La Liga, week one
Spanish Football has completed all but the last two matches of the first week of La Liga competition and a few things were made obvious. First, Girona FC is for real. The newly promoted side was scheduled to play their Saturday opener at Atletico Madrid’s new home, the Wanda Metropolitano, but the stadium was not ready to receive visitors yet. So, Girona began their first La Liga journey at home against a tough rival who was expecting to take all three points. What Atleti found was a well-organized and very motivated side that outplayed them for the entire first half.
Christian Stuani scored two headers at the 22 and 25 to put his side ahead by two at the half. The second half saw Antoine Griezmann receive a yellow for faking a penalty and then an immediate red for his follow-up words to the referee. The dismissal, at the 67th minute, sparked the Colchoneros who reacted by tying the game thanks to goals by Angel Correa (78) and Jose Gimenez (85).
Girona was late to notice they were playing a top La Liga team used to comebacks, and when they finally retook control of the game, Pedro Alcala, Marc Muniesa, and Olarenwaju Kayode, all had great chances to pull the home side ahead. Over that same final nine minutes, Atleti committed three tough fouls and delayed the match twice before the final whistle at the 94th minute.
Lessons learned by both—do not take Girona lightly, they can play; do not count Atleti out of any game, they have the will power to come at any opponent no matter the circumstances.
Second, Barcelona, playing without the injured Luis Suarez and the traded Neymar, had a very different look with Messi being accompanied by the likes of Alcacer and Deulofeo. The Catalans had the emotional edge, each player giving up their name on the back of their jersey for the simple “Barcelona,” yet the players were soulless on the pitch. They were fortunate to be playing at home and with a sleepwalking Real Betis. Though the score line (2-0 Barca) could have been much larger as Messi missed by very little on a couple of kicks and hit woodwork on others, those were the highlights of a Barca that won without convincing against a very easy rival on opening day at the Camp Nou.
Third, Real Madrid, playing without the suspended Cristiano Ronaldo, and despite a stumbling opening quarter hour wherein hosts Deportivo La Coruna had two one-on-ones requiring stellar Kaylor Navas saves, were too strong and focused to allow Deportivo much of a chance thereafter. Gareth Bale and Casemiro scored from inside the goalie’s box to settle the game early and the second half offered a Kroos goal, a Ramos silly two-yellow red (when a direct red might have been given earlier for his hand grab-push of an opponent’s face), and a missed penalty by Deportivo. Real 3-0 Depor seemed a kind result for the hosts. The Merengues are still playing at a level above all competition and seem capable of revving the motor as needed.
At Celta Vigo, Real Sociedad pulled out a last minute 3-2 victory and Sevilla were kept to a 1-1 draw with Espanyol. On Friday Leganes won at home 1-0 over Alaves and Valencia defeated visiting Las Palmas 1-0. On Sunday host Atletico Bilbao and visiting Getafe drew 0-0. Two matches, Levante-Villarreal and Eibar-Malaga, will close out the round tomorrow.