opening weekend of the season, as the ‘Big Two’ struggled to find the back of the net, whilst the most modest of teams perched themselves top of the shop, following the first round of fixtures.
Friday 21st August
Malaga 0-0 Sevilla
A passionate Andaluz derby to open the 2015-16 campaign in La Liga. A game which promised much, but whilst it certainly delivered in terms of intensity, neither side could make the most of their chances.
Former Stoke City midfielder Steven N’Zonzi collected a second yellow card in the second-half, leaving Sevilla a man light for the last twenty minutes or so, but Malaga couldn’t make that advantage count. The referee didn’t help either, disallowing what looked a late winner by Charles, which seemed perfectly legal.
Saturday 22nd August
Espanyol 1-0 Getafe
Salva Sevilla became the first player to hit the back of the net in La Liga, firing in from a free-kick in just the third minute at the Power8 Stadium. From there the Catalan side held firm, with Getafe unable to break through a solid home defence.
The cause of the visitors wasn’t aided when defender Virgini collected a second yellow card, although in truth, Getafe rarely threatened Espanyol enough to merit a point.
Deportivo La Coruña 0-0 Real Sociedad
A disappointing game at Riazor, between two sides who looked as though they were still in the thick of pre-season, with plenty to improve. Neither keeper was sufficiently troubled and the final score was inevitable.
Jonathas, the key summer striker signing for La Real, rarely touched the ball inside the Deportivo area, whilst the home side couldn’t offer much to threaten their visitors, aside from the occasional punt from distance.
Atletico Madrid 1-0 Las Palmas
The Canary Islanders were handed a tough opening fixture at the Vicente Calderon, but didn’t make life easy for Simeone’s side. A 16th minute free-kick from Antoine Griezmann putting Atletico in the lead, but with a slice of good luck and a deflection off the wall.
Las Palmas grafted under the inevitable pressure, as Atletico looked for a second after the break. To their credit the visitors could have levelled the game, but a free-kick from David Simon struck the woodwork. Fernando Torres almost scored an own-goal too, but Jan Oblak produced a crucial save, to help his team secure all three points.
Rayo Vallecano 0-0 Valencia
Another encounter that didn’t produce any goals, but it certainly wasn’t effort from visiting Valencia, who found themselves unable to find a way past Toño in the Rayo goal, who was like a one-man wall.
Be it Piatti, Santi Mina or Negredo for the visitors, Toño got a hand, leg or even a boot out to prevent Valencia taking the points. Manucho came closest for the home side, but once again, it was the Rayo keeper who earned his side a point as the visitors threatened once more at the very end.
Sunday 23rd August
Athletic Club Bilbao 0-1 Barcelona
Once more to the lion’s den of San Mames for Barcelona, where they were mauled only a week ago in the Spanish Super Cup. This encounter looked as though it might be just as frustrating too, as Athletic pressed their visitors hard.
The Barcelona cause wasn’t aided when Dani Alves had to leave with a painful groin injury, then Sergio Busquets was stretchered off with a bad knock to the ankle.
Lionel Messi was anonymous as Athletic kept the Argentine maestro contained, but they couldn’t stop Luis Suarez hitting the back of the net in the 53rd minute, as the Barça breakthrough came at last. The home side unable to offer any real offensive response after that, wasteful in the final third.
Sporting Gijon 0-0 Real Madrid
Rafa Benitez and Real Madrid were held at bay by a Sporting Gijon side back in the top-flight, who never gave up their efforts, showing great fighting spirit to contain their illustrious rivals at El Molinon.
Cristiano Ronaldo wanted a penalty, which would have been harsh on the home side. The Portuguese star also missed an absolute sitter and it wasn’t his day, as Real Madrid peppered the home goal, but without precision. Sporting held firm and Cuellar was excellent between the posts when called on.
Sporting could arguably have taken all three points too. A great header from Sanabria looked to have crossed the line, after striking the underside of the crossbar. Not enough of the ball had though, at least according to the match officials.
Levante 1-2 Celta Vigo
Simao Mate getting his marching orders after just five minutes for Levante, suggested it was going to be a long game for the home side. Celta Vigo couldn’t make the most of their extra man, or their dominance of possession, until a drilled finish from Orellana found the back of the net, five minutes before half-time.
Levante didn’t give up though and in the 54th minute, a superbly taken free-kick from Verza had them back on level terms. From there both sides traded blows and the game could have gone either way. That is until Iago Aspas grabbed the finish which secured all three points for Celta, in the 76th minute.
Real Betis 1-1 Villarreal
It was about La Liga comebacks at the Benito Villamarin, with Betis back in the Primera after a season in the Segunda, whilst Roberto Soldado was back in Spain and with Villarreal, following two disappointing seasons in England with Tottenham.
Not long after the half-hour mark, it was Soldado who opened his Yellow Submarine account in predatory fashion, after poor defending from the home side.
Three minutes from time, it was none other than talismanic Betis veteran Ruben Castro, who grabbed the equaliser and a point, with Villarreal down to ten men after Bruno Soriano had seen red.
Monday 24th August
Granada 1-3 Eibar
Eibar actually finished last season in the relegation zone, but were granted a second season in the Primera thanks to the administrative relegation of Elche, for failing to meet financial obligations and La Liga regulations.
As such, it’s been a difficult summer for the Basque minnows, who have a much changed squad. Despite all that, they were leading 0-2 by the interval after goals from Adrian and Escalante, who both punished poor defending by Granada.
The home side made changes at the break and improved, pulling a goal back through Rochina, but hopes soon collapsed when Salva Ruiz was red carded for a rash challenge. Granada kept attacking, but once more, Eibar made the most of weak defending from Sandoval’s men, as Arruabarrena added the third after just a minute on the pitch as a substitute.
The highest scoring game of the whole weekend at Nuevo Los Carmenes, and one that saw Eibar top of La Liga. Quite something for a club who were nearly playing in the Segunda this season.
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) August 24, 2015
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Sporting Gijon manager Abelardo Fernandez enthused: “A draw against Real Madrid for a team like ours, with the economic difference between the two clubs, feels like a victory.”
Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez bemoaned: “We lacked precision in the final pass and certainty in the finish. It’s the beginning of the season though and we still have to adjust many things.”
With a wry smile, Jose Luis Mendilibar on his Eibar side topping La Liga: “What matters is the win. Being top of the table is anecdotal. We’ll keep the newspaper clippings for the memories, but nothing more than that.”