Week 1 of the 2014-15 La Liga season is here, as the premier clubs in Spain seek to get a jump on their respective campaigns with some early momentum.
UEFA Champions League qualifiers Athletic Bilbao and reigning Europa League champions Sevilla were the top teams from last season in action on Saturday, while Lionel Messi and Barcelona took the pitch to headline Sunday's fixtures.
The opening-day fixtures has fostered ferocious football, as attacks have often been stymied by stalwart defence. There is still some rust and nerves as league play commences, with every club having renewed optimism at the dawn of a new season.
Neither Real Madrid nor Barcelona are defending the La Liga trophy for the first time in years, so there is hope yet for the league's underdogs. Here is a look at the final scores from the first matchday, along with a list of those players who managed to get on the scoring sheet.
|Nolito||Celta de Vigo||1|
|Fabian Orellana||Celta de Vigo||1|
|Joaquin Larrivey||Celta de Vigo||1|
|Munir El Haddadi||Barcelona||1|
|Karim Benzema||Real Madrid||1|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||1|
Matchday 1 Recap and Analysis
|Rayo Vallecano||0-0||Atletico Madrid|
Often a better team on their home turf, Malaga gutted out an impressive 1-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao, although it didn't come without controversy.
It appeared as though Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz rushed forward in legal fashion, and then headed home a brilliant goal in extra time for the equaliser. Unfortunately, it was called back by the referee, much to the delight of the home Malaga fans.
Phil Kitromilides of Real Madrid TV made a bold proclamation regarding the frenzied finish:
Malaga Athletic first game of the season. Don't think we'll see a crazier ending all season. Ended 1-0 Malaga. Google it too much happened!— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) August 23, 2014
The Telegraph's Richard Martin weighed in on Malaga's early-season form:
I've been pleasantly surprised by Malaga here, they've been the much better team, more energetic than Athletic and taking the initiative— Richard Martin (@rich9908) August 23, 2014
Luis Alberto scored the only goal that counted in the 36th minute, after his missed penalty rebounded right back to him.
But it was a testing final several minutes for the victors, per Fox Sports News:
Andres Cordero of beIN SPORTS highlighted how bright the future is at La Rosaleda:
At 24, Camacho is the elder statesman in Malaga's midfield. Luis Alberto & Juanmi are 21, Darder 20, & Horta 19.— Andres Cordero (@DreCordero) August 23, 2014
Valencia defender Lucas Orban did what Iraizoz was ultimately unable to do for his club, slotting the score at one apiece in the 88th minute of the Bats' match against Sevilla. That was a resounding answer after Aleix Vidal gave the hosts all the momentum before the intermission, scoring in the 44th minute.
Orban put forth an extraordinary effort, using his chest to will the ball into the net as he fell to the ground.
Making a disappointing first impression was Rodrigo, an on-loan striker whose debut was documented by Dave O'Grady of TalkingSport.org:
Rodrigo's conduct ran counter to the testimony he gave upon arriving with his new team.
"I come here with the hope of returning Valencia to their rightful place in Spanish football," said Rodrigo, via SkySports. "I want to perform at the highest level for this club and I will demand the highest standards of myself."
Playing with just 10 men following Rodrigo's red card made Orban's tying goal all the more critical, as it appeared Valencia were destined to exit their road trip without any points in tow.
The third matchup featured a little more offense in the early going, with Ivan Cavaleiro getting Deportivo on the board first after 20 minutes. Unfortunately for the promoted La Liga newcomers, they were denied a chance to start their season off right, succumbing to Granada 2-1.
El Grana were 15th in the league table in 2013-14 and needed a late spark to push away thoughts of relegation. The outlook to start this season was bleak at first, but Granada rallied for new manager Joaquin Caparros.
Former Blackburn Rovers striker Ruben Rochina delivered in his first Granada match, netting a goal in the 55th minute before Jean-Sylvain Babin put home the winner with a header after 77 minutes.
The new boss was pleased afterward, per the club's official Twitter account:
Caparrós: "In the 2nd half we showed more intensity & really went for the game; we were Granada." pic.twitter.com/gGu6FAdBPk— Granada C.F. (@GranadaCdeF_en) August 23, 2014
Caparrós: "There's still much work to be done, but this capacity for reaction has to make us stronger."— Granada C.F. (@GranadaCdeF_en) August 23, 2014
Caparrós: "The fans were still cheering us on when we were a goal behind and they were a fundamental part of our comeback."— Granada C.F. (@GranadaCdeF_en) August 23, 2014
Which winner will have the best 2014-15 La Liga season?
In the last of Saturday's fixtures, Almeria were robbed of three points by Espanyol, as Sergio Garcia made it 1-1 in second-half stoppage. It was a battle featuring two teams that finished mere points away from relegation last season. Fernando Soriano's goal on 52 minutes gave Almeria the advantage until the bitter end.
A commonality throughout the first day was the red card. Anaitz Arbilla received one for Espanyol in the 33rd minute and would have cost his club dearly if not for Garcia's heroics and Magico living up to their nickname.
To kick of Sunday's slate, newly promoted Eibar got off on the right foot by beating Real Sociedad 1-0, which served as quite the upset since the latter team finished seventh in last season's La Liga table. A goal from Javi Lara in the 45th minute proved to be the decider.
ESPN FC offered some context into Eibar's achievement just to get to this top league:
Newly promoted Eibar, from a tiny town of just 27,000, have just beaten Real Sociedad 1-0 in their debut match in La Liga's top flight!— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 24, 2014
Kitromilides laughed off the notion that La Liga lacks depth and is top-heavy:
Tiny Eibar beat neighbours Real Sociedad 1-0 in their first ever match in La Liga. #LaLigaIsBoringAndUncompetitive— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) August 24, 2014
Offensive fireworks defined the next two matches, with the first being Celta de Vigo's 3-1 win over Getafe.
Nolito got Celta on the board first with a goal in the 20th minute, with Fabian Orellana (56') adding necessary insurance in the second half. That rendered attacking midfielder Sammir's 62nd-minute goal less hurtful, as Joaquin Larrivey added the third goal just eight minutes later.
Barcelona got a mix of good and bad news against Elche. Lionel Messi scored the first goal of the season after Barca hit the woodwork twice before, but just moments later, Javier Mascherano was sent off the Camp Nou pitch with a red card.
Even with just 10 men for the entire second half, Barca found a way to please the home crowd and secure three points to start the 2014-15 campaign with a 3-0 victory. Messi wound up with two goals to already open up with the league lead, per SportsCenter:
Lionel Messi AGAIN. Messi has 2 goals today for FC Barcelona vs Elche in Barca's La Liga opener. pic.twitter.com/gOMAy9qW33— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 24, 2014
In the final fixture of the day, Villarreal took care of business as the only road team to win Sunday, taking down Levante 2-0 on the strength of goals by Ikechukwu Uche (56') and Dennis Cheryshev (85').
Villarreal gets to host Barca next week, which will be a highly anticipated showdown as it is. Adding in the fact that Mascherano will be suspended will make it a taller task for Barcelona to salvage a strong result away from home.
Since it's hard to draw any definitive conclusions from what was witnessed from the clubs in action during the first matchday so far, it makes sense to look ahead to the slate of matches Monday has to offer.
Real Madrid opened Monday with a 2-0 win over newly promoted Cordoba. Karim Benzema gave the hosts the perfect start with a goal in the 30th minute, and Cristiano Ronaldo put the game out of reach with a goal in the 90th minute.
It wasn't exactly the start that most Madrid supporters were hoping to see. Cordoba sat deep and let Los Blancos run at them, which can often prove to be a tough style to break down.
"We were tired," said Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti, per Goal's Mark Doyle. "We only played three days ago and it’s not easy to go straight back into action after that amount of rest. Having said that though, I think we controlled the game. We’re not at our best yet. We need to quicken the game up. But I’m sure that will come with time."
Madrid have plenty of time to rest before before they travel to San Sebastian to take on Real Sociedad.
The reigning European champions fared much better than their inner-city rivals, Atletico Madrid, who struggled in a 0-0 draw with Rayo Vallecano.
Los Colchoneros were without their manager, Diego Simeone, after he was suspended for eight matches following his sending-off in the Spanish Super Cup, per The Guardian. As a result, he had to watch the match from a press box, via AS:
Banned Simeone peers down at the game from up in his press box eyrie. pic.twitter.com/UqPjLYoLLV— AS English (@English_AS) August 25, 2014
Raul Jimenez and Antoine Griezmann struggled in their La Liga debuts for Atletico, with the former earning a 6.3 and the latter a 6.4 on WhoScored.com.