Spanish Football’s La Liga 2021-2022 began on Friday with Valencia winning 1-0 at home to Getafe. On Saturday, Cadiz were held 1-1 at home by Levante as were Mallorca by Real Betis and Osasuna by Espanyol, the latter a 0-0 affair. Real Madrid began with a bang defeating hosts Alaves 4-1. On Sunday, Atletico Madrid played at Celta Vigo, winning 2-1, with both teams earning red cards in a toughly contested opener which saw 20 fouls called and nine yellows awarded. Hosts Sevilla defeated Rayo Vallecano 3-0 (with Rayo’s keeper, Luca Zidane’s, 16th-minute red card a significant factor), while Real Sociedad barely lost 4-2 to visiting Barcelona with the Catalans on the ropes at 3-2 with Sociedad scoring at the 82nd and 85th while the visitors finally responded at the 90+1.
Round one saw Real Madrid atop the table on goal differential over Barcelona with Atletico, Valencia, and Sevilla, the other three-point earners. The top goal scorers were Barcelona’s Martin Braithwaite, followed by Atletico Madrid’s Angel Correa, Sevilla’s Erik Lamela, and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema, each with two goals apiece.
As memories of UEFA’s Euro 2020, CONMEBOL’s Copa America 2021, and CONCACAF’s Gold Cup 2021 recede in our memory, and another domestic soccer league season dawns in Europe, we preview the upcoming La Liga 2021-2022.
Atletico Madrid seemed to show they were capable of defending their title in today’s match. They played a 3-1-4-2 with Correa and Yannick Carrasco upfront and Luis Suarez coming in as a second-half sub. Atleti’s two pretty scores came at about the 20+ minute mark of either half and their defense bent a lot but held when it mattered to get the away win. One can only imagine a tougher, higher-scoring team with Suarez up top and Carrasco as a winger. Look for them to be in the mix for the championship.
For their part, Celta looked capable of turning the tables on their lofty visitors, and in some stretches, it seemed like they would. Expect the Vigo crowd to have another happy upper-middle-of-the-table season.
Barcelona’s win was tenuous and unfortunately hinged on the ever-present officiating largesse. See their second goal, which should have never happened, as it was obtained after a clear foul on a Sociedad player gave the Catalans possession in the Sociedad half. The bottom line is that the Camp Nou has a reason for happy feelings as Lionel Messi’s improbable and thus surprising departure will not dim the Barcelona headlights in La Liga 2021-2022 competition, where they will vie for the title, the team have too many other stars. It will be when the Blaugrana step out of Spain to indulge continental play that their weakened stature will show.
Sevilla and Valencia seem ready to vie for the Champions/Europa League slots with Sociedad and Villarreal and this season’s breakout team.
This leaves Real Madrid, the pre-season project team with Zinedine Zidane’s departure before Barcelona imploded. And the difference between the Merengues of 2021 and their major competitors is that Atleti will be trying to repeat their unexpected season and will find it difficult to do, and Barcelona will be trying to show they are a team despite missing Messi and will fail at that too. Meanwhile, Real Madrid will be trying to show that it was Zidane who kept them where they ended up last season, and that is not a tall task given Carlo Ancelotti is now at the helm and he has more resources available than Zidane, given the Frenchman’s penchant for favoritism.
This Real will soon need to rebuild too, but for now, it still has Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Casemiro, still the midfield to beat when all healthy, and Federico Valverde, Dani Ceballos, Isco, and Martin Odegaard are all capable midfield subs. The midfield permutations available are legion. In addition, Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard are back, Karim Benzema is coming off his best spell as a player, and Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio stand by to provide them a break at forward. The offense on display at the Bernabeu this season will be a far cry from last year’s. Finally, Thibaut Courtois, Eder Militao, Marcelo, Nacho, Dani Carvajal, and David Alaba, should provide a solid defense as they meld. If they meld, watch for Madrid to win the championship.
Villarreal-Granada and Elche-Athletic Bilbao will meet on Monday to close out the Round.