La Liga has begun again, and we already have a talking point of gigantic magnitude—if nothing else, for the history and name of the players involved. The first weekend is probably defined not so much by those who started, but by those on the subs' benches, namely Iker Casillas and Neymar.
Whatever legacy Jose Mourinho may or may not have left at the Bernabeu, one myth he did slay was that certain players at the club, Casillas for one, were untouchable. Mourinho claimed footballing reasons rather than political motivation for axing the Real icon, but the simple fact is that he believed that the keeper was leaking info to the press. But if you look only at the sporting decision, why can’t Casillas be replaced? So, Mourinho, while acting towards someone he did not trust (unfairly I would add), in the process of dropping Casillas set a precedent, one followed by Ancelotti.
Ancelotti is looking to motivate both goalkeepers. I personally think that Diego Lopez will play one or two of the early games before Casillas, generally not considered to be the most enthusiastic and most motivated of trainers, is brought back as No. 1.
The official stance is that Diego Lopez was selected because Casillas, as arranged, had come back to work 10 days later than his teammate. Maybe, but it has, if nothing else, given Ancelotti the chance to show the Spanish international that, if he thought his life was going to be a return to the comfort zone of untouchability, then he is mistaken, and if as a by-product he gets from him in training what he inevitably gets from him on match days, then all the better.
That said, Madrid will have to improve, especially in defensive midfield, because this was a match that Betis could well have wrapped up in the first half, and Real will consider themselves lucky to have taken the points.
A couple of hours earlier, Barcelona got their La Liga campaign underway with the £57 million wonder boy Neymar warming the bench. Weight loss and anaemia, the effects of a tonsillectomy, were given as reasons for his start on the bench, something that didn’t seem to worry Brazil, who he played for and, by all accounts, played well for after the operation.
The normally smiling, joking Neymar looked distinctly unimpressed, and you could sense his tension when he came on in the second half as he tried too hard to impress.
And still on substitutions, off in the 73rd minute—for the first time in three years without an injury—came Messi, although Martino made it quite clear to his club's official website (via ESPN) after the game that it was something that had been negotiated with the player prior to the game.
With two players that want to play all the time, how Martino handles the tricky balancing act of rotations, substitutions and the careful management of the "family jewels" could be the key to Barcelona’s season; a Barcelona that looked to be back to their old style of pressing high up the field and being more direct, thanks mainly to a superb show from Cesc Fabregas in a free role against what can only be described as a really poor Levante side. A "mother" of a side, as we would say in Spanish.